Venice

Venice

I haven’t posted about my little feral mare, Venice for a while.  There’s no exciting news really. But she continues to improve very slowly and steadily.

She’s been going out during the day with McCool and Monster.  McCool is not really in love with any other horse. He suits his name remarkably well really… he’s a cool dude without much fear. He likes any horse he’s turned out with but is not particularly attached.  But Monster… well… Monster LOVES Venice.  Venice thinks he’s a big stupid BOY.  Ick.

Racing in for Lunch

 

In the evening, I call the three of them in from the side paddock. McCool is smart as a whip, and he’s right there for his dinner in the blink of an eye. Venice right behind him. I lead him in (so he doesn’t do too much foraging enroute to his own dinner), and Venice rushes in behind him to get to her stall. She adores her safe house.  Monster ambles in behind them. He’s smart, but sort of ADHD.

After Venice eats her little bit of Trimax, I generally give her some roughage chunks by hand.  She’s very polite and careful. But enthusiastic. It’s not so long ago that no treat was worth the risk of going near a human. So while it looks like nothing, it’s pretty big progress.

We can, with a bit of patience, catch her out in the paddock now and snap a lead shank onto her halter.  She’s not opposed to being caught, but has little startle moments so you have to give her time.

I’ve been able to handwalk her for a few short jaunts around the farm. She’s wary but well behaved and quiet.  She never ever challenges me in any way. Soft as butter on the end of the lead.

 

New Halter for Venice

I stopped at the tack shop yesterday, and got a new halter for my little feral mare, Venice. The one she had on was really too big. It was “cob sized”, but was still slopping around on her fine little Arab head. So this time I got a pony halter for her.

004

It fits pretty well. But still needs to be loosened one hole on her left side. Since her left side is her flinchy side, I wasn’t able to do that for the moment. I can touch the halter on that side, but still cannot grab the buckle itself. Getting the halter on in the first place took about half an hour since she’s still very head shy, so I didn’t really want to take it off and start over. It’s only just slightly too tight, so she should be fine in it for a day or two until I can loosen it.

She continues to improve, though we do have setbacks when I go away for competitions or get too busy to work with her every day. She reverts to her feral state very quickly if she’s not handled daily. However, despite my erratic schedule lately, she will now let me groom her on both sides, from behind her ears all the way back to her tail (though I have not yet tried to comb her tail). I have been able to groom her right side for a long time. But I wasn’t even allowed to look at her left side, much less physically be on that side until very recently. So grooming both sides from ears to tail is another big advance.

I can lead her and she is quite soft about it. But the risk of a spook is still there so I don’t lead her anywhere that she could get away completely. I bought another lead rope to leave attached to her halter (the old one shredded from being dragged). It’s a very short pony lead. She’s clever with it. If she steps on it, she knows to take her foot off without any panic. With the old shredded one, she got it caught up a couple of times, and just waited for rescue.

In her own odd way, she is very friendly. She likes to rest her nose against my arm. I am not allowed to touch her face, but it’s okay if she presses her nose against me. It just has to be her idea. She softly blows up down my arm and tickles me with the edge of her nostril. She greets all her meals with a nicker. And if I’ve been away for a day or two, she greets an empty-handed me with a nicker too.

Going Outside With Venice

Today, I had to fix Venice’s halter. She must have rubbed against something and undone the snap at the throatlatch. So I took it off, did it back up and put it back on her using the same procedure as the first time. Binder twine attached to the crownpiece buckle. Toss it over her neck, holding onto the end of the binder twine. Then grab the halter under her neck and use the carrot stick to lift it over her nose. Why she will put up with all of that and still not let me touch her face with my hand is something that only makes sense in her little brain…

She doesn’t really lead in the normal sense of things (where you walk and the horse confidently walks along beside you). But she does, after a week or so of dragging a lead rope that’s attached to the halter, have respect for the halter. So when I put a bit of pressure on the lead, she gets bug-eyed and moves forward, one hesitating foot at a time. It’s slow, but it is at least pretty consistent. She doesn’t go backward, though she does sometimes take a long time to go forward.

