Another Windy Day

chasing a life in the high desert

First Ride!

Yes, it finally happened, the first ride. And it was great! But first things first, I spent the weekend at the Extreme Mustang Makeover in Norco. Cindy and her horse Hannah ended the competition in 9th place, which is a great achievement in itself, but many attendees (both public and officials) stopped by after to let her know they felt her performances should have placed her much higher. She really showed the versatility of the mustang breed in her Freestyle performance, by riding dressage, then jumping, then chasing a cow – all in her dressage saddle and shadbelly! I took tons of photos, you can find them in several sections at my photo site in the Horse Images section: http://www.flickr.com/photos/deserttrailrider/collections/

And then, on Monday afternoon, 5/21/12, Zeke and I ventured out for our first ride. I had taken him out that morning to ground drive, and he did a great job driving all through the big pasture, over obstacles, and around the ranch. When we returned in the afternoon, Zeke’s many fans turned out to watch him go! Cristina, Claire, Cindy B., Jan, Alyce and Ryan, and Kristen and Nathan all came to watch, and of course Cindy was on hand to make sure I did everything correctly! Claire got some pictures as we got ready and rode.

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We went to the small round pen – Cindy said use the large one if I think I will have good control, the small one if I wasn’t sure. I thought I would have good control – but I knew I’d feel like I didn’t for our first few rides, so we picked small to boost my confidence! We headed out there and did a short lunging session, then I climbed on the railings and laid over his back, as usual. Then I just slid my leg over and sat, and he stood still like a perfect gentleman.

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Then I asked him to go forward by using the verbal commands he knows from all our ground work, and a light squeeze of my leg. And he stood still like a perfect young horse on his first ride! Heheh – he didn’t get it, of course, and he showed he was the type of horse to stand still when confused, rather than run off in terror – which was OK by me! So we began with me turning his head to the rail, using my legs as he came out of the turn to encourage him forward. I did this many times to ‘unstick’ his feet, and he did always move, though he never really got ‘forward’ from that.

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At that point, Cindy stepped into the pen and stood in the middle, then encouraged him forward as I asked. He understood someone in the center asking him, so off he went!

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This is pretty typical of a first ride. It takes a little time to transfer the cues the horse has learned from the ground to someone on his back, and Zeke and I did very well. We walked and trotted, turned into the rail a couple times, and practiced a few stops. The main mistakes were mine – once I just plain forgot he was a baby, and I gave him a hard kick because he’d stopped going forward. When he then lurched ahead I snatched my reins back a bit, but Cindy reminded me not to do that and I fixed it quickly! At this stage of the game, the object is ‘go forward’. If I ask for forward, I should never punish for the speed at which he replies! All that finesse comes later, right now, it’s pretty much forward, stop, turn.

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The end of a great first day! Our workouts for the first few days will be short, 10 – 15 minutes, then slowly increase. The goal in the beginning is to have each experience be positive for us both. Once we’ve established the riding basics, we will go for longer sessions – and inevitably, we will have an argument. But by then our basics should be good enough for any argument to be short-lived and resolvable!

Tuesday, day 2 riding was just as good. This time Cindy started off in the arena with me, encouraging Zeke forward and we rode along. Eventually she stepped out – and sure enough, Zeke stopped going! I tried turning and tapping him through, but he still wasn’t sure, so Cindy stepped back in and clucked. After a few minutes she left again, and this time we kept going! We were able to stop, go, and turn without anyone in the center directing him. He was beginning to understand the cues as I gave them from his back.

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So today, ride 3, I went out to the round pen alone. Cindy was riding in the wood arena right next door, but it was just the two of us in the roundpen. We lunged, I got on, and…we went! We walked and trotted by ourselves, Zeke understanding and responding correctly to everything I asked of him. We started making some small circles today at the walk and trot, and changing direction through the center of the pen. He did really well, though he has a tendency to stall when asked to trot through a turn. By the time we ended our session, he was trotting through with just a bit of hesitation left.

