Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 21

Photo by Katherine Payne Photography

I am so sick of this WIND!  As I've mentioned before, Marley doesn't seem to mind it, but it was howling today, much worse than yesterday, and I could barely see with all of the dust blowing around.  I still wanted to ride Marley as I had been looking so forward to riding today, but when I could barely keep the saddle on for the wind practically ripping it from my hands once and even from Marley's back later, I gave in.  When a large gust lifted the saddle off of Marley's back slightly and he did absolutely nothing but stand there quietly, he won the jackpot in carrots. 

After being defeated by the wind, I decided to work on Marley's feet a bit as we are working towards a trim on Monday.  I'm a little worried at how he will react to someone else working on his feet, but we are prepared to spend some time on it, and I think if anything it will just turn out to be a great training session. 

I also worked on Marley's "bow" behavior, and he is doing so well with it!  Putting his head down so low is really a big deal for Marley, he was really nervous about it early on, but you would never know that now!  It will still be some time before I start asking him to bring a leg down, but when he took a step back with one foot today I rewarded the movement.  That is what shaping behavior is about in training, rewarding small approximations until you have the desired end result.

Unfortunately,  I didn't have a chance to take photos again today.  I was alone and there was no way I was about to mess with a camera in that wind.  However, I have this really cute clip of Marley being adorable, but rest assured I will post photos tomorrow as I have my Dad and Mike coming out for a fun day of training!  Please please please no wind...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 20

I can't believe I have had Marley for 20 days!  I am so excited about how he is coming along, he really seems like a happy horse and I could not be more satisfied about that.  Since I have never worked with a wild horse before, I really didn't know what to expect.  I was genuinely worried that he wouldn't be happy in his new life, but I think Marley has made the transition beautifully.  He even recognizes my voice and nickers at me when he hears me coming to his stall. 

Today unfortunately I didn't have a camera as I was all alone at the barn.  Literally.  I didn't see a single person.  The wind was terrible and I could see why no one wanted to ride, but since it doesn't bother Marley, I tried not to let it bother me.  For safety reasons I went back to the round pen to ride since I was alone, but this time I rode him in the jumping saddle.  He was SO good.  A couple of days with a new routine and very light to no riding has been really good for him.  He was calm when I got on and even stood for a mounted girth adjustment!  When I asked Marley to move forward, he was very light to my leg and very soft in my hand.  I did a few flexions and there was no head tossing or resistance whatsoever.

In the English saddle, Marley is very aware of and responsive to my leg.  This worked out really well for me today because I was able to make great strides in our "turning" training.  We did several figure eight serpentines in the round pen and they were virtually hand free.  After that I had him spiraling in to the center of the circle and then back to the rail, and while it was not the most graceful thing you've ever seen, he is definitely understanding and with practice we will refine it.

                Marley Looking Scared on Day 1                                                     Not so Scary....
Photo by Forever Yours Photography
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 19

Another long day at school, but what better way to end it than with Marley?  Once again we worked in the large arena and this time I set up a mini obstacle course to help expose Marley to something different.  I walked him through everything and he followed curiously, usually snorting at anything he was less than comfortable with.  We rolled barrels around, walked through cones, stepped over poles, it was really fun.

Once Marley was bored with all of the new things he had discovered, I brought him to the mounting block and got on him for the first time in his English saddle AND in the large arena!  He was very good and stood patiently, even ignoring the horse nearby that was tearing around his turnout area.

After a great evening of training, I took off Marley's tack and let him run around and play.  He really let loose and got rid of some energy.  After a good run we played with the toys in the arena, and Marley was particularly interested in the cone I had turned into a blow horn! 

"Hey, how'd you do that?"

Family Photo

Broncos Fan

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 18

School is back in full swing so I was on a limited time schedule today which was fine because I have been thinking about transitioning Marley into the large arena.  It worked out really well today as the person riding in the arena didn't mind sharing with us (I have to be mindful of other riders and their horses as I board Marley) and we got some great training done.  I tied Marley up on the inside of the arena to groom and tack him up while the other rider rode around us.  Marley was a little nervous at first having another horse trotting and cantering around but pretty soon he relaxed and ignored him completely.  After some ground work with his feet (we're getting ready for a hoof trim) and target work, I wanted to see how Marley would lunge outside of the round pen.  He stayed really calm with the other horse working around him, and while it took him some time to figure out a nice smooth circle (it was more like a small square at first) he improved and became much softer on the end of the lead.  I think I'm going to set up an obstacle course tomorrow to really get Marley thinking, so I'm hopeful that not many people are out using the arena.  It should be really fun.
So sick of this wind!! Marley doesn't mind it...

