Two Lovely Fillies

We’ve been waiting impatiently, ever since Sammy was born last week, for the other two mares to foal. I’m sure the boss was more impatient than any of the rest of us, since he’s been on foal watch every night for several weeks. After which he leaves for the track at around 5am to train the older horses. So I would imagine he’s longing for a full night’s sleep by now.

Sammy relaxing in the arena. It was pouring rain, so no sunny paddock today.
Sammy relaxing in the arena. It was pouring rain, so no sunny paddock today.
Sammy
Sammy

This morning was exciting though. First, Ana let me know that the boss had called to tell her that Bernice had her foal around 1 in the morning. Ana headed in early to see the new filly. A lovely sturdy little chestnut with some very flashy markings. A big wide white blaze and a hind stocking right up to the hock. She is by Giant Gizmo.

Bernice's flashy little chestnut filly
Bernice’s flashy little chestnut filly
Check out the high white stocking on her hind leg
Check out the high white stocking on her hind leg

I was just ambling around at home, contemplating a quick cup of tea before going in to meet the new baby, and to help Ana move the yearlings, when I got a mildly panicked call from her… “Dora is foaling!!!! What do I do???” So I abandoned the tea and ran for the car. When I arrived, I found Ana and Linda, both in a bit of flap. Dora had gone down with her tail to the wall. No way for a foal to come out safely, much less for me to get in and help at all.

We got her up (Dora is really quite a cooperative mare) and she went down again. Even tighter to the wall. So once again we had to get the poor mare up. This time she went down in the middle of the stall with plenty of clearance. Big relief!

Two hind feet and a nose were visible. That’s exactly what you want to see, so I relaxed and just let Dora push. Eventually I got hold of the feet and helped her a little bit. But it was all pretty much textbook, and the baby was trying to look around before she was even halfway born. She is a bright little spark with a beautiful, dainty face. I think she might end up looking rather like her mama. Dora has a lovely head. This filly is a bay with a big star on her forehead. She is also by Giant Gizmo.

Dora loves her babies
Dora loves her babies

The fillies seem to be faster to get up than the colts, and faster to figure out where and how to nurse. This filly was no exception. Girls rule ūüôā

It takes a lot of concentration to make those long legs work properly!
It takes a lot of concentration to make those long legs work properly!
It's amazing how quickly they figure out how to use those long legs
It’s amazing how quickly they figure out how to use those long legs

So we are all done foaling for another year! Everyone has arrived safe and sound, and mamas are all very pleased with their babies ūüôā

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Loula’s Colt

Loula’s colt is doing very well. He’s not at all shy with humans, and will undoubtedly be pure trouble very shortly. Anastasija came up with a name for the little guy… Sam. And the boss didn’t immediately ridicule it. So Sam it is.

They went out to the paddock to enjoy some sunshine this morning. He started out wobble-legged and worried. But soon gained a bit of confidence. Mind you, he is carefully staying glued to his mama’s side!

Isn’t he cute?

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William, Clicker, and a Foal

It’s always difficult to keep an injured horse on stall rest. They get bored and frazzled, and have no idea that they are fragile and breakable (or at least… MORE fragile and breakable than all horses are at the best of times). Most horses will paw and fuss and call. When racehorses get really fit, they are even more difficult to keep in a stall 24/7. William went back down to the track at the beginning of March, so he’s pretty fit by now. And of course he’s always been a bit anxious anyway, so we were expecting at least some fussing and silliness.

But bless William’s little heart, he is being a remarkably good boy. He is calm and happy. Happier even than normal, not just ‘okay’. It’s hard to know what goes on inside a horse’s head, but the boss believes that William knows that his leg is broken and that we are fixing him. He greets his visitors with regal grace and polite inquiry about the possibility of treats? He stands for bandaging, allows Ana to clean the stall around him without crowding her (so long as he gets an occasional kiss or scratch on the neck). He might be the most gentlemanly invalid I’ve ever seen.

