Another Windy Day

chasing a life in the high desert

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Leaps and Bounds

Things are starting to really come together for me and Zeke! We accomplished a lot this week that we can be proud of, but the biggest one for me is that we have been walking on the lead – without a single incident of run-away!

That’s not to say it’s been quiet. Zeke and I encountered people, trucks, horses and general ranch activity as we walked to the roundpen today, and every once in a while something catches his eye and he startles a little. But that’s it – a quick hop, then he looks and decides he’s fine, and doesn’t need to leave. That’s a very big deal!

Yesterday I took Zeke to the roundpen and dressed him in a saddle, then we lunged. He had no real reaction to that saddle bouncing away against his sides at all! In between trips around the pen, I worked with him a little on flapping those stirrups, hopping up and down, and doing generally annoying things to see how he’d handle it. He was very chill about it all! Susan was on hand and took a few photos for me – about 196 of them! But since space is limited, I will just put these 20 up! Click on the thumbnail to see the bigger picture. And stay tuned after the photos to find out about the awesomness that was today, too!

After all we accomplished yesterday, during our post-workout tie up and be patient session, I put Zeke’s frist bridle on. It took 3 tries to get the bit in, but once it was in, he chewed on it happily.

Unfortunately today there was no one to take photos of our progress, but we still had a great day! I saddled Zeke in the large pen I use to tie him in, and walked him, saddled and bridled, to the round pen. Since it was his first workout in the bridle, I tied the reins to the saddle horn for safety, but without any tension in them, so he could still move his head and neck without feeling the bit.

His workout was fine; being an energy-conserving mustang, he has figured out the lunging routine and seeks to get to the place he can stop working! He already understands where the gate is, and I had to encourage him forward as he passed, to prevent him from stopping or breaking gait!

Interspersed into his workout were breaks where I spent more time flapping and banging on the saddle. New for today, though – I walked him to the edge of the pen, and climbed up onto the lower rail so I was taller than him. From there I tapped on the saddle, leaned onto the saddle (keeping a hand on railing!), and finally leaned over the saddle, so I could reach the far stirrup to flap it against his side. He didn’t mind any of this except the stirrup banging his side. I could feel the tiniest arch in his back when it hit him. Since that’s where my leg will be for riding, I guess I will practice that move a lot more before we ride!

After our workout, I walked Zeke through the toy box outside the roundpen – a little area with cavaletti poles to step over and a wooden bridge. He hesitated over the bridge the first time, putting his front feet on it but not wanting to move his backs. But it was only a minute or two, then over he went. The next time across was like he’d been doing it forever! Next we went into the big pasture, where Cindy was riding Blondie today. In there we walked around and between a set of white plastic barrels, under a few ribbons of sheet still attached to our ‘cowboy curtain’ obstacle, and finally, over the longer, darker wooden bridge that was flanked on each side by a gate jump! He never batted an eye. The only thing he balked at was when I led him up to Cindy as she sat on super-tall Blondie. He came up to the horse just fine, and even reached up to check Cindy out. But when she carefully reached to pet him, he backed up several steps. But he DIDN’T run! So we moved back into place, until he made a move with his head upwards, allowing Cindy to touch his nose. That was a good effort for today, so we quit on that!

I’m very happy with Zeke’s progress! Next up will be to lunge with some tension on the reins, so he learns to give to the pressure of the bit. This will be done by tying the reins in various configurations until he’s comfortable all around. After that we move to ground driving, where he’ll learn to steer. Can’t wait!

Hooves, Roundpens, and Saddles

It seems like forever since my last update, but that’s not because Zeke and I haven’t been busy working together! In fact, we’ve accomplished quite a bit in the last 9 days or so, despite bad weather, good weather, and lots of work.

All the short days (as in, days I had to work and only had a short time to spend with Zeke) were filled with grooming. Unfortunately, Zeke has been moved down to the lonely pen of shame – during last week’s rain storm, when everyone was standing nicely under the roof in their own pen, Zeke used the down time to chew his closest neighbors’ tails! So now he has to be in a pen with at least one pen between him and the next horse, so his barbering habits can’t be indulged!

He greets me at the gate each time I go in, and stands quietly for his halter to be tied on. He did have one more tie up session with Cindy, though – the day he moved to his new pen, Cindy went in to catch him and move him, and he waited until she had the halter around his nose to run off. Apparently he partied around the stall then, daring Cindy to get him, which of course is a bad move to make – Cindy doesn’t lose at horse games! So once he was caught, he had to stand tied for a time to think about things. It’s funny how bonded these mustangs get to people – the one Cindy is working with is quiet with her but still suspicious of others, and Zeke is the same way. Luckily they get over all that eventually.

So anyhow, we progressed to getting 3 of 4 feet handled and picked out by Saturday the 24th. The stickier ones I use a rope to lift, then hold them for a short time. It seemed like progress, until today, when I saw what real progress is!

