Thursday, May 16, 2013

Groundwork Day

Thursday is Brian's late day at work right now, so I was on solo barn duty today. I had a weird, busy schedule with a lot to get done and a few things that had to happen at specific times. I also had to swing by the vet's to pick up phase two of Bear's meds, then at a minimum doctor both Zoey and Bear. I was hoping to ride Zoey too.

I arrived at the barn a little later than I'd wanted to because I was slow getting something off to a client (I hate writing project proposals -- they always take way, way longer than they should), but Zoey was near the gate dozing in the sun. I approached her, and she stayed put. I rubbed her neck. She sniffed at me but didn't move. I backed off a few steps. She didn't come with me but she didn't go away. I approached again, and rubbed her neck with the rope. No movement. I looped the rope around her neck. Nuthin. I haltered her and stood there lovin on her for a while. Then we went inside.

I tied Zoey. She was her usual self - docile but tense. She was not dirty, but I gave her a long, slow grooming, paying attention to her eyes and ears and keeping my movements slow and fluid. Some of the tension started to go out of her, so I kept it up. After a while I started asking her to drop her head just a little with light pressure on the halter. She was resistant at first, but once she got the idea she relaxed into it. I kept grooming. She'd hear a noise or see something move by in the distance and her head and neck would come back up and get tense. I'd ask her to soften and she would.

By the time I was done grooming, I'd decided not to ride. Really, what she needs more than anything is confidence. She is the most rigid horse I've been around in a while, and I think it's because she is quiet and compliant and she will take things, so no one has ever taken the time and taught her to actually be comfortable with her job. I decided I could do more to that end with the time I had by sticking with groundwork today.

I took her into the indoor arena and unhaltered her. As soon as the halter slipped off she started to wander away. I like to teach my horses that I step away first, whether they are haltered or not, but we had a good thing going and I didn't want to scare her. I put a little pressure on her with the flag - just enough so her moving off became my idea instead of hers.

Our indoor arena is small enough you can do at liberty work pretty successfully, especially with the flag, which makes you a whole lot "bigger." I didn't do anything aggressive, but I kept Zoey moving until she started to try to stop and look at me. A number of times she stopped to look but didn't come when I asked her to.

Her hesitation was not surprising, as she clearly does not know how to come, so instead of continuing to drive her I put a little pressure on her haunch until she stepped under. Often this has an unsticking effect, and after three or four times stepping under, she took a small step forward.

I rewarded this by going up to her and petting her, and giving her a break. Then we worked on it a little more, and pretty soon she was latched on enough that she would take two or three steps each time I asked her to come forward. Then when I walked across the arena to get her halter she stayed at my shoulder.

I went to put the halter back on, and she got all tense again. She's defensive about her face, most particularly with things moving towards it. Again I think she's just been rushed. She tried to walk away when she felt the halter on her nose. I again asked her to move her hindquarters, which faced her up with me again. Then I took a lot of time working from her neck to her face until she could tolerate the touch of the halter without flinching. We took a few breaks, and finally I got the halter on without ever putting the rope around her neck. She chose to stay, she wasn't forced to. Hopefully now I can just help her make that choice a few hundred more times, and we'll be good.

I worked on sending her in a circle and accepting the touch of the flag. I also worked on flexing, which she's horrible at. The whole middle region of her neck is one big brace, and so when I ask her to bend to the left or right she thinks she has to step her hind over. Even light pressure was enough to make her move, so I ended up standing there for quite a while with just a hint of contact on the halter until she started exploring. We made some progress, but this is something we're going to have to work on a lot.

Then I looked at the clock and realized I was running late. I mixed up Zoey last dose of meds in a hurry, sprayed more silver bandage on her butt, returned her to the pasture, got Bear, took his temp, gave him his meds, trotted him back out to the herd and dashed to my car to continue my day. If I could just get someone to run my business for me it would sure be a lot easier to make progress with the horses.


  1. She looks just like my trainer's roan qh its uncanny


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