After the original injury, when William had to get on the trailer at Woodbine to go to the vet clinic in Milton for surgery, the boss was very worried that he would fuss about loading. The leg was in a cast, and the fracture was not displaced. But it would not have taken much to shatter it. He’s been difficult to load in the past, and I spent a good deal of time last year clicker training him to load quietly (that was a HUGE breakthrough btw… convincing the boss to let me use positive reinforcement!). Normally I do the trailer loading at the farm, but I don’t work down at the track, so the boss had to load him. And I am pretty sure it’s the first time in his life that he used treats, sort of correctly, to work with a horse. (The boss is a good trainer, and kind. But he is quite traditional.) William walked directly on the trailer, quietly, and without jarring the leg at all. For two treats – a small price to pay! I even got an actual thank you and credit for that afterwards ūüôā

At this point, it seems that I have finally convinced the boss that clicker training for trailer loading is a magical thing. He had me work with Reno and Al before they went off to the training centre a couple of weeks ago (where they are reportedly being very well behaved. Amazingly LOL!) and also with Esmerelda (who is too well behaved to even need to be sent to a training centre in the first place – the boss and Ana are both riding her, depending on who has time). It makes trailer loading a much less stressful affair for us all.

On another note… the first of this year’s foals was born last night!!!! A strapping big bay colt by Silent Name. Out of Loula. She was a very good racehorse, and is a gorgeous big mare. She always has lovely foals. This boy is very active, confident, and friendly.

Here are some photos. Click any photo for a closer (and cuter!) view.

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Scratching Itches

William is very happy. Really VERY happy. Harri (his groom at the track) says that he was visibly sad and worried before he went for surgery. And the surgeon apparently reported that he was very lame walking in to surgery, but walked out like a sound horse (albeit heavily bandaged) afterwards. So from William’s point of view he somehow seems to recognize that the humans fixed him.

Handsome boy
Handsome boy

When I went in to see him this morning, he was thrilled to see me. He loves to be scratched, and I know all his good itchy spots. I’ve been scratching them since he was an itty bitty little guy. Most foals are itchy all the time but William was the itchiest we ever had. He could be instantly immobilized with scratch on the neck. He hasn’t changed one bit either. He gets quite silly about it.

"Come here and scratch my neck!!!"
“Come here and scratch my neck!!!”

I will have to try to get a photo of the bandage. It’s huge. But he’s standing on the leg and appears to be quite comfortable. He will have six weeks of stall rest, a vet visit for x-rays, and if all is well another six weeks of handwalking (that is always fun…). Limited turnout after that.

So he has months of rehab ahead of him yet. He’s handling it all very well at the moment. Quiet and well-behaved.
He really is a very sweet horse.

Road Riding

I hate riding on the roads. ¬†Over the years, Toronto¬†has been encroaching, and most of the drivers are now urban sorts who have no idea just how dangerous it is to whip past, inches from my stirrup. Not just dangerous for me, and for my horse, but also for them. Hitting a 1000 lb horse is quite deleterious to the front of a car and generally hard on the driver too. ¬†Our road has now become a secondary route for those who want to avoid traffic on the major highway around the corner. So there is a lot of traffic even though it’s single lane with little to no shoulder, and a lot of hills.

In addition to just plain old common sense, I am also influenced by having had a neighbour’s horse die in the ditch beside my driveway after they were hit by a truck. She was thrown clear and was fine, albeit battered and bruised, but the horse never got up. ¬†It was quite a few years ago now. But it¬†always sort of lurks at the back of my mind.

Our fields and trails on the farm, and on the farms across the road are impassable right now. With heavy clay soil, the horses sink deep into the areas that have melted and are very wet. And if it’s not melted, it’s all still ice from the big ice storm we had in December. ¬†So I have been riding up and down our farm lane since the ice melted off it.

But after riding up and down that lane at least 800 times in the last few weeks, I just wanted to poke my eyes out with a sharp stick. So today, with some beautiful warm weather (finally!) we tacked up Ares and Diego (okay… first I CLEANED Diego, ugh!) and headed out to try our luck on the roads. We headed north and through¬†the rather harrowing tight curve around the ravine. Ana and I both got off and led the horses. Diego was really very good about it all. He’s not afraid of cars, or school buses, or even big trucks. ¬†Ares was a bit more worried about things at the start. ¬†Once around the curve, we headed across a sideroad¬†to the overpass over the 404. That’s a very busy highway. Ares was a bit concerned about it, but again Ana got off and led him. Diego has been over it a few times before, so he was not so concerned.