I’ve taken her out into the barn aisle a few times now. She’s a little afraid to go through the stall doorway. But once through that, she is calm enough to eat a few carrots and have her right neck and side brushed. I can run my hand down to her knee before she melts down. Still cannot brush her left side, though I can touch it after I’ve worked with her for a while.

After that I took her out the front door of the barn for a few minutes. That’s a pretty challenging thing for a horse. Even well broke horses don’t like to go through it, since it’s a human-sized door, not horse-sized. It took her a few minutes to work her way through it. She moves her front feet first, stretching her body until her hind legs are so far behind it looks like she’s going to collapse in the middle. Then finally steps those hind feet up when she’s looked around sufficiently for monsters.

Once outside she had a moment of sheer panic and bolted off to the side a few steps. But I was using a 22 foot line, so just gave her a bit of slack and waited for her to settle. After a moment I was able to approach and stroke her shoulder, which quite obviously calmed her down. That was heartening to see, since I used to be the source of all her stress, not the solution to it 🙂

I didn’t stay out long, since I didn’t realize that my border collie, Jimi, was outside. He’s a cutie, and wants to be helpful. But he often thinks that horse training is a border collie kind of job. I prefer NOT to have his help with a spooky terrified little feral horse, thanks very much.

So I turned her around and headed back into the barn (muttering “get back” to Jimi every few minutes… he’s very obedient and very smart, but excitement sends his memory flying out his ears). She was again terrified to go through the narrow doorway. But I just gave her lots of time. She’s really sensitive. I don’t have to pull on her head. Just lift the rope enough that she knows I’m asking, and wait. She works up her courage and moves a foot forward and I instantly drop slack into the rope and tell her she’s good. That works amazingly well. Too much pressure and she panics. But ask nicely and she tries her heart out. That’s probably a lesson in many other areas of life too 🙂

Update on This and That

Venice has been getting steadily friendlier since I have had more control of her head. First with the war bridle, and now with a proper halter. She’s had a short lead rope hanging from the halter for a few days and she’s learned to flip it aside as needed, and to keep it out from under her feet. Jen, who is keeping Twister in the stall next to Venice, was surprised to realize that Venice had quietly sneaked up behind her on the other side of stall wall and was playing with her hair. Of course when Jen actually turned and looked, Venice jumped back in alarm 🙂

She has been learning to move forward when I put pressure on the lead. It’s not smooth and fluid yet, but she understands and she tries. Usually she can only manage one or two steps at a time. Today, I was able to lead her out into the barn aisle, where I fed her a few carrots until she relaxed. Just about that point, Veronica walked in unexpectedly, and poor Venice’s courage evaporated. She leapt about a foot straight up, then stood, quivering in her boots, but she held her ground (sort of). I asked Veronica to go outside for a minute, and managed to get Venice to walk back into her stall without any crashing around. Poor Veronica was horrified that she’d interrupted our little training session. But Venice needs to learn to deal with stuff like that anyway, and she coped. So it was all good.

**********************************

Twister had a good day today. He finally looked like he could walk without flinching, and Jen was thrilled. He’s been recovering from his episode of laminitis (founder) this winter, but it’s been very very slow. Hopefully the Pergolide is finally kicking in and controlling the Cushings. One difference that’s showing up already is that he’s mostly lost his long winter coat. He’s always grown a tremendously thick coat that was very late to shed in spring (a symptom of Cushings). This is the earliest he’s ever lost it. Jen is setting up a track around the inside edge of the big paddock so Twister will have lots of room to move, but no access to grass once he can be turned out. His management is going to be quite a project for the rest of his life. While it’s not grass that caused this episode, the sugars in grass are very dangerous for him. Rather like sugar for a diabetic.

