Monday, September 1, 2008

Day Three, but we are making progress and getting there!

It's been a few days since I have been able to train. Several factors including returning to a full time load at college and the loss of my beloved dog have kept me from keeping up a training schedule such as I visualized when I began this journey. In any case, it cooled off some later today, and since my allergies had calmed down a little bit (I'm very allergic to dust, guess what gets kicked up out in the round pen!) I decided to go to work.
I went out, armed with my stick and string, halter, lead rope and my notes (so I don't forget to do something necessary) and the dreaded Plastic Grocery Sack.
I ran thru the exercises again, Jacques remembered everything and was actually, to my great delight, quite good in what I asked him to do. He's lazy, though, when it comes to making him move. I will watch more of the round penning DVDs tonight and tomorrow and consult the book to see what I can do to balance out the sensitiving/desensitiving exercises that I'm doing, seems like a lot of it is desensitiving and you need to have 50% of both. On the other hoof, he is a bit rude in his invasion of air space to me and it's good to have him just stand still. I have to work on the air space issue, too.
I had worked at one point early in the summer, on just rubbing the PGS all over him. He didn't like it much but I was able to at least get him to let me do that. It wasn't thorough, nor was it all down his back legs and face, but we did get that much done a few months ago. And of course, I had no clue as to what I was doing. I took the string off the stick but won't do that again, it was very hard to get looped back thru. Clinton, the hole needs to be just a smidge larger, ok? I put the bag thru the hole and started touching Jacques on his back, up and down, all over like we are supposed to, back, rear, rear legs, front legs, underneath, neck and I added head, but didn't do that until he was totally at ease with the bag all over him. I took the bag off the stick and then put the string back on (took at least 5 min. to get that stupid string back on!) and then put the bag on the end of the string. Well! I liked this! The string is just the right weight that you can flick that little bag all over the place. So I did and he stood really good for me, put his ears back now and then, shifted now and then but really didn't move. I worked very hard on the underneath and between his back legs. I got to that right rear leg, though, that he is funny about and he started to antz around some. I just kept working him with it. When I was done with it, I don't think he was totally comfortable, he wasn't super relaxed but he WAS letting me do it to him so I petted him and quit there for the bag part.
I also invented a new exercise, called the Millie Manuever. When you are done with flicking the bag around his face, take and swing that thing around in the air like making a bird fly! Over his head and over my head. He stood like a champ for that!
Next, I'd gotten the Blocker Tie Rings at the seminar, so decided to try tying him. Now Jacques' history is uncertain. I got him at a year old from some folks down in Missouri a little over a year ago. I don't think he's ever been tied up, but maybe. Seems like an important lesson that needs to be taught to a foal so you can do their feet and other things, but then when he came here, he threw himself around in the trailer and banged his head up when he was tied. Also, I've never had anything strong enough to tie him to and was scared he would hurt himself, so I've just never done it. But these tie rings seemed to be just the thing, so I watched the DVD on that and was ready to commence with something new tonight besides the bag.
I attached the rope to the ring on the loosest setting and just let him stand there for a minute or two to see what he would do. He stood so I walked up to him waving my arms and making funny whooshing sounds. He looked at me funny, not totally relaxed but more like "what now?". I did it on both sides and he moved a little bit but that is permissible. Mostly he just watched me. I guess he knows I'm not going to hurt him but I was trying to startle him and so I ran at him a few times waving my hands and yelling. Very little response. Of course this was after I'd desensitized him quite throughly so maybe that is why he thought it was just something else the Crazy Human was doing. So I got the bag back out and went to work with that some more and he stood for that again, and worked on the right rear leg and between his legs again. Very little reaction. C'mon big boy, give me something? He didn't try to pull or anything. I think tomorrow I will tie him for 10 min. and see what he does while I'm a further distance away from him. He likes and wants to be with me, so maybe he will pull if he sees me walking away from him? I will also try picking up his feet tomorrow and cleaning them and I will dig up an umbrella and see what we can do with that. He lets me pick up his feet but I can't hold them up long. I'm feeling much more confident about trying this with him now. Clinton said an air horn was a good thing to use, I wonder how much they cost?
The best part, though, came at the end. I brought out the fly spray with me. Now he has been letting me spray him sporadically sort of. One day about a month or two ago, I actually got him all over but figured it was because the girls got sprayed and he watched and decided it was ok as they weren't reacting. But as little as two days ago, I was spraying while they ate dinner (they just stand there and eat and I can get them all over and do it fast) and he kept walking off when I got to his rear or beneath his back legs.
I was thrilled that he allowed me to not only spray him all over including the back legs and groin area, but let me spray his face and ears, too! I love this! He would literally run screaming from me when he came here. He is used to it but I also sense he knows that the flies aren't so bad when I spray him. I'm sure it's soothing when they realize they aren't getting picked at by flies all the time.
And speaking of flies, I've been using the fly predators this summer, on recommendation from a friend. Now we have had quite a cool summer with only a few very warm days in the high 80s and low 90s. But it's been quite warm for a week now. I got my last shipment of them in about 2 weeks ago and then we had a heavy rain. I don't know if that had anything to do with it but the flies are bad right now, more than I've seen all summer. I will use these again next year but will ask the company if rain kills them off or if maybe I need a bigger order of them. For cripe's sake, they are just little bugs and they cost me 18.00 a month! If this company every goes public, I'm buying stock in it.
I came back to the house, sweaty, filthy but feeling ever so good about what I'm accomplishing with my boy!
Oh, I forgot, I also held onto his withers, and did some bouncing up and down next to him tonight, too. This is in preparation for getting on him at some point. I can't tell everyone how incredibly satisfying it is to train my own horse!
More tomorrow, hopefully my schedule will let me train in the mid morning instead of late in the afternoon when everyone is hungry and wanting dinner.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Day Two

