Saturday, April 30, 2011

Day 51 - Spring Cleaning

Thankfully, the weather man was wrong about today.  It did not snow, rain, or freeze, all of which I was very thankful for.  Every day for the past week Marley has found the muddiest spot possible and either rolled or slept in it, so he desperately needed a bath.  It was still a little cold for a full bath, but I was able to scrub his legs and his tail.  It made such a difference... I had almost forgotten that Marley had white legs. 

It was a busy day at the Barn and Marley met lots of new people.  Katherine brought her husband Lyle out and we met a few new people at the barn as well.  I always love introducing Marley to people, one because I think he is great, but mostly because Marley is still apprehensive about meeting new people.  It is great training for him to have people walking up and talking, petting him, feeding him carrots, etc.  He did so well and really took everything in stride today.  He had multiple people petting on him at once while he was tied up, and he seemed happy to have the attention.

I did some ground work to start our session out, and moved slowly into riding.  I wasn't really on a time crunch today so I spent a lot of time with Marley.  We rode in the smaller arena today because the large one had a horse turned out in it, and Marley was actually about to hold a relatively balanced canter in a much smaller space than he is used to.  Overall, Marley did awesome today.  He has really made some progress this week with his confidence level.

After a great ride Katherine and Lyle helped me clean our Marley's pen and fill his shelter with lots of clean shavings.  After the 2 days of pouring rain we had last week, I had to strip Marley's shelter to let it dry out.  It took 3 wheelbarrows full of shavings to make a nice bed for Marley, and I'm hoping he uses it.

Katherine got tons of photos today, and I'm sure there are lots of great ones to put up.  I'll post them as soon as she gets them to me!

Day 50

We are more than half way through our journey now, and that makes me a little sad.  I knew that it would be hard to say goodbye to any horse that I ended up with for this competition, but I didn't think it would be this hard.  Hey Marley, want to live in a tiny apartment downtown?

We had a nice ride today.  It was really windy and some nasty storm clouds were threatening us the entire time, but Marley didn't seem to mind and I ended up riding for about 45 minutes.  He is getting into shape and we are starting to do some fine tuning.  The canter is improving slowly but surely.  I'm working it on the ground and under saddle so I'm hoping that will help to build his strength a little more.

Next weekend we are going to Abbe Ranch for their spring clinic, and if anyone in the Denver area or north is going and is interested in picking us up, I would really really appreciate it.  I had a trailer lined up but now it's broken and I am without transportation!  Yikes! We were planning on arriving Friday evening to give Marley a night to settle in, as this will be his first time off grounds.  Feel free to just shoot me an email, my address is listed on the right hand side of this page.  Also, I have the ability to pull a bumper pull if you have a trailer you're willing to loan.  Thanks everyone!

Here are the photos from Day 49 from Katherine Payne

Photo by Katherine Payne
Photo by Katherine Payne

Photo by Katherine Payne
Photo by Katherine Payne

Photo by Katherine Payne
Photo by Katherine Payne

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Day 48 & 49

Two for one blog posts today!! Sorry I didn't post yesterday, I was really busy with school and was up late working on homework.  When it came time to write Marley's blog, I couldn't keep my eyes open so I decided to write two of them today.  Also, Katherine gave me her photos and video from day 47, so I will post that below day 48.  Almost done with school for the semester, and then lots of training!

Day 49
Today was another very busy day with school work, and as much as I would have loved to ride because it was so beautiful out, I couldn't swing it.  I got to the barn with enough daylight to take Marley out for a run and a little bit of brushing.  It's probably not terrible for Marley, even though I really really want to ride, as the work we are doing under saddle now is building muscle and Marley get's tired pretty quickly.  I'm sure his muscles are getting sore, just like ours do when we start a new work out program, so a day off here and there in between rides probably feels pretty good.  I wish there weren't so many in this last week though!!  I'm almost finished with school for the semester however, and that means I get to spend lots of time training and conditioning.  I'm really looking forward to that.
Photo by Katherine Payne
Day 48
We had an awesome ride today and got some great training in on the ground.  To start, Marley was tied up to the arena fence where I always tack him up, and someone in a truck decided they would try to drive closely behind him.  Marley thought otherwise and pulled back (for his first time ever by the way) and his rope halter came untied.  His immediate instinct was to run the other way, but when I ran to try to herd him back towards the stall area (my immediate reaction was that it was much safer) he turned directly towards me.  You could tell he was spooked, but it's as if he was saying "what do I do now?!?".  Katherine was able to get me the halter and he let me walk up and put it on.  I was amazed, really, that during his instinctual flight response, he wanted to know where I was going in this terrifying situation.

