Archive for January 23rd, 2011

Walk This Way

Cass had her second walk in the woods this week. Imagine taking a dog for a walk but it’s my 1,000 pound fjordhorse! She loves these outings and is very comfortable plodding up and down our road. She’s had to brave trashcans, cars and daddys with kid-toting-wagons and she takes it all in stride. When we took our second plunge into the woods she got a bit nervous but trusted Tanner who was leading our way. Tanner with Therese atop, veered off the gravel path to take a trail going under a somewhat fallen tree. Cass & I never broke stride and followed right along.

Once we got past the tree Cass spied something behind us and whipped around much faster than you’d think her big body could. There was a white pipe laying on the ground – oooh, scaaaarrrrry!!!!! Her nostrils were flaring, her neck was arched and she just had to keep looking at this “monster”. She never got out of control, she never attempted to run off. Of course, Therese suggested we go face this monster and walk past it a few times. Desensitize! I knew we had to or Cass wouldn’t be able to stop worrying. So, under the tree and past the white-pipe-monster we went! Each time she relaxed just a bit. As we were standing amongst the trees a barn owl began hooting. Her head went up again, listening intently. Therese started hooting back and had quite the conversation with said owl. Cass looked at me like we were all crazy but she stayed still.

On our way out of the woods her pace was much faster and I had to take huge strides to keep up with her. As soon as we hit the pavement she was back to her relaxed state of plodding along. I told her this whole “me walking her thing” was gonna have to end soon, she’s gonna have to start carrying me! I was tired. All the work we’re doing with Gary is getting us closer to me actually getting on Cass. The big thing we work on is DESENSITIZING Cass to anything and everything!

According to Clinton Anderson’s Lessons From Real Life article (Horse & Rider 02/11) “By nature, horses are programmed to desensitize or de-spook quickly. They’d never survive in the wild if they ran at every little thing that moved or made a noise, they’d always be running. They’d never have time to eat, sleep or reproduce. They figure out quickly what they need to run from, a stalking predator or what they can ignore, a tree branch moving in the wind.” We are teaching Cass that instead of running when she is frightened of something, she needs to stand still and wait quietly for the scary object to go away. What constitutes a scary object? Anything that’s unfamiliar and horses especially hate objects that move and make noise. I’ll show you what I mean in the following set of photos from a training session.

Since we’ve had a cold winter here in Florida blankets have become a scary thing to Cass. She certainly doesn’t need to wear one but 2 of her barn mates do. When I walk past her stall carrying the blankets they jingle and rustle and make her nervous. She has no where to run in her stall. So we began with the blanket monster…

She cautiously sniffs and probably wonders why the heck Gary is wearing that stupid thing.

She likes to be scratched but not so sure of being scratched with the blanket monster, but she trusts Gary.

See how her ears are back listening ever so intently?

Doing good, the blanket is more or less on.

Alright, she had enough – feet get moving!

One of the best things about Cass is how quickly she recovers from being spooked. This is even her “bad” side and she’s understanding there’s no need to run.

After working with the blanket monster it was a breeze to use a saddle pad, even though this brightly colored one caused more concern than a muted one.

The mounting block has been our homework. I will take Cass out and simply sit and read while she hangs out around it. I have her stand next to it while I jump around and make it make noise. Here Gary is giving her new things to worry about since he’s so much taller than me. Remember, anything different is a potential threat to a horse.

He’s letting her figure things out.

Moving the block as she tries to move away from it quickly shows her moving isn’t working.

Once she stands still he then tests her out with being over top of her and putting weight on her. Keep in mind, when we ride a horse we are demanding they go against every instinct – a predator would jump onto their back in an attack – man is a predator. Bless these horses for trusting us.

You can see she’s got her head down a bit, relaxed but her ears are still keeping tabs on him.

Here he’s actually shaking her body side to side to replicate how an uncoordinated rider would mount her.

Such a good girl!

He’s touching and putting weight everywhere. One of the things I’ve been doing is standing beside her and kicking my leg under her, beside her head, kicking it beside her butt. Horses can see behind them so movement is important and her standing still with my movement is important.

We always end with lots of scratching and loving. It’s amazing how far this former PMU mare has come!

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