I'm so glad that I fianlly have a round pen to work in. It only took about 10 days to build, an hour here and there. Jerry did the gate placement and we worked together some on the horizontal bars. I did the post holes and measuring, deciding how many poles to buy, etc. So a good bit of it was my project. The grass and weeds has been since eaten down to nothing, but it did look nice out there to start with! I built it out of cedar posts, very plentiful and not terribly expensive up here. One day I'll have a metal one, but this has to do for now and it's fairly sturdy.

I had to be out of town for two days on Thursday and Friday and Saturday the wind blew all day. I don't train in the wind, with either dog or horse. They just lose their brains. It started out the same way this morning but settled down some by 5:00 pm and by 6:00, I decided I would get busy. I wondered how much he would remember, but he is a smart boy and has remembered things that I have taught him before.

I gathered up my things and remembered to take out a few alfafa pellets for on account of just because. He really works well for food and I wanted to show him with this way of training that there is nothing personal meant, we are still pals but he MUST respect me and my air space.

We began with the free work, no line, just me and him and the stick/string. I wore him out for a little while and it was much nicer working in 65 degree weather than the 85. After about 20 minutes of trotting and turning, 95% correctly, I figured he was starting to learn my body language and that facing me was a good thing to do. Good Boy! He was still distracted by the girls but they lost interest quickly and wandered off to find bits of good stuff to eat in the field, so he quit watching them so much and paid better attention. I got him to do a couple of figure 8s and that pleased me. Then I stopped to go and get the fly spray again, they were all over this poor boy. He let me do the spray all over except for his right back leg. Finally got it done.
Now that right back leg...he doesn't like it lifted, either. The most sensitive part of his body is that leg so I will be working with it twice as much as the other legs. I don't see any lameness or anything in the hoof. He had a huge hematoma there last March, I came back from the horse expo and it was about the size of half of a basketball, on his flank, right side. The vet came and drained it (it was most impressive to see all the stuff that came out of there) and put in a drain. Of course, after the painkiller and sedation wore off, it was sore. I had to flush it out every day and at about 8 days, had to take it out and he was antsy about that. So I don't know if wanting to pick up that foot traces to that or is just a coincidence. He also tries to lay down when I pick up his right front foot. I wonder if someone tried to train him to do that? I did work on the front feet tonight.