Tomorrow and Friday we plan to do two rides each day, to really get us off to a good start before I go back to work on Sunday. On Saturday I will be in a parade with my horse Slim, so Zeke will get his ride after that! Then it’s two days off, Sunday and Monday, then right back into a daily ride schedule! I’m looking forward to it!

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Teeth and Makeovers

So, why no post this past week, you may be asking? Well…not much to tell, at least where Zeke is concerned.

We didn’t get to work much at all, due to my work schedule. Then I ended up spending one of my days off having what was left of a tooth pulled. Yeah, stay away from Milk Duds, is all I can say! Pulled my crown off with part of what was left of my tooth. The dentist said it couldn’t be saved, so out it went. Too bad they don’t give you some kind of credit for returning the crown, those things are expensive!

Anyhow, what did go on with Zeke? He had a fun turnout day, which he really enjoyed, and one work day of ground driving that ended in an argument. I asked him to go past some stacked white blocks, he said no, and fighting ensued. When he grudgingly went past them – both ways – without trying to run or tangle up the lines, we did a last trip around the arena and called it a day.

Good news, though – his registration papers with the American Mustang and Burro Association (http://www.ambainc.net/) came in, and he is officially registered now as “Ezekiel”. We didn’t have to add any qualifiers or anything, though I had put “Clover Mountain Ezekiel” as the back-up, since that’s where he’s from. But he has a nice certificate now, and should we ever decide to show in any discipline, he can earn points.

This weekend is the Extreme Mustang Makeover in Norco, CA, and Cindy will be competing with her Makeover horse, Hannah. It will be great fun, and I’m looking forward to what Cindy, and the other trainers will do. It is amazing what a mustang can learn in a short time. Info for the Norco event is here: http://extrememustangmakeover.com/emmcalifornia.php

So with that busy schedule ahead, I will leave you with a picture of Zeke partying during his turnout, and hopefully NEXT week there will be big updates!

What’s Happening Next

Despite having less time to work with Zeke over the past week, we really did get a lot accomplished. I also came to the decision that I would not be taking my first ride on Zeke until the end of the month – not because he’s not ready, but because I have too many more weeks of little time coming up. He’s going to need some consistency at the beginning, and I want to wait until I can give him that.

On May 18th and 19th, the Yucca Valley Equestrian Center crew will be headed down to Norco to watch Cindy compete in the Extreme Mustang Makeover. I plan to be there to watch the events, cheer on Cindy and her Makeover horse Hannah, and take photos to complete this year’s Makeover chronical. You can see what Cindy’s been up to at our website, http://yuccavalleyequestriancenter.com. The week following the Makeover will be me and Zeke’s first week of riding!

This week we did more ground driving, in the roundpen and then in the wood arena. On Thursday I felt he was doing so well in the arena that I opened the gate and drove him out! We drove around the barn and back to the grooming area, and though he was reluctant to enter without me going in front, we did manage to drive through the barn, too! Cristina took some photos for us.

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Zeke doesn’t have trouble with getting the ropes tangled – only I do!

After our workout, Zeke got his yearly vaccinations, and he was very brave.

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On Friday evening, he was still showing a little bit of reaction to the vaccine. Nothing big, he was just slower-moving than normal. Rather than do a whole big workout, I saddled him with a ‘real’ saddle, and just took him for a quick lunge in it. The saddle we’ve been using is tiny and very light-weight, made of cordura material instead of leather. Now that I know he’s fine with wearing the saddle, and not prone to throwing himself over on his back when he doesn’t get his way, it was time to try out the full-sized leather saddle. Despite the weight difference, he didn’t mind his new gear.

After that short work, we spent some time with me sitting and climbing on him, then called it a good week.

 

New Shoes

Well, okay, new feet anyhow! Zeke got his very first hoof trim this week. But first things first.

On Wednesday morning, Zeke went through his routine perfectly. He lunged with his head tied, and he found the balance quickly and held his head correctly without fighting. He also ground drove wonderfully, turning in both directions and moving forward in a relaxed way. So we decided to go up to the wood arena and drive in a bigger space, without the rail to guide us.