Once that was behind us and we were back to being tied up and groomed next to the arena, I tacked up Marley and brought him to the round pen to start.  I have started Marley in the round pen the last few rides to get him moving correctly on his own before I get on him.  I think it will also help him in his canter work under saddle.  It really has helped, as Marley usually plays with the bit to start, but within a couple of minutes he is moving quietly into contact.  I only work him on the ground for about 10 minutes, and by the time I get on him he starts to immediately move into my hands.  I think in the coming weeks I will really see an improvement in Marley's muscling and his straightness under saddle.  We are still a little wiggly, meaning Marley moves around a lot and has a difficult time staying straight, even on a circle.  Most younger horses I have worked with encounter this, and I try to make it really rewarding for Marley when he is soft and straight.  This will also improve with fitness as it takes muscle that Marley is just building to move with his hind end engaged and into a frame.

To finish our session we got some great canter work in.  Marley gets really worried when I get into two-point (standing in the stirrups in a galloping/jumping position).  Today he finally realized I wasn't going to jump up his neck though, and as I eased into a two-point position he settled into a nice hand gallop in the large arena.  It was really great to feel him start to move freely in the canter, as that is still our toughest gait, and I was really satisfied with his improvement today. 

Day 47 Photos
Photo by Katherine Payne 

Photo by Katherine Payne

Photo by Katherine Payne
Photo by Katherine Payne

Marley's Bow!!!
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
Photo by Katherine Payne
Photo by Katherine Payne

Photo by Katherine Payne
Photo by Katherine Payne
Photo by Katherine Payne

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day 47

I went to the barn this evening thinking that Marley may be a little wound up.  Even though he has gotten out to stretch his legs, he hasn't really done much in the last couple of days.  He happily greeted me at the gate, but it looked like someone had switched my pretty little blonde horse with a mousey brown one.  Marley was coated in dried mud, so I went to work on grooming him.

As soon as the weather is nice again, Marley is going to get a bath.  Not just because he is muddy, but  because his winter coat is falling out in handfuls.  I think a good scrub will help get a lot of that hair off of him.

After getting most of the mud off of Marley I did a couple of short bow approximations.  He is doing really well with it, and I'd like to spend a few more days of him consistently performing the behavior correctly before I pair a cue with it.  Then we'll move on to his next silly trick, dancing!

I tacked Marley up and started him in the round pen before getting on.  I was surprised that after a couple of days off he picked right up where we left off.  I guess I shouldn't really be surprised anymore. I think he has demonstrated his ability to retain new training multiple times.  After some light round pen work, I moved Marley into the large arena for a ride.  I've been getting on from the ground and he jigged sideways a little bit when I put my foot in the stirrup, but I stayed there until he stopped.  When I got on he stood calmly and immediately walked forward into soft, light contact.  I did some circles, serpentines, rollbacks, backing, and transitions.  I didn't spend a lot of time riding as I like to make the first ride after a day or two off on a young horse really positive and fun.  Marley was great though, and I was excited to have Katherine there to see him.  She took some video and will be putting it on a disk for me tomorrow, so stay tuned as I'll update with the photos and videos for our ride today after I get them.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Day 46 - A nice day off for Marley

Well, after thoroughly planning my day, I figured out that the only way I was going to get to see Marley today was to be up bright and early (5:30 AM to be exact).  We didn't do any work today, but since it had rained all day on Easter, I wanted him to get some exercise at least.  Besides, I feel really guilty leaving him alone for the day, and feel as though even if I can't spend much time with him, some love and carrots are always beneficial.  It would be different too if Marley got to go out all day into a pasture with other horses and stretch his legs, but he doesn't.  The only time he gets out is when I come to work with him.  I would love for this to change for him.

