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!!!

Day 34-40: Pony that Mustang

Monday- Time to teach Raven to follow a feel! One of Raven's favorite thing to do go backwards when he doesn't want to do something... and man can he pull! Once again I employed Pi for the task. I tacked up and got raven in the arena. we started at a walk. At first there was a lot of leaning but not a lot of pulling back and panicking from the pressure. After he got the hang of the walk we kicked it up to a trot. It was soon after that, that I learned that one should not use a flex tree to pony! The first time he bogged down and I could feel the tree of the saddle give it was scary, but not as scary as the owner of the saddle if she found out!! We did get enough out of the session to greatly improve ravens leading ability. After our session I tied raven to his thinking post in the feed pen for a few hours while I worked around the barn.

Tuesday- Since Raven has learned to tie so well I have used this as a tool to achieve more acceptance of contact. I got out my grooming stuff and worked on grooming while tied. Up to this point I have always had one hand on the lead rope and one hand on the rope and one hand on Raven. Making the transition to being able to touch him with both hands is not as easy as one would think. As soon as my other hand would come off the rope and travel to his body, you could see that worried look come across his face and every muscle in his body tighten up. Of course when the tension reached its peek he would leap out of reach. By the end of the session I could successfully pet him with both hands on the neck. We ended our session with working him on line and sending him to the water trough.

Wednesday- Today I upped the bar on raven's duties so to speak. Now when I enter his pen to bring him food or to bring him out he would only get the opportunity if he came close enough to me that I could reach his lead rope. Several times though out the day I gave him the opportunity to come to me. At first as always any time I entered the pen he would back away. I would wait patiently and over half the time he would allow me to reach and grab the lead rope directly below his chin. Since he was able to give me that I decided to change his lead rope to a short on that no longer dragged the ground.

Thursday- Happy to have no issues getting raven out of his pen, I had him spend more time tied to his patients post in the feed pen. What has been difficult with Raven has been his flightiness. He moves away from pressure out of fear which means he can't learn any thing positive. It has been my job to get his confidence good enough that I could then put pressure on him and have him respond to it in instead of reacting to it, this is a fine line. We are slowly getting to that point. Today we tried working on moving his front end in a full circle. I would put pressure on him until he would take a cross over step in the front. In the first direction he would try to leap forward and I would correct him. In the other direction he would go backwards to avoid the pressure. I would keep on with the pressure until he would take a step over in the front instead of back. When we got that successfully we called it quits.

Friday - I have had to come up with some nontraditional methods to get over some of the training hurdles that Raven has thrown at me. To get him to accept the a simple thing like throwing the lead rope over his back i decided to try using his new found tying skills. Just the gesture of tossing the rope in his general direction would either send him bolting away or backing away trying to drag me. Both reactions would leave me putting both hands back on the rope. Now that he ties nicely, I tried tossing the rope over while tied to the post. At first he tried to do his back up thing and very quickly he could not get out of my reach and because I no longer needed to hold him with the lead rope, I could continue to toss the rope over him. Once he realized that he could not move his feet as much, he had to learn of another way to cope with the pressure. He eventually grew roots and would stand while I tossed the rope over. Because he still felt like he needed to move something, he would stand there and toss his head up and down every time the rope would touch him.

Saturday - We had a little fun. I took the opportunity to school my 11h pony cross Hercules. Just for fun after our session I rode hercules into the round pen with raven and grabbed his lead rope and ponied him around off my pony! It was quite the sight.

Sunday and Monday- Raven had off.

Day 27-33: Misery loves Company

Monday- Raven has definitely been one of those horses that make me get out of the box with my horsemanship. The biggest trial that I have with Raven is his huge personal space bubble. Getting to the point where I can take the training stick and toss the string over his back with out having him drag me while he back away has been quite the challenge. So my thought was lets put my more seasoned horse in with him and let him be the example. I grabbed Pi, my seasoned warm blood and put him in the round pen. I then stood him and Raven side by side and began to toss the stick and string across Pi's back in a way that I would also brush Raven's top side in the process. This was relatively successful. Having Pi in the arena and me focusing on him really took the pressure off of Raven. Raven is very sensitive to any focus directed at him. This strategy greatly reduced his need to pull back and drag me. I still never got to the point where I could toss the rope over him only, but that will come.