The "following me" exercise we got a bit stuck on. He stood for a bit, thinking, and I don't mind him thinking but he needs to make up his mind and commit, so after waiting 30 seconds without him taking a step towards me, I did some more circles and direction changes with him. He still seemed to dither, couldn't quite remember what I wanted him to do. So I pulled an alfalfa pellet out, walked over and gave it to him. OH! FOOD! Suddenly, he remembered what I wanted him to do and was very compliant, following, circling, keeping his head towards me. I just had to offer him something he really wanted. He only got one but it did wake him up to pay more attention. I did the weaving exercise and he did that quite well. Maybe he just wanted more food or maybe he decided he would work for that exersize better for a different motivation. Whatever, it worked, jumpstarted him to at least move his feet and that's all I wanted. It will be interesting tomorrow to see what he does when I do that part again.

Then we went on to new stuff. Desensitizing with the halter and rope and the stick and string. This involves tossing the lead rope over different parts of his body, tossing it so it wraps around each leg and doing it on each side so he learns that no matter where this comes from, he has to deal with it. I think I screwed it up, though, I rubbed his head with my hand a few times but think I was supposed to do it more frequently. And when I did it with the stick and string, I think I was supposed to rub his face with the stick. But he got the general idea and I'll remember to do it tomorrow. He is letting me really rub his face, he wasn't really head shy before but really isn't that happy about having his ears touched. Today he let me rub his ears! He is just glad that I still like him even though I do crazy things to him.

He did want to stand too close, though and I tried the bumping on the halter with the lead rope and also tapping the lead rope with the stick, but I don't think I quite had that technique down just yet. I'll have to practice this on a tree so I know how to make my hands work the right way and how to hold the dang lead rope and stick just so.

Another thing, the stick is very nice, very sturdy and I like it but it's not quite balanced right for me. I need to hold it just above the handle for me to be able to flick it just right. Are you listening, Clinton? :) Also the lead rope is weighted on the end, which is very nice. For some strange reason, I found it easier to toss with my left hand than my right. Jacques is a big boy, and I can feel this in my upper arms. Maybe I should start a program called Horsercise and let's all work on those wingy dingys we get on our upper arms at a certain age! I wasn't feeling as out of shape today, it was around 68 degrees and so it must have been the heat that got to me the first day.

Last, we did the exercise where I stand in front of him and he has to stand while I whack the ground on either side with the stick and string and he isn't supposed to move. He moved a bit on the one side, his right, which surprised me, as I think he is a right handed horse (my observation, not Clinton's) and that if he has problems understanding a concept, it's that pesky left side that seems to cause him problems. But then there is that right back foot. I'll have to think about this some.

So I did all the exercises. In retrospect, I think I probably should have done more circling, maybe another 10 minutes' worth. It began to rain about 20 minutes into the session and lasted for about 10 minutes, just enough to get us both good and damp and got my new lead rope filthy, and the string on the stick, well, it's black now, not purple.... I didn't want to end the session as I'd already had one interruption with the fly spray. The whole training session took about an hour and ten minutes, so I was more practiced on the first three exercises today. Oh, yes, we had a wonderful rainbow right after the short rain, I felt like God was saying "way to go!".

