Equestrian Life


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Starting to work together

Pate is coming along really nicely. We have spent the last few days working on scary obstacles, advanced leading skills and more liberty work.

He's sending over tarps, small jumps and through obstacles. I can pick up his feet. He comes to me when I approach and comes when he is called. I have started sacking him out with the tarp and saddle blankets to prepare for the saddle. Tomorrow I will start with trailer loading and the clippers.

He has really settled down and is accepting of me and his surroundings. Fewer noises scare him and he is getting the hang of being a domestic horse.

His face is healing nicely and he is feeling better everyday.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Scarface revealed

Sorry for the delay. Work has been busy. Yes, work. I own a small business with 10 employees. Horse training is what I do for fun, so Patriot is a part time affair. Sigh..

I would like to get better pictures for you, but I am working alone. I'll see if I can get a friend to hold the camera over the weekend and get more interesting shots.

Pate and I have been working diligently to gain trust. It was imperative that I be able to doctor his cut, but I did not want to rush the trust. Pate is a very flighty boy and very sensitive. I have taken to calling him "volcano" because he is very reactive. The slightest move on my part is communicated loud and clear, so my movements must be deliberate, purposeful and very light. His sensitivity is a blessing in disguise, but that will be revealed as time goes on.

I have needed to work slowly to build trust and respect. I knew that doctoring the cut would be painful to him, so he had to trust me to, one, work on his face and two, cause a little pain.

Yesterday, I wanted to work him in the round pen. I opened up the gate to the pen hoping that he would be curious enough to go exploring. Nope, too scared! So I attached a rope to his halter and led him out, one small step at a time. He leads pretty well, so it was a confidence thing on his part. It gave me the opportunity to refine pressure and release and it gave him confidence. He is very light in the halter and I want to keep it that way.

Once in the round pen, we worked on sending, more halter work and liberty. He has begun to "join up" with me and approach at the "kiss" sound. He's also really getting to enjoy the liberty work. I hope we will be able to do some neat things with that.

I have switched halters to a rope halter for better control. I also worked on touching his body all over, brushing and currying and the start of lifting his feet. He's doing really well. I have brushed out his mane and tail and groomed him all over. He looks MUCH better. He is standing quietly, on his own accord, no lead, for all of this.

It's interesting how his mind works. He has developed a coping mechanism over the years when he is feeling frightened or threatened... pacing. I can tell when he is worried as he will start to pace the back line of his pen. He doesn't do it in the round pen, he just leaves instead, which is normal. He also is herd bound and will pace when Tai leaves his stall. I will need to get him into as many new situations as possible to allow him to gain confidence and hopefully rid him of this behavior. He will swish his tail to the left when he is thinking about something, before he licks and chews. It's very cute.
I find it interesting that he will get to the point of almost falling asleep with his head in my arms during the training session, but paces at the beginning of the next session. It is easy to stop if I ask him to face up and pay attention to me. But it is almost like he short circuits for a tiny moment, before he remembers that I am ok and relaxes. He also likes to reach down a grab big mouthfuls of the sand in the arena and let it dribble out. No clue there, but I am sure glad I put him in a stall instead of the arena when he first arrived. All I needed was a sand colic before he was handleable.

After the last two training sessions, it was time to doctor his cut. It is not a pretty sight. In fact, it is downright gross. I used a bucket of hot water and a wash cloth to soak the crusty, groady stuff off of the gash. As I was doing that, I was able to squeeze pus and other icky stuff out of it. It is about 1/4" wide and deep and several inches long. Needless to say, he's been on meds and bute, but I would have liked to have had it stitched. My vet is not a dart gun carrying zulu warrior, so we had to wait. We will see what we can do with it now, but it will leave a scar. After some antiseptic and salve, he's good to go. Although a quick training session with the fly mask was imperative as it's a new permanent installation until his face heals.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Patriot meets "The Flag"

There is a tool in every modern horse trainers arsenal called a flag. It is essentially a 12" square piece of fabric made of nylon or other suitably scary material affixed to a 3' long stick. There is something to be said about the new lightweight fancy ones. Especially if they make the right amount of noise. The idea is that they should make noise. Enough noise to scare the horse a little. Not the bejeezuz out of him, but enough to get his attention. It allows a horse, like a wild one, to face his fears and emotionally and mentally deal with something not normally found in the wild!

To think that up until recently, I never owned a proper flag. You know the super duper, hi-tech, lightweight, NASA designed flag with your favorite trainers logo on it that you can only buy from that trainer, because no other trainers flag will work. :) Nope, all these years I have been using a plastic bag tied to the end of a dressage whip and, hey, it worked.

But enough about me, as I said, tonight, Patriot (I have decided on Patriot, so just go with it), met "The Flag"! We have been working on our liberty exercises for the past few nights and I got to the point where I just could not stand it anymore!! I need to get that cut doctored. He has really settled in my presence, so I felt that I could finally introduce the flag without him testing the 6' high panels.

