Tuesday, March 30, 2010

One Happy Family

Today Brian and I headed for the barn after I got off work. The days are staying lighter later and that has increased our barn-time flexibility a bit.

We found our boys in the feed lot. Steen and Stella were still in their pens after receiving their dinner. Sham was at large and following Becca (the barn worker) around in hopes of getting more treats.

The daily feeding combined with getting to know us better is apparently working wonders. Although I let Brian halter Steen and take him out of the pasture before I started the process of haltering Sham, it turned out not to be a process at all. I walked up to him and put his halter on, simple as that.

Afterwards we went to the outdoor arena, where we grazed and groomed and did groundwork. Then Sham got to go inside and get yet another treat. When we put him back in the pasture with Steen, he wasn't in any hurry to run off. I had them both hanging out with me for a few minutes. They seem to be getting along remarkably well. Brian took a few photos.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Steen vs. the Babbling Brook

Monday found Steen

and me out on our first real ride of the season in the company of Jean and Schooley. The horses were pretty calm starting off, and the sun was out, there was a nice breeze and it felt good to be in the great outdoors. We meandered around the property for a while, the only incident being the startling emergence of a wild turkey in the underbrush. Steen bolted but didn't stay freaked out after I brought his brief dash to a halt.

From Cathi's land we went to the adjoining property owned by our vet, which includes an eventing course we're allowed to ride on as long as we don't go over the jumps. One of the obstacles is a creek crossing, and Schooley tromped on through so I half-hoped Steen would tromp on after him. No such luck. Steen stopped on the bank and quickly decided the quickly rushing water was life-threatening.

I dismounted and walked into the water (yay for cowboy boots) and tried to walk along with a very nonchalant manner to suggest to Steen walking in streams is no big deal. Once again my mecate came in quite handy for leading, and I was employing the "don't look at him and he will follow" philosophy, so I didn't see Steen gather himself up to leap.

From there things went downhill fast. I don't know exactly what happened, but I ended up knocked over hanging onto the reins in a (fortunately successful) attempt to keep Steen from crashing into Schooley. I lost some skin on my fingers and gained a bruise on my leg, but was otherwise unharmed. I then spent the next ten minutes or so teaching Steen to cross the water without knocking me over, and eventually I remounted and we rode on.

For a few minutes after the water, Steen was pretty keyed up, but I just asked him to trot along the edge of a bean field, back and forth four or five times, and he chilled out. On the way back he went through the water with me on his back, with only a few dorky high-stepping trot/leap strides and minimal stress.

So, all in all it was an absolutely wonderful ride.

Oh, and Sham seems to be adjusting to the new lodgings without a problem. He even walked right up to me and let me pet his face.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Farewell to Cal

Today Cal left our barn and embarked on the grand adventure of being possessed by a young girl who is utterly beside herself with the happiness of first time horse-ownership. We said good-bye today as her new owner held her lead-rope and asked about her favorite treats. I, for one, am happy that Cal is off to a place where she will be paid attention to and doted on. She was a good horse for Brian to get his feet wet with.

As far as our two boys go, things went pretty well today. The feed lot crowd is a bit stirred up lately because Doc is now living in a stall, Cal is gone and Stella has moved in. Brian and I decided to do the same thing that worked so well yesterday, except Steen was all riled up because of all the yelling going on about Cal's departure and I caught Sham in a mere ten minutes, so Brian didn't have as much time to kill.

Today involved a bit of us hanging out on the strip together, trading horses a couple times and intermittently letting them eat some of the new spring grass and doing groundwork. Sham was very good today. He's figuring out that there is a correct response to each command I give him and trying to do the right thing. He's happy to receive praise, and already responding to gentler commands.

Steen was not so great today. He was distracted and antsy. He is so good with his groundwork these days that he can go through the motions without really paying attention. Not helpful, to say the least, but it was good practice for Brian anyway. I did about half an hour of groundwork with Sham and then put him in the nearly empty feed lot with Stella. They ran a bit, but not much. Brian and I took Steen inside and groomed him, and then put Steen out with Sham and Stella. Again, introductions were fairly quiet, though Steen was doing some funny prancing, running around like he was trying to get Sham's attention, and Sham was more or less ignoring him.

Hopefully they will both be intact and not missing too much hair tomorrow.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Brian Rides Steen

And blogs about it, too.

While Robin works on catching and training Sham a bit, we figured it would be great practice for both Steen and I if I got him out of the pasture, groomed him up, and rode him. So today Robin and I each grabbed a halter and walked off to different pastures. She stared at Sham, and I fumbled around putting Steen's halter on. He stood patiently and accepted it. I cannot say the same thing for Sham.