 

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I thought it would be pretty quiet after that, but it turns out that Friday is garbage day over there. ¬†Apparently it’s also “take your bike out in the sunshine day” too. ¬†And “walk your dog day”. ¬†We were passed by a very large tractor, several school buses, a peloton of bicycles as well as quite a few individual bikes, multiple motorcycles, about 300 cars, and a zillion rattly trucks. A couple of horses in a paddock galloped over to see us, bucking. Ducks flew up out of the ditch. A dog threatened us. ¬†A lady was power walking in an orange track suit. Diego was horrified by her. I’m not sure if it was her fashion sense or the very odd speedwalking gait that bothered him. The ditches were littered with trash. Old real estate signs, broken recycle bins, old clothes, etc. Both horses handled it all pretty well, considering it was their first outing on the road in months.

Consequently, we just walked almost the entire ride. But we were out for 3 1/2 hours and did about 18 km. ¬†I have reset my Garmin watch to kilometers instead of miles. It’s kind of crazy that here in Canada we measure distance riding sports in miles. We do kilometers for everything else. So I figured it was time to bite the bullet and switch.

The warmth and sunshine was lovely. It sure did feel good to finally get out and go somewhere. Even if it was a bit terrifying here and there…

Conflict Behaviour Checklist

I spoke at a fundraiser for a local equine rescue today. It was a discussion about horses that ‘misbehave’, and how to methodically eliminate triggers. I put together a handout with a number of possible causes for conflict behaviours. It’s not comprehensive, and I don’t think any checklist ever could be. But it at least gives a number of common triggers to check a horse for when there are problems. I thought I’d post it here on the blog in case anyone else is interested. I’d welcome additions to the list as well, so feel free to comment.

Horses do not like conflict. They don’t like it with other horses and they like it even less with predatory species like humans. Conflict behaviours during handling or riding (rearing, bucking, bolting, propping, balking, biting, striking, kicking, etc.) indicate that the horse is unable to cope with the training situation. When assessing a horse with a chronic behaviour problem, try to eliminate the following possible causes before¬†assuming that the horse is just being bad:

1. Pain

  • Teeth (direct pain, or imbalance can affect TMJ which cascades to back)
  • TMJ, atlas, or hyoid (pulling back, etc)
  • Feet (long toe, low heel, abcessing, low grade laminitis, bruised soles, lateral imbalances)
  • Lameness (low grade/intermittent lameness can be hard to identify, especially in the hind end)
  • Sore back (saddle fit, kissing spines, muscle damage, SI joint)
  • Ulcers (far more common in ALL equine sports than previously recognized)
  • Neurological deficits (EPM, Wobbler’s Syndrome, brain damage, tumours)
  • Body pain (generalized sore muscles can be a result of any of the above)
  • Poorly fitting tack (saddle, girth, breast collar, bit, etc.)

Identification Techniques
Do a pen test along topline (see below for a video)
Palpate back
Palpate legs
Do yoga stretches
Watch chewing at meal times
Analyze movement on a lunge line, in hand, loose, under saddle.

Outside Help (Get recommendations for the best you can get)
Veterinarian (Equine vet or equine vet with a specialty such as lameness or chiropractic, etc.)
Equine Dentist (Vet with a dental specialty)
Farrier (barefoot or traditional, but make sure the trim is balanced)
Massage Therapist
Chiropractor

2. Physical Inability

  • Immaturity (mental or physical)
  • Lack of fitness
  • Conformation flaws

Many young horses buck during trot to canter transitions. It’s primarily a balance issue, not behavioural.

3.  Fear РHorse

  • Fear
  • Excitement

When a horse acts afraid, they are either truly frightened or have far too much energy. They are not “pretending”. Either trigger is real and should be managed as a valid emotional state. Punishment is not appropriate in either case.