Target Practice with Marley and "Bow" approximations

Good Boy!

Marley is much more comfortable putting his head low to the ground now, a big improvement

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Day 17

Small steps are still being taken under saddle with Marley.  Today we worked on some transitions, because breaks are good.  Marley is comfortable under saddle now so he is no longer "stuck" in place, or apprehensive to move.  Instead, as I knew he would, he has a lot more "go" than "whoa".  This is ok though, as in order to get anything done, I need Marley to be moving forward and not just stuck in one place.  It is a good building block and I don't think it will take him long to figure it out. 

I brought in some of the same flexions which we worked on yesterday as a warm up, and he picked it back up immediately.  I think I'm going to switch into an English saddle tomorrow, though I'm still going back and forth on this idea.  I might also skip the ride and move into the large arena for lunging and some ground work.  Basically, I'm indecisive at the moment, so you'll have to check back tomorrow for an update!

Day 16

Got a late start today as I haven't been feeling great.  The flu has turned into a bad cough, and Marley got an ear full from Mike and I both today.  I think it's safe to say he is officially de-sensitized to any loud, sudden noises... I'm very much over being sick.  That said, he is making great progress in other areas of his training as well.  He is targeting beautifully, and the issue he had previously with wanting to target to my hand instead of the target pole has been eliminated thanks to my friend Allison's suggestion to move back to rewarding him immediately and directly next to the target as soon as he touches it.  She works with giraffes at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and they are on a similar training program to help zoo keepers take better care of them, as well as for some fun and stimulation!  Thanks for the tip Allison, it worked great!  Marley is now starting his "bow" behavior, just something fun to work on when he's not under saddle, and it seems to be great for our trust building as he is nervous about bringing his head down low to the ground unless I'm sitting.

He is also progressing with his "mirror" behavior.  I don't know if you'll be able to hear it on the video, but it is the cutest thing ever... Marley "nickers" throughout the entire behavior.  It gets louder when we trot, and it cracks me up.

Under saddle Marley is moving forward into the walk, trot, and canter so today was all about suppleness in Marley's head and neck.  He understood flexions at a stand still, but not while moving so I devoted the entire sessions just to that.  It was our longest ride to date, though still under 30 minutes, but once Marley got it he really understood.  I'm looking forward to seeing where he picks up tomorrow.

In other news, Marley is officially in love with Chance.  Unless Chance stands up really fast from laying down.  Then he is a terrifying beast.  But otherwise, Marley was fascinated with him. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Day 15 - Bath Time!

Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
I am so happy with Marley's progression under saddle since our ride yesterday.  I brought the clicker back to to the riding portion of our training, and I really saw a difference.  I started off with a short target training session and some touch work around his ears before tacking him up.  He was much more relaxed right off the bat and walked forward confidently for the first time with very little aid.  I embraced this new forward-moving Marley and when he broke to a trot a few times I let him go and stayed out of his face.  I have kept all of my riding sessions really short, about ten minutes a piece, so our goals are really small for any given session.  I really want Marley to understand what I'm asking him to do before we really start "working".
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography

Today's small victory was understanding contact on the reins.  Since Marley was actually moving forward very willingly, I was finally able to hold a steady, light contact that he could move in to.  After a couple of minutes of tossing his head around (which is why I'm glad I don't have a bit in his mouth for this), he realized that when he stayed steady, there was never any pressure on the reins.  Towards the end he even started to put some weight into my hand.  I was able to do two controlled "S" turns before we left it at that for the day.
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography

Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
After a great training session and of course lots of praises, it was bath time!  I wasn't sure how far I would get, as Marley has only really had his legs hosed down during some de-sense work in the wash rack.  It was so warm and there was no wind, so I decided to go for it, and if he only got a partial bath, it would be ok.  In the end though, Marley was great and aside from dancing around a little bit, it was a successful shower!  The only thing I didn't mess with was shampooing his tail as he is still a little bit unpredictable and I didn't want to scare him.  He also loves playing in the water.  Katherine got some great photos of him being a goof, and I can't possibly choose between them so I'm going to just post them all.  I couldn't believe the difference it made and I got so much hair off of him, I can't wait to see what he looks like with a sleek summer coat!
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography

Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
 Drying off after his first bath!
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography

Photo by Katherine Payne Photography

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day 14

Photo by Katherine Payne Photography

Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
It was another quiet day out at the barn, which was great seeing as how yesterday panned out.  I wanted to continue with Marley's "review" and treat him as though he didn't already know some of the basics we have been working on.  He walked willingly up to the round pen and really didn't have too much trouble with anything during brushing and tacking up, so I decided I would get back in the saddle.