I started out just standing in his pen waving it around and getting him used to the idea. I then placed it on the ground in front of him and stepped back. He did what every good wild one does. He took about 4 seconds to reach out and sniff it and proceeded to step on, chew, stomp and bite on my very expensive, NASA designed flag. Hmm, should have used that old one. :)

After a few excruciating minutes, I retrieved my precious flag, dusted it off, checked it for ticks (just kidding) and started stroking him with it. Like on previous nights with the rope, I petted and bumped and stroked him all over head to foot, paying close attention to his face and ears. A few times, he found it scary enough to run off, so I sent him away until he turned back and faced me. It didn't take long for him to realize that the flag is actually boring. At this point, I knew I had him!! Success! It was then that I reached up, unbuckled his halter, placed it correctly on his head and removed all the forelock hairs from his ugly looking wound. I spent the last few minutes rubbing and scratching his ears, neck and face, ending the night with his head cradled in my arms. Whew! I feel better now!

Way to dark for pictures. Sorry!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Liberty begins

Today we worked on all the same things we did yesterday, but without a lead. In his bigger pen, we practiced sending, facing up and backing with only hand signals. He really enjoyed the game as he started to flip his head around and play with me. It made me laugh. He's comfortable enough with me to approach and stay as I pet his head, neck and withers.

Tomorrow, we move into the 60' round pen as I am confident that he will not try to leap the 6' high panels. All I needed was him to try that with a running start and get caught up on the fence!

He has finally settled in as he will now stay in the stall and eat as I approach or stand outside. Before today, he would leave rapidly and pace at the far end of the paddock. As Steve Rother says, "The gentle is starting to soak into his brain".

Monday, June 18, 2007

Major progress for the Munchkin

Saturday was a very wet day. I decided to stay inside where it was warm and give everyone the day off. Sunday turned out to be dry, but still grey and overcast.

I started out the training session with him back in his 6' x 12' stall, only this time, with the gate open. I leaned against the open gate and fed Tai his favorite cookies. It wasn't long before he was sniffing at me asking for one. I gave him a few and scratched his chin. I slowly moved my hand around his face and petted until he walked away calmly.

I rounded up my old soft cotton rope with no clip. I have an exact duplicate with a snap that I also had with me. I spent about 45 minutes tossing and swinging and bumping him with the rope. I covered both sides of his body and his face. I then used it to gently pull his nose towards me and asked him to give to pressure. When he turned to look at me, it fell away, giving instant release. After several rounds of this, I was able to get him to face me with pressure. It was time to move forward. I snapped the duplicate rope to his halter and began his halter training. Give and release, give and release. When he mastered this, I threw the rope up and over his head and around his backside, asking for a release on the opposite side. He was concerned about the opposite pressure, but tried really hard.
Needing a longer rope to dial in this exercise, I gave him a break and got my 25' rope. Man, that longer rope was scary! He paced a bit when I first introduced it to the pen, but he quickly settled. I snapped the long rope to his halter and began desensitizing him with it, doing all the same swinging, tossing and bumping. He got to the point where I could swing it over his head and around his backside and he would give before I even had the rope in place! I knew it was then time for some beginning leading lessons.

I brought him back into his pen and we practised following the pressure as I walked around the pen. When he was comfortable with that, I began "sending" him in a circle around me and then asked him to "hide his hinney", an exercise that Steve Rother taught me. It is when you ask him to turn and face you on the end of the line, essentially, hiding his backside from view, because his face is in the way, or in other words, disengage his hindquarters. It's a good first step to liberty work and a great way to stay safe from his hind feet!

We worked until he would send in both directions, hide his backside/ disengage his hindquarters, lead, and back with indirect pressure.

The sending exercise really connected with him. He caught on to the game fast and was more than happy to face me and approach. He was even comfortable enough to allow me to pet his head and neck down to his withers. Although, he did try to "taste" me, well ok, bite me, which met with a sharp reprimand! A little test of my true leadership position! He wasn't quite sure before he tried that! Now, he's sure!

I worked on getting the halter back over his one ear, but realized that his forelock is wrapped around the halter and also pasted to his head at the wound site. Every time I moved the halter, it pulled on the wound, which is still very sore and swollen. Pain is no way to make friends with a wild one, so I am going to abandon halter work for now and go on to liberty training instead until it either heals enough or he trusts me enough to pull on the forelock. I do not want to risk the halter coming off during a pressure exercise and to teach him that he can leave. I would have been able to do it, if not for the wound. Guess I just get to deal with one more level of difficulty.