Tuesday-I added Pi to the mix again today to continue my strategy of taking the focus off of Raven but still be working with him. As I am sure I have mentioned before if I have a goal or an agenda when I start with Raven, he knows it, and his opposition reflex will kick in. Like the day he got his halter off and it took 45 minutes to get it back on. The next day he was more stand offish because I got more direct line. I would stand Pi next to Raven and rub all over him then turn and stroke Raven. When I was ready to change sides I would put PI on the other side and do the same thing. I got to the point where I could touch both front legs and his rump. And for the first time I was able to pet Raven's next with both hands! (at the same time)

Wednesday- I did more of the same..adding Pi to the mix. This time about half way through the session I slowly phased out Pi from the ground work and focused just a on Raven. The Pressure seems to have been easier to bare then a few days age.

Thursday- Raven spent some time tied in his usual spot. During that time I groomed him head to hip. Not quite ready to accept contact in the tail region yet. Again We worked on me touching him with both hands at once. I have to laugh about this, in his eyes life is good when one hand is on the lead rope! If that hand comes off the lead rope...can't handle it!

Friday- We branched out! We left the round pen and hung out in the arena while I taught my morning lesson. We even ventured into the upper pasture where Raven welcomed the opportunity to graze. We even got so brave as to walk through the barn hallway. This was a slow process, we would take a few steps and stop, take a few steps and stop. Once we got to the other side of the hall way he did his wolrd famous schooch through the doorway back out into the open.

Saturday-we took the day off.

Sunday-We went back to the arena. I have given up on the "i should be able to touch Raven all over before I start to put pressure on him" theory. Raven does not play by traditional rules, this I have figured out. So i decided that maybe I should make him move his feet and show more leadership... maybe that will boost his confidence. I played the game of put your nose on it. I simply send him to an object and have him put his nose on it. He caught on to this idea very quickly. Pretty soon he was picking different things to explore in the arena. Once he got comfortable with this I had him squeeze between me and the fence.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Day 20-26 : Making progress with the Halter

Monday- the rain was gone but the mud remains. I did my usual with Raven this morning and brought my hay and along with several tools. I brought with me gloves, training stick, and HALTER!!! Up until now I have been using only a lasso around his neck. Unable to handle him enough to get a halter on, today I have a plan! I now had Raven's confidence enough so that I can drag a string over his head and behind his ears while he eats his hay. (isn't it funny that I could do that on day three and I am now finally getting back to doing it two weeks later! Patience is a must skill when working with these guys. So the plan was to tie the strap that goes behind the ears of the halter to the end of the progress string on the end of the training stick. I would then use the stick to fish the rope around Ravens pole (top of the head behind the ears). From that point, the plan was to pet and rub Raven until he would accept me standing next to his head and neck where I could then slide the halter into place and secure it. So the first part of the plan took a few minutes but went off with out a hitch. Once I got the rope behind his ears, he stepped back a step or two in surprise but didn't undo my progress! I sat there a few more minutes and let him eat hay. On with haltering part two. I rose to my feet and started to pet my way back to the proper position to fasten it on. The hardest part of this is to get Raven to accept both my hands by his cheeks. Raven is still very much one hand on the rope life is good, anything else makes him nervous. After about 20 minutes of petting and desensitizing I managed to tie the halter!!! It only took two and a half weeks! We could say bye to the lasso and Hello to the halter and lead rope.

Tuesday- Now that I had the halter and lead rope on Raven :) and his leading was getting better, I felt it was time for a change of scenery. Today is the day to move to the round pen. Almost three weeks in the 12x20 pen I am sure Raven was ready to stretch his legs! I would like to say i just opened the gate and led him right to the round pen....but Raven doesn't follow a feel that well yet. I played the follow the food bucket to the round pen. Pictures tell more:

Give Raven Give!! Just follow a feel Pleeaase!

Breaking new territory. Slowly but surely.

We are out of the enclosure and half way there!

Almost home free! And no bolting!

We made it! Ravens new home for a while! Enjoy the space!

