Monday, April 18, 2011

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.


  1. Here you ended up with not only a horse training project, but a man training project. I'm glad Mike is as good a student as Marley.

  2. Sounds like a new challenge! Have fun with the male bonding!