Tomorrow I will do all the exercises, trying to remember to rub him with the stick more than my hand. I think I will try to do this earlier in the day, it was shortly before their dinner time and although it was a nice reward for him to go eat afterwards, I don't want to get him in the habit of antsing around and wanting dinner because he knows that follows the training session. It's supposed to be in the mid to low 70s this week, and the only day I can't do it early is on Thursday. I'm trying to decide whether to put the girls somewhere else when I do this but maybe not as they went off on their own once we got started. I also need to watch the second DVD, and I want to try and get him used to the hose tomorrow so I can bathe him. Bathing is a BIG DEAL to me. I love my horses to smell like horses but sometimes they lie in poop and just stink. My horses of 30+ years ago got a bath each week and I loved how clean they stayed. Jacques is a solid bay with just a few white hairs in the middle of his forehead but the two girls are few spot (white) appaloosas. I am trying to remember why it was that I wanted white horses again. :) They are true loves, though, so I think that color isn't that important. I bought all three of these horses with the idea that I wanted friendly and engaged horses, not the kind that could care less if you came to bring them a treat or not.

So tomorrow we may just go thru the exercises, attempt the hose and maybe a bath, and may try to work with one of the girls.

The other two horses are Magnolia, a 5 year old who was trained (green broke) with Clinton's methods, and it's her former owner, Gary, who told me about how wonderful the methods were. So I was willing to give it a try. Magnolia is something like 97% Foundation bred with nearly every horse behind her as a leopard. Should I ever decide to breed her, I have an excellent chance of getting leopards. The second girl is Misty who is also green broke but has more miles on her than Magnolia. I have not been on her back, yet. After I got her, I attempted to call her trainer, and email her, several times but have gotten no response back. I really don't want to get on her until I see what she knows and doesn't know. Both of the girls are like Jacques, honest, kind hearted and open horses. Not deceitful or vengeful. Someone please remind me of that when one of them tosses me off! :) Misty also was just chewed to bits by black flies several weeks ago, the scabs are in the thousands and she is finally healing up some. She is losing a lot of hair at each bite site, poor thing. I just poured the anti itch cream on her. I do hope when I get to the bath part with the girls that I can loosen up and get the rest of the scabs off of Misty. Misty has had some good training, I can saddle her but the one time I tried to get on her, the wind was blowing and she was upset about that and being away from the other horses. I suspect that will be what I need to work on with her the most, trusting me and wanting to be with me. Magnolia is more sensible and calmer and older and wiser. I think she will be a piece of cake to work with.

The above photo is me and Magnolia. What a sweet girl she is! Below is Misty. Note those really cool stripes on her side! It's not her ribs!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Day One, August 6, 2008

A year ago, I bought a yearling Friesian Sport Horse. I named him Jacques, as he had come with the unremarkable name of "Jock". Once my husband called him "Jockstrap", I knew I had to do something with that name. Here is a 2 day old photo of him and the photo that made me fall in love with him, he is about 5 months old in this photo.

He went through a rough adolescence, but started to pull together really nicely again this spring. He still looks young but is filled out and quite pretty right now. He turned two about 10 days ago.

Why did I buy such a young horse? Well, the price was right for one thing. And I had planned on sending him out to a trainer, however, through a lot of very unfortunate circumstances this past year, I did not have the money to do so. I had worked with and green broken a young horse maybe 30 years ago. So I decided to try this on my own.

So according to some, I'm doing it all wrong. I have a Friesian cross which so many seem to equate with the Devil himself. This is a sensible young horse who does lose his pea brain every now and then, but I remind myself that he's just still a baby in so many ways. He has the inquisitive and intelligent mind of a Friesian. He plays with toys, fetches his rubber chicken for me (and I have GOT to get a photo of this some day!), can undo any latch you care to put on a door or a fence and is in a word, inccorrigible. However, he is quite charming and so he does get forgiven when he does things that I would prefer he doesn't do. It's like a puppy thing, if the puppy ate the $200 Gucci high heels, just what idiot left them out on the floor with a perfectly good closet sitting not 4 feet away? Take out the newspaper and whack yourself, please. My husband calls him The Big Brown Puppy and Poopsie.