**********************************

I’ve been riding Diego pretty regularly over the last two months. Nothing exciting. But lots of short uneventful rides. He’s been exceptionally good so far. Of course he hasn’t been pushed in any way. Mostly just walk/trot with only a few short, easy canters. But my theory is that we are “practicing being good” instead of practicing being frazzled. Trying to overlay some of his old reactive habits with a whole new set of calm habits. He had quite a long time off after the disastrous events of last year. And then all the ground work and driving. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we’ve managed to reset his responses to stress a little bit.

Certainly some of his hot buttons have faded out. He actually likes to trailer load now. We did a lot of practicing before winter set in, but then with the snow and ice, I wasn’t able to get him on the trailer for a couple of months. So last week I figured I’d better test load him a few times to make sure he was still good with it. He didn’t even hesitate. Hopped right on, totally relaxed.

He’s standing like a rock for mounting too. I get on the mounting block, and he lines himself up for me and doesn’t move a muscle until I ask. That’s important, since the older I get, the less graceful I become. And I never was very nimble. I had a friend who could swing gracefully up onto her horse bareback when we were teenagers. I ground my teeth in verdant envy every time I saw her do that. Anyway, Diego needs to stand quietly for me so I can get myself up there one-armed (I never realized that I even USED my left arm when I was mounting a horse until I broke that elbow!)

**********************************

King is looking good. Some of his tumours have reduced in size a little over this winter. He’s had his feed strictly rationed and is at a much more reasonable weight than usual. I’ve ridden him a few times, and although we did not do much, he didn’t cramp up. So I may try riding him a little more this year. Not in competition. Just for fun 🙂

**********************************

Dressy just looks smug. She thinks that the Queen of the Universe should not have to work (there are minions for that sort of thing), and thus all is right in her world.

Venice in Her Halter

Venice has been getting used to having the rope around her head. But she still cannot stand to have a hand on her face. I’ve been able to sneak my hand slowly up her neck and on to her jowl. But not over her nose or anywhere near the front of her face.

However, she will allow a parelli stick or a lunge whip to rub all over her. I can run it up her neck, over her ears, down the front of her face, down her nose (she nibbles on it in passing), and back up to her throat. I can also throw ropes all over her with very little reaction (as long as she’s expecting it). So I thought I’d try to get a halter on her without touching her. First, I tied a bit of binder twine to the crown buckle on the left side of the halter. Then I tossed it over her neck so it swung under her neck where I could catch it. I tied the binder twine to the other crown buckle. Then I hooked the nose band with the end of the parelli stick, and lifted it up over her nose. Amazingly, she stood for that (mostly). Once I had the nose band up and over, it sort of caught on the rope I had already looped over her nose. I pulled on the binder twine to tighten it all up and then was able to buckle the crown piece to the right buckle. I was able to lead her around the stall using the halter, and she cooperated pretty well.

What IS this thing on my head???
What IS this thing on my head???

I’ve left a very short lead rope attached to the halter. She was a bit concerned initially, and shook her head a lot. But within about an hour, she had that lead rope all figured out, and was tossing her head aside to get the rope moved out of the way of her feet.

She’s not halter broke yet by any means. But she is progressing steadily now!

Lots of Progress With Venice!

I am just ridiculously excited about my session with Venice yesterday. I reorganized my rope so I could configure it in a proper war bridle. And in a very short time was able to flip the loop over her nose and slowly tighten it up. She did not panic at all, and I was able to lead her forward around the stall. She was cautious, but never truly frightened about it. After a couple of minutes I took it off, and then was able to again flip the loop up and tighten it.

[youtube:http://youtu.be/d8CQWtIaSr8]

After a bit of work on leading, I was able to touch and scratch the right side of her face. She’s been allowing me closer and closer to that side for quite a while. But I was never allowed to touch more than her jowl. Today I was able to scratch down almost to her mouth. It obviously surprised her that it felt so good, and she suddenly started to lean into it.

