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.