Many people don't like the idea of Friesian crosses or of any other type of cross. Well, folks, deal with it. He was born and I didn't breed him. I got him for an excellent price and got great value for my money. He is exactly what I want in a horse as far as looks and personality. I'm happy with the deal. Don't rain on my parade!

I also have, apparently again, according to people that I don't even know, another strike against me, as I am training with techniques that some don't agree with. Yes, I am doing my training with Clinton Anderson. I went to one of his demonstrations and I bought the stick and string and the halter and rope and yes, even blew some money on some DVDs. Guess what? It was my money, and it was how I chose to spend it. He seems to train firmly and looking for control and respect from the horse, to keep the human and the horse safe and sane, and to produce some results that will benefit both. I am really at a loss as to why some people object so strongly to this way of training. But, then again, I clicker train my dogs. I remember when that way came out, I was highly suspicious. After all, what I did with training dogs and teaching others to train WORKED, it worked well, and shoot, why should I train any other way? Except...I was curious. How did that little clicker do anything to train dogs? Well, it doesn't, but you do use a system based on scientific priciples of learning to teach an animal this way of learning. And you fade out the clicker after a period of learning and then you don't need it unless you are training a new behavior. So I got a book and read it. And then another. I was fascinated, and had a Pembroke Welsh Corgi that would not fetch no matter what I did with her. I decided to train her to fetch using this method, because if she didn't fetch, well, then, the method didn't work, right? And I could go back to my old way of training and do just fine, thank you very much. So I got a couple of video tapes which I studied at length, read the books again and acquired a clicker. And guess what? I trained that dog to fetch ANYTHING without forcing her to open her mouth or forcing her to do anything. She did it because she wanted to play this new and fun game and was thrilled with the process of not only learning but understanding that this was a way of communicating what I wanted to her. I was also thrilled and in 8 sessions over a week, 5-10 min a session, I now have a dog who will fetch anything that I throw for her. She didn't understand the rules of fetch and I taught them to her.

Now, to be fair, I did get some clicker training tapes for horses. And a couple of books. And I do intend to incorporate this way of training in to what I am doing with Jacques. But in the meantime, he has lacked some training, he has some holes in what he should know at this age. And I didn't know how to fix them. One is that he won't lead from one side. Another is that he can be uncooperative with one back foot. The other back foot isn't all that great, either. So in his previous life, the first year of life, he missed some important lessons. So I did some clicker training and got him to come when I call him, to back up when I ask for it, to pick up his front feet. He will also fetch when you toss something for him and he will turn his head from side to side, also he will not mug for treats anymore. However, he is disrespecful of my space, will walk over me with a mumbled "'scuse me" at best and pushes me out of the way if he wants what is behind me. Not in a mean way and not in a horse way (biting, ears pinned, etc.) but just that he has realized that I weigh a lot less than he does, therefore, he can easily move me if he needs to.

So, I like what Clinton says about how to fix this, too. As a matter of fact, whether Clinton realizes it or not, he is using positive reinforcement, positive and negative punishment and a lot of other principles from learning and behavior training. He just doesn't know the fancy words for these things.

I came home from the seminar, loaded up with lots of ideas, all charged up and ready to do things with my baby boy. But as happens, life gets in the way and there are trips to the grocery store, bills to pay, work to be accomplished and if all else fails, the wind blows and makes it difficult for any young horse to hold on to his brains. It took about a week and then I'd sort of forgotten the progression of what I needed to do. So I whipped out my DVD and watched it. Just to be sure, I wrote things down in a notebook that I can take out to the corral with me. OK, I know how stupid that must sound but I really wanted to do things right and not screw up my horse by missing a critical step. I picked up more body language from the DVD and a few more small hints that helped me understand the process better.