4. ¬†Fear ‚Äď Human

  • Expecting bad behaviour will tend to create it
  • Rider tension causes rider imbalance and resulting body pain in the horse (and the rider!)
  • Rider fear triggers horse fear

5. Training

  • Poor Training (creates fear,¬†confusion, learned helplessness)
  • No Training (never expect a horse to know anything that has not been specifically trained)

6. Riding

  • Unbalanced rider
  • insecure seat
  • hanging on¬†reins for balance

7. Temperament/Personality

  • ¬†When all other possibilities have been eliminated.

 

There are many videos on YouTube that illustrate the above points, and you can search for them individually. Here are just a few examples:

 

[Here is a video of the pen test]

 

[Back palpation]

 

[This video shows a test using acupuncture points to indicate possible ulcers]

 

 

[Checking Teeth]

 

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This and That, and Pictures

I haven’t written much lately. Obviously. Quite a bit of stuff happening, but I’ve just been a bit cranky and haven’t felt like inflicting my bad mood on the world. The weather has been atrocious for months. Snow and ice everywhere, which has severely limited what I can do with the horses. But the temperatures have finally gone above freezing.

Dressy came home on Monday. She and Brooke have been getting along very well together. But unfortunately Brooke was not getting along so well with the boarding barn. And whether it was a consequence of that situation or a lack of attention to the problem, or just being cheap (they charge $750 a month so you would think….) I don’t know. But Dressy really wasn’t being fed enough. She’s not in terrible condition, but she’s leaner than I like to see her. Apparently the barn staff didn’t like Dressy either. Which I wasn’t too happy about. She’s a sweet mare with people. It’s just horses that she grinds beneath her queenly hooves.

Dressy checking out her territory with Diego and King devotedly following her Highness
Dressy checking out her territory with Diego and King devotedly following her Highness

We do have another place in mind to send her (not nearly so fancy, but with someone that I know and trust), so that Brooke can continue on with her. But it will be another month or two before she can go. In the meantime she can lord it over the geldings and they will like it. She seems very cheerful and full of herself.

Dressy
Dressy

With the improvement in the weather, all the huge snowpiles are melting. My driveway has now fallen apart. In a big way. I took the horse trailer out yesterday for a short trip down to the farm to do some trailer training with the young thoroughbreds (Reno and Al). And coming home, I got the truck and trailer buried in the muck. We managed to completely block the main driveway for about an hour. Luckily we have been getting piles of free wood chips from a local tree service and were able to shore up the whole mess enough to finally shift the rig. But it’s quite a mess.

On Saturday, I am taking McCool to a charity fundraiser for Canter On, the rescue that twisted my arm into bringing him home. We are supposed to do two demos. The first will be a talk about assessing problem horses (McCool had some behavioral issues that are what got him into trouble in the first place). I’ve written out an outline of what I think riders should look at before they label a horse as just having a bad attitude. Things like pain, fear, badly fitting tack, teeth/bitting, bad training or lack of training, conformation or lack of fitness, etc.

The second demo is a clicker training session with McCool. He does love clicker. But he’s kind of a pushy, enthusiastic guy. He was like that before the clicker, and we’ve actually made quite a bit progress with it. He’s a lot more polite than he was at first. But I hope that he maintains a reasonably gentlemanly demeanor through the demo. I don’t want the audience to think that he’s become that way because of the training. I wish the weather had been better this winter. With all the ice, I’ve really only been able to work with him inside the barn, which is a bit limiting. And he hadn’t been ridden since November.

I have been riding him this week though, and he’s been very good. He had one moment the first day where he hiked a little bit when I first got on and put my right leg on him. That’s the side where he had two ribs out, and he was very goosey there before the chiropractic treatment. When he hiked, I put my leg back on and just held it there with light pressure until he figured out that there wouldn’t be any pain. After that, he was fine and went forward happily. Forward being the key word. He likes to move and has lots of energy. And it’s not nervous energy either. He loves to explore.

With everything melting this week, the grey horses are looking pretty disgusting. McCool is getting dirtier by the minute. I have no idea how I will get him presentable for this event. One way or another, he’s bound to embarrass me!

Can you tell that I’m nervous about the demo? It’s not exactly that I’m afraid to speak in front of an audience. I’ve been teaching at OCTRA clinics for years (Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association). But I’m so familiar with that material that I don’t need to prepare. This one I had to really sit down and organize my thoughts. I’m sure we will be fine once we’re there. But in the meantime, I’m fussing.