Next I got the halter and showed it to her. I used the folded crown piece to touch her nose and rubbed it all around her mouth. She got interested and did a lot of lip wiggling. Then I worked my hand a little closer and sort of tricked her into allowing me to rub her upper lip with my fingers. By the time she realized that it was my hand, she was already kind of enjoying it.

[youtube:http://youtu.be/jb21KWra5OY]

Later in the day I went back and had another session. This time I was able to feed her a few horse treats from my hand. She was sort of startled and spit a couple of them out in her confusion. But eventually she did eat them. And was really quite polite about taking them from my hand with her lips. She didn’t snatch.

********************************

I’d just like to take one moment here for a bit of a rant… Breeding horses, but not handling or training them in any way is utterly irresponsible and morally reprehensible. A horse with no training is completely worthless to anyone and is always in imminent danger of neglect, inhumane treatment, and death. Halter breaking a foal is easy. Halter breaking a five year old is on a whole new scale of difficulty, and most people do not have the time or the energy to invest when there are so many nice, trained horses out there.

Even horses in good homes are just one home away from a bad situation. Good basic training like haltering, leading, and picking up feet is necessary for any horse to find a new home should their current owner run into hardship or die. And more advanced training (like say… green broke to ride?) gives horses enough perceived value to stave off misfortune.

Do you want to guarantee your horse a good home in the future? Train THEM!!!! That will be their passport for life. They carry that with them even if you have no idea where they end up. It’s a far better guarantee than a contract, or a promise, or a sweet-faced buyer.

Getting There It Seems

I’ve been desensitizing Venice with a rope for the last few days. Flipping them around her face and neck to get her used to the feel. She’s not particularly afraid of ropes, and never really has been. It’s people that terrify her more than anything.

I really wish I was a bit more clever with a rope. But I finally managed to work out a way to flip a small enough reversed loop over Venice’s nose to keep it on for a few seconds. Almost like a war bridle.

So here she is, allowing me to almost halter her…

[youtube:http://youtu.be/hOaeuW6YOJ0]

Glacial Progress With Venice

Venice is turning out to be quite a lesson in patience for me. I kept thinking all along that we would have a big breakthrough and then would be able to sail along in our training after that. But what we are really having is tiny breakthrough after tiny breakthrough. Every single step has to be broken down into minutely smaller steps in order to progress. Every time I think we should just jump forward to a new stage, she makes me slow down and reassess what I’m doing.

She is the exact opposite of King, who was always leaping ahead of our lesson plan faster than I could keep up (leaving the inevitable gaping holes in his training). Every horse is a whole new education, that’s for sure.

I still have not gotten a halter on Venice. But I have been able to touch her and brush her over most of her right side. I am not allowed to touch her left side, or even look at it. So I have had to use a stick to reach around and touch the left side of her neck without seeing it. And then gradually over the last few days, she has allowed me to shift around so I can see that side of her. Sometimes. Each day it takes a bit less time for me to convince her that it’s safe to be touched or seen on that side.

I cannot touch her face. Just the edge of one cheek. However, she will reach out and touch me. And actually will do that quite often. Sometimes just with her whiskers, but yesterday she nudged me a couple of times. A pretty solid touch. I am beginning to think that maybe she likes me at least a little bit. Sometimes.

Here’s some video of yesterday’s session. It’s excruciatingly boring. Our sessions are not good spectator events I’m afraid. It’s all very slow, very quiet, and with very little action. Makes for very boring blog posts too 🙁

[youtube:http://youtu.be/enbBtaOnx3E]

Venice For One Thing, My Elbow for Another

After a wicked bout of flu, which killed all my ambition for a while, I have gotten back to working with Venice. She went backwards of course. She goes feral very quickly if I don’t spend time with her every single day.

The first session back was quite alarming. She panicked about the rope and went careening around the stall. Right back to wild mustang status. But after a few days of inching our way back to where we were before I lost my oomph, today was good. I worked with her twice today. Once this morning, and again this evening.