So. Here I was, ready to rock and roll. I gathered up the stick and string, the new halter and lead rope, the notebook. I should have added a bottle of water for me (I did remember to bring a hat) and it was a very hot day. I went out and got him into the round pen and hyperventillated a little bit. Would this work? Could I do it? I had just had so many people tell me that I couldn't do it that I'd sort of started to believe it. I felt like I was in a plane, ready to make my first jump with a parachute.

So I got to work. Lesson one is to establish a direction for the horse to go in, no lead rope, just get him moving in a circle around you with the stick. Point the direction, cluck to the horse to remind him that you want something and to get going, and spank the ground on the opposite side of where you want him to go with the stick and string. This involves getting him to lope, I guess to get some of that excess energy under control and wear him out a bit so he listens to you instead of reacting too quickly in the wrong fashion. Round and round we went. I discovered that I was getting dizzy, so that wasn't good. I also discovered that I am way out of shape, even trotting around in a small circle on a hot day. I was huffing and puffing with Jacques. So I concentrated on watching his rear, or glancing at the posts of the pen for a while. I also discovered if I made a small square to move myself in, instead of a circle, that it worked better and kept me from getting dizzy.

After a few minutes, it was time to change direction. So we did what Clinton told us to. It sure looked easier when he did it. Jacques was uncertain what I wanted, hell, I was uncertain what I wanted. I wasn't coordinated and felt very awkward. This is like learning a new dance, hands here, do 1,2,3 first, then step over here, then step back. I remembered how awkward I'd been when I trained my first dog. Yep, it's the same thing. But once I get the routine down, it will be easier. The first few times Jacques turned into the fence which was a no no, and disrespectful to show me his butt. I got after him, and made him do it again. This time he got it but only accidentally right because the next time he did it wrong again. So I was patient and we just kept trying. After a while, we both started to get what the dance was about, I move here, you do this, I let off the pressure and you keep moving til I ask you to do it again. I still caught myself pointing, clucking and spanking at the same moment, and it's wrong. I need to go into the yard and lounge an imaginary horse around. Silly as that sounds, it will teach me the steps to take and do. I use this method when I am teaching older people in my dog obedience classes, and it works.
By now I'm dripping with sweat and notice that he is being chased by some big fat horse flies, so I stop and go find the bug spray. And he allows me to spray him, he seems to realize that the bugs go away when I do this. It's something I've been working on with him for a while. I'm very pleased about this and tell him what a good boy he is.
Meanwhile, the two Appy girls are racing around the pasture, kicking, bucking and farting, because after all, Jacques is running around and so therefore, they must, too. Finally they settle down and go back to grazing, but Jacques is slowing down each time around to look at them and wanting to stop. Clinton says to keep going so I make him do that and make him do his turns at different places in the corral.
The next lesson is to get him to follow me, come to me, even just a step or two, so we work on that. Then start to get him to follow me in a small circle (both ways) and then a larger circle. I didn't get to the weaving back and forth part of this lesson, I had spent over an hour doing what I described above (and no, I did not make him run for an hour). It shouldn't have taken me this long. But this was the first time I'd done it, I felt awkward and unpracticed. He was doing pretty well at the circling and even though Clinton wanted me to do some desensitiving exercises, we were both hot and ready to stop. Jacques was changing directions, starting to move a step or two when I said "go" and pointed, and following me. I had to clean up and go teach a dog obedience class so we finished on a high note and stopped.
I sprayed the girls with bug spray while I was out there, and went and got some horse cookies for all to finish up.
So, what do I think? Well, this all happened on Thurday. Right away, I noticed him watching me more, not moving into my space as much, more thoughtful, if you can say that about a horse. He was looking at me with new eyes and more respectful. I could actually feel it and that was a different sensation for me. Friday and Saturday I had to leave town, and today (Saturday) began out rainy and now the wind is blowing quite a clip and I don't train on windy days. I hope it calms down later on, if it does, I'm ready to get right out there.
I like what we have accomplished so far. I hope I can get someone to take a couple of photos so I can post them here.
I am anxious to get out and work with my boy again.