Another Windy Day

chasing a life in the high desert

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Rollin’

Well time has been at a premium this past week or so, but I’ve managed to work with Zeke at least 20 minutes a day. The first part of last week, those 20 minutes didn’t seem like they were worth much, though.

Every day I’d go into his pen, and every day he’d trot endless circles around me, not stopping until by some miracle I could grab the end of the lead as he went by. As soon as I put pressure on his head, he’d stop, turn and face me, and I could touch him. But it seemed like a serious case of miscommunication every day – as soon as I stepped in, he’d take off trotting a perfect circle around me, turning his face to me as he did. I swear he was saying “This is what you want me to do, right?” Really, I just wanted him to stop running!

So on Wednesday, my day off, Cindy came over to watch us and play communications facilitator, which was a great help! Instead of allowing him to just run, I cut him off on one side of his pen, and approached very slowly. He turned nervously quite often, but I didn’t smack his rear when he turned it towards me. As Cindy explained, it wasn’t a move of aggression or avoidance – he just didn’t get what I wanted from him. Eventually I got hold of his rope and we started leading again.

I approached and played with him 5 times that Wednesday, then some more on Thursday. We did really well – he still sucks back a bit when I go in with him, but at least he doesn’t run! On Thursday I took him out for a little walk in the aisleway, making a long chute for us by tying some doors together at either end of the row. Helen was nice enough to snap some photos for us, and they are below:

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So we had a great weekend. And since then, in my quick 20 minute reviews before I run off to work, he’s been fully groomed, sacked out with a saddle blanket which he then carried around during leading practice, and even started picking up his front feet a little. We’ll keep rolling along!

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Two Steps Forward and Three Steps Back

Despite the horrid weather this week (it even snowed on Wednesday), I found a little time to work with Zeke each day. Living in the single stall with no horses around him, he seemed genuinely glad to see me when I showed up, and continued to approach me and allow me to pet his body and even his front legs. I haven’t tried the back ones yet, though I can run a rope all around them without it upsetting him. When I wasn’t there, Zeke amused himself with a ball and a traffic cone.

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Unfortunately he also chose to dig a giant hole near the front gate each night, leaving me to fill it in in the morning. Where, exactly, does the dirt go that comes out of a hole? I never could find enough soft fluffy dirt to push back in to quite fill it!

Since he was leading well in his pen and was obviously bored with his lonely surroundings, on Thursday Cindy suggested I lead him out of the pen to a new stall a short ways away. It was our first time out in the open, and he did well on that short walk.

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We did a little workout in the new stall that afternoon, and on Friday morning, and everything went wonderfully.

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And then it was Friday afternoon…Zeke was much happier in this stall, with horses on three sides. He didn’t dig any holes overnight on Thursday, and didn’t seem quite so frantic to see me when I showed up Friday morning. But when I returned in the afternoon, he just plain no longer had any use for me, having made friends with the horses around him! He sucked back a little as I caught him, trying to avoid the lead rope being placed. When he realized it was on he did his ‘frustration move’ – a strike out in front with his left leg. Unfortunately I was standing there, and he grazed my thigh, so we immediately launched into a round of trotting to let him know that was unacceptable!

After we went through our routine of touching and leading, it was time to venture outside again. I was apprehensive because I knew if he wanted to leave I really had no way to stop him – but so far he’d never really wanted to leave my side, so we tried it.

We did great at first, moving up and down the aisle in small circles, as if we were still in the pen. Then we took a walk around all the pens, and that’s where the trouble began! We got 3/4 of the way around, then Zeke decided he was done. I said let’s go, he said let’s not – then he turned and got his head away from me in that way you DON’T want, and then he was gone.

So I spent some time following him around, actually getting hold of his rope once but being forced to let go again as he blazed by. Cindy and I finally trapped him in another stall, where he received a lesson from Cindy in turning towards the person at the end of the rope again. When we all walked back to his stall, Cindy, Vickie, and I made a ‘chute’ in the aisleway, so we could practice walking out there without letting him get too far away. He did try to take his head away a couple times, but got pulled back. It was a good lesson for both of us, since there is no way to really see what your horse will do in a challenging situation until you’re in a challenging situation!