I got him moving on the lunge line first, using the pole again as something for him to pay attention to and have to step over.  A couple of times he was staring at other horses and stumbled over it, and each time it brought him right back to what we were doing without me having to do anything.  I like this because he is still really sensitive to pressure on the lead line, and having the pole on the ground kind of makes Marley check himself when he isn't focused. 

Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography

When I got on, Marley stood calmly and was very patient while I adjusted a stirrup that was uneven.  I was really relieved that he hadn't made any backwards steps with the mounting block, having weight on his back, etc.  Where he did regress a little bit though was his "stickiness" in not wanting to move forward.  On day 8 when I first got on Marley he seemed fine with me being on his back, but he was really unsure of moving anywhere.  After a while he loosened up and relaxed into a nice walk, and at one point, even a trot.  On his second day under saddle he was much better with this and started responding to leg pressure to move forward.  Both days I was more of a passenger than anything.  I wanted to encourage Marley to move, so I tried to just stay out of his way. 
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
 Today, some of that stickiness returned.  He was comfortable moving forward when Katherine (who took all of these lovely photos!) was standing in the middle of the round pen, but if she was outside, he would freeze up.  I spent the session working on him moving around the perimeter solo, and at the end had her return again to the center of the pen so that we could end on a really positive note. 
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
Marley also discovered the reins today.  I have basically stayed away from his face to encourage him to move forward, other than occasionally opening up a rein to steer.  Marley is responding fantastically to the reins while I'm on the ground, but he has also been standing still for all of that.  If he was moving forward and reached the end of the rein with his neck, he would move every which way to avoid it.  He figured out pretty quickly that pulling his head around wasn't effective, and again he relaxed. 

Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography

I am really interested to see how he responds to riding tomorrow.  I think I'm only going to spend another day or two in the western saddle before I move him over to my English tack, as I have a bit more control in it since that is what I'm more comfortable with.  I'd like to again focus on forward movement and I would also like him to make some kind of connection between the ground work we do and the under saddle work we are doing in regards to his bridle and some connection on the reins. 
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
All said and done, Marley was fantastic today.  I look at how far he has come and I'm extremely proud of him.  My favorite part of every training session is when I get to take all of the tack off and praise and love him for being such a good boy.  My hope is that it leaves every session, difficult or not, on a positive happy note, and creates a solid building block for further sessions. 
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Day 13 - Back to Basics

Finally a day of training!  I feel like I took a week off, I absolutely hate not getting anything done.  In addition to me feeling well enough to actually make it out to work with Marley, the gale force wind had also died down to a tolerable breeze with occasional gusts.  I was feeling optimistic about riding and showed up at Marley's stall with a game plan and a laundry list of things to accomplish, until of course reality hit me.

I was not the only one who had taken two days off (three including our day of running around the large arena playing together).  While Marley was happy to see me and greeted me as usual, the minute I put the halter on, I knew we were in for a review session.  Today was opposite day for Marley.  Everything he has been trained to do, he did the opposite!  -Put your head down for the halter- "Nope, I will lift it so high you couldn't dream of reaching me" -Lead at a reasonable distance- "Nope, I'll either stand on top of you or refuse to go anywhere at all".  -Act as though you've seen that truck a hundred times- "No thanks, I think I will dance around nervously so I'm ready in case it decides to attack me".  We were getting nowhere quick, and I had to laugh and realize that I had unrealistic expectations for a horse who has had 10 days of training and 2 days off, so we walked back to his stall and started all over. 

First I worked with haltering.  Marley is happy to follow me, so catching him is not a big deal.  The issue is that I'm 5'3" with shoes on and I'm not about to climb up a fence to halter my horse.  He has already been trained (and was great at it too!) to lower his head and put his nose into the halter.  I started with short approximations towards the end goal to get Marley interested again and understanding what my expectations were for him.  He quickly remembered, but I still worked the behavior until it was solid again.  Now, for this new found leading issue.