Here are some random photos that I’ve been taking lately…

King
King
Diego
Diego
Ella (Spanish Lady). Veronica's Standardbred mare.
Ella (Spanish Lady). Veronica’s Standardbred mare.
Bandit. A friend's cat.
Bandit. A friend’s cat.
A friend's very friendly cat. Snorkely.
A friend’s very friendly cat. Snorkely.

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One of the Ladies
One of the Ladies

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Ares Loves Ana

Ana's first ride on her own horse.
Ana’s first ride on her own horse.

This week, I signed Ares over to Anastasija. I’ve resisted actually giving him to her because Anastasija is young. She hasn’t been out of school for long, and that’s a difficult time to get a horse. However, she’s been paying his bills for quite a while now, and the two of them are utterly devoted to each other.

Ares is a Standardbred. He was a difficult horse to break to harness, and eventually was sent to the Mennonites for training. They are very competent, but have no time for neurosis. And Ares is a lily-livered little weeble. So he came out of that with a very well-developed case of learned helplessness. When terrified (which is often), Ares goes into a sort of quivering state of suspended animation. He has never ever bolted or bucked. He does occasionally pop a little half-rear when he is completely overwhelmed. But he would never EVER be deliberately bad. When frightened, he just stands, shaking, awaiting his doom.

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He’s a small, stocky horse, with a disproportionately large head. And sort of oddly placed, large eyes. Despite his less that elegant appearance standing still, Ares can move. Really move. He was a pacer on the track, and will sometimes pace under saddle. But luckily his pace is very smooth, so that’s not as much of a disadvantage as it is with some pacers. His trot is huge and sweeping. It’s unusual for a Standardbred, but he loves to canter, does it very well, and that is his preferred gait under saddle. He also has a multiplicity of other gaits. None of which I can identify (though someone with more experience with gaited horses would likely know).

So. When I first got this guy and started working with him, all I could think was “OMG, who is ever going to want this horse?” I could see some potential in him. But first impressions are important, and Ares doesn’t exactly overwhelm you with his elegance, beauty, or presence. Anastasija is a very athletic and very brave rider. She lacks experience, but she’s still young and unafraid. So I gave her the project of riding Ares in the hope that we could at least turn him into a decent trail horse. Which, surprisingly, he took to very easily. He’s not particularly spooky and enjoys going anywhere that Ana goes.

Ares very quickly became devoted to his beloved Ana. He’s like a cartoon horse. Ana goes out to the paddock and calls “Ares! I’m here!!” And that crazy little horse pops his head up and runs to her with little hearts and flowers circling around his ears. He rests his chin on her shoulder and closes his eyes in a swoon. It’s ridiculously sappy.

Anastasija thinks he is the most beautiful horse in the world. And when he’s with her, he kind of is.

Lining up so Anastasija can mount… yes, from a bucket. I think we all fell off that bucket at least once this winter. The real mounting block is under several feet of snow and ice.

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Riding Again

After several months of glare ice everywhere, I finally felt it was safe enough to saddle up and go for a little ride on Monday. There are still not a whole lot of safe places to ride. Just the driveway. And even then, it’s got a solid, thick base layer of ice under the snow. ¬†But so long as we stay right on the tire tracks, and don’t drift to the center, it’s reasonably safe at a walk.

Might be time to clip Diego's bridle path
Might be time to clip Diego’s bridle path

I was a bit concerned the first day, worrying that Diego might be overly exuberant after two months off. But he was just perfect. Walking along calm and forward, eyes bright, snorting happily. He was very pleased to be out and about, but quite aware of the footing. ¬†For a horse with a history of being herdbound (insanely herdbound at times), it was just lovely to see the confidence he’s developed.

I rode again the next day, with much the same reaction from Diego.  Calm, steady, happy.  As for me, I felt mildly euphoric. Afterwards, I posted this on Facebook:

It just occurred to me that I’m feeling quite cheerful for a change. Then I realized that I rode yesterday and today. Apparently that’s all it takes

Sometimes I am oblivious to my own moods and motivations. Riding is the only real exercise that I like doing. Or that I WILL do consistently. I know that I ought to do other things when I can’t ride. But really… I just don’t. And when I don’t ride, I get depressed and cranky without even realizing what the problem is. ¬†And then contrarily, I don’t want to do anything at all… not even ride. ¬†After two days of riding (and not even very exciting riding), I was reborn.