Tomorrow I'm planning on devoting my evening to Marley and plan on picking back up with the new exercises and warm-up routine given to us by Jake.  I can't wait to get him out of the arena, but for now we'll keep working with what we have.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Day 45 - Rainy Easter Sunday

Photo by Katherine Payne Photography
Happy Easter everybody, I hope everyone had a great weekend with friends and family.  We didn't do any training today, it was really rainy and Marley was soaking wet, as he was just standing in the middle of his run.  All of the other horses were tucked away in their shelters, but no, not Marley.  I think he likes the water, he kept stretching and putting his nose up to the air.  I thought it was cute, but as Mike says, I think everything Marley does is cute.

I don't know if I'll be able to ride tomorrow but I will at least do some groundwork and get Marley some exercise.  I'm into my final week of school before finals and have ungodly amounts of work to do, so I am trying to utilize every second of every day.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Day 44

We had the whole barn to ourselves tonight which was really nice.  I spent some time grooming Marley and could stuff a pillow with the amount of hair that came off of him.  I can't believe how thick his winter coat is, it's falling out like crazy and it doesn't even look like he has shed out at all!

We started out with the same exercises Jake left us with yesterday, which really set the tone for the rest of our ride.  Marley was soft and our transitions are improving dramatically.  I worked a little bit on rollbacks, and spent a good portion of our ride working on the canter.  I was really happy with how the session went, so when we finished up I took his saddle and bridle off right away and we played for a while. 

After running around the arena for a little while and getting a good roll in, I decided to work on Marley's bow.  I wanted to do a few approximations, but when I asked him to come down to the target pole and tapped his leg (which right now is his cue for bow, eventually it will be a hand motion), Marley actually came completely down onto his knee for the first time, and stayed until he heard the click!  I was so excited, he won the jackpot in carrots.  Basically, I think I got the point across that his response was exactly correct.

I didn't have a camera tonight, but while we were playing around in the arena I had my phone and we took some self photos.  For all of the photos we did get, there are about 5 more of Marley trying to eat the phone. 

Day 43 - Back on track... or should I say, back in perspective

GREAT day with Marley.  Jake came out to see how we were doing and to coach us through some of our hangups.  It's always great to have another perspective, someone to see what you've missed, or even reinforce what you're doing.  There are also parts of this competition that I know nothing about... mainly, the entire first day.  It's all reining and cow work, not things I'm really familiar with.

We went back to the western tack today and worked on Marley carrying himself on a loose contact.  Since going to the snaffle, he likes to pop his shoulder to the inside and fall in.  The last couple of rides, I haven't really addressed it because I was dealing with his other horse issues, which was a mistake I think.  It's ok though, because we spent the day regrouping and formulating our under saddle training plan for the next week.  Jake got on Marley and gave me some pointers, as well as showed me some great exercises to do with him.  At first, Marley was a little skeptical when Jake went to mount, but he never acted nervous or silly, just stared at him while Jake got on like "who the heck are you?".

Jake riding Marley
We especially focused on his canter work today (or lope, depending on which discipline you stick to) as I've not spent a lot of time developing that yet.  Jake really let Marley gallop out a bit until he found his own stride, and slowly with very little asking, Marley was moving around the arena using his butt and carrying himself.  It was great to stand on the ground and watch him go, I don't ever really get to see him except for some video here and there.  I was really able to get some perspective and see what it was that I was feeling and what Jake was telling me.

I got on after Jake rode him for a little while and ran through the exercises and maneuvers he had shown me.  For the first time in a few days Marley was really thinking under saddle again, and I think it was just what we needed to get us back in gear.  Now we have specific, small goals to work on, rather than the very big picture which I had gotten kind of lost in.  I finished up my ride with some canter work, again letting him gallop out a bit.  It was really fun, and it was fun to be in the western saddle.  I always feel a little awkward sitting in one, maybe because I've never had one that fits me quite right, but I loved switching it up.