Wednesday- Moment of truth. Now in the bigger enclosure, when Raven decides to bolt he could keep on going. (not a good thing) So today I get to find out just how long his flight distance is. I started by leading him around and spanking the ground with the training stick. Yes he did try to go somewhere on a few occasions. To my relief he was not able to get away from me and once he got about 20ft from me he would stop and face me...Ok I can handle that! Once Raven got more confident about the stick I ventured on to touching him. I was able to touch all the way to his rump on both sides. He is still tight and untrusting about this and when I pushed my luck trying to touch his guessed he went. Guess we are not ready for that yet!

Thursday - When I am working with a horse everyday sometime it is hard for me to see progress. Today I did see progress. In a previous post I had relayed a story about Raven pulling my hat off and freaking himself out about it! Well today while I was hanging in his pen he came up to explore me. Once again he grabbed my hat off flopped it around a couple times and didn't panic! It is good to see a positive change.

Friday - I once was told that you can still get to the top of the stair case if you two steps forward and one step back. Today was a day that I had remind myself of that. I have now had the halter on since Monday. Until I can stand beside Raven's neck and place a lead rope around his neck without him bolting I will have to leave the halter on. I was hoping that by the end of the week we could be to that point but that is not in the cards yet. In fact the original halter that I put on Raven was a little on the big side and sure enough while eating his hay today his halter came off. So today's session was spent getting the halter back on. It was like doing everything that I have done in the past three weeks in fast forward. Get a rope around his neck, Get him to let me touch him on his cheek and neck, get him to let me run the string of the training stick behind his ear, be able to stand beside him and use both hands to tie off the halter. An hour later the halter was back on. This time I was sure to pick a halter that fit him!

Saturday - As I suspected, Raven was more skeptical of me after my session yesterday. One of the big differences between how horses think verses humans is that us humans are what we call direct line thinkers. This means when we have a goal we have a tendency to take the most direct route to accomplish this. Horses on the other hand are not, which means they have a different thought pattern on how to accomplish the same thing. With a lot of horses the more direct we are with horses the more they see what we are up to and try to make things difficult. Raven is highly sensitive to my focus. As soon as my focus turns to him his immediate response is to back up. Because I felt I pushed things and lost some rapport with him I decided to work more on contact working toward acceptance. He would only allow me to make contact as far as his rib cage on both sides.

Sunday - Another name for Natural Horsemanship is Balanced Horsemanship. I like to think of it like a pendulum of a clock. Your horse can start out scared and pretty extreme so you work on getting them confident and work on them wanting to be with you. Then the pendulum will swing and the fear has subsided so its time for dominance to rear its ugly head. And the pattern will continue until the swings become smaller and smaller and eventually the pendulum comes to rest right in the middle, not scared and not dominant but a partner working with you. Raven is great at telling me when I have spent to much time working on trust. This time as I was bringing dinner in to the pen and before handing him the bucket I wanted to pet his forehead. Raven had other ideas and lunged into me with teeth! Luckily my cat like reflexes kicked in and I was able to stay out of harms way. Needless to say it was time to work on our drive. Since he thought he could drive me it was time to remind him that I can drive him! So off I sent him to do some laps in the round pen. As I say to myself two steps forward and one step back equals one step forward!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Day 13- 19 Seeing the end of the rainbow.

With the Open House behind us, it is time to really focus on Raven and his progress. It is amazing to me that it has been almost a week and a half since brought him home and all I have to say for our progress is he will eat out of my hand, I have a rope around his neck and I can touch him on the nose, and all this can be accomplished most days without him attacking me!! Man I am making progress! One thing I know for sure is that I am in no rush, I am enjoying the journey.