As with everything else we’ve done, it went really nicely…for a while. We worked at one end of the arena, getting comfortable in the new space, then we started working our way up the railing to the other end. Zeke did well, but after a while he started getting testy, like he wanted to stop. I turned him to the right, his least favorite direction, and suddenly he had a fit. He refused to go, and when I chased him with the rope behind, he went backwards, not forwards, and promptly got tangled in the ropes. He then proceeded to spin around until I had no rope left to hold, and I was forced to let him go.

He ran like a maniac, dragging his ropes, so I picked up the lunge whip and encouraged him to keep going when he tried to rest. If he was going to run free, I was at least going to make it look like it was my idea! When I let him stop, he let me catch him, and we went straight back to work. 

Going right, he tried the trick again, but this time I got him – I was able to move him forward and keep his head tipped right so that he couldn’t back up on me. But then it happened again, and he won again, turning the rope so tight I had nothing to hold. So this time after getting caught, we went back to the roundpen.

Once there, I drove him to the right for another 15 minutes or so, and every time he tried to duck out I forced him forward. We ended that session when he no longer fussed, he got sponged, and stood tied while I rode my horse Slim. Then he got to go home in disgrace. 😦

That afternoon I got him out again, and tied his head to the right, as a reminder that if the bit is pulled right, he must follow his nose! He did fine with that, so we drove again. Again, no problem, so we went back to the wood arena.

This time everything went just fine. Zeke didn’t offer to pull away and run off, and we were able to work all around the arena, and through and between barrels and blocks. A much better afternoon!

Then Thursday was the big day for Zeke: Hoof trim time! Josh Dittmer showed up around 2 with his truck, and I led Zeke into the barn. Josh was really patient with Zeke, patting him and getting to know him a bit before going to work. 

And Zeke did great with it all!

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It turned out he had some great little hooves under there, Josh said they were in good shape despite the overdue trim. He made a little display of the clippings for me:

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I think he’s about 2 inches shorter now!

Today, Friday, we had time for another short workout in the roundpen, but the arena was being used so we never got to go back there. Even though he was good the last time we were in there, it would be really scary if I tried to drive him while people rode, especially if he got loose again! 

So instead, he stood tied while I helped Cindy feed, and then we got the pink and yellow chick flag of spring out for the walk home. Cristina was on hand to snap a few pictures for us.

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It IS NOT for eating!

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Zeke says: Could you PLEASE pay attention?!

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I also measured him today with the leveling stick – he is a solid 14.1 hands!

The next few days my work schedule won’t allow me any time for a real workout, so we’ll be back at it Tuesday. The plan is for more driving in the arena, and then outside the arena. I’m going to try to ride after that – scheduling has become tough, but I need to have at least five days in a row once I start to ride, for things to sink in. We’ll get there!

Wildlife (or Wild life!)

Tonight after work I turned Zeke out in the wood arena for the first time. He had a great time, finally getting to take off and do what he wanted. He ran quite a bit, sniffed horse poop a lot, and chewed on the wooden cavalettis until I made him move on. I have still never seen him actually roll – he lays down in his pen, but I don’t know if he gets the idea of rolling yet. But he did have a good time.

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On my way home, I got really lucky. There’s a house on one of the corners near where I live that’s empty. It used to have someone living in it, there was always a bunch of junk in the yard and they had one of those big metal storage containers sitting on a cement pad. Then one day a couple years ago, it was all gone – the people, the mess, and the container. Just the house and cement pad left. A couple days after it emptied out, I was driving past and saw what I thought was a horrible thing – it looked as though the people had left their little dogs behind! I saw what I thought were chihuahuas on the cement pad, so I stopped to get a better look.

It was a kit fox! A kit fox, and her babies, hanging out in the evening light on the cement. I watched a minute and saw them disappear underneath the pad eventually. It was adorable.

I saw them in the early mornings and evenings after that day, until about the middle of summer. Once I drove by at night, and saw the little eyes reflected back that told me they were venturing further from home. Then one day they were gone.