I am pretty happy with the progress today. I am still struggling with determining a name. I thought of a few more. Majestic, Streak, Lil' Bit, Jazz, Park, or Patriot (Pate, for short). What do you think?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Tolerating me

Friday. He will stand quietly with me nearby. Now is the time to start to move this party forward. I have a panel configuration that allows me to set-up a 6' x 12' stall with a gate. This allows me to use my pole or stick to stroke him, with enough room for him to get away, but not out of reach. This set-up worked beautifully with my Mustang "River", but she is SOO much bigger than this little pip squeak! He is able to stand sideways on the 6' end, scrunched up! LOL

At first, he paced hurriedly, quite worried about his new small space, convinced that he was horse du jour. I remind him that if I wanted to eat him, I wouldn't need an elaborate and expensive horse facility set-up! :) Besides, two of his neighbors were saved from slaughter through our local horse rescue, so he was safe with me!

I let him settle and face me. After a few jumps and quivers, I use my stick to gently stroke his face, working back towards his hindquarters. After a few minutes, he lets out a loud sigh, cocks a rear leg to rest and licks and chews. I continue to speak softly and sing to him. Once I am able to touch both sides and all over his body, I open the gate and walk away. He eyes me with a strange look. "Hmmm, that wasn't so bad!
He's managed to pull the halter he came with over one ear, half on, half off. Tomorrow, we will work toward fixing that.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Time spent doing nothing, but well worth it!

It's Thursday. I have fed him, cleaned his stall, kissed to him, talked to him and let him nuzzle me. He's settled down and that is all that I expect right now. Trust. Trust is the key and I want him to take the lead. I have the weekend ahead to do nothing but play with the new pony.

First Contact

It's Monday. He's finally stopped pacing. I enter the pen next door where his new best friend "Tai" lives. I lean against the adjoining panel and play with Tai. Tai is busy molesting me for carrots and cookies. I pay no attention to the new arrival, but can see from the corner of my eye that he is very interested in what I am doing. I can also see that his gash is pretty bad. I tell myself that I need to get some salve on that cut. After a short while, he approaches. Ever so cautiously, he sniffs my arm, then my hand. I reach slowly for his nose and he holds his ground and let's me touch it. I gently scratch his nose and under his chin remembering how yesterday, he would bolt at the sound of a kiss, but chuckle at how he tried to "taste" the muck rake. He's going to be ok! Now, I need a name. Majestic? Streak, after the stripe down his nose? I will let time tell me his new name.

The Arrival

It's two hours before my big 40th Birthday Bash. 80 people are about to show up at my farm to help me celebrate. I am at the grocery store buying last minute goods and lots AND lots of ice. Weird since it's pouring buckets and I am freezing. I get a call from the hauler. "I'm at your gate, and he's ready to get out!" Oh, man! I tell my Auntie Gail, "We have to hurry!" "Oh, and it's a BOY!" Yippee! I was hoping for a gelding!

We rush home. Wayne backs the trailer up to the pen and warns me. "He's been pretty frantic until I loaded a mare with him". Great! Turns out, my little boy was a full fledged man until right before he came home to me. No wonder he's frantic. His only experience with humans has, so far been a bad one. The trailer positioned, Wayne opens the gate. At first, no movement. Then, out he comes! We carefully shoosh him into his pen and close the door.

Wow! He's small, maybe 14 hands, only four years old. He is a bay roan with three white socks and a white streak down his nose. He has not lacked for food, as he sports a big old hay belly and has quite the cresty neck. He has cut his face pretty good somewhere along the line and has a trickle of blood running down his nose. He's really freaked out and tries to leap the 6' fence 4 times. You can hear the voice in his head, "I must escape!" He realizes that he cannot get out and starts pacing. Pacing that continues through the night and well into the next two days.

I feel sorry for the little guy. His paper work says he was born in captivity, four years ago, at the Palomino Valley Corrals. He has known only captivity, yet the panels, people, and noises scare the hell out of him. I hope that he will settle down, eventually. I murmur to him that everything will be alright, and go back to preparing for my party.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


It's Sunday night. In four days, my mustang will arrive. I sit and ponder, "What kind of horse will it be? Will it be a boy or girl? Man, I hope its a gelding! Will it be dominant, like my Mustang River, or submissive, like my Mustang Canyon? Will I do well? Will I get hurt?"

I am excited, yet nervous. I have never tested my skills as a horse trainer outside of the regular show arena. Yes, I have entered and won many jumping and dressage competitions over the years on horses that I have started. I have developed a partnership with a horse that has brought me to tears. But never have I tested my "first 90 days" skills, other than I own some pretty cool riding horses. This wont be the first horse that I have started under saddle, nor will it be my last. I have even started a few mustangs, but never for prize money, never for a competition. Jeez, now I know how Steve Rother and Ken McNabb feel when they demo and start young horses in three days at the expos! I've seen it done in three days and I have 100 days. It should be more than possible?!

I am not one that likes to rush a young horse along, especially a Mustang. It's always easier to let a Mustang choose to like you first and come to you when it's ready. It safer that way! But this time, we are under the gun. This horse will have to learn to like me fast, as we have a lot to learn in 100 days and it's going to be a wild ride!

I was excited to find out that I was a chosen trainer. One of 100 chosen from 220 candidates. I feel lucky, I feel special, I feel scared! What have I gotten myself into??