Lining up so Anastasija can mount... yes, from a bucket. I think we all fell off that bucket at least once this week. The real mounting block is under several feet of snow and ice.
Lining up so Anastasija can mount… yes, from a bucket. I think we all fell off that bucket at least once this week. The real mounting block is under several feet of snow and ice.

Anastasija brought Ares out with us on Wednesday, and had much the same response to finally getting out to ride. ¬†Very very happy. ¬†Ares was happy too. Not to be out (especially not to be out with Diego, who he despises), but to have Ana’s attention. Ares is a very strange little horse. Crazy anxious, to the point of being ridiculous. He seems to be convinced that everyone wants to kill him and eat him for dinner. But he adores Anastasija. You can practically see little hearts floating in the air around his head when she’s nearby.

There's his "I love you Ana (but I hate you Diego!)" face. He's a very conflicted guy .
There’s his “I love you Ana (but I hate you Diego!)” face. He’s a very conflicted guy .
Up and down the driveway
Up and down the driveway

Our flurry of riding got Jen motivated, and she brought Twister out with us yesterday and today. That was a very big moment for them. Twister developed laminitis last February (he’s very insulin-resistant) and Jen thought for a while that she was going to lose him. ¬†But here he is a year later, ¬†sound again. He’s got to be very strictly managed to maintain that soundness. He can’t have grass at all. Only hay that’s been tested to make sure it’s low-sugar. No grain. No carrots. No apples. Nothing with sugar or molasses in it. His feet have to be trimmed every couple of weeks. ¬†But Jen is dedicated and Twister is lucky.

Twister!
Twister!

So that’s five days in a row of riding for Diego and I. Almost all walking. But at least we are out and enjoying ourselves.

Just to top things off… ¬†last night, Venice emerged from her terrified little shell enough that she willingly took pieces of crunch from the palm of my hand. She is not hesitating or fussing or diving for it. She is not afraid to let her muzzle touch my hand at all. ¬†Since that’s been one of her really serious fears – hands near her face – this was an enormous breakthrough! ¬†Tonight when I went in her stall to have our daily visit, she was looking for her cookies and knew exactly why I was reaching into my pocket. No spooking, flinching, or quivering. Just pure, bright-eyed greed. “Hello! Got food?”

Maybe I’ll be able to start clicker training her now. That might accelerate her progress.

 
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Playing With McCool

SAMSUNG CSCThe snow is reaching outrageous levels here (at least for southern Ontario). ¬†It’s been drifting in across the open field in front of my place. The plow truck is no longer able to deal with it (although it must be said that there could be some operator incompetency involved – I think maybe snowplow drivers in the GTA lack practice with, you know… ‘snow’?). There are huge snow piles between and covering my driveway (or what’s left of my driveway) and the house and barn. ¬†We have to climb banks to get to the cars. ¬†My truck is completely stranded on the house side of the snow mountain. ¬† So we’ve got a front end loader coming in sometime in the next couple of days to try to clear it away. At this point, the hay is running low, and we’d have to lug the bales up over snowbanks and wade to the path to the barn with them, one at a time. So I really hope the loader comes before the hay.

McCool, despite the intimidating piles of snow, has made a couple of breaks for it lately when we haven’t been careful. He’s a very adventurous guy. Shooting across the ice in front of the barn, up over the drift, across the next ice patch, and over the snow mountain to the plowed section of driveway. Wahoo! Then he skids a few times on the ice before returning to the sound of food rattling in a bucket.

Since he seems so determined to explore the world, I took him for a walk today. Just in hand. No riding. Even walking it’s pretty scary footing. The plow cleared the main drive back down to glare ice.