But I’m getting ahead. Yesterday: Big day for us. For the first time, I walked Zeke all the way over to the roundpen for a real workout, and he walked like a gentleman the whole way! Earlier in the week I had taken him back to his original holding pen to start lunging, and he was doing well with trot but it’s a little small for canter, so it was time to be brave and just go over. When we got there, we had a great workout practicing walk, trot, whoa, and reverse. Zeke is so bright and responsive that when Steve, Cindy’s husband, wandered over to snap these pictures of us on his phone, he was surprised that it was his first time lunging in the pen!

 

After lunging I turned Zeke loose in the pen for a reward for good behavior. Then I walked back in, hooked up his leadrope for our walk back…and at that moment one of the boarder horses was turned loose in the big pasture next to the roundpen. Now if you’ve been following our story you remember that I had never, until this day, successfully led Zeke freely around the ranch. He’s pulled free and run from me whenever he had the opportunity, but since then we’ve done a lot of tying, and a lot of leading work in a controlled environment. But still, watching Sprout running and bucking next door made me stop and worry a bit about how I would get Zeke home. Seeing another horse run free next to him would be a great way to have him get loose from me again, which I just don’t want!

But I decided that life was always going to go on around us, and I needed to suck it up and deal. As Cindy keeps saying to me, you won’t know how he’ll be until you do it. So I opened the roundpen and walked Zeke out. And…Sprout came FLYING up to our side of the pasture, sliding to a stop and spraying dirt on our feet, then running away again. Thanks so much, Sprout. And while I stood there shaking, waiting for Zeke to run off, he stood there looking at me like, “Why did we stop here? Let’s go home.” He was an absolute gentleman the entire time, and never tried to leave. So we went back to the large pen where I tied him up, the normal end to our working day!

I was quite satisfied with our progress, and Cindy, who had seen the whole incident, was pleased too. Then she suggested that today would be a great day to hobble train Zeke, so that I could start handling his feet for real, and not being so ‘baby’ about it. I have a tendency to not ask enough of a horse, keeping him in a remedial class when he’s ready to move on. But horses sense this, of course, and only give the lowest expected effort. Hobble training Zeke would have a big benefit: It would teach him, once and for all, that allowing us to take his feet away would not kill him, and he could tolerate it. This would make cleaning and eventually trimming his hooves easier; it also makes a horse safer. Should Zeke ever encounter wire or another obstacle that tangles his legs, his experience with hobbles would teach him to wait quietly for help, not panic and hurt himself.

So, Cindy put the hobbles on him while I held him. I am not fast or confident with them, so I chickened out and asked her to put them on for that very first time! Then I turned him loose.

He was not pleased. This training always looks worse than it is; basically the horse has to fight it out with himself until he decides it’s not getting him anywhere, and gives up.

In no time at all, Mr. Smartypants there had it figured out. He stopped fighting, and figured out how to hop around so he could still go about his business!

All that was yesterday. Today, the payoff. I walked in to Zeke’s stall, tied him up and groomed him, and easily picked out all 4 of his feet. It was that simple, he didn’t even argue about it. That basically showed me that in the previous days, where I had to use a rope to pick up his feet and only held them a short time, he was simply living up to my low standards. Cindy’s right – I need to expect more. He’s smart enough!

After grooming, I grabbed a couple things from the barn to dress him in, and took him for a walk (inside his pen only – after all, it was his very first time to wear this get-up!)

I’m very proud of the boy, and our progress this week!

 

Good Progress

This week was all forward motion! During the short days of my work week, I did lots of grooming, even braiding his mane over to try to tame it down. Of course when I went back that very night, I found another piece I should have braided! His mane is massively thick and lovely, if only it all would lie on one side!

I took off his lead rope for good this week, and on Thursday, took off his halter too. He doesn’t even suck back when I walk in anymore, but greets me at the gate and stands still to have his halter tied back on. I handled his feet a lot this week, and he’s doing well with the left front and right hind. The opposite pair are still sticky, but improving. Today I even used a hoofpick on the front left and got some of the packed in stuff out before I felt him getting antsy. I don’t want to turn it into a battle at this point – I just hold the foot as long as he’s comfortable, then let it down during a time he’s not tense and resisting.

We worked on leading in our tied-off hallway between pens, with new people walking up and talking or petting, and Zeke did great with this. The only thing he’s still uncomfortable with is someone trailing behind us, so today Vickie did that while we walked. He accepted it but kept an eye out, so Vickie took her hat off. That was enough to spook him – he tucked his butt and scooted forward a step or two, then stopped. No running off, no passing me, just an acceptable little startle. He’s getting better and better every day!