This morning, instead of scratching her, I started gently patting her neck with my open hand and gradually increased the pressure. Very terrifying for her at first. It was like seeing electric shocks go through her at every touch. But eventually her neurons stopped firing wildly and she took a big sigh and relaxed… as much as Venice ever really relaxes anyway. I was able to touch her from just behind her ear to about mid-back. Which was where we had stopped a couple of weeks ago.

Tonight I managed to put my hand on her jowl. That’s a big one for her. She is very alarmed about anything coming near her face. So that was a no-go zone. We worked it out that I would stand beside her and slide my hand up her neck to her jowl. She would immediately stretch her head away from me. And I would wait. When she turned her head back towards me I would lighten the pressure of my hand and eventually, when she got her nose pointing forward again, I’d remove my hand. She is always so relieved when I take my hand off that she reaches towards me with her nose for a moment to say thanks.

Then, because it drives me mad every time I look at her, I gently started pulling the snarls out of her mane. I thought she’d lose her mind over that for sure. But after a tiny moment of alarm, she stood for it. She has massive long snarls that are sort of looped together in a complicated almost braid. Or macrame, maybe. She’s already lost a small chunk of mane where one of the snarls caught on something and got yanked out. So I stood there for a good half hour, gently unlooping the snarls. I thought it would be hours of work to get it done. But I got the majority of the bad snarls out, and just have some ringlets left to work through. I think maybe those knots were pulling uncomfortably on her neck, because she actually seemed a bit relieved to have them fixed up a bit. She shook it all out afterwards and gave a big sigh. Tomorrow I think I’ll try to put some Cowboy Magic in it and maybe even try a comb.

So again we’ve made a bit of progress. We are still stuck at the rope around the neck stage though. Since I can’t yet touch her head, I haven’t got a halter on her. That will be a bit of a trick to manage I suspect.

I drove Diego in long reins all around the back field yesterday. He was very good. Quite pleased to be out. And my elbow really held up to it well. Driving him on the driveway is easier because the footing is solid and even. Going around the outside of a grassy field with a bit of mud (though mostly it was frozen) was a bit more of a challenge. I was surprised though that even with a couple of jolts (mostly me being graceless and tripping over clumps of frozen grass) it didn’t hurt. He’s pretty soft-mouthed mind you. So it’s not like he was pulling on me.

Had a doctor’s appointment today. He says I can go back to work in mid-February. 🙂

And I started making noises to my therapist about riding again sometime in the near future. And she did not get alarmed. I took that as a good sign. I still need a bit more strength in the arm before I try it. But the joint is more stable now, and I can feel the improvement in muscle tone. Chrystal is plotting to get me on the ancient Quarter Horse that she has living at her place next time I’m over there. She figures he wouldn’t spook if you set him on fire.

A Big Day With Venice!!!

Venice is really progressing now. After working through the same exercises as yesterday (flapping lunge whip, parelli stick, and rope around her neck), I pulled a bit on the rope and asked her to face me.

venice 015

She is getting very good at this. I have made sure to give her a bit of a release from pressure every time she has made an effort to look at me, face me, or step towards me. Today, she showed me just how much she understands that idea. I stepped towards her while maintaining soft pressure on the rope. She was quite intimidated, but rather than fly backwards, she picked up one front foot and while leaning backwards, she stretched her toe forward. I was very impressed at that, and immediately stepped back. She relaxed. I stepped forward, and again she rocked back while stepping one foot forward. Yep. She definitely got that she had to give me forward motion in some form to remove the human from her space. Smart little cookie!

With some repeated advance and retreat, I managed to get this:

venice 021

Do you see my hand ON HER NECK???? That’s a very big moment for us!

Luckily Anastasia was here today, so I gave her the camera and she was able to take a couple of short video clips of our great accomplishment 🙂

[youtube:http://youtu.be/G8jm0S_5-L0]

She really is a darling little mare.