Last spring, they returned. Mom and a new litter – I checked for them every time I went by, wishing I had a camera with a decent zoom. Well – this year I got one! As I drove home tonight, I peeked into the yard, and there they were, what looked like an adult pair. So I drove to the stop sign on the corner, stopped, and got out my camera. Then I cruised slowly around the corner on the shoulder of the road, the passenger window rolled down. Luckily no one else was around – I didn’t want to be a traffic hazard but mainly I always double-check for people before I linger in front of them. I don’t want people who would mess with them to see them there.

It turns out the whole family was out – mom, dad, and three babies! I never even saw the third one until I downloaded my pictures, and the second one was mainly a pair of ears. Anyhow, see for yourself:

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If you’d like to see them larger, check out my Flickr site. Here’s the link to the foxes [ http://www.flickr.com/photos/deserttrailrider/sets/72157629530204870/ ], but I have tons of pictures there, from the zoo where I work to other animal and horse photos. Of course, there’s a bunch more of Zeke’s turnout too! [ http://www.flickr.com/photos/deserttrailrider ].

The Good, The Bad, The Fabulous

It was a week of all of the above. Zeke continues to learn very quickly, but he continues to test his limits a lot, too. But all in all, he’s doing fabulously.

We are still ground driving in the big roundpen, this week I put some sports boots on him on Wednesday, which he totally ignored. Some horses make a big deal shaking their feet, but he was cool with them.

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What he is not cool with is the whole “pulling on the reins to go a way I don’t want to go” thing. He is still not quite a believer, as Cindy would say. He’s improving, for sure; this week we were able to turn figure eights through the center of the roundpen and increase and decrease the circumference of our circle. But every time it gets to a point where he just doesn’t wanna do it, he fights. His go-to move is the front feet – kicking out and this week, even rearing up a little. On Wednesday he insisted on turning the opposite way I asked, reared up and got the rope around his hind legs, and actually fell back on his butt for a second! Sadly for him, I was still holding the reins, so when he got up he still had to go the way I asked, but first he had to find a way out of the tangled ropes he made! Luckily he’s smart enough to do that, and after we got settled, we could relax again while I played around climbing all over him.

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We also took a walk up in the wooden arena for the first time, and encountered many new toys (none of which, sadly, turned out to be for eating). He is definitely curious about new things, rather than afraid, which is great!

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After our Wednesday workout, Zeke has his very first rinse off! He was quite suspicious – not of the hose, or the noise it made, but he wanted to be sure I wasn’t washing him down with acid. He leaned as far from the spray as possible, but when his skin didn’t dissolve, he thought it wasn’t so bad after all.

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Thursday’s workout found Zeke packing a new friend along:

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You may not believe me, but I hung this raincoat over the rail as I saddled Zeke, so he’d get used to seeing it. Then I placed it on the saddle, buttoning the top button over the horn so it wouldn’t slip. I went to get his bridle, and when I got back, the raincoat was hanging over the railing again. Seriously. He is smart. I decided I’d better tie it on while he worked!

We spent a good long time ground driving, while Zeke looked for new ways to be rid of my influence. He did the rear again. He started anticipating that if I drove through the center, he was going to be asked to turn the other way. So he just started turning on his own – which meant I had to start driving him through without turning, so he’d learn to wait. I appreciate his intelligence, but he’s supposed to wait to be asked! Once he headed right for a white block I set in the arena to drive around, and when I didn’t turn him he hopped up, all four feet off the ground! Unfortunately his raincoat friend didn’t stay with him there, and he had to deal with it hitting the ground. But he handled it all, and all in all had a great day.

After roundpen, he got to have his feet handled by one of our riders, Art. He needed some practice letting guys pick up his feet, because next week is going to be his first hoof trim!

After hoof practice, we walked into and out of stalls and tack rooms in the barn, and since he followed me so willingly, we walked on down to Helen’s trailer, too. And you know what? He followed me right in, and backed out when asked, like he’d been doing it all his life. In fact, he did it better than a lot of horses who have been doing it all their lives! Considering the only time he’s been in a trailer he’s been rounded up and run in, I was quite impressed!

