Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Settling In

Marley has been diligently mowing the lawn at Brody Ranch now for the last five days, and aside from a minor bee sting, he is doing great.  The second day he was there it snowed and Marley spent the day digging through the snow to get to the grass rather than eating all of his hay.  He didn't care that it was snowing, he stood outside and even played with us when we kicked snow around. 

My little mustang is getting bigger!

Marley seemed pretty happy with his stall, but sometimes walking through the barn was a little spooky for him.  Since we couldn't do any riding as it was snowing, I decided to bring Marley into the barn for some target training.  I started asking him to target to objects all over the barn that he was afraid of.  Pretty soon, exploring the barn became a game, and Marley will do just about anything for a carrot.   Just like that, the barn was safe.
Marley laying down on cue

The next day, in typical Colorado fashion, it was warm, sunny, and all of the snow melted.  I decided to take Marley out for a ride through the field.  I rode him bareback, and he was great.  It was still a little wet, so we did some trotting, but mostly we enjoyed the nice weather and a relaxing morning.

Today, Marley and I spent time together and went on a long walk.  He was great on the road and didn't spook once.  The best part was that when we finished up for the day, I didn't have to put him into a stall. 

"Mom, you're embarrassing me!"

Happy Marley

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The past couple of weeks

(These are written from oldest to most recent, so if you want to start at the bottom, it may make more sense)

Marley's New Adventure

I have always talked about wanting big, green, pastures with ample space and room for Marley to stretch his legs.  This weekend, Marley is going south on a trial run at a new temporary home until we move.  His permanence here until December isn't for sure until we know how he and the dogs do with his presence, but so far he seems really content with this new change.  Thank you to Mike and Laura, long time family friends, for their generosity.

Marley's new ride
When we pulled in Marley was still happily eating his hay and didn't seem upset at all by the trailer ride.  That in itself is progress, as in the past he has been a little nervous coming off the trailer someplace new.  After backing out, he stood and looked around for a few minutes.  He saw his barn, the dogs, and then to his delight, the grass.  That was the end of any shred of a doubt he had about this strange new place, so I walked him to the pasture so we could get his stall ready for him. 

Marley backing out of his new trailer

Taking a look around
Marley looking at the grass on our way to the pasture

Taking Marley to the big pasture
As soon as I took Marley's halter off, he started grazing as fast as he could.  Maybe he thought he would only have a limited time here or something, I'm not sure.  Any time he has grazed in the past is when I lead him and let him graze, as the only pasture he has been in has no grass.  He did eventually slow down a little, though he never got bored of eating.  I imagined what he looked like a year ago, out in the wild, free to eat and roam whenever/wherever he pleased.  I felt really good that he could be a horse again, the way a horse should be.

Marley happily grazing in the pasture

Jazz meeting Marley

Baby meeting Marley

After we got his feeders up, stall full of shavings, and water tanks filled, I brought Marley up to the barn.  Before putting him away I spent about an hour brushing him.  I tied him to the hitching post by the barn and he stood quietly the entire time.  At one point, he even had his eyes closed while I combed his mane and tail out. 

I led him into his stall and run area, which in itself is huge.  I walked him through his stall so he could see it, and then back out to his run.  He drank, explored a little, and then started grazing again.  Ahhh what a life.

Marley has a TRAILER!!

As you recently found out, Mike and I are going to be moving to California in December.  While we had found Marley a place to live, we weren't sure how we were going to get him there.  We thought about shipping him, and we thought about the prospect of buying a truck and trailer.  We really needed a trailer, not only for distance hauling, but also in case of an emergency or if we would just like to take him somewhere new for a ride. The problem is that we don't have a car that can pull a horse trailer, and buying the truck is the expensive part. 

Dad to the rescue!  My family has had a big suburban since I was little.  We used it for years to pull horses, boats, and to pack a bunch of kids into for field trips and play dates.  It now has 280,000ish miles on it, but it's still going strong.  The problem?  It's a gas guzzler, and my Dad uses it as a commuter vehicle.  The solution?  He is getting a new car and we are taking the suburban.  Perfect! All Marley needed now was a trailer!

What I wanted to get Marley was a nice sized two horse slant load stock trailer that had ample room for growth etc.  I also would have liked a tack room.  What we could afford was a 1976 two horse straight load with little to no room for growth.  It has a small compartment up front, so no tack room, but it works.  The good news?  It pulls great, and heck, it's a start!

