Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 88-93: Mountain man Horsemanship

Monday- A bit frustrated by the lack of success Sunday, Adrianne and I were back at it Monday morning. We had a tighter time frame to work with this time. With Ravens fear of humans in high places, I had Adrianne sit on the top rail of the round pen. While I warmed him up. As expected he avoided that side of the arena. I would ask him to canter a few laps then let him rest below Adrianne. If he stood there he could rest, if he shied away I would have him do more laps. He was still pretty uneasy about every thing and we were running out of time, so we left it for a day.

Tuesday Raven had off. Wednesday Raven and I got a dose of Jim Barton Horsemanship. Jim the Mountain man from North Carolina is my farrier that has sponsored many of my mustangs in the past. For the last 46 years he has been shoeing horses, and in his younger years to make some extra money, he would start horses to be used shortly after for kids camps all summer. Having a short amount of time to produce kid safe horse Jim had learned a few effective shortcuts to getting a horse less reactive. At this point I have not found an effective way to interrupt ravens pattern of exploding. If the next attempt doesn’t work, the exploding will become a learned pattern of how to not be ridden! This is the last thing that I want to have happen because his future will be affected. Many of you have asked me what happens to the horses that don’t train. Well there are a few options, I could find an adopter and opt out of the competition, I could opt out of the competition and turn him in to the BLM where he could be adopted again up to the age of 6, and if he was not readopted he would go into long term holding to live out his years. None of these options appealed to me and of course being the problem solver that I am, I can not let this learning opportunity escape me. Back to Jim. When he had horses as resistant and reactive as raven he would pull out a latago strap with a steel ring attached to it and place it around the horses neck. From there he would take a lead line and loop it around the back hind leg in the same fashion that I have done to teach horses to handle their back legs. Instead of wrapping the rope over the back and around the front of the horses like when I am teaching a horse to not struggle against foot handling, he would attach it to the neck collar just long enough that raven could still have his foot on the ground. Doesn’t sound like much but with this set up if raven launches himself forward the leg strap will catch his front end and pull him around immediately… interrupting the pattern! Once raven learned that he could not escape from the stimulus (mounting) he had to come up with another coping mechanism. It only took a few minutes for raven to realize plan “A” no longer worked and for the first time I was able to practice mounting safely and help Raven find his confidence with this.

Thursday and Friday, you guessed it, we worked on mounting! His jumping became less and less each day.

Saturday our barn was participating in the Canton Christmas parade. I dolled Raven up in my black and gold driving harness, and adorned him with red ribbon and bells. I loaded Raven up for the first time in my two horse straight load trailer. He walked right on and only jumped a little as I closed the door. We got to the line up and found a quiet place to put the finishing touches on Raven’s getup. We carefully found our way up to our line up position through all of the floats, golf carts and marching bands. Raven was a little overwhelmed but kept his composure. The parade progressed on its way and the bigger challenged that faced Raven was the fleet of mounted horses that would be marching behind him the whole time. Raven did great, he walked at a slight angle to keep his two eyes on me the whole time. His only scooch moment was when one of the horses behind him got to close and bit him on the rump! I would scooch too!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day 80-87: Laying Down- Raven's true grit

Monday through Thursday was spent retreating from the mounting process. Instead I worked on saddling (making sure no fear of association was built there) some more ground driving as well as the big ball. Also during this time I was doing a lot of head scratching and consulting with some of the other trainers that are also preparing for this competition. I had several different suggestions on how to go forward from here, one was increasing the pressure of my round penning sessions. I liked that suggestion because Raven likes to play that edge of showing me dominant stallion behavior when he is confident, and flighty behavior when he is fearful. So increasing the pressure when he is confident would definitely earn me more respect with him which always helps, but I don't think that it would help with his fearful flightiness about mounting. Another suggestion was laying him down like in the "Horse Whisperer". This I could see this as a good possibility to solve our biggest struggle of people above him. This would create a safe way for him to cope with people above him and a safe way for me! (its really hard to be thrown from a horse when he is already on the ground!) Last but not least (and my personal favorite) is the blow up doll option! lets throw something up there that looks like a human and let him get used to it...great idea! One thing that everyone has said to me about my situation is that you are not being extreme if its the only option to keep you safe, and safety is one of my biggest things. One of the things that I pride myself on is my track record of no bucking on my first rides for the last eight years. It has baffled me that it has taken over 90 days to get Raven to this point of acceptance with me.