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So a pretty big week for me and Zeke (that rhymed!)

I think another week of driving is appropriate before actual riding – he needs to truly believe that I am right in any situation, and he should unquestioningly follow my direction, not rear, not get frustrated, not run off, and not make his own choices. And that’s a lot to ask of anyone! So we’ll see how he does for the next week while I drive him both in and out of the pen – we do have to start driving around the ranch once I can trust him to listen to me and not run. Then we’ll make some plans for his first 5 days of riding.

Oh – and I was not a finalist in the writing contest. What can you do, right?

Distractions

Not everything goes as planned, but with horses, you do learn to focus on what’s in front of you and nothing else. It’s actually a great thing, to be absorbed. To get wrapped up in exactly what you’re doing exactly when you’re doing it, and not get distracted by what happened somewhere else, what could happen later, or what you wish would happen anytime. Horses are amazingly helpful at creating that state of mind.

I’ve been distracted all day. I entered a story I wrote (and I mean a 120,000 word novel, not a little story) in a literary agent’s writing contest a month ago. The judges have been reading and considering and narrowing the field – but not telling the participants who’s been weeded out. Today was supposed to be the announcement – who made the final round before the winner is chosen. I have been checking that website all day, reading the teasing updates she’s been leaving to torture the 404 contest entrants. She STILL hasn’t listed the finalists. It’s not that I expect to be one, out of so many entrants, but then, I kinda do, you know?

Anyway, I left work obsessing over this contest, and headed to the barn. Yesterday it poured rain, so Zeke didn’t get a follow-up to his ground driving, so I thought today I’d ‘squeeze’ it in. But not everything goes as planned.

Blame it on the cool weather, or anything you want, but the truth is Zeke just wasn’t with me today. He was really…distracted. He spooked while leading, he looked around while being groomed – who knows. I took him to the big roundpen to try ground driving there. Luckily I also brought the lunge rope to warm him up first, because he ran like a maniac.

After the rain we had, the dressage court next to us got a nice tractoring, so the dirt was all swirled up and nice and dark and fresh. I think that was what he was using for an excuse, since he kept running faster away from it and hesitating going towards it. Since ground dirt is always going to happen, I couldn’t accept that excuse, and we lunged a lot longer than I had planned. I started to get a little stressed, because it was my plan to ground drive, not lunge! I didn’t want to be here all night long!

But I knew what to do. As with any good instructor or trainer, I could hear Cindy’s voice in my head, even though she wasn’t there. Is he paying attention to you or just looking around? Is he working well? If not, get his attention, make him work!

So I concentrated on what I was seeing in front of me – I stopped worrying about my ‘plan’. If he went faster in one spot than another, I made him keep the same faster pace all the way round. If he offered to slow down I relaxed my posture and let him, but if he sped up again I pushed him to keep moving. And just like magic, he was suddenly there. His head tipped in towards me, his pace slowed – you could see him focus. It didn’t even take all night! So I decided to do the driving after all.

I hooked him up, and as I started driving in the big pen, he started the same worried running around again. I pulled on those reins to slow him, and he ran through me – and again, the voice in my head kicked in. What was the point of standing there hauling on his face and NOT being able to slow him? Did I want to teach him it was OK to plow through my hand? No. So again I gave up my plan. I dropped the ground drive reins, and went back to lunging until he relaxed, which he did fairly quickly. Then I told him he was good and picked up the reins again.

And you know, it worked. Was he as pokey and relaxed and easy as he was the other day? No – this was definitely a new day. But even though he seemed a bit more wound up, he listened to my cues. He turned when I asked him, he stopped when I asked him (without hauling on the reins, thank you!). When we were done, he stood like a quiet gentleman, like he always does,waiting for time to go back to his pen. All in all, it was a good learning day.