Marley's Sleep Over

Marley was very surprised the other morning when I showed up at 3:45AM with my camping gear!  Mike and I share one car, and while it usually works out great if we plan things correctly, sometimes it leaves one of us stranded.  Marley had a trimming appointment at 7 AM, but Mike had to be at his first job at 5 AM, and then his second one at 8.  There was no way we could make the car work unless I either canceled Marley's appointment, or Mike dropped me off at the barn super early.  Well, I didn't want to cancel his appointment, so I brought my comfy clothes and hot cocoa and thought I would get some extra zzz's with Marley.

When we got to the barn, Marley was laying down.  He watched me sleepily while I unloaded the car and set up a spot in his stall.  Both of us fell back to sleep, and I didn't hear him move until about 5:30 when I woke up suddenly to Marley sneezing in my face. 

I was still groggy and it was barely light out, but Marley was up and feeling playful.  He tried to grab the bottom of my chair out from under me, he grabbed my thermos and tossed it around, and relentlessly tried chewing and nuzzling my hair.  Finally, I gave up on any more rest and we went for an early morning walk. 

The barn early in the morning

Oh!! And most importantly for his training, Marley stood like an old pro for the farrier.  Not a single hiccup from him, I was so proud.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Life happens and Lauren forgets to blog about it....

One day I'm writing about Marley and the next I start planning a wedding and the blog goes out the window.  To my readers who are still waiting, Marley is back and I'm so sorry to keep you waiting! 

Marley just a little over a month ago... before the winter coat started coming in and before the growth spurt

Look at that belly! And awkward conformation!
Since we have spoken last, Marley has grown.  He has grown so much that his butt is about 4 inches higher than his withers.  I realized this when his trot started to feel a little funny, not off or lame, but just different.  When I got off of him and stepped back, I realized what the problem was... Marley is getting bigger!  I have stopped training him under saddle because of it, other than very light work that is, and we have been doing a lot of ground training and fattening up.  I apparently didn't get the memo that only Marley needed to gain a few lbs, so lately I have been getting a daily workout with Marley in his famous games of chase.  Also notice Marley's dark coat coming in.... he is shedding like crazy and getting ready for winter!  It looks like his winter coat is almost a liver chestnut color, but it's still a little hard to tell.  It might end up red like his coat was when I picked him up from the BLM.  I still can't believe that was 6 months ago!  Although, he acts as though it has been much longer.  I think Marley loves his new life, and I'm not just saying that. 

In a recent talk that Marley and I gave to a 4H group about the benefits of positive reinforcement training and relationship building, Marley started to learn how to fetch.  Currently we are working with a soccer ball, and I hope to eventually add other objects to his repertoire.  

Finally, I have some big news.  Marley, Mike and I will be moving to California in December.  Mike is from the bay area and we have decided that Northern California will be where we make our eventual permanent home.  We have looked at several barns for Marley and the top two contenders each back up to hundreds of acres of trails and wilderness to explore.  This was absolutely the most important thing to me in regards to what I wanted for Marley, and I'm excited to work with him in a more rural setting. 

There is so much more to talk about, and I promise, it is all coming.  I will start posting once again about Marley's training in more detail, and I will get back to the videos and photos that everyone keeps asking me about.  And if you think I'll go right back to wedding planning, you're wrong.  I was so anxious about planning that I just went ahead and got it all out of the way, so now all we have to do is basically wait until June, minus a few minor details.  :)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Beating the heat

Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
If it isn't pouring down rain and flooding around here, it is 102 degrees and humid.  What is going on Colorado?  This has been the strangest year for weather.

Marley has moved out of his stall temporarily into a newly built shed and run to allow his to dry out and give him a dry place to stand.  With all this weather we have been having, even the inside of his shed had filled with water, giving him no dry place to escape to.  Worried about his feet, comfort, and general care, I was about to just turn him out to pasture until things got better.  Luckily for me though, a new run was built that wont be filled for another week, so Marley got a new temporary home while we fix his up and let it dry out.  While I love turning Marley out, the pasture at our barn already has a lot of horses in it, so there is always a higher potential for injury.  Marley is also really goofy with other horses, so who knows what kind of mischief he would find out there.  My hope is that one day I have a grass filled pasture with a small herd to let Marley live and run in, but right now it just isn't in the cards for us.

New to Marley this summer is the wonderful world of horse camp!! Kids from around 6 -13 years old have been attending camp weekly at Amen Acres, and Marley is a hit.  They love that he was a wild horse, they get a kick out of his clicker training and tricks, and to Marley's absolute delight, they love feeding him.  After a muddy demonstration last week, the girls spent a good 45 minutes picking grass and piling it up for Marley.  They were taking his order and feeding him everything from (pretend) "spaghetti and meatballs", "peanut butter sandwiches", and even "country fried steak".  I personally didn't know that horses ate country friend steak, but apparently a mustang will eat anything.  Marley has been great with the kids, he has been calm when they run around, he lets them pet him, and at one point we even had 5 of us grooming Marley.  Wild horse indeed.