This morning I thought I’d just run by and say hello before work. When I entered the pen to pet him, he disappeared to the back. He has decided he does not need me at all now! So we worked in a circle for a half hour, going back to the simple idea of ‘turn and face me’. When he accomplished that, I went off to work. So we are starting now at the beginning, the place he should have been the day he came in! But since I was his one and only BFF then, we skipped all that process in the early days. I guess you can’t really completely skip steps if you want a trained horse!

 

Good Beginnings

The morning after Zeke came to Yucca Valley Equestrian Center, his training began. I was all ready to jump right in on my own, but first I jumped on in to his stall to clean it out. While I worked, Zeke checked me out, then approached and let me pet him. Then he became a pest! He kept moving into my space, crowding me in a curious (not aggressive) way. He also attempted chewing my fork a time or two.

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Since it was only the first day, I decided to wait until Cindy arrived. Judging by his behavior while I cleaned, I knew if I didn’t set the right tone for his first session, I could easily make a horse who was pushy and rude if I was too soft on him. And being too soft is a specialty of mine! Once Cindy arrived I went in while she kept her eye on me, reminding me each time I became too passive.

I moved Zeke around the rounded pen until he stopped and faced me several times, then I picked up his lead rope.

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Over and over, we worked on keeping his eyes on me and his hindquarters away. When his attention wandered I sent him trotting around again (Cindy reminding me that each move had to be full and total – he wasn’t allowed to ‘sort of’ listen to me!)

He quickly got the idea that when he turned and faced me, I allowed him to stop. Eventually, we progressed to more steady touching.

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I also worked on touching other parts of his body using my training stick. The stick allows him to get used to touching without putting me close to his hind legs or forcing me into any close spots.

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We ended our day with beginning leading, Zeke learning to follow me, and me learning to catch his attention before it wandered too far. A favorite move for a wild horse who doesn’t want his head to be captured is to turn his hind end to the handler, then run the opposite way. He will basically pull you off your feet, unless you let go of the rope, which is his idea all along.

Zeke managed to get me to drop the rope twice by doing that, while Cindy reminded me to keep his head always slightly tipped towards me to prevent this. It’s very helpful to have someone watching and reminding me – for me, I am so busy being awed by the experience of what I’m doing that I don’t react in time. And each time you’re too slow, you’ve taught the horse exactly what you didn’t want to! He wants to be left alone – and he discovered that if he turned his butt to me and then ran, I’d let him go – so he must have done the right thing! And that’s how fast you can make mistakes.

But we did get the job done – and the rest of the day we worked on the same thing, getting the idea to sink in. We did 4 short sessions. Not a bad first day!

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On Wednesday, Feb 15th, we managed to get in another four sessions before the sleet and rain started! We worked on leading, on being rubbed all down the legs with the stick, and on brushing. Zeke allowed me to brush his head, neck, and withers, but beyond that he’s still ticklish! One important thing happened today, though. Zeke tried to turn his butt and run on me, and I caught it in time and kept pressure on the halter – and he gave in and went forward, the way I was asking! We’re both learning.

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(Not Exactly) A Dream Come True

Ten years of waiting, working, preparing – and it all came down to one day. February 13th, 2012, was the day of my appointment to visit the BLM Holding Facility in Ridgecrest, California. I was finally going to adopt a mustang!

When you have an appointment to adopt, you get to drive out into the pastures of wild horses on a Gator. You take your time, looking and walking through the herds, trying to find out if there is one horse out there, the right horse, the one you feel a connection with. The one you want to bring home to train.

So we set out early from the Yucca Valley Equestrian Center, where I ride and board. Accompanying me on this exciting day was my friend and TIP trainer (and ranch owner), Cindy Lapp, and friends Claire, Vickie, and Helen. Helen took most of the photos along the way, ready to document my big day.  It started out beautifully.

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(photo by Helen Morgan)

Then we drove through a heavy downpour, but it didn’t last long, and I breathed a sigh of relief. That didn’t last long either!

When we reached the holding facility, we were subjected to sustained winds of 45 – 50mph, with gusts over 60mph. In a flat, open, space filled with horses and hay that meant a constant sandblasting with hay, dirt, and yes, dried manure. It was so bad that they drove us out to the pastures in a pick-up instead of the gator, and we nearly lost the doors each time we got out. But we did get out – this was my day, and I wanted to do everything. I wanted to find the right horse. So I got out and looked them all over.

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Cindy, our guide, and me, checking out the horses (photos by Helen Morgan)

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And then it happened, despite the wind and the flying dirt. One of the horses came up to me, and Helen caught him on camera.