But that wasn't all!  Rebel (the barn manager) pulled his horse trailer out for me and I finally got to do some trailer training with Marley!  Now, there were a few ways I could have approached this, but I went to the clicker as Marley really likes it and gets very involved any time I train a behavior with it.  I started out by just walking him around and letting him sniff it and touch the trailer.  He was mostly interested in the wheels which I thought was funny.  When we first approached the trailer to actually step up into it, I realized I had made a mistake.  The entire floor was covered in hay, and silly me, that's all Marley cares about.  The first behavior I clicked and rewarded him for was to bring his head up to me without me having to pull on him.  You should be able to see this in the video, and even hear the clicker.  The next movement I rewarded him for was picking up his front feet, even though he didn't bring them all the way up to step into the trailer.  He got this quickly and when I stopped rewarding him for that and asked him to come a little further, he stepped up with his front two feet and waited patiently for his reward.  He has this system down... how to get the most carrots possible.  Instead of asking him to come up all the way, I asked him to step back down and rewarded him for staying calm while doing so.  I've had horses that used to fly out of the trailer backwards, and that is NOT something I want to encourage.  After some good pets, I asked him to come back up, and he did.  He stood calmly for his carrots and rub downs, and after a few moments, I asked him to back out and he was great. 

After a few times of stepping up from directly in front of the trailer, I decided to approach it at a walk and see if I could get him to walk up in to the trailer with me.  He hesitated momentarily until he understood what I wanted and then he got right in.  I was really proud of him and ended it there.  Since we aren't in a hurry, I figured we wouldn't push anything and thought the session was really positive and fun for him.  A great ending to the day.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Day 42 - Easy does it

Thank you everyone for your input on Marley's training.  I will definitely keep everyone's suggestions in mind, and hopefully we will soon be riding in an arena with other horses stress free!

It rained all night last night, so the barn was really muddy and gross this morning.  There weren't many people there, but there was one person lunging in the arena, so I took Marley in for some ground work.  He didn't really mind the other horse, so I kept moving him a little bit closer until he was about 10 feet off of the other horse's circle.  This worried Marley a little bit, especially when the other horse would canter and the person on the ground would kiss and cluck.  I continued to work on Marley's "bow" behavior, which he really loves because it involves lots of carrots, and pretty soon he was paying no attention to the other horse.  The behavior is almost finished, I really want to get some video of it so everyone can see, but I've been alone the last week at the barn and it's hard to get photos/video and train at the same time.

We also worked on some side pass from the ground, as well as turn on the haunches.  Any time Marley is learning something new, he is really focused, and it makes me think that maybe the next time all of the horses are in the arena, I can start something completely new from the ground.  That way I can reward him for staying calm and completely relaxed, as well as responding to me when I ask something of him.  Once the other horse left the arena I put Marley's bridle on and climbed around him and over him from the mounting block and the fence.  He is a little bit unsure of this whole bareback thing, so I spent lots of time just getting on and off, and walking him around on a loose rein.  It was fun to just play around with Marley on some trust building exercises, and he could use the day off from really hard work under saddle.

After a nice morning of ground work, I took his bridle off and let him run around.  I'm glad the barn was quiet this morning so we had a chance to kind of regroup and rethink, but I'm sure it will be busy tomorrow so stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 41 - Training Tips Anyone?

The barn was really busy tonight, horses in all of the turn out areas, 5 or 6 horses in the arena, and a lot of commotion.  Marley is fine on the ground with all that is going on most of the time, but under saddle he can be a little silly around the other horses.  I've mentioned it before, but for some reason he doesn't want to go anywhere near them.