Friday through Sunday: I decided to first try the laying down approach, this will build trust in our relationship. A measure of a horses trust can be seen by whether or not they will let you approach while they are laying down. Most un-trusting horses will get up as you approach...really un-confident horses won't even lay down in the presence of a human. Raven to this point would occasionally roll within my sight, but I have never caught him sun soaking in the morning after a cold night. When a horse lays down is when they are most vulnerable - they can neither fight nor flee- therefore if you put them in this position and don't take advantage of it in a negative way (like killing them) it proves to them that you are not what they thought you were. I have taught many confident horses how to lay down on a cue to prove their acceptance, but I have never had to use this to gain a horses acceptance and confidence. Another first I have had to use with Raven.
I worked on laying him down over three sessions. I would go through my normal routine of saddling, doing ground work, playing with obstacles, and round penning. I then reminded Raven about how I had taught him to yield to rope pressure on his legs. Once that was done I put my rope around one of his front legs, lifted it off the ground and wrapped the end of the rope around the saddle. All of this he was familiar with because this is how I taught him not to struggle when I handle his feet. But then i added a twist. With one leg tied up in this position, I started in on my mounting desensitizing. This time when he would have his melt down it was a little tougher. I welcomed his motivation to move his feet, and encouraged him to keep it up. He would hop around on three legs until his adrenaline had run out and he started to grow roots. I would then play with the mounting dance again. His forward outbursts became fewer and fewer as he became more fatigued and was making the mental shift of thinking about comfort instead of survival! As he started to tire I changed the game to asking him to lean back. At first the idea of him getting lower to the ground was met with his instinctual struggle to survive. He would lurch himself forward, many times taking me with him. (Wheeee!) It was kind of interesting watching him go through the process, he would lean back giving to the pressure then he would get to a point where the mental switch would occur and his mind would tell him to survive. Each time he would give a little more. By the end of the first session Raven gave to the pressure enough to bow and I called it a day. I like to let him process after an intense session.

I went back at it the next day, this time I used the other leg...I like to keep things even steven. The routine was the same as the day before and just like the day before Raven was still wanting to bolt when I would put my leg in the saddle and start to rise above him. If he wanted to move I would make him move until he grew roots again. It didn't take long for him to remember the routine from the day before and I was able to get him to bow. It took a little more effort and muscle power to to hold him in the bowing position until he laid his hind end down. Once that happened I knew I only had a moment to lay myself on his head and neck which will keep him down. The first time I was not fast enough but the second time I was on him! Both of us totally exhausted I laid there on him petting, panting, and rubbing him all over none of which he expected. I could feel the wave of relief that came over him as he realized I was not going to hurt him. Wait a second this is sounding like a schmaltzy romance, maybe I should take the panting out.
( A side note here of information that saved my other geldings life. If you sit or put full weight on a horses head while they are laying on their side they can not get up. My gelding did a front flip over a barbed wire fence trying to jump it. I happened to be on the scene at the time and as I saw him sprawled out on the ground, legs tangled in barbed wire, I thought fast and hopped on his head to immobilize him while others hurried to free his legs. Once they were free I got off his head to allow him to get up unencumbered. It saved his soundness as well as his life! By the way the effect is not the same on mules and donkeys...not sure why)

I always look for changes the next day to see if what I have done in the previous sessions had a positive or negative effect on our relationship. It was to my surprise Monday when I came out to the barn after lunch to fine Raven sprawled out sunning himself. Even more surprising was how close he let me get before he lazily got to his feet to greet me. I took this picture from my Camera phone.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Day 73-79: Raven Therapy and Attempt #2

