Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Was that Submission?

There have been a couple of signs this week that Ace will not always be a naughty boy. First, we had visitors on Saturday, and they wanted to see the horses. Ace was standing guard over the barn from the pipe corral, so we went to visit him first. I warned the visitors that he might bite, but to go ahead and pet him. They petted his face for about five minutes before he showed any signs of being nippy. Mostly, he was friendly and curious. So, that went remarkably well.

Today Ace looked like he really wanted to play. I got the longe whip and went into the arena with him. He raced around for 10 minutes with me not moving a muscle. In and out the door, around this way, back out, back in, around that way. Finally he had enough of me standing about in such a boorish manner, and he had to invite me to interact. He would "whoa" on his own, then sashay up to me like a dancer, mincing his steps, suspended 6 inches above the ground. If I made a move towards him, then he would leap in the air and rocket off again. "Nah na Nah na na... you ca-an't catch me". As his clock began to run down, I enforced "whoa stand" and walked up to him. I put my arm over his back as if I were mounted and pulled my hip up to his side, and stayed with him as he wiggled about and gave me the "hairy eyeball". If he reached to bite, I would tap the bridge of his nose with the butt of the longe whip "no bite". I did this several times on each side, waiting until he was standing quietly before stepping away from him and sending him back out on the circle.

After a few whoa sessions, and getting rapped on the snout for trying to bite, he began chewing, took a deep breath and dropped his head to his knees to study the ground. What's this? Submission?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

No I won't.... Yes you will

When I went to catch Ace to lead him in for lunch he was horrible. So, we went for a walk-about in the indoor, and in and out of the sacrifice pen. He was still horrible. Threatening to bite, or rear, or bite me and THEN rear. Copy was in her stall screaming her head off while worrying that I might be sneaking him out of the barn without her knowledge. Guess who's in heat? Suprise suprise.

I marched Ace back in, tied him to the nearest post, and headed back to the tack room to gather my thoughts and more equipment.
Whapper... check
Lead with chain... check
Helmet? I thought about it for a moment.
I went back in, threaded the chain over his nose, unsnapped the rope he was tied with, and gave him a few pre-emptory whapps to let him know I was now officially in charge. Gosh he hates me today. We spent about 5 minutes leading in the arena, and in and out to the pen. Gradually, he settled in and remembered his manners as I doggedly circled and made soothing noises as if he weren't acting like the worst mannered colt in America.

As we were walking, Mom came to the barn... "trying to train Putrid?" Boy she had him pegged today. He was plodding around on a loose chain with his head low.... but certainly only for the moment. I brought him to the cross ties to work on his tail. I've got the rubbing slowed down, but not completely stopped. The vet did fecals on Friday... no worms. Now it's just habit and shedding. He was fine on the crossties, but you could tell he still really hated me and thought I needed a reminder of who is boss. Mom suggested he needed to run around a bit, so back to the arena. I grabbed a longe whip and headed in there with him.

He rocketed around happily.... remember, when I got to the barn he was already out and had had all morning to run around... but he headn't realised how much he hated me yet. After a few minutes I started with the "Whoas". It took four or five, but he remembered and pulled up. I approached him, and he let me stand beside him while he snorted. Snorting is something he picked up the same day he learned "whoa". It's his expression of how proud he is to be obeying a command, and being praised for it. I never heard him snort before that day. Now he does it everytime I praise him for "whoa". Very neat.

The next "whoa" I tried to approach him from the right eye. Not happening. He rocketed off in another direction. As he passed me I snapped him with the whip, made him circle a few times, then "whoa" again. This time he allowed me to approach from that side, snorting proudly as he accepted my authority and was rewarded. What was an unruly wild stallion had become a mannerly trained horse. Each time I could come up to his side or head on, pet his nostrils and forehead, and put my hand on his back without being challenged or even nipped at. Who would think this obedient and docile animal had threatened to pick me up and shake me not 20 minutes earlier. We did this a few more times, then my goal became to "whoa" in each of the four corners of the arena. We had the front two down pat, but the rear corners were tough. I kept him in the back half until I got one back corner stuck. We "whoa"ed two or three times in that one then worked on the last one.

No I won't... Yes you will... the first few times I got him stopped in that corner, he did not allow me to step forward before he barreled past me headed for the gate. Each time I snapped him as he bombed past. No I won't... Yes you will... Once he seriously looked like he was going over first me and then the gate and probably would have had Mom not been waving her arms and hollering.... back to the backside, and you're not coming out until I say so. A few minutes of me immitating a cutting horse, and he finally gave in.