Monday I did a lot of what I have been doing with him like working on leading and accepting contact from me. The one new thing I introduced today was the training stick. For those of you that don't know what that is it is four foot fiberglass stick with a leather loop on the end where you can attach a six foot rope and make something like a whip out of it. It is a training tool that I use primarily as a extension of my arm. In this case my goal was to get Raven to accept this tool so that I could use it as an extension of my arm and be able to stand in front of him and be able to touch him on the neck and still be out of striking distance. I was able to get him to tolerate me rubbing his forehead with it, but as soon as I reach past his his cheek to touch his cheek he would bolt. I have to say i prefer him moving away from me as opposed to other options he has exercised. Up to this point his world has been his 20ft by 12ft pannel enclosure. This smaller area has its advantages, when Raven decides to bolt he gets 3 strides in and has to stop. I got him to a point where he would tolerate being touched by the stick on his neck on both sides and left things be for the day.
Tuesday We continued on the same path. Leading by the rope around his neck is getting better and I am now able to walk circles in the pen and he follows. Every now and then he will hit the panic button when we make the "U" turn and he has to scooch around me to keep me in front of him. As these mustang get acquainted with domestic life the will go though different stages of acceptance. Initially they approach everything with skepticism and has a raised sense of flight. Right now this is where Raven mind is most of the time. The next stage is Tolerance. So far any contact with Raven has been merely something he tolerates. When I watch him while I am touching him his muscles are tense and many times he will bow his body away from my touch. It is when I push the envelope when he is at this point that he can sometime strike out at me. The next stage is acceptance. It can look a lot like tolerance but now the muscles are relaxed the eye looks softer, and the horse is no longer contorting himself to avoid contact. The last stage is turning loose to something. Now say we are talking about contact, at this point the horse will approach you and initiate the contact. That is a horse that has turned loose to the idea. This is the goal I have with all of these horses. At the end of today's session for the first time Raven started to accept my touch on his head. His posture started to soften and he no longer would back his ears when I would make contact.

Wednesday Each day we are making more progress. It is taking less time to get to where we were the day before. This is always encouraging. On top of using the stick to increase my range of contact I have started to desensitize him to movement by spanking the ground next to me rhythmically. You guessed it, the first time I pick the stick and string up to start this Raven bolted to the other end of the pen. I did get to the point where I could be at one end of the pen 20ft away and he could stand with his but in the corner on the other end and keep his feet still (tolerating).

Thursday we worked on some of the same stuff and I was finally able to stand next to Ravens neck and pet him. In order to get a halter on I will need to be able to stand next to him to fasten it on. All this work just to get to the point that I can get a halter on! At one point during the day when I was bringing water to his pen, I came in and kneeled down to let him drink. Once he was finished drinking he started to nose me and my straw hat. Excited that Raven might getting to the stage of turning loose to my presence, I kneeled there quietly to let him explore and get more confident. He grabbed the top of my hat and pulled it off my head. This of course immediately freaked him out!! I can imagine what was going though his "Oh my god! I just scalped a human!"

Friday Evening We worked again but this time I had company. Cindy Appling, a local photographer that is photo-documenting my journey with the mustangs paid us a visit to see where we are in our journey. Most of the photo that I have added to this blog were taken by her. I was excited to show her that I was able touch him as far back as the shoulder. Raven must not have gotten the memo. He was a little camera shy and reluctant to allow me to touch as far back as the withers like he had the day before. Oh well, we did what He would allow and called it good!

Saturday and Sunday were off days, Saturday was busy and Sunday it rained. During one of the breaks in the rain on Sunday one of the best rainbows I have seen in a long time had formed. In case you ever wondered what was at the end of the rainbow... now you know...a wild pot of gold!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Day 5-12: Raven meets the lasso!

Sunday I spent regaining ground from the day before. I was quite noticeable that Raven was a bit more jumpy today after we scared the crap out of each other the day before. I did muster up the courage to set in the pen with him again, however it was not during feeding time for the other horses... I have learned my lesson. I sat on my stool with the hay at my feet and a laso in my hand. My goal today was to get the lasso around Ravens neck for the first time. I sat there and hand fed him hay while slowly putting the loop over his head until that movement no longer bothered him. At first he would pick his head up when I would move the rope past his nose. Eventually I could move the loop as far as his eye and not have him allarmed by it. Once I got to this point I waited for the moment that he was nose deep in hay and went that extra couple of inches past his ears and let go. When the rope fell acrossed his neck I was quite relieved that his only reaction was to lift his head up and jump backwards a few steps. At this point him moving anywhere away from me was good thing! once it was around his neck i sat there a few more minutes and let him eat some more of his hay. When he was done I stood up and took the slack out of the rope. I definitely had a worried eye on me the whole time. I slowly added pressure to see his reaction. Initially he braced against me, feet planted. I held my ground and after a moment he took one step forward. I imediately released the rope which had tightened up on his neck. We did this several more times until he seemed to get the idea to follow the feel of the rope. At the end of of the session I worked on getting him to accept contact on his forehead. He would immediately try to turn away every time I would reach for his nose. This strategy was now unsuccessful now that I have some means of restraining him. We left on that note for the day.