I’m glad I took that time to work Zeke. I was completely focused on him and what he needed, and we made progress. So now I guess I’ll go back to waiting, because the finalists for the writing contest have not been announced yet…

Ground Driving

Zeke and I spent most of this week reviewing lunging and tying his head around so he learns to follow his nose – all in preparation for what we started today. Ground Driving! Here’s a picture of the head tying, so you can get an idea what that’s about:

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With the above, I would tie his head to one side, then ask him to move with a cluck or a snap of the lunge whip. When he tried to move, he’d feel the pull of the reins on his bit, asking him to go to one side. As long as he gave in to the pull, it wouldn’t keep pulling – so by doing this to each side of his body, he teaches himself the correct way to respond to a rein being pulled sideways. That’s important, of course, because when you’re riding him, you want him to know that a pull to the side means ‘turn’ – not “jerk you head, have a fit, and run away from it” – which is often a first response! But he learned this very well over the week.

Yesterday after his session, I pulled out a flag. It was very windy, and the flag rippled and crackled in the wind. I wanted him to get used to the noise, but of course when I held it up all he wanted to know was whether he could eat it! He had no fear, so I walked him back to his pen with the flag held over our heads, sometimes letting it drag on his rump. He didn’t care, but a lot of the domestic horses we walked past got startled!

So that bring us to today. Today I attached the ground driving rope to Zeke. It’s a very long rope that clips to his bit on one side, runs through a ring at the side of the saddle, and loops back to attach the same way of the other side. The purpose it to lunge the horse, but hold the long rope and start using your hands the same way you would from his back – you can pull back gently on the reins when you ask him to stop, and pull one rein to ask him to turn. By lunging at all gaits and asking for frequent stops and turns, your horse gets more prepared for signals from a real rider!

We moved back to the small round pen for his first day, because it’s easier to maintain control in a small space. Cindy suggested that I connect the reins then ask him to move and ‘drag’ them, before I took hold. That way when the rope jiggled across his butt or touched his hind legs, he could figure it out without me trying to hang on. It was good advice, but in the end unnecessary, because Zeke never kicked or fussed about the rope dragging around him! I was proud of his patience.

So then I took the reins, and we started working at all the gaits, with me asking him with the same “whoa” I’ve been using to ask him to stop, then right after I say the word, I applied pressure to both reins to signal the stop. Whenever I wanted to turn, I’d shorten the outside rein and loosen the inside one, so he could follow it to the new direction. He got ‘stuck’ once or twice, not wanting to turn then deciding it was the only way out of his situation (good for him!), but for the most part, he got the idea and was very responsive!

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...and whoa…

He was such a good boy, and Cindy once again reminded me that I was going to be in trouble if I don’t stay on my toes, because he is very smart!

After his workout, Zeke stood tied for a while, and got a grooming. And I decided that since he’s wearing a bridle consistently now, he should have a little bridlepath. That’s the portion of the horse’s mane directly behind the ears, where the bridle sits. It’s commonly shaved flat, to make pulling the bridle and halter on and off easier, without getting all tangled up in hair. Of course, I didn’t want to wreck his gorgeous thick mane, so I just made a small path. And he stood for the noisy clippers as though they’d always been used on him! He wasn’t worried a bit.

The Big Time

Yep, Zeke hit the big time this week! Not only have we walked all over the ranch without any fussing or trying to run, we have started holding our lunging sessions down in the big roundpen!

On Tuesday afternoon as I was tacking Zeke up, Kristen came by and said hi with her 2 year old son, Nathan. Well, Nathan knows where the ‘Little Red Wagon’ hides between the tack rooms, and he got it out and started dragging it around. It makes a serious metallic rattling noise as it rolls along, so of course Zeke was scared and distracted by it. So…we borrowed it from Nathan and walked it up to Zeke.

He did OK with it, not sure what the point of it was and still suspicious – then Kristen came up and placed a handful of fresh alfalfa into it! I untied Zeke, and as Kristen pulled the wagon, we followed. When he got curious, we stopped, and he found the hay.

So long, troubled times, I see food in this thing!