"What would you like to order for lunch Marley?"

"Hmmm, spaghetti and meatballs you say?" 

"Ok! Coming right up!"

As far as Marley's training is going, we are finally getting back to riding as the mud dries up.  I still have him in the side pull bit-less bridle, he goes so well in it and I figure why change if we don't have to?  I trained Marley to take a bit because if he was adopted out, it wouldn't be fair to him to never have had been trained in one, and then suddenly have someone pulling on his mouth.  BUT, now that he is MY horse (I still get really overwhelmed and excited about this) I choose to keep him bit-less with as little pressure as possible.  I figure that if we put in the time now with less rein and more leg and seat, he will be a much nicer, happier horse when we decide to take our training further and compete.  Marley will need to ride in a snaffle when we do compete, which he is happy to take, but in between I'd rather not use the hardware if I don't have to.

Marley has also learned to lay down flat... or rather, he is starting to trust me enough to roll him down flat from a laying down position.  I spend time rubbing his neck and belly, which he seems to like, and as we progress, he stays down longer and longer each time.  Yesterday we even took a little nap together.  Here is a video Katherine Payne took of only our second time working on this.

...And as we have gotten better and better with this, here we are taking a nap together in the sun :)

Photo by Katherine Payne Photography

Mike has also been spending some time with Marley, and while Marley is still a devoted Mama's boy, Mike is definitely his favorite romping buddy.  We led Marley to the pasture the other day while we prepared his new stall and took him WAY out to where the grass is growing.  Marley happily stopped to eat and Mike and I walked back to the barn without him.  About 30 minutes later, Marley realized neither of us were there (and no, we didn't call him) and was immediately worried.  He was suddenly at a dead run, b-lining it back to the gate.  He jumped through the lake, and with every stride let out the most pathetic whinny you've ever heard.  Once he found himself back at the gate, he screamed at us until Mike finally gave in and went to get him.  This is why I can't wait for the day I can turn him out to pasture, to live.  I want Marley to remember how to be a horse, and not just the big lap puppy he thinks he is.  Oh well, gotta love him.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Life and Love

On our hike up the mountain... I didn't know what I was in for!
Wow what a week!!  Mike and I went hiking and fishing at Chicago Lakes near Mt. Evans in Colorado and Mike proposed while we were at the lake!  We are getting Married next summer and I could not be happier.  What a year this has been so far! First with our decision to participate in the Extreme Mustang Makeover (while I continued school full time), meeting and falling in love with Marley, training our first mustang, OWNING our first mustang, and now this...  I am so overwhelmed with love and gratitude for all Mike has done to make keeping Marley a reality.  He spends time (that he barely has) helping me with Marley because it is something that I love to do, and while I know he enjoys playing with him and all that being a horse owner entails, Mike would not be here in Colorado playing with wild horses if it weren't for me.  For that, I'm eternally grateful.  Now as I gaze down at the ring on my finger, I can't believe what a lucky woman I am.  My only hope that I will bring as much to Mike's life as he brings to mine. 

Overlooking Chicago Lakes
Back in the car after a long day

Now before I get too personal on my horse blog, I'll move on to Marley's training.  Once again, our arena is a lake and the entire barn is a muddy mess.  We didn't get too much riding in last week because of it, but what training I have done has been really progressive.  Without a timeline or strict training schedule, Marley has become even more interested in training, and we are making huge strides under saddle and on the ground.  I am able to ride Marley bareback without a bridle at the walk and trot (without a liberty wire and with only some minor steering problems) which is just unbelievably exciting for me.  I feel like I'm 9 years old again playing with my first pony, Amour, who was a saint of a mare we could literally do anything on... except go fast.  Marley's patience and affection for people continues to grow and it just gets more fun to work with him every day.  I am still working on shaping his body into collection (free without tack or ropes) which I have never done, so we will see.  So far, we aren't getting anywhere quickly, but I've seen it done, and it is beautiful. 

Driving to the barn... I didn't know I had to cross a lake to get there!
Lauren (not me) and Marley

 In other Marley news, Lauren Carpenter (my pseudo little cousin) came down to see Marley for the first time since she saw him on Day 2!  She was amazed at how much he has changed, and not only that, but she got to ride him!  Marley was.... well.... safe, to say the least.  He didn't know what to do, so he just refused to do anything but walk.  Eventually he realized that this new rider on his back wasn't any different than me (no one was going to hurt him), and he was much more responsive.  Lauren will be coming to spend more time with Marley and get some riding in, which I'm really excited for because one, I love Lauren and two, it's great for Marley to be exposed to different situations and riders. 