McCool is one of those horses who barges through life cheerfully, mowing down anything in his path. That would include humans if they were foolish enough to get in his way. So that’s what we are working on currently. Good leading manners. Teaching him that humans need a space bubble around them. ¬†He’s quite willing, just uneducated and not particularly sensitive. I’ve already done some work with him, but that was a couple of months ago. So we had a refresher today. His job is to maintain his position, no matter what I do. I want the middle of his neck exactly parallel with my shoulder while I’m walking, and an arm’s length of space between us.

To do this, I start by walking forward and then stop. First just one step and stop before his attention drifts off. If he stops with me, I click and reward. This pretty much gets him locked right on to me like a laser. I keep repeating a few steps and stop. He has to be paying attention and stop with me. I don’t reward him if he gets ahead of me. ¬†I just ask him to move back into position beside me before carrying on with a couple of steps and stop again. ¬†If he won’t move back into the correct position, I do not move, and I don’t struggle with him. I send him forward around me in a circle until he comes back to where he should be. Then carry on.

Once he stops reliably, I make it a bit harder. I stop and step back. If he’s learned the lesson that I think he’s learned, he’ll step back with me, keeping the middle of his neck exactly parallel to my shoulder, and not swinging his hindquarters outward.

With a horse like McCool, who is very confident, I have to be very careful to feed for position. That means that I must stretch my arm out, and put my closed hand where I want his head to be (not pushing into my space, facing straight forward, with the middle of his neck beside me) before I open my hand. ¬†This teaches the horse that mugging the human is pointless. The food is going to be “over there”, away from the human. ¬†If they are going to mug you, or come into your space, it will happen when you back up. Because instead of stepping straight back, parallel to the human, they will tend to want to swing their hindquarters out and just turn inwards to follow with their head.

The next step is speed changes. So I walk slow, then fast. If he speeds up to maintain his position, I click/treat. ¬†(If he gets ahead of me, I stop, plant my feet, and reposition him.) ¬†Then try slow… fast… stop. Then try jogging. That always seems to surprise them the first couple of times. ¬†I usually introduce the cue “ready?” at this point. So I’ll say “ready?” just before I start. (This turns into a verbal cue – “ready? trot!” that I use when trotting my horse for the vets in competition. ) Initially when we jog, it’s only a couple of steps and stop. I’m not looking for speed. Just want two or three steps of trot with the horse maintaining that position exactly parallel to me. It’s really important that I know exactly where I want the horse to be in relation to my shoulder and only reward exactly that position. I use a visual reference point. Like being able to just barely see the point of shoulder out the corner of my eye. That’s what makes them understand the exercise. If I am vague about where I want them, they don’t really ‘get’ what I’m asking for. And even with a treat, they will begin to either get frustrated or just lose interest in what the stupid human is unable to explain to them. Precision and timing are really important, just as they are in all horse training.

Usually when I practice this stuff, I do some circles and turns. But with the ice, we could only find a few spots where we could even jog a couple of steps. ¬†McCool seems to be careful and good with his feet. So his slips were just small and controlled. But it was probably stretching it even to do what we did. It’s just been driving me crazy not to do anything though.

McCool is highly food motivated, and being an Arab, also highly interested in interacting with humans. So he’s all over this clicker training thing. He reminds me a lot of King when I’m working with him. Very intense, and so quick to learn new things that he sometimes jumps way ahead of my lesson plan. ¬†Today, he was really good. By the end of the session, he was in flowing in perfect lock-step with me. ¬†He hasn’t forgotten anything that we’ve worked on, and was just thrilled to be out hiking around. He is not the least bit interested in what those boring horses at home are doing. He is not, in any way, a nervous, herd-bound horse.

I’m not fooling myself into thinking that McCool is always going to be totally easy. He has quite a few opinions of his own. ¬†But I’m really getting to like him a lot. He is confident, smart, and forward. And since he’s had his teeth done, and the chiro and massage work, he’s been exhilarated with life. It’s fun to see just how darned happy he is these days.

[P.S. For anyone who is not familiar with clicker training… no, I don’t feed treats constantly and forever. I use clicker training to teach new behaviours, and to reinforce periodically thereafter. ¬†And I teach good treat-taking manners first, before focusing on other things. Usually with target training (teaching them to touch a target from the other side of a fence, wall, or gate). ¬†]

 

 

 

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