He never worried about it again, and when I walked him back to his stall at the end of our day, I pulled it alongside us, just for reinforcement. He didn’t mind, except that the boring old thing had no food left in it.

On Wednesday: The big roundpen is easily twice the size of the one we’ve been working in, and it’s located in the front of the ranch. So Zeke gets to watch cars pull in and out, and see other horses being ridden in the arena up the slope from us or right next door in the dressage court. He was curious about those distractions, but not obsessed with them.

For our first session in that pen, Zeke got excited at all the room – he trotted quickly and when I asked for canter he took off running! Normally I have to remind him to continue moving at the gait he’s in until asked to stop; today he cantered several times around without hesitation! Of course once he realized that first canter wasn’t the end, he was a little sorry – he tired himself out! But he worked very well the rest of the time, even with his reins tied tighter than they have been before, and even with Frisk and Suzette coming to work in the dressage court.

After lunging, I repeated my ‘climb on the railing and lay over you’ routine, and added some ‘side saddle’ sitting today. Zeke didn’t mind it a bit, even the flapping of the stirrups.

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On our way back to the grooming area – oh! I forgot to mention he’s getting groomed and saddled in the normal tacking up area, no longer in an enclosed pen! Just like a big boy…anyhow, on our way back we took a walk through the barn for the first time. He had no reaction to walking on cement, but the shift from light to darker did make him pause for a second. But just a little pause, then he walked through like a champ. We went through a couple times, stopping to peek into the office once, and then into the grain room – his favorite part, it seemed, as he tried to eat an empty paper grain bag at the side of the doorway!

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Lastly, we walked up to Suzette’s trailer. When he showed no fear over it, Cindy opened one of the doors – this was a look, but don’t try to load event. All he was supposed to do was handle looking inside without running away. In typical Zeke fashion, he took it in stride, then noticed the wood shavings on the floor and asked his perpetual question, “Is this for eating?” he tried a mouthful, as well as trying out the metal covering over the tire. When neither proved to be delicious, we went on home.

Today was the biggest test for Zeke so far because it involved having to do something he didn’t want to do. He’s a big ‘fooler’ – whatever you ask of him, he does it quickly, easily, and very well. His attitude then becomes, “See, I’m smart, I’m doing well, tell me I’m good and let’s go on.” It seems great, until you ask him to work a minute longer than he thinks he should. Then he pouts, strikes out with his front leg, shakes his head, whatever it takes to try to get out of work. Being generally passive myself, I tend to take the attitude of “He’s doing so well, better stop now while it’s all good.” And that’s why I have Cindy to watch me! If he doesn’t get challenged enough, you never get to see his real reactions.

So today, after his roundpen work, I tied his head to the side for the first time. The idea is to take both reins, tie them to the girth on one side until his neck is bent, then ask him to walk. All he can do is go in a circle – that’s the point. He ‘teaches himself’ to follow his nose, and to give to the pressure of the reins. If you’re uncomfortable moving forward, figure out what’s causing pressure and how to make it stop. By giving to pressure and following his nose around the circle, he is teaching himself how to respond to someone pulling the reins sideways to ask him to turn.

He did really well circling around and not fussing – for a little while. Then he stopped. When I asked him to keep circling, he pitched a fit, first pawing at the reins and then taking off down the side of the roundpen, head bent to the side and all! And THAT is why we do this – I wouldn’t have wanted that to be my first ride, me saying “let’s turn”, and him just plain running off with me!

So I worked him on that side until he stopped fussing, then turned him around and tied his head the other way. He was even more defiant going to the right – maybe he’s ‘left-footed’! We worked that side until he was circling nicely and consistently, then we ended our day. I walked him around and through the barn, stopping to visit with people along the way.

He is doing so well, I think my long range plan of when I will be able to get on him may be too long-range! It’s going to be sooner than I thought when I first brought him home, but we do still have work to do. Once he’s comfortable with all the rein-tying configurations, it’ll be ground driving. But it’s all coming along nicely!

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!

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