The great part about Marley's pen is that it is really big, and I can do a lot of ground training without even leaving his area.  I started with pressure and release work just as I had on day 1.  If I put pressure on him, and he gives, then I release the pressure.  I moved him right, left, forward, and backward over and over and in no particular order until he was back to responding to me the way he was before I got sick.  Unlike day 1, I used the clicker for this as he responds really quickly to it and understands what it means.  I also think it keeps him interested and participating rather than resisting, so we ended on a very positive note.  Ok, next.

Now, it was a very quiet day out at the barn.  Marley is used to girls running around on their horses with flags flying and cars driving by and people shouting, etc.  One would think that on a quiet day like today, a parked truck that has not moved since before Marley even arrived at the barn would not be an issue.  Well, that person has never met a horse.  For whatever reason, the parked truck was terrifying... or he had to just pick something to be terrified about... in any case, we spent another half an hour walking around it, standing next to it, walking to the other side of the property and then returning to the truck only to find that it's evil powers had returned, so on and so forth.  Finally, he ate some hay out of the back of it while I stood in the bed and rubbed him on the neck and back, and he was over it.  Phew, now what?

At this point, I had given up any training plan that I had set in my mind, and went back to letting Marley drive the session.  When we got to the round pen, Marley seemed like his old self again.  Nothing really bothered him, he was curious, and he remembered all of his target training and ground manners.  I probably could have gotten on him, but that doesn't mean I should have.  I saw Marley's hiccups today as a reminder that he is still a wild horse.  I have created a really great bond with Marley, and I know he trusts me, but when I didn't show up for two days except to clean his stall and feed him some carrots, he noticed.

Marley's pretty mane
I decided instead to spend the day revisiting all that we have done so far, and go back to the new stuff once we were effectively communicating again.  I took my time grooming him, thoroughly going through all of the motions of desensitizing a horse to touch and focusing on Marley's sensitive areas, especially his belly.  When I saddled him, I took time to let him sniff each piece of tack I brought into the round pen and proceeded slowly as though it was the first time I would set it on his back.  I constantly rewarded him for standing quietly and allowing me to work around him, and he was very good. 

When I lunged him, I brought a ground pole into the pen to add something new without me having to get on him.  He gets really bored going in circles, and I had already made the decision to stay on the ground today, so I thought this was a good solution.  He was really cute and hopped over it a couple of times awkwardly before it became a non-issue.  He really started thinking about where his feet were, and his movement improved as he started to step under himself and use his back.

After some light lunging, I put Marley's hackamore on.  Again I worked with him bringing his head down and standing quietly while I lifted the crown piece over his ears.  I have had some questions about the hackamore I have been using on Marley, so I've included a few photos.  It looks as though he has a bit in his mouth from a distance, but actually, it is just the ring that the reins attach to.  The bridle works with pressure, much like his halter but more direct.  I do plan on using a bit with Marley, and he has been in a bridle with a bit, but it will come later in our riding as I want him to learn to be soft before I put pressure on a bit.

Close-up of the hackamore
Whoa there wild pony...calm're too excited

Once I had the bridle on, I worked on flexing left and right with the reins from the ground.  Marley was really good and learned quickly that instead of moving his body or bracing against the rein, he was supposed to loosen his neck up and move just his head.  He became really soft to any pressure I put on either rein, and I'm excited to put it all together, but this was enough under tack for one day.
Marley in the wash rack
Before we went back to the stall though, we made one more stop.  Marley could really use a bath so I decided that I would start de-sensing the wash rack.  Marley was fine when I introduced it, so I proceeded by turning on the hose and holding it next to him.  Pretty soon, he realized it would be fun to play with and was trying to drink/bite/play with the water spraying out at him.  I hosed off his front feet and legs, and when he stood calmly I stopped and turned it off.  A couple of short, positive sessions like that in the wash rack and he'll be cleaned up in no time!

Overall, it was great day of training, regardless of what my plan had been when I arrived.  It is sometimes too easy to put animals into a box and expect them to behave the same way every time under every circumstance, and today was a great reminder that it doesn't always work that way.  Training is full of forward and backward steps, and Marley showed me today how important it is to go back to basics and keep the fundamentals strong before moving forward.  This way, hopefully we'll take more forward steps than backward ones.