Monday and Tuesday I pretty much did the same thing with raven as Sunday. We started out feeding hay and getting the Lasso on. Once the rope was on again we played more with giving to pressure. I stood in the corner of the pen with the rope and passively played with "reeling" Raven in to me. He would get just out side of arms reach and panic and through himself to the other side of the pen. We would then just start it all again. I got the point that he would draw in nicely and stay. Again I would work him to the point that he would allow me to touch him on the forehead. To this point the contact that I have made with him he has just tolerated, he is very clear that he does not like it. Many times as son as I make contact his ears go back. Both of us are still on edge around each other.

Wednesday I was still working on the same routine just expanding where Raven will allow me to touch him. I got him to a good place where he started to grow roots as I was standing by his neck on his right side petting his neck for the first time. Just as I was starting to get a little too comfortable, Raven cam out of his introverted state and lunged at me with teeth and tried to strike at me with his front leg. It happened in a flash, luckily I was standing to the side of him so he made no significant contact. As soon as I jumped out of his way he went to the other side of the pen. We both regrouped and I drew him back in with the rope. He was still rattled but I was able to get back to the point that I could pet on his head again.

Thursday and Friday my time with Raven was minimal as I was preparing for Saturday's Mustang Madness Open house. I spent time sitting in his pen feed ing hay when I could and playing with yielding to the rope pressure around Ravens neck. Raven's favorite food so far is the hay cube mash with whole oats. At times I would hand feed him his mash. To give you an idea of where he is with his acceptance of humans in his life, he would try to brush the mash off of my hand so that he could pick it up off the ground and not have to touch me!

Saturday was a swarm of activity as people from the surrounding area came to Whispering Hills Farm to learn more about my teaching and training methods. Raven seemed to do well with all the extra faces moving past his pen on a regular basis.

Sunday was a day of rest for everyone. With the Open House out of the way my focus will be back on my mustangs and getting them ready.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Day 2-4: Introductions

Thursday was a get to know you day. I was out at the barn all day and made it a point to spend time with the new guy any time he needed feeding or watering. I always start them out with hay as well as hay cubes with whole oats. Mustangs usually will not eat grain directly because it is not something they find out in the wild, so you have to wean them onto it so that they can develop a taste for it. With as jumpy as the new guy was I did not feel comfortable to even be in the pen with him. I brought a stool to outside of the pen and hand fed him hay through the bars of the enclosure. He would take the hay and lay his ears flat back as he stepped away to chew it. This went on for awhile. It was like any time he would get a whiff of my hand he would back his ears as if to say "you stink like human!" That evening during the evening feeding session, a friend of mine was out to the barn. She is learning the art of animal communication through mental images. I have had her talk to mustangs that I have had in the past with great success. She sat with me as I was feeding the new guy hay and asked me if I have named him. Up to this point I had thought about Cole from his color, although it was fitting it was not sticking with me. My friend Hannah was quiet for a minute then turned to me and said, "I think he wants to be named after a bird." Two seconds later we turned to each other and said "raven" at the same time! That was that. We had a name and are quiet sure it is the name he wanted!

Friday we did more of the same, but this time I ventured into the pen with Raven. I set my stool inside and quietly hand fed him. He was still pretty jumpy at this point and can not handle any quick movements. By the end of the day i could sit, feed him hay and drag a string across his head, a big step in desensitizing him for getting a halter on. I also had time to look more into his history. He is five years old and had only been in captivity since April of this year! Up until that point he was on the range as a studd (unfixed male) possibly with a family band of his own. He is gelded (fixed) now, but I can tell every instinct that has kept him alive up to this point is very against what I am trying to accomplish.