Today I also gave Zeke some wormer; he’s been rubbing his tail a bit and since the only use Ivermectin at the BLM, Cindy suggested something that would control pinworms. I was apprehensive about trying to administer the worming paste, so many tame horses react terribly to having the wormer tube put in their mouth and squirted. I needn’t have worried – Zeke took it well and even appeared to like the taste!

I am really looking forward to getting out of our ‘controlled environment’ and being able to walk to he roundpen to start our real work!

Improvements

Such a happier week this week!

As usual I had only about a half hour a day around work to spend with Zeke all week. I used that time approaching and petting, grooming, and walking in his stall. We also started experimenting with lifting the front feet.

At first I used a rope to just move the foot, releasing it when he moved it quietly. We progressed to me picking the hoof up the normal way, just for a second, then letting it down. He did very well with he left one, but was always nervous on the right.

Today was my first day off in seven days – I switched days off at work so I could be off for our fun Eq-Games event at the ranch this weekend. I’ll be helping with the judging, and it’s going to be real fun.

Anyhow – during the week Cindy tied Zeke up three or four times, just letting him stand there for a hour or more and figure out how to deal with that. Today I did the same, and was encouraged by how patiently he waited there. I had wrapped the rope several times around a pole, then bent down and tied it off near he bottom of the pen. I left Zeke for about ten minutes; when I came back he was casually working at the knot at the bottom of the pen! It’s a little frightening how smart he is!

He was sacked out with the towel again, then Cindy helped me work with the rope and lifting all four of his feet today. His hooves are getting pretty long, so learning to accept handling of them  is one of my priorities for now. I want him to have a good experience when he’s ready for his hoof trim.

After that I left him and went back a few times, grooming him or working with his feet. Then, it was time for some walk therapy!

I tied up the gates across the hallway again today, because Cindy was there, ready to approach him while we walked. He went along nicely, then I led him towards Cindy. He balked, leaned…but didn’t leave. I snapped his rope as he leaned back, then praised when he came towards me. Then we let Cindy move.

While we walked, Cindy came up to us from every side and angle, just casually approaching, but Zeke didn’t trust her. He ran…but he didn’t get far before he felt the rope pressing, and he turned to face me! As soon as he realized he was looking at me again, he walked forward and we continued our walk. Each time Cindy approached he tried to make a break, but before he got so fast and strong that I wouldn’t be able to hold him, he turned and faced me. The tying really helped a lot! He was really improved in the way he thought about what he was doing, stopping to turn instead of blindly pulling and running. He quickly recovered and came forward for a pet each time. 

When he’d tolerated Cindy several times without leaving, we went back to his stall to relax for the day. I took he drag rope off his halter, too, so tomorrow before the show we’ll see how he does with that sort of freedom. All in all a very encouraging day!

All Tied Up

Yes, it was definitely time. Zeke needed to be tied up for the first time in his life.

The day started out just fine, I went into his stall in the morning with a green horseblanket he had never seen before, and with pretty much no fuss at all, put it on him and walked him around in the stall.

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So great – he’s been consistently more accepting of being approached, although he does still have a bit of ‘suck back’ to him. He gives you the idea that he might leave, if he decides you’re not OK. But it was time for another chance to walk outside of the pen, this time with no barriers, just a real walk around the ranch. So we stepped out of the pen.

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We walked around, we met the goats and even though they seemed scary at first, Zeke accepted them just fine. On our way back towards his pen, BAM – another breakaway and run. There is just NO way I can hold an 800lb horse if he wants to leave! So as I swore and dusted myself off, Cindy calmly said, “It’s time to tie that boy up.”

The idea is that for the first time ever, Zeke would try to leave and not be able to. We tied him up high, so he wouldn’t get tangled in the rope and could move under it, then I began gently sacking him with a towel. I didn’t try to scare him, I just made movements big and small all around him, until he decided he didn’t like it and wanted to leave. That’s when he hit the rope, and panicked, and fought like the wild horse he is! It’s upsetting to see, but it has to be done. He doesn’t just get to go whenever he feels like it – and he needs to understand that in the end, nothing at all bad will happen to him if he waits.

So we did all kinds of towel play, until he learned that leaving and pulling back got him nothing but more stress, while stepping forward then remaining quiet got him a pat. After that, he stood there learning patience for over an hour. He wasted some of that time with trying to paw and show his displeasure, but he quickly learned that that got him nothing, so he stopped. When the session was over, he went nicely back to his pen.

For the rest of the day, I did a lot of approach and retreat, and found he was much better, and no longer had that ‘suck back’ feeling when I went in. Maybe some of the “no leaving” lesson actually sank in!

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So that ended our Wednesday, February 29th session. Over this weekend, Cindy is helping me out by tying Zeke up whenever she has time, since I will be at work. I don’t want to hold him back by waiting so long between sessions that he forgets and has to start over! But I do see a difference each day as I go in to groom or pet him on my way to work, and I sincerely hope our next walk will be a good one!

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