Thankfully Steen remained mostly willing and patient. He let me walk him through the ever-changing indoor arena and barely sniffed at the new piles of stuff. He stood nicely while I got rid of some of his coat. And, as always, he was a dream with his feet.

After I put Robin's pad on him but my saddle, I brought him out to the strip for some ground work and then riding. We (or, more precisely, I) worked on yielding the forequarters and the hindquarters, circle driving, flexing, backing, and coming. We both did pretty well. Then Steen again stood calmly while I fumbled to get his bridle on. It has a bunch of straps I'm not used to and the wind kept blowing Steen's abundant mane into them. He was in no hurry to go anywhere, though, and eventually I got it all sorted out.

I climbed on his back, and we walked off down the strip. It was actually the first time I had ridden Steen outside since last June or July. I forget exactly when it was. It was before we even had a real spot to ride at the new place. Today was not great, but it was way better than that day.

He was good for the first few minutes, then he started his usual semi-anxious antics. These involved turning around at the slightest increase in wind speed and lots of tripping and then quickly picking up a jerky trot. I did my best to sit deep and keep him calm, and for the most part it actually worked. I wasn't able to walk and trot in nice big circles like I hoped I would be able to, but he did get better at going where I told him to, and even relaxing about it a little bit.

So all in all it was a great ride. I was happy to be up on a horse again, and I look forward to getting Steen back into some kind of shape while Robin continues to mold Sham.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

More Sham Antics

Well, the Sham saga continues. On Tuesday I did not go to the barn. I had to work work work. Brian did go to the barn, however, and Sham would not let himself be caught. After an hour of trying, Brian gave up.

On Wednesday I went out to see what sort of luck I would have with our wayward steed. I had a reasonably easy time catching Sham, in the rain, and brought him indoors to do some groundwork. The jury is still out on whether or not this was a good idea. I think the groundwork itself was fine, but indoors seems to be a nervous place for Sham still. I had intended to do the groundwork outside, but was a bit tired of getting rained on so changed my plan.

Sham was pretty antsy indoors, and things escalated to him running around on the rope a few times. But then they would de-escalate and he'd calm down and receive pets and praise. I did a lot of ground-work with him, and thought I saw positive results. Then I tied him for a little while and groomed him, then put him back outside.

Today Brian and I headed for the barn again with a plan. I was going to catch Sham and do some groundwork outside where Sham is more comfortable. Then Brian was going to ride outside and maybe I'd ride Steen, too. The most frustrating thing about Sham is once you can get on his back he's awesome. It's getting there that has been the problem lately.

Well, today didn't go as planned. An hour and twenty minutes after I walked into the pasture, I finally had Sham's halter on. We were all exhausted by then - particularly Sham, who ran around a lot during the catching process.

We retired to the strip, where groundwork actually went pretty well. Sham was much, much more relaxed outdoors and did seem to recall some of yesterday's lessons. We did 20 minutes or so of groundwork and then we returned him to the pasture. Instead of running away today, he followed me to the fence and accepted some treats.

So, we'll see how things continue. In spite of the long catching time today, I remain optimistic. There are all sorts of training rules of thumb (like it takes a horse 6-12 repetitions to start to learn something, and problems often get a bit worse before they get better) to keep me hopeful. We've still only caught Sham without tricks or treats four times. If we get past twelve without things getting easier, then I'll start to be discouraged.

A brief video of the day's events:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Long Monday at the Barn

Yesterday morning I headed to the barn. My first barn-task was to hold Doc, my friend Gay's horse, for the farrier because Gay took a tumble while dismounting on Sunday and broke her collarbone. Big time bummer.

We got Doc's feet done without incident and I brought Steen indoors. I thought he might need a trim (hopefully by mid-summer we'll have Sham and Steen on the same hoof-care schedule), but Duke said Steen's feet aren't growing much just now, so we can skip one. I did my best to clean the mud off Steen and decided to do some groundwork on the big grassy strip by the cornfield to prepare for the outdoor riding I hope to start doing this week. I thought Steen would be inclined to kick up his heels and frisk on the rope seeing as how the sun was out and shining and he was on genuinely good footing for the first time in a very long time. He was a bit sleepy, though, and didn't seem inclined to frolic. He was also stiff in the hind end. When it gets muddy like this the horses really don't move around much and his rear ankles were a bit swollen like they were the months I had him in a stall. So, we just worked on getting limbered up and paying attention in a space other than the indoor arena. He was great - not at all distracted or nervous.