Saturday: Stoked about my progress from the day before I was anxious to get back working with Raven. His pen is located on the outskirts of the feed pen where we feed all thirty of the resident horses at Whispering Hills Farm. I got to the barn about the time feeding started . I prepared his meal of hay, soaked hay cubes, and his Equine Natural Choice herb combination. I had put him on a starting combination of immune support to alleviate the travel stress, blood detox, and herbs to support the mental stress of every thing that has happened to him. I got myself staged for my feeding session; put the stool in the pen, put the feed cubes out side the pen with the water bucket and had my hay in hand. I entered the pen, sat on the stool and started to hand feed raven his hay. I get about five handfuls in when all of the sudden Raven grabs a bite of hay, lays his ears back, swings his head to an equine by standard on the out side of his pen, and charges the pen wall. I tossed the hay straight up in the air and lept to me feet. I was out of that pen faster then you could say s**t! ( I know because I said it!) Of course as soon as I made my move out of the pen ravens focus went from the horses threatening his feed to running away from me! He immediately threw himself against the pen wall on the other side. Both of took a deep breath and looked at each other, adrenaline running high. That experience was definitely a step backwards in our journey but it happens. I abandoned feeding in the pen the rest of the day and resorted back to feeding the through the panels in the afternoon. It was disappointing to take a step back after making such great progress the night before, but it is not my time frame that matters but his. Raven, just like every mustang before him, will tell me how fast I can progress with him. As long as I respect that, when they are ready they have always given me everything they've got, and raven will be know different.

Day 1: Raven's Delivery

It was about a month ago that I received an e-mail from the Mustang Heritage Foundation inviting me Betsy Moles back to Fort Worth, Texas to compete in the Mustang Magic Competition. This competition is for those trainers that competed in the Extreme Mustang Makeover Competitions the previous year and placed in the top five at one of those competitions. I say invited back because I was fortunate enough to compete there with a horse named Cody last January. Although I did not blog about him you can read an abridged version of his journey on my website at . Even though I am knee deep with Eclipse, a mustang that I am preparing for the extreme Mustang Makeover in Murfreesboro, TN at the end of October, I gladly accepted the invitation. In this particular competition twenty five trainers are given a mustang and they have 120 days to take them as far as they can in training. Because all of us have proven ourselves already in other competitions, we are usually given older more challenging horses to work with.

The pick for the mustang was in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. In order to save on gas expenses, a handful of us in the south east collaborated on the pick up. I have never done that before, but was willing to give it a try. One big drawback to this is not being able to take advantage of haltering the mustang as it is loaded. I got the call on Wednesday from Marc Chancey, a fellow mustanger from South Georgia that I had the pleasure of meeting in my Ocala competition, saying he was in the area ready to make the exchange. We decided on the Publix Parking lot at the corner of I-75 and HWY 92 in Acworth, Ga. He showed up in his open stock trailer loaded with three wild horses. We backed our trailers end to end and opened his into mine. The first thing I noticed about the new mustang was how amazingly black he was and what a beautiful forelock he had. Once the gates were open with out a hitch we were able to get the mustang to step over the small gap into my trailer. Once loaded Mark and I settled the paper work and chatted a little about the mustangs given out for this competition. They are all between 5 and 6 years old and fresh off the range. Of the five that were picked up from Oklahoma, the one slotted for me was the jumpiest. I believe it! As we were chatting we were able to pet the others on the rump through the trailer but as soon as we touched mine on the rump he kicked the trailer and jumped to the other side.

I got him back to Whispering Hills Farm, his new home for the next 120 days. Yah so what do I do now? Well while I had him on the trailerI thought I would try something. It worked to my advantage with Eclipse that he and Pandora that both ended up in the front of the trailer where we could touch them both because they could not move away. So, I tried to recreate that scenario by volunteering Eclipse to hop into the trailer for the mere purpose of taking up space. At first Eclipse was unclear on the concept and was continuously antagonizing the new guy by biting him on the rump! Once we got eclipse under control i spent a good hour touching the new guy through the openings of the trailer. He finally got to where he relaxed to the point where he no longer jumped every time I touched him. I was able to put a lead on his number collar which is the thing that was on him. When I felt i was ready I backed the trailer up to his new enclosure and we off loaded him. I could finally get a good look at him. Wow! Jet black with a big white blaze down his nose, and on the back legs two matching white stockings. He is roughly 15hands at the wither. Oh and that lead I was able to get on his number collar, well it lasted about 2 seconds once off the trailer. He promptly stepped on it and pulled the collar off:( So there I was yet again with a naked mustang fresh off the range in my pen wondering what will happen next.

I know this horse is meant for me. Each horse you get from the BLM has a four digit number that is for identification. Last year my magic horse had the number of 6787, the new guys number is 1787. I also find it ironic that my first Make Over horses number was 4494 and Eclipse's number is 4454. Any one who knows anything about numerology, I would love to have some incite to this coincidence.