It was the same thing today, except he was much more apprehensive than usual.  He started whinnying and flipping his head and was very nervous.  I contemplated getting off of him and lunging him, but I decided that I needed to stick with my decision to get on in the first place.  I rode it out basically, continuously asking Marley to keep moving forward when he wanted to stop and start hollering.  I just asked him do simple tasks that he already knows and just kept treating him as I wanted him to behave, not how he was behaving.  I don't like to pet Marley and talk to him too much when he is so worked up, not because I don't want to calm him down, but because I would be inadvertently reinforcing that type of reaction.

When only one horse remained in the arena with us, Marley completely chilled out.  I trotted him out, letting him stretch his nose to the ground and ride on the buckle.  When the other horse left, I took off his saddle and bridle and rode him bareback with the halter (in the rain) which I think he really liked.  It completely refocused his attention on me, as I have never gotten on his back without a saddle, and I was glad to end our not-so-awesome day with that.

So, if anyone has any advice or tips on getting Marley to relax around other horses (and seriously by relax I mean go within 15 feet of them) it would be much appreciated.  On the ground he doesn't seem to have the same hangups, and he is wary of the other horses, but he isn't horrible.  He really gets a lot of confidence from me going first.  So far, anywhere I walk he gladly follows, but that dynamic is totally different when I'm on his back.  He has been really comfortable and relaxed so far in his under saddle training, but this problem seems to be progressing despite my efforts so it's time to try something new.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 40

Has it really been 40 days??  The time is flying by, I really wish everything would just slow down a bit.  I'm heading into the final weeks of school and we've been staying very busy outside of Marley's training.  With everything going on, I'm glad I have this project.  You think it would be stressing me out to have one more thing on my plate, but it's actually keeping me sane.  Each day I look forward to seeing Marley and working through issues and towards goals, and I really love that Mike has taken such a huge interest in him as well.  It's great to do something you love, but it's even better to do it with someone you love.  I'm really thankful for his participation in Marley's training.

Today was a day of exploration with Marley.  I started by riding in the arena and worked on basically the same things as the last couple of days.  He is progressing really nicely with the snaffle, but I wanted to give him another day or so to feel really comfortable in it before I start developing a frame or working over jumps at all.

After a great ride, I took Marley out and walked him all over the property and through the barn.  I even tied him up (while holding onto him still) in cross ties, which is something very new to him.  I don't think it is the cross ties he minds, but he is a little nervous about being indoors.  We don't have an indoor arena, so this is definitely something I'm going to want to address before we head to Fort Collins in June.  Marley also met lots of new horses today.  I'm going to slowly introduce him to the pasture horses so that he can be turned out with them once in a while.  It's a big herd though, and I don't want to just set him loose and hope for the best as I don't want him hurt.  He does need some socialization though, and he'll be happy to have some horsie friends again I think.

I don't have pictures again today, it was drizzling pretty much the entire time I was at the barn so the camera stayed in the car.  I will try to get some soon though, and some video of Marley under saddle as he is really coming along.  I'm hoping to get together with some other EMM trainers and their horses in the coming weeks, so I'm really looking forward to that.  I think it is going to be a great learning experience for Marley and I, and I can't wait to meet the other horses. 

Marley on Day 3
Photo by Katherine Payne Photography

Monday, April 18, 2011

Day 39

I had a great evening with Marley, he is progressing under saddle well, and I'm so pleased that he has picked up where we left off.  We worked more today on bend and moving forward, and when we were joined by another horse and rider in the arena we worked on moving around in sync with them.  Marley, for whatever reason, does not like being near other horses.  It might have something to do with the fact that the horses next to him are constantly in his face, or that when I started him, I didn't use a pony horse because I don't own one.  In any case, it took about twice around the arena before Marley finally relaxed fully while walking next to the other horse, and then he was very quiet and calm.  I was glad we got to start working with another horse, and I plan on doing a lot more in the coming weeks with getting Marley comfortable in all kinds of new situations. 

On a side note, Marley's coat is looking great!  I brushed him again for a good 30 minutes and got so much hair off of him.  He is shedding like crazy, and I'm starting to see some shiny, chestnut coat coming through.  My guess is that his summer coat is coming in dark, but then, it's still hard to tell.  Looking forward to a sleek, shiny Marley! 