Now mind you, while this "natural horsemanship" (which I guess I was practicing back before it was called that and we referred to it as "common sense" instead) approach has gotten him trained to "whoa" and accept my approach while he stands like a statue, he has certainly not "joined up". There is no calm drop of the head, no relaxed chewing of the jaw, very little submission. He waits proudly for me to come up and tell him what a smart cookie he is and his pride in himself grows to the point where he has to snort to let off some happiness. But hey, he's standing still, and he's letting me touch him all over his head without him having to warn me off with his dominance so it is a resounding success. Testosterone successfully rechanneled.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Studly McPoop

This weekend we had other barn projects, and all of my horses got passed over. So today, I made it a point to go out and spend some time with Ace. For starters, yesterday I spent over an hour in the crossties with Mom's Face-Off horse rescuing her (and him) from a long neglected long tail. It drags the ground at least 4 feet, and hadn't been down in over two years. While I was tangled up in the tail, Grey Horse was in the outdoor arena running a marathon. I had to pause, sling the wet tail over Face-Off's back and go and retreive him. In the meantime, Ace was very perturbed that there was a horse in the cross ties, and he was being ignored. Egged on by Grey's ramming around outside, he also thundered around the indoor and the pipe corral.

Ace's running turned into shoving as he slammed his chest repeatedly against the gate next to the crossties causing the water bucket which is hanging on the outside of the gate to splash water in the aisle. How annoying. The third time he did this, I took down the bucket. Sometimes I do what I call "when smart people do dumb things". It didn't occur to me taking the bucket down would pose a problem. But it did. Ace was leaning over the gate trying to reach the bucket which had been taken away, and he managed to catch the throat strap of his halter on the eye bolt the bucket snaps to. He struggled with that, finally breaking his halter at the crown buckle. Oh well, at least now he couldn't splash the bucket, and he couldn't get caught again. I finished the tail, and when Ace had sorted himself out and calmed down, re-haltered him and put him away. Re-haltering the dervish wasn't too bad, once I got the halter pried back out of his mouth. He can catch anything you try to put near his head.

So today, I wanted to tie him and make sure he didn't equate breaking the halter with tying. I tied him up to the arena wall. He happily fiddled with the knot and stood patiently alone while I got some brushes and took a little more winter hair off him. Tying went smoothly. Whew... bad habit averted.

Then, I got Copy out for a hair/mud scraping. She was acting a bit weird today. She kept picking up each hoof and replacing it. She just acted very mildly colicy/foundery but with no definite symptoms. I picked out each hoof and found them packed with gravel and mud. Maybe it just felt weird? I took her for a walk down the driveway to eat some grass and further assess her condition which seemed fine... not lame, perky, excellent appetite...

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Studly McPoop was having a FIT. He was out in the pipe corral beside the barn fussing and fuming over "his mare" leaving him. She was (OMG!) a good 75 feet from the barn and he was enraged. Because he appeared to be respecting the fence with no real plan to go over it, or take it down, I just watched his antics and had a good chuckle. He made a few laps bucking and kicking. Then, while straining to look over the high panels, he made a poop. On his next circuit he noticed this fresh poop. He slammed to a halt to examine it. How could this have escaped his notice? There was obviously another horse (a stallion even) in his territory. He smelled it every which way, and made an (unsucessful) attempt to poop on his poop pile. Another circuit bucking and kicking, and again the attempt to mark his territory. Poor little guy. Where is the poop amo when you need it? How very frustrating!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Back to the Great Outdoors

Since the Grey Horse was coated in mud today with no hope of getting him in a rideable condition AND riding during my lunch hour, I decided to take Ace outside for a walkabout. I didn't even bother with a chain over his nose. I just snapped a rope on him, grabbed the Whapper and headed out. Mom was putting Face-Off back in the barn from the outdoor arena. This got Ace all charged up. He's very good about staying "with" me even though you and I both know that if he wanted to he could just take off and leave me standing there. That's the important part of handling horses.... keeping them from realising that they can leave whenever they want. I was also having visions of him reaching over and picking me up by my arm. But thanks to the Whapper as both a chew toy and a horse-warding-off-device all was well. So now I have 600 pounds of dynamite rocketing around on the end of a rope, an open gate, and an empty arena. What would you do? Yup, put the horse in the fence and let go. So that's just what I did.

Ace had a ball. It has been a long time since he was up in the arena. He was a little anxious about being that far from the barn, but he does go out in the back pasture by himself so he more accustomed to being out in the open alone. He trit-trotted around a little, but really he wanted me to play with him, and I did a little. I didn't want him to just run around like a mad man though. He remembered his "whoa-stand" lesson from last week, and I could call him over and he would dance up to me and stand while I talked to him and calmed him. He did get up some good speed, but the problem with that is it was slippery near the gate, and horses never factor in lack of friction when figuring out when and how hard to apply the brakes.

So we got a few pictures of him showing off, and one of us going for a walk using the Whapper instead of a rope. If I could get him to focus a little better, I'm sure I could teach him to play Fetch.

Before going back to the barn we spent a few minutes walking circles in the yard while he calmed down. Pretty soon he was investigating things and thinking about where he was instead of where he was not (the barn).

Then we stopped off at the hitching rail to tie for a few minutes.

And back to the barn for lunch.