Monday- Up to this point I have done all of my ground driving in just a rope halter, so I decided to introduce a snaffle bridle to Raven. He actually accepted a bridle nicely for the first time. To introduce it I spent some time asking him to bend laterally to each side. On the left side Raven bent nicely but to the right he was more resistant. I then backed him up from the bit. Like Raven likes to do on occasions, he went straight up in the air imhorsinating Hi-Ho Silver. This is not the first time he has stood on two legs with me. Sometimes it is out of dominance trying to intimidate me, this time it was out of confusion and panic. I tried it again this time slower and he backed up. For the most part the transition to the bit was easy. Raven almost naturally prefers to move in a rounded frame, the bit helped accentuate that. After our session in the arena I brought Raven into the barn hallway. Up until now we have not spent much time in the barn area, it is tight quarters and with Raven being touchy with his hind end it has not been safe. Myself and one of my students spent about an hour talking and touching Raven all over finding his itchy spots and "yah, But" spots (those are the spots that horses don't like you to touch). I call this Raven therapy, it just another way to develop trust.
Tuesday- Raven met the farrier today for the first time. It was time to see how he would be with some one else handling his feet. For the most part he did well, he only pulled his front feet away from the stand a couple of times. Raven is not quite ready for the back feet yet.
Wednesday - Raven and I took a field trip to Wills Park. I loaded him up and headed out. He did great in transport and we toured the facility once we got there. He did great, cautiously exploring every thing. We worked first in the round pen getting him warmed up. I introduced the concept of hobbling, the first step of teaching him how to ground tie. I place the hobbles around his front feet and walked away. He stood there for a moment then he tried to take a step. He stumbled then had a small moment of panic then he remembered to what I Had taught him about yielding to pressure and stopped moving his feet. I put a little pressure on him to get him to move again. He hopped around a couple more times then planted his feet and refused to move...mission accomplished. We also spent some time in the covered arena ground driving. He was less confident in his new surroundings and reverted back to getting scared and squirting forward whenever we would change directions. Because of this we worked mostly in circles. For the most part a successful day.
Thursday- It has been a week and a half since our failed attempt at a first ride. It is time to see how much Raven's confidence has come. My biggest concern with Raven and his blow ups becoming a habit that he resorts to any time he does not agree with something. My goal is sooner rather then later find a way to break up the launching pattern before it gets to this point. Raven is a horse's horse. It is horses like him that we created rules like never walk behind a horse and never trust a horse. He epitomizes prey animal behavior. So far I have put him through the rigors that I put all of my new starts through and I have never had one not learn to trust and bond with me enough to let me mount. Because Raven is not a traditional horse I have had to branch out. Typically I only use Hobbles to teach a horse to ground tie or handle their front feet. I decided to experiment and use the hobbles while mounting in hopes that it would break up the pattern. After a good warm up I placed the hobbles on. Once Raven realized that they were in place, I started to play with the mounting exercises that caused him to lose it the last time. I ended the day feeling like we had made great progress. I had mounted halfway up on both side and raven didn't move.
Friday it rained and i went black Friday shopping.

Saturday- We had a mustang benefit playday at Whispering Hills Farm. It was a great turn out and a wonderful opportunity for me to spend the whole day hanging out with Raven. We spent the morning playing on the ground in the enchanted forest and trail course. Raven showed all the others how to go through the cowboy curtain, over the bridges, and even how to stand on a log! I took the opportunity while in the play yard to spend some time standing on logs and being above Raven and getting him to accept me above him behind the withers. We have coined a move called" The Raven Lean". I have never seen a horse lean so far to one side without moving his feet when he is afraid of some thing. I got a little of that when working on the log. We also got a game of liberty stick to me going on in the arena. To help build draw between raven and I, I employed some of my advanced students to put pressure on raven when he would leave me and to help him understand that the safe place is with me. In the afternoon Raven and I did a trail walk with the rest of the mounted group. We crossed creeks and ditches....what a work out for me!

Sunday- Attempted first ride the sequel. Misery loves company so I selected a one of my students to help with the first ride. Previously when raven had his melt down, I was the only one in the arena at the time. I decided that it might be of comfort to Raven if I stayed on the ground while my student is the one that gets on. I warmed him up and then brought him to the center of the round pen. I placed the leg hobbles on his front legs. Once he knew they were there I had my student commence with the mounting ritual. As always pictures always say it best....

Note to self....A horse can still lunge and buck with leg hobbles I know:) Also being one of my students can be a dangerous job! Making sure I ended the session on a good note I went back to taking my play ball and rolling it over his back. His Fear is effeminately isolated to humans becoming higher then him. It is back to the drawing board for me...the third time is the charm, if i do not find away to break up this pattern riding may never happen for this horse! The Raven lean is back!

Day 65-72: Ground driving

Monday- after my failed attempt to ride the day before I decided I needed to expand Ravens comfort zone and increase his confidence. Up to now Raven is only confident with me in front of him and just tolerates me by his shoulder and squirts forward any time I am further back then that. Keeping in mind his huge personal space bubble, I have been having a hard time coming up with a way to increase his confidence about things behind him. I decided to introduce two line ground driving. This would put me behind the saddle but far enough out of Raven's personal space that it will hopefully not push to many of his buttons.