Day 38 - Back in the Saddle

This post was supposed to be up last night, but it's Monday morning before class and I'm just getting to it.  Mike's second day of "male bonding" went basically the same way as the first day did.  Marley wanted nothing to do with having a halter put on or have his blanket taken off, so he stayed in the stall.  Curiously enough, when Mike wasn't trying to catch him, Marley was friendly and following him.  I pretty much knew what was going on here, and I told mike to just approach Marley from both sides, pet him, and leave him.  He still spent a couple of hours with him on Saturday cleaning his pen, feeding his grain, and just relaxing with him, and that is always valuable. 

When I got home Sunday, I was eager to see if he would continue these newly formed bad habits when I came in.  To Mike's dismay, he came running up to the front of the stall as soon as he heard me and shoved his face into the halter when I went to put it on him.  Mike and I both laughed, and I think he said something along the lines of "oh sure, thanks Marley".  Oh goody, a new training challenge!  I never really knew there was a hole, as I'm the one typically handling him every day, but we immediately got to work.

The first thing I did was take Marley's blanket off.  It was very windy and the horses next to him were leaning over the fence trying to get to him (They had the bars on the panel completely bent.  I have no idea what they were getting into while I was away as Marley has a nasty bite on his face, but that panel is being replaced with a much higher one so that hopefully they'll mind their own business).  Marley has become really comfortable with the blanket being taken off and thrown back on, but he was acting as if this was all new to him.  He has been locked in his stall for three days without much exercise, so I know a lot of this was probably pent up energy, but I still wanted to work him through it until he stood quietly.  When I finished and dropped the blanket to the ground, you would have thought a bomb had just gone off in Marley's stall.  I held onto him and stood firmly on top of the blanket until he relaxed, and continued with the task until I could do anything with the blanket and Marley paid no attention. 

The next thing I wanted to do was to just let Marley run around and stretch his legs.  He walked like a gentleman up to the turnout area and Mike and I played with him for about an hour.  He ran and bucked for less than a minute, and the rest of the time he just followed us around and played his favorite game of chase.  I think I have said before that I have never had a horse as playful as he is.  Even the foals I've worked with get bored long before Marley does, it is, in my opinion, the single greatest thing about him.

After some good play time, I spent about an hour grooming Marley.  He is losing so much hair, I can't believe he still has any winter coat left, but he definitely does! It's never ending!  When I tacked him up I thought he might give me some trouble as he has had a few days off from any tack, but he actually fell asleep and didn't even flinch as I put the saddle and girth on.  I debated about which bridle I should ride him in - do I review with the bit-less bridle that he is so comfortable with?  Or should I go straight back to the snaffle bit that I was working on transitioning to before I left?  In the end, I chose the snaffle.  My thought was that I didn't want to go backwards if I didn't have to, and Marley so far was fine with all of the tack.  I decided that if he were to give me any problems, I could change my training plan to acceptance of the bit and go back to basic flexions and very light contact.  To my surprise however, Marley was better than he has ever been with the bit!  He didn't even attempt to lift his head and accepted the bit without a second thought.  When I got on and picked up his reins, he was almost as soft as he used to be in the bit-less bridle.  We worked on transitions to the walk and trot, backed a couple of times, and did a lot of circles and serpentines.  I was extremely pleased with him, and I finished the ride after about 30 minutes. 

