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. 

1 comment:

  1. Lauren, I think you are doing great! Someone reminded me "Rome wasn't built in a day" as I kept hitting lameness issues with my horse, and wanting things to get better fast...and I guess I didn't graduate from high school in a week either, but it's so easy to look at a ridden horse and not appreciate what all he went through! I admire you for going back and "reviewing" for Marley--I'm sure it will help him feel all the more secure with you!