On June 17th we are planning on doing a little schooling show down the road, so I'll take lots of pictures and post them on Monday.  As the weather gets nicer we will be spending more time actually training with Marley, and I can't wait for everyone to see how far he has come.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Word About Clicker Training and Treats

This will be a quick post but I wanted to answer some questions and respond to a few comments that I've received about treating during training.  To start, if you listen to the video I posted of Marley laying down, you can faintly hear the sound of the clicker I use, called the "bridge", as it bridges the behavior and the reward.  Marley knows that if he hears that sound, he has done something correctly.  Immediately after I bridge a few times, Marley starts nickering, a lot!  He knows he is going to get rewarded, but there is also something else going on here. 

Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
I do not treat every time I train.  I use random interrupted reinforcement, which means that Marley never knows if he is going to get a small amount of grain, his favorite carrots, or a pat and "good boy".  He also never knows the amount of reward, as I vary it.  This keeps Marley from expecting a reward, or only wanting to work for larger rewards.  It is the same system used for gambling, if you sit at a slot machine you never know what you'll get, how much you'll win, or when you will win.  This keeps people sitting for hours, because when you do win, even a little bit, it is rewarding and you want to stay for more.  In this particular video I have given Marley a "bingo" or "jackpot" reward.  This is especially effective when training a new behavior, which Marley's "lay down" is.  I essentially gave him everything I had in my pouch for laying down, letting me sit on him, and then staying down until I asked him to stand up.  Marley usually nickers a lot, but the reason Marley continues to nicker and look back at me in this video for rewards is because I continue to  reward my entire allotment of grain and carrots for that particular session.  He is not expecting a reward until he knows he is getting one, which is marked by the bridge.  I end the session here because I want that to be the last thing Marley remembers about training that day.

One more thing, I do not feed cookies as a reward.  I use his daily ration of grain spread out over the day, and I'll add some carrots into the mix to give him occasionally to keep him interested.  Many times, especially in dog training, trainers will treat a behavior every time. I have found though that the random reinforcement schedules we used with the dolphins is much more effective, fun for the animal, and you will generally keep their attention for a longer period of time..

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Enjoying our New Found Freedom

I've said it before but I'll say it again.  It is so nice to not be training for something, but rather going wherever our sessions take us.  I have been focusing on details in Marley's training that weren't important for the Extreme Mustang Makeover, but that I personally want in a future competition partner.  More than anything though, we have been doing so much ground work!  We are refining a lot of the clicker behaviors and going backwards a little bit in order to move forward onto more advanced clicker work.  My goal for this summer is to teach Marley to actually come up into a frame solely using shaping.  That is a tall order for the summer, but even if we can get that behavior started, so many amazing doors will open in terms of training in dressage and even over fences. 

You see, clicker training is good for more than just tricks!  For those of you that have read our entire history, it is how I introduced the bit, bending, turning, leading, backing, trailer-loading, lead changes, etc.  With the pressure of the 90 days breathing down our neck constantly however, I was previously satisfied with "good enough" in order to get us moving onto the next order of business.  Now with time, I am really raising my standards and hope to demonstrate that positive reinforcement training can yield more than just a back yard, trustworthy pony (but lets be honest, is there really anything better than that?).  The great part about this is that I've never trained upper level maneuvers with a clicker, so you will all get to see the trial and error version.  Sorry for this, but then again, it may also end up being really interesting for all of us training geeks out there.

So, back to Marley.  It has been hot as heck, which I'll take if my other option is wind, rain, and mud!  Mike and I are planning a hiking trip up to my absolute favorite Colorado hidden gem, Chicago Lakes (3 beautiful natural mountain lakes close to the base of mount evens and require a long hike in so no one is ever there), and I would love to bring Marley, just leading him, as horses are allowed on the trail.  I don't think it is going to happen this early in the summer unfortunately, as we are still sans trailer, but I look forward to getting him out into the mountains, where I know he is probably the most comfortable.  I still can't believe my horse used to be wild, I think about it a lot.

Marley's lay down behavior has gotten so good, check out the video Katherine took, along with a few stills.  I just love how freely and happily he lays down, and I never once used a rope to tie up his leg or lean him over.

Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography

Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
Isn't he the cutest?  Mike and I were looking at photos last night of him from the beginning, he doesn't even look like the same horse.  Check out this photo from day 2.  What a fuzzy monster!