When Marley was all cooled out and loose again in the turn out, we worked on Mike approaching Marley to put the halter on.  I noticed that Mike was still treating Marley as though he might explode and run off, the way he may have in his first week when everything was new and potentially terrifying.  Marley is completely exploiting this, of course, because he is no longer afraid of Mike, and he understands what the halter means.  In moving very slowly and apprehensively towards Marley, Mike is inadvertently letting on that he isn't 100% comfortable.  Since I wasn't there to see what Marley's behavior was like on Friday and Saturday while Mike was on his own, I don't know if that made Marley nervous, or if he just knew he could get away with something.  My guess is that the first day, Marley actually was nervous, and sometime during their interaction Marley figured out that he could avoid the halter by exhibiting those same behaviors since it worked the first time.  I worked with Mike, explaining Marley's body language and what it meant, and demonstrating how his own body language is observed very carefully by Marley, especially because he is still green, and learning every day.  We worked on Mike walking up to Marley's neck rather than his face, first because Marley has started blocking Mike from moving to either side by simply turning his head.  While I was gone, Mike was feeding Marley when he stood in front of him, which is fine, but in some instances he was inadvertently rewarding Marley for this behavior.  We took all food rewards out of the situation until Mike could successfully walk up to Marley from any side, correct Marley if he tried to orient his face towards him, and have the halter securely fastened.  In the end, Mike was much more direct in his cues to Marley, and Marley happily followed him and allowed Mike to approach regardless of what he had previously been doing.

The next step to this training then is going to be having Mike greet Marley without me in sight upon arrival at the barn.  I want to see what it is that he is doing in his pen that may be different or similar to how he was behaving with Mike in the turnout area.  Hopefully what we worked on will give Mike the tools he needs to recognize and adjust when Marley responds incorrectly.  I don't think it is going to take long, I think Mike gave an inch and Marley took a mile, and it was simply due to inexperience on both of their parts.  I am bummed though for Mike, as his high expectations for his first weekend alone with Marley were a little bit shattered, but it was a great learning experience and in the end I think their foundation will be stronger for it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Male Bonding: Part 1

Lauren is in Utah this weekend for a conference and asked me to watch over Marley by myself for a few days. She said it would be a good time for Marley and I to bond and I was glad to accept the challenge. I know a thing or two about male bonding.

I showed up to the barn after a full day of work completely set on building my relationship with Marley. I came equipped with a large supreme pizza, a twelve pack and a copy of Superbowl XXIV (Broncos vs 49ers). To my surprise, Marley didn't want anything to do with it. I had forgotten that he is a vegetarian and I guess the sting of watching Denver lose in one of the biggest blow-outs in Superbowl history was still too fresh for his young horse heart to take. It was time for plan B, oats and carrots.

The wind was blowing cold air in from the mountains and the barn was deserted except for my car. All the horses were restless and there was a noticeable tension in the air as soon as I stepped out of the jeep, perfect conditions for my first solo session.

I walked up to his run and noticed Marley's blanket was really dirty on one side. He'd been rolling in the mud created by the rain and melting snow. I entered the pen and approached him, hoping to put his halter on and remove the blanket. Marley let me approach and pet his nose and face but was apprehensive about me touching his neck. His body and blanket were out of the question. I could tell he was uneasy so I decided to make him comfortable by talking to him and giving him some carrots. He would step to me, but remained unsure about me touching his neck. After a few minutes it became apparent that getting his blanket off would be very difficult without a change in his demeanor.

I prepared his grain and placed his dish in the middle of his pen. He greedily gobbled it up and had no problem with me standing right next to him. On the other hand, whenever the neighboring horses came close to the fence Marley would pin his ears back and charge them. Lauren and I have noticed the other horses nipping at Marley on several occasions and I think the wind and cold and strange conditions finally pushed Marley to his boiling point.

After several exchanges with the neighbors he finally finished his food. I again attempted to remove his blanket but Marley was so wound up that he wouldn't let me move my hand past his neck. On two occasions I had to move quickly as Marley turned around suddenly and looked as if he was going to give me a nice hoof-shaped dent on my chest.  I remained unscathed and Marley was never upset with me for very long.

I knew that this was a tough day for him. The wind was cold , the other horses were acting strange, and to top it all off, his best friend was off gallivanting in Utah and he was stuck with the B team sub. Up to this point my role had been poop cleaner and occasional carrot jockey. He needed someone to comfort him today, not a new trainer.