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(photos by Helen Morgan)

I looked at all the horses in this pasture, but kept coming back to this dark bay. He had the sweetest look, nice conformation, and he liked me. I looked over his legs and tried to make him move a little in the wind, at which point something caught my eye – I couldn’t say exactly what it was, other than something about his hind legs looked stiff to me. I asked Cindy to watch him move, but we didn’t see it again so I thought I’d imagined it.

We moved on the the second pasture of eligible TIP geldings (horses 2 – 3 years old that were part of the Trainers Incentive Program). In that pasture I was the only one to get out and brave the elements to look at the horses. There was one cute little chestnut boy who allowed me to touch him, but by then I had my heart set on the dark bay I had already seen. So we finally headed out of the wind and back to the office to get the paperwork started, while the BLM hands rode out to round up and bring the entire herd in from that pasture. They’d be sorted out until my horse was separated and ready to load on the trailer!

By the time the horses made it into the 5 small holding pens by the office, CJ from the office had found the papers – and the note that said that the horse I had chosen had a leg problem. I hadn’t imagined it – he was stiff in back. I was already feeling attached, and this news crushed me – but it wouldn’t have been fair to either him or me to take him home. Once his training started, it would only put more pressure on his sore leg. He could still be adopted by someone with a less physically demanding career in mind, or he would be allowed to live out his days in a herd with the other horses. But I still felt horrible.

And then, CJ asked me if I had a second choice! Unfortunately, the only other horse I remembered was the little chestnut, who had been in the second pasture. But the cowboys had already rounded up the first pasture, and in that terrible wind there was no way I could ask them to run them all back and bring down the other ones!

So I faced looking at a bunch of horses who had just been run down into holding, stressed and scared in the 50mph wind and separated into little groups. How on earth would find “the one”? How would I be able to make a connection this way, to find a horse that responded to me? I walked from pen to pen, pretty much at a loss. This is NOT how I had pictured this day going.

Everyone tried to help, pointing out their favorites, and Cindy was doing everything she could in the situation to find a match for me. She watched the horses moving through the herds, ruling out the ones who were pushing and biting, or stirring the others up, and pointing out the ones who looked calmer and more patient. But I was still feeling crushed, and though no one hurried me I knew the poor cowboys were ready to get out of that wind and go to lunch. I paused to pet the nose of a horse that Vickie really liked (he was adorable and did let me pet him, but too tall for my purposes). Then his buddy came up, a chunky little bay with a white star and snip, and no neck tag. And he let me scratch him.

Cindy came over and we tried to assess if he was one of the ‘trouble makers’ in the group, but he didn’t seem to be. He seemed interested and slightly confused, but I liked his look, so I chose him. It wasn’t the way I had planned it, but it was done. I had my horse.

The cowboys separated him out, and ran him into the holding chute.

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(photo by Helen Morgan)

He was run into a crush chute, were one of the cowboys had the task of tying my halter onto him. Which he didn’t appreciate…

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(photos by me)

When the door opened, my new horse Ezekiel “Zeke” Sullivan ran toward the trailer. But he stopped at the edge, pausing to look it over a minute before the cowboys shushed him in and shut the door. We thanked them not only for their help, but for their patience in those 60mph gusts. As we drove away, I looked over Zeke’s papers.

He was born in 2009 (most wild foals are born in April or May), and captured with his mother in October of 2009 from the Clover Mountain HMA in southeastern Nevada. So he’ll be 3 years old in the next couple months.

He traveled well, even when we stopped for lunch.

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(photos by Helen Morgan)

When we finally arrived back in Yucca Valley, it was getting dark and was very windy. Even after the long day, Helen snapped a couple photos as Zeke made his way out of the trailer and into his new pen. He was very careful, pausing to look but not panicking. He stepped carefully out with his front feet, but his leadrope was caught under a hind foot, and he had to back up to free himself. Once he figured it out, he hopped off smoothly!

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(photos by Helen Morgan)

Thanks to everyone who went with me on this much anticipated, sometimes disappointing, but definitely stand-out day. It may not have happened how I always dreamed it would, but I have Zeke now, and it’s what happens from here on out that really counts!

Postscript: After she posted her photos to me, Helen and I discovered that she had actually captured Zeke in his herd in several of her photos! Here they are – and see if you can spot him in a few of the above herd photos as well! 

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(photos by Helen Morgan)

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