I started this in the round pen on Monday and Tuesday. At first I introduced the idea of the long line wrapping around his back side and having him follow a feel and untangle himself. As expected this was challenging to him because it required him to move in a way that would have me start in his left eye and end in his right eye. For a split second he would have to take one eye off of me and change me to his other eye. As I expected he was resistant to follow the feel of the rope and once he would follow it, he would squirt around until I was back in front of his nose. Once he got better with this I then got him to accept having one line on either side of him. Working in the round pen I was able to introduce the concept of going forward while standing off to his side while working a circle. Raven was unsure at first but finally got the idea. There were a couple of times he would try to escape fore ward and was caught by surprise when he got to the end of my two lines. By the second day of playing with this I started playing with changing directions. Again the act of going from his right eye to his left through his backside would instantly put Raven into flight mode for a moment. We worked until this got better, slowing it down when I needed to.

So many times so far Raven has caused me to scratch my head. He picked up on The two line driving very quickly. On Wednesday I took him out to the enchanted forest where Raven powered through the curtains, tarp, and bridge ... no problem. On Friday I walked Raven past the pedestal that he has never seen and asked him to stand on it and he hopped right up! I then went to the trailers and had Raven walking on and backing off on his third try. So I ask myself, "How can I have this level of communication with this horse and and still can't get him to understand that having me on top of him was not going to hurt him?"

By Sunday we were working in the large arena, walking, trotting, cantering, stopping and backing in the lunging cavasin. I figured if I can not ride him yet, I will ride him from the ground! He really picked up quickly on voice cues for trot, canter and stop. Steering was getting pretty good as well.

Day 55-62 First Ride Attempt Number 1

Monday through Saturday- With the saddling going well with Raven, this next week I spent preparing for our first ride. I didn't take as good notes as i have in past weeks on what all we did. I know that when we worked on line raven was saddled. we did our usual hopping around in the saddle area on both sides desensitizing Raven to the mounting motion. I also worked on feet handling with ropes on the front and back feet, getting him to relax and follow a feel with the rope. I had him leading by the front feet and starting to pick up the back feet.

I spent a lot of time in the evenings in the feed stocks. While Raven would eat I would halter and tie him. I would then use the wood dividers to get hire then him. At first he would try to back out when I would rise above him. Once he realized that that is not an option he would stand still as a statue. I would gauge his confidence by weather or not he would go back to eating. Over several evenings I was able to climb from one side to an other and even stand on the saddle (while hanging from the roof rafters).

With the prep-work in place I planned a first ride on Sunday. Once again pictures speak louder then words so here we go.

The half way up position. Notice the saddle was slipping. Just the excuse that Raven needed to explode...


Attempt number two... Yah so we are just not ready yet! Back to the drawing board!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Day 48-54: Humans and their "stuff"

Monday Morning it was business as usual at Whispering Hills. Eclipse performed well and got him a wonderful home. Raven and Pandora made it home safe and sound. Sunday night we had a light rain shower. I had left the 22 ft line on Raven forgetting to change to the shorter one when we got in the night before. Agitated by the rain raven had decided to roll and when I found him Monday morning the 22ft line wrapped around his mid section with slack in it. The opportunity was too much to pass up. It was such a great opportunity to desensitize him to girthing pressure. While he was in the stocks I was able to get my hands on the other end of the line and was able to slowly snug up the pressure around his girth area. The increasing pressure didn't seem to bother him much to my surprise. This was encouraging.

Tuesday and Wednesday it rained so my time spent with raven was in the feed stocks. I Haltered him and put him on the 22-ft line and threaded it through the boards in front of him. I grabbed a grooming brush and began grooming him through the stocks. When he relaxed I actually climbed to the top of the stock divider and began to brush him from on top. I was able to brush him from head to tail on top from both sides. I also continued to touch his hind legs with the training stick and it didn't cause him to kick anymore.