I stayed with him for over an hour. At the end he was following me and eating carrots from my hand. Marley was as relaxed as he was going to get today and was letting me pet his face and neck.  I ended there on a good note and hope to build on that feeling tomorrow when I go back in the afternoon. The weather should be better and I hope to lead him to the arena so he can run around and get some exercise. I'm still coming with pizza, except this time it will be just veggie and we can try to watch something a little more neutral. Maybe Hidalgo?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day 35 - Snow Day

Well, apparently when I was asking mother nature for no rain so I could ride, I wasn't specific enough.  I woke up to 4 inches of snow and sooo much mud!  Needless to say, I didn't ride, an in fact, I didn't even turn Marley into the arena because it was so slick.  We took a walk around the grounds just to get out for a bit, and then I hung out and brushed him while he ate his grain.  Not a very exciting day, and I'm bummed that I wasn't able to ride before I left for Utah for a couple of days.  I hope the ground hardens up a bit by tomorrow so Mike can run around with Marley for a little while in the big arena.  He loves to play chase. 

Sorry today's blog isn't more interesting, big plans for next week though so keep on reading and hopefully we'll get some great training in here pretty soon.  Mike will be updating the next couple of days!  Wish him luck and fun times with Marley while I'm away!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 34

Another day of getting used to the snaffle.  Marley accepted the bit very nicely right off the bat, and I started him on the lunge line to get him used to some contact.  I don't like lunging him too much, I think it's kind of boring to go in circles, but I think it helped him to start out with me on the ground.  He played with the bit a little bit when he felt the contact of the lunge line, but after a couple of minutes he was fine and I decided to get on.

Immediately when I picked up the reins Marley felt different.  Obviously this is new for him, so he wasn't moving forward as confidently and evenly as he has been in the last couple of weeks under saddle.  I basically kept a very light contact and a wide, low hand to let him get the hang of it.  This is exactly how I started him with the bit-less bridle, so I want to stick to the same pattern so he understands what I want of him.  He already knows basically what he is supposed to do, so I think once he gets past his insecurities here he will pick up right where we left off.  I did a lot of small figure eights at the walk and some circles at the trot but I kept it pretty basic and positive.  Marley seems to progress much more quickly this way, especially if he is apprehensive about something.  Once he gets the routine and understands, he settles right in.  I'm really interested to see how he does tomorrow, and I'm really hoping this rain stops long enough for me to ride... I wish I had an indoor! 

Also, I am going out of town tomorrow night for a conference for school, so Mike is going to be taking care of Marley and updating the blog for two or three days... depending on what time I get home on Sunday.  I have written out detailed instructions and lists for absolutely every situation that could come up while I'm away, I'm so nervous to leave!  I'm going to miss them both, but I'm sure Mike is going to spoil Marley rotten and there will be plenty of play time while I'm gone.  I also have a lot of big plans for Marley in the following weeks, I'm very excited to move forward with him and start to put everything together.
Not from today, but I think it's cute

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 33

I had a great morning with Marley.  I didn't ride again as I wanted Marley to have some time working in his bridle and bit before I get on him with it.  He was much more accepting of the bit today in that once he opened his mouth, he didn't chew or try to get his tongue over it.  I decided that since we were in the round pen, I would not attach a lunge line, instead I wanted Marley to move around and work with the bit on his own.  Eventually, I added the reins and and looped them through the saddle so that there was a light, even contact on both reins.  I didn't want to put side reins on or ask Marley to come into a frame, he is pretty light in the hand and I really would like to preserve that with a bit in his mouth. 

After some work in the round pen, I walked Marley all over the property with the bridle still on.  It took him a minute to understand that he should still follow me, but we went slow and pretty soon he was interested in everything else and paid no attention to the bit.  To finish up, we worked on some flexions from the ground.

Also, yesterday's post about Marley before EMM was missing two fantastic photographs sent to me by Elyse Gardner who was at the Calico Mountain roundup and photographed horses in the Fallon facility in NV.  Take a look!

 This horse looks like he could be Marley's Dad.  He has the same Appaloosa spots as Marley does, and virtually identical markings! His blaze is a little too thin, and his socks are higher than Marley's are, but I'd be willing to guess they are related.
Photo by Elyse Gardner

If this horse could just turn around.... Looks like Marley from behind anyway!
Photo by Elyse Gardner