Friday, April 22, 2011

So much to learn.

I'll start with the first lesson. Do not hide plastic Easter eggs filled with candy in the back yard and then leave the dog unattended back there. It was frustrating but thankfully not too awful. I'm not sure what candy she ate since I never found the wrappers. Which makes me think of this song for some reason. Which is one of my favorites by them (I actually have many favorites by them ... ironic since I remember when they'd play at the Grey Door in the 80's and everyone thought they sucked). So, after that brief digression ... I am happy to say the pitbull is fine even if she did eat the candy - wrappers and all.

And I have a lot to learn about young horses. I went out yesterday to spend time with Sinatra and realized how spoiled I've been working with older, really well trained horses. Even Ziggy, who is always so excited to be out of his stall that I have to really work to get his attention to slow down and not pull me out to the pastures or back, is old enough that he's been fully trained. And even though Rolls and Gabrielle are close to the same age, they've had lots of time working every day with the same consistency and the same trainer. Granted I don't get nervous around Sinatra like I do Rolls because he doesn't spook like Rolls does (and he's a lot smaller) I realized yesterday I was at a loss as to what to do for his stubborn balking episodes.

When I first met Sinatra when he was maybe a year old but probably less, I hadn't been around horses in about twenty-some years and I just went with what little I remembered (basic safety stuff) and my gut feelings. A few times when I was done cleaning the stalls I would put the treats I'd brought into my pocket and go out and find Sinatra and put on his halter and walk him around. When he first let me groom him and pick up his feet I used the same technique. Pet him lots, show him the brush/give him a treat and take the brush away when he looked worried. Let him chill out a second then show him the brush/give him a treat and maybe put it closer to him, then take it away when he looked worried. Until he finally let me brush him with it and then he loved it.

But between then and now I have since been told not to bribe babies with treats because it spoils them and they will start not doing stuff in order to get a treat. I noticed that the first day with Sinatra. So, yesterday I (mistakenly) figured he was doing the same thing with me. But of course not. That would be too easy and simple and horses are complex creatures (or complex to us predators because as prey animals they experience the world so differently).

He seemed happy to be getting attention when I got out there yesterday and although happy to leave his stall he was very mellow. He was walking a little stiffly on his front feet and after watching for a few minutes I realized it was because he'd just had his shoes taken off - not because his lameness was bothering him. I'd forgotten he'd had shoes for ... a year maybe? and that they'd just been taken off. So, that was a relief that he's just adjusting to that and not having pain from the strain in his feet. He was being pretty polite for a kid in a new place. He wanted to sniff everything and he was very interested in the puddles in the driveway. I wanted to take him in the arena because the footing is so much better than outside but he was very scared of it and I decided since he's still adjusting to the barn, his stall, the grooming area, we didn't need to add the arena just yet. We can add that this weekend when there are no horses in it.

We went all the way around the outside of the barn and came in the back door instead of the front door, which was a little disconcerting to him because from that new angle he thought it was a new place. Then we walked by Gemini, the Lipazaner who is about his age. Gemini stuck his nose out of his stall and was very interested in Sinatra and I let Sinatra look at him, but I could tell if they touched noses Sinatra was going to get excited and jump around which is currently a no-no and not safe in the aisle of the barn anyway. Then I asked him to come with me so I could groom him and he wouldn't budge. He had decided he loved Gemini and was going to stand there in front of his stall forever. Gemini, meanwhile was leaning his nose out as far as he could and making little "You're my new best friend!" noises. I had a sudden vision of me in the same situation with my 7-year old at a friend's house and thought, "Threatening Sinatra that I'm going to take away his privileges is not going to do any good. Damn!" So, we just stood there a minute or two (because he does need to get to know the horses even if it is just standing by their stall), then I asked him to walk and he ignored me, so I gave him a light tap with the lead rope, firmly told him to walk and clucked a few times and he sighed and followed me.

Didn't want to go in the grooming area again, but this time he looked more scared than stubborn. Granted, we were going in a different one (even though they all look the same to me) because another horse was in the one he was in yesterday. So, I reached in and rattled the treat bag in my grooming bag and he walked right in. I made a point of getting him into the cross ties and praising him heavily before I gave him his treat. Cross ties didn't go as well as yesterday. He wanted to suck on one of them, then when my instructor let Toadie out in the arena I told Sinatra I'd be right back so I could watch Toadie do her galloping and bucking because it's so pretty and poor Sinatra had a panic attack and was kicking the walls and getting all worked up. So, I came back and calmed him down and he went back to trying to suck on one of the cross ties. I found a horse pacifier online that I think I'm going to get and hook up to the wall in his stall. He continued to be ancy and impatient on the cross ties, then the minute I took them off he relaxed and followed me like a puppy.

Until we got to his stall and we had another show down because he didn't want to get in his stall. I tried walking him in a circle then entering again, tried backing him in (which made him panic a little) then tried leading him in again. Finally, out of frustration I decided I had to give in and bribe him with treats because I had to go home and get ready for the Easter egg hunt at our house. So, I grabbed a carrot and held it out for him to follow me and the carrot into the stall, but this time he tried to reach his head in as far as he could to grab the carrot without going in the stall. And he didn't have that stubborn look in his eyes, he had a kind of scared look in his eyes. So, it took a lot of coaxing and gentle talking and soothing to get him to go in and get the carrot. And he finally did and he relaxed as soon as he was in, especially when I took off his halter. We're working on not rushing the door when I come in or when I leave and I can tell that for a split second he wants to do it correctly, but then the habit takes over and he starts to walk toward the door when I leave to try and squeeze out. But even yesterday he was much quieter about it than the day before.

I left the stall and thank goodness there was my instructor walking by and she asked how he's doing. I lamented that I did not know how to get him in the stall when he balks without using treats as an incentive. She said, "What is wrong with treats? You're just using small pieces and only using them as rewards, right?" and I said yes, but I'd been told you don't want the horse to equate going in the stall with deserving treats. She scoffed and said, "Do you have ten hours right now to work with him? I don't think so. Small treats at appropriate times are fine. He's a little kid and he's in a totally new environment. We will get more firm with him when he is more established if need be but right now he's in the adjustment period and treats are appropriate." Ok then. My instructor has spoken. ;)

That makes me think of Juan at my old stable. All the horses love him and when he leads them around and handles them, even the "loco one" Tyee* acts like a calm little kitten around him. And I've seen him give all of them a handful of grain whenever he brings them in from the pasture. It doesn't matter if they walk right up to him with or without grain, they still get a little handful of grain. But he grew up in Mexico and didn't have all these different trainers telling him conflicting things or all these books or dvd's swearing "this is the only way to train a horse". He just does what he was taught and what feels right. Which reminds me, I need to do the same thing working with Sinatra I do as a parent. Find, first of all a mentor or two that I like the way they are with horses (like my current and previous instructors) and then stick to the advice that feels right in my gut from books and dvd's from trainers. And then just leave the rest as "not for me".

*I actually really like Tyee and I think he and Sinatra have similar personalities - very smart, very energetic, very social. But they are kids and high-energy, smart kids at that, so not the same experience as a well-seasoned high level dressage horse.

1 comment:

  1. A few years ago, my dog who would eat anything somehow managed to find and get into a CLOSED package of Butterfinger eggs. The entire bag was gone before discovered. I frantically called the vet who reassured me that there was such small amounts of real cocoa in this cheap chocolate that it would not likely have any effect on my large, overweight dog. As predicted, my dog was fine, complete with sparkly, foil-adorned poop for the next week or two!

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