Thursday- It is now time to embark on Raven's learning lesson about humans and there stuff! They one thing that sets us humans apart from other mammals is our stuff, and us horse people have a lot of it!. (You can ask any husband of a horse owner!) Our recent rain left a towel semi damp from rain in the hall of the barn. It was just what i was looking for! the wet town was better then a saddle pad for throwing on him. The wet gave it drape and cling! I tied Raven to his processing post and began tossing the towel over his neck back and hindquarters on both sides. I could tell raven really wanted to move, his eye on me the whole time. Once he relaxed a little bit, I spread the towel out across his back like a saddle pad and untied him. I then moved him around the feed pen area to see what he would do. He actually didn't mind the towel at all! We continued to play on the ground. When it comes to leading and handling, Raven still struggles with going through gates because I have to send though and turn him around so that I can close it. This of course requires Raven to show his vulnerable sides to me as he goes by. To help with that we spent a good bit of time getting his confidence by going back and forth through the feed pen gate. At times he would do his classic back up and pull me with this please don't make me look. Most of the time I was in a position to wrap the rope around the post and stop him. We got this to a good place and called it a day.

Friday- I played full body rub down. What this is basically is me hopping up and down and rubbing my body against him. He did well with this all the way back to the shoulder on both sides.

Saturday- I upgraded my stuff to a saddle. He did great with this and never offered to buck! Pictures are more valuable then words so take a look.

Sunday- I saddled him again with no issue and played on line in the pasture. Enjoy some more pictures.

Day 41-47: Raven's trip to Tennessee

Monday and Tuesday- As most of you know and might even have followed, during this time I have also been training a young mustang for the Tennessee Mustang makeover. Monday and Tuesday were spent mostly getting prepared for the trip. I have decided that Raven would be going for the ride.

Wednesday I had the time to work on raven's personal space bubble. As he was eating in the feed stocks in the feed pen I put a halter and lead rope on him and and ran the lead line around the board in front of him. I climbed down into the empty stock next to him with a training stick. Up to this point I have been doing good to get him too accept some petting on the top side of his rump, I have not dared to touch down his legs. Using the stocks I feel safer having a wooden fence between me and his the back legs. The stocks also limit his ability to escape. I started at his withers with the stick and slowly worked my way back. As I got closer to his hind end I could feel the tension mount in his body. As soon as worked my way down his leg fast as lightening he kicked out with his back legs striking the support post of the stock. He must have kicked out a half a dozen times before I was able to rub all over his back legs with the stick. Another layer of his onion has been peeled back!

Thursday we loaded everyone and every thing up in the goose-neck trailer raven first arrived in. Raven was slotted to go in first and have his own deluxe Box stall in the front of the trailer. With a little enticement of his hay cubes and oats he walked right on.. I carefully got him turned around where i could safely close the divider clear of his hind end. He was on and eating his grub contently. We loaded up Eclipse and Pandora into the back half of the trailer and rolled on out, Tennessee or bust! Well we didn't get far. About the time we got to I-75 merely 20 miles from the barn, we noticed the unpleasant oder of burning break pads. Never a good thing. WE were having wiring issues with the trailer! Our options were to complete the drive with no trailer lights or brakes or stopping and finding a repair place. We opted to find a repair place. So there we are, all three of our mustangs lifted up on jacks in the trailer munching on their dwindling supply of hay. All of them stood there patiently while three mechanics worked feverishly to find and fix the problem. We were finally on our way.

We arrived at the show grounds in Murfreesboro. Once I got suitable stall arrangements for all of the horses, we began to unload. I now had the daunting task of off loading Raven and walking him past all the decorated stalls of his windrow. I put my gloves on hung on! He did come off the trailer with quite a start but I was able to get him back under control. We very cautiously went down the isle and with a little hay enticement got him in his stall.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were not all that exciting for Raven. As far as I know he enjoyed his room service house keeping in his new pad. It was a good experience for him to have people constantly milling about peeking into his stall constantly wanting to pet him on the nose. It has been 45 days since Chase Dodd (a fellow competitor in the Magic) had picked up Raven from Oklahoma. He calls Chattanooga home and was there to help put on the make over. Cindy Appling was fortunate enough to catch him peeking in on Raven and was able to chat with him about Raven. He was quite impressed that Raven was allowing him to touch his nose! He spent some time with all five of the horses he brought back from Oklahoma in the round pen to insure they were all sound. As I was told earlier, out of the five Raven was the most jumpy and reactive of the bunch. He relayed the damage his trailer endured when Raven was loaded... kinda glad it was his not mine. He also said that when he arrived Raven was being kept in a holding pen by himself. Evidently he shows aggression during feeding time and sharing was not in his nature. I am so glad that I am working to fix the problem child of the BLM!!!