I returned him to his pasture and considered Sham. I wanted to make the most of Brian's huge Sunday effort and since Brian works a long day Monday, I knew he wouldn't have a chance to continue the lesson himself until Tuesday. However, I'd been on the go for hours already thanks to a morning appointment followed by a meeting. I'd changed out of my 'business' clothes in the barn bathroom so I could be there on time for Gay's farrier meeting. I'd already been at the barn for two and a half hours and knew I had a good chance of being there a lot longer if Sham was feeling at all inclined towards evasion. I was hungry and thirsty and almost called it a day. But then I thought of all the people who'd helped me when I was a new horse owner, and I went into the pasture.

Less than fifteen minutes later, I had a halter on Sham. It was easy. Either the staring game worked wonders Sunday, or Sham was just feeling friendly. I gave him plenty of time to say hello to me and get used to my presence before I tried to touch him. He was shoulder-deep in a brand new bale of hay, so even had plenty of incentive to ignore me. I worked with the same principles Brian used Sunday. I stayed passive and non-threatening when I moved into his space. I stared directly at him when he ignored me. When he turned or moved in my direction, I turned soft and approachable. Before long I had him off the bale and focused on me. Not long after that he was exploring the halter with his lip. After he did that for a while I started stroking his face with the nose-band. I then slipped the lower loop around his jaw and removed it a few times. Then I put the halter on all the way. He took the whole thing with remarkable equanimity.

I told him how wonderful he is, led him around the pasture a bit, disengaged his hindquarters a few times, petted him lots, and took the halter off, slipping him a treat as I did so. He didn't bolt away this time. He hung out for some more love. I walked off before he could grow disinterested.

So, we'll see how things go for Brian today. There very well might be some more forward and back on this, but I think we are over the hump, and a little more patience and effort will see the catching problem behind us.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thank Goodness for Small Victories

Today Brian and I returned to the barn after our spring break hiatus. It was sunny but windy, and we found things at least partially dried out after a week of relatively warm temps and low moisture.

Our primary objective today was simple. Halter Sham. We had a strategy and a whole lot of time and had also promised ourselves we would be very patient.

As usual, Sham approached without hesitation when Brian first entered the pasture and as usual lost interest after a few sniffs and pets and walked off. Then Brian drifted after, not trying to get close but not letting Sham forget he was there, either. Whenever Sham started in Brian's direction, Brian would release the pressure, turn his eyes away and make himself soft and approachable. And after a while, Sham approached.

After about the fourth voluntary approach, Sham was happily hanging out and receiving pets and not trying to get away when Brian touched him, so Brian slipped the halter on. It was actually very easy. Brian didn't try to be sneaky about it. Sham knew what was coming, and he didn't mind. He didn't try to pull away at all. Unfortunately, the lead-rope was not attached to the halter (my brilliant idea, thinking Brian would be able to act more effectively with the halter alone) and when Brian let go of the halter to clip the rope on, Sham wandered off.

So round two began, which was actually far more difficult than round one. Sham seemed to have decided he'd done what we wanted and so deserved to be left to eat hay in peace. Getting him to pay attention again was challenging. In the end, however, he gave in again and Brian was once more able to pet him all over, and then clip the rope on without any protest from Sham.

All that only took an hour and ten minutes.

Brian brought Sham into the airlock and we gave him a couple of treats and loved on him effusively and let him relax for a few minutes, then we put him back out. He ran off and at a full gallop, gracefully jumped part of a round bale and raced around the pasture a few times. He really is quite an athlete.

So, although it was hardly an easy day, I feel pretty good about how things went. We got Sham's halter on with no tricks and no treats. It wasn't catching him, it was teaching him that allowing himself to be haltered is by far the most relaxing thing to do when we show up and start pestering, and that what follows immediately after the haltering isn't so bad, either. So, I feel pretty confident that what we accomplished once we can accomplish again (hopefully a little faster next time).

We brought Steen in afterwards and cleaned him up, but I was a bit exhausted and it was windy and I didn't quite feel like riding. So Steen got an easy day. Brian and I headed home, with one small victory under our belts.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Grand Behavior

On Saturday, Dutch and Cathy (Brian's parents) came to town. The primary reason for their trip was to meet Sham and reacquaint themselves with Steen. Brian and I headed to the barn, confident that after our wonderful Thursday everything would go smoothly.

Unfortunately, such was not the case. A few things worked against us. First, there was new hay in the pasture and Sham was pretty happy about eating the new hay. Second, the puddle was still by the gate and after hearing some stories about recent misbehavior by the electric fence, we're now pretty certain that Sham's big spook in the puddle on Thursday was from the water actually transmitting him a shock. So, when we arrived on Saturday, he was justifiably not interested in having anything to do with us. We only tried for a few minutes to catch him and then gave up, got Steen and treated Cathy to a very good ride, doing what Steen does best lately - walking and trotting in the indoor arena.

Steen was fantastic and Cathy enjoyed herself. Dutch rode a little too, and that also went well.

The next morning found us there again and though we did manage to get Sham inside, I am beginning to think unsympathetically forcing him through the puddle and indoors simply added more good reasons to support his "I'd rather not be caught" philosophy. Once again, however, Steen saved the day. I put Cathy on board with a bareback pad and he gave her a beautiful ride.

Today, Brian and I returned to the barn again. It was a hazy, mucky day. We found Sham once again exceedingly reluctant to engage with us, but with a new strategy we got him interested enough to make him follow Brian around a bit and then Brian left before Sham grew disinterested. We then went and got Steen, who was covered in muck from hock to poll. We groomed him for a while but eventually gave it up, put him back and had another round of "people aren't scary" school with Sham. He was even more ready to approach Brian and accept treats and pets, and once again Brian left before Sham was really ready to say good-bye, so we are hopeful with a bit of going slow and building up his trust again, we can get back on the right track.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Double Barn Day

I got back from the barn today and hung around the house for a bit. Then Brian got home, we piled back in the car and returned to the barn.

The focus of trip two was Sham. Our plan was to at least put the bridle on and see how he responded. Our hope was he'd take it well enough to warrant a ride.

Sham is already definitely less flinchy about his head these days. His pulling back behavior has disappeared and he was easy to catch today. We brought him indoors and Brian did a lot of great groundwork right from the start. Sham was clearly pretty inclined to relax.

After quite a while, we brought Sham to the tie stall where he remained relaxed. We groomed him and petted him and saddled him up. Then Brian did more groundwork and then we bridled him. Brian got the bridle on with only minimal difficulty, then went back to the groundwork.

Then Sham had a pretty big spook/bolt brought on by an unfortunate noise that happened to sound just like the sound the wire fence made earlier today when I was feeding Sham some grain and he turned his head too far in one direction and the electric current zapped his nose. Apparently that shock made a big impression, because the clicking noise of the fence spooked him on his way out of the pasture as well. I don't think Sham is much of a spooker, but when he freaks, he freaks pretty violently. Brian handled it well, but was then understandably nervous about climbing aboard. I've been on enough semi-crazed horses that I could look at Sham's body-language and see we were in no immediate danger of a repeat episode, and didn't have much concern about my ability to control him even if he did freak out again (Steen has me pretty spook-proof these days). So, I mounted and after just the few minutes it took Sham to notice the bit no longer hurt his mouth, he relaxed and mostly did what I told him. Then Brian and I switched places and they had a pretty darn good ride. We kept it short and positive and left the barn feeling all the better about our latest family-member. I am pleased both that he's becoming more obviously Brian's horse every time we go out there, and that he's settling in and turning into the sort of horse we hoped he was when we purchased him.


Today I took Steen outside.  It wasn't perhaps the brightest move.  There is still deep snow in some places, ice in others, and mud in still others.  Nevertheless, I am bored stiff with riding indoors and today it was sunny and in the 40's.  Wasting the opportunity to get some sun seemed ridiculous.  So, I tacked Steen up.  He's so fat these days I got him a longer girth (we had to get a new one for Sham anyway, and Steen's old one is the size Sham will need, so it seemed like a good way to avoid having extras lying around).  The extra weight also definitely has an impact on his lightness of foot.  I took him outside and had him walking around in deep snow and he was huffing and puffing within a few minutes.

He actually stayed remarkably calm through most of the ride.  I didn't have much of a plan.  We just wandered in and around the corn-fields and the strip.  He did pull his old stunt - trying to turn around and go home - quite a few times, but I corrected him with neck-reining and touch with my leg first, then direct rein and a few thumps with my calf if he didn't cool it, and after a few times he wasn't trying as hard anymore.  He didn't seem all that happy with the snow.  The density is unpredictable, and it's doubtless scratchy in some places due to the presence of ice-crystals, so I didn't feel inclined to push him.  Mostly I was just enjoying being on his back with sun on my face.

I made my best effort to get Steen's winter coat off today

When I turned him back out, I left his blanket off.  He's been sweating under there the past few days, so I think he can manage without it now.  Which is good, because I bet he likes to feel the sun, too.

Sham was all tucked in for a nap and seemed pretty content in the sun

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Perfect Can Get Boring

Another great indoor bareback ride on Steen.  I think we've definitely mastered walk and trot in the indoor arena.  It would be nice if we could include loping, but with him out of shape and the footing the way it is (with little puddles and ice here and there) it's just not worth the risk.

We walked and trotted for about twenty minutes, working on neck-reining and standing.  We also spend a fair bit of time on grooming, as he's definitely dropping his winter coat.

I put him back outside and went to say hi to Sham.  He doesn't seem to have Steen's fear of the camera.

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