Saturday, December 31, 2011

Gotta be clean for the New Year!

Poor Bay Girl... the final afternoon of 2011 was filled with HORRIBLE TORTURE for her! And by horrible torture, I mean.... a bath.

Actually, she was completely perfect about it. It was 75 degrees and beautiful outside, so I decided to bite the bullet and clean her up - it will probably be my last chance to do so for awhile! I've given her only one bath before, and it went pretty well, so I expected her to behave for this one as well. And I wasn't disappointed.... I even sprayed her face off with the hose, the poor thing. She was not particularly pleased about that but she allowed it with only a few minutes of facemaking following completion:

And if that is an upset face, I think I'm doing pretty well.

I was also horribly cruel and cut her mane with - o horrors! - a pair of dull scissors! Three months ago, I hacked off her long and scraggly mane with a pair of scissors, and she pitched a right fit about it... it was the first time I had ever worked with her, and I wrote her off as a bit of a nut. This time, she was better behaved, but still tossed her head and fussed a bit when I took scissors to her. Pulling at this point is OUT of the question. We'll get there eventually... but she doesn't even like to have her mane brushed, let alone tidied in any way, so this is a long way off!

I guess it doesn't look too bad.

And best of all.... she didn't roll afterwards! ;) Just settled in to eat her alfalfa and dinner grain. Good girl.

As for now, it's onto the New Year.... and with that will come some new goals! Stay tuned, be safe tonight, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bay Girl's Christmas Present

Since Bay Girl's progress has been so excellent over the past month or so (changing from uncatchable to very friendly and willing to be caught), my boss decided that she deserved a little treat. We took a leap of faith and moved her from her small pen (where she was able to be caught when she was uncatchable) to the large pasture with the other pregnant mares. She moved her over to the big field while I was away on vacation for the holidays, and crossed her fingers, hoping that she wasn't making a mistake and that she would be able to catch her again at feedtime. You never know what is going to happen when you give a formerly uncatchable horse a gigantic space to live in and friends to play with... they might never come back!

Lo and behold, she had nothing to worry about. Bay Girl not only came back to be caught, but she approached and waited patiently to be caught and put into her pen for feedtime. All four of the mares in that field live out 24/7, and at feed time we separate them in pens so that they can all eat their individual grain and supplements. In less than two days, Bay Girl figured out which pen was hers, and now stands patiently next to it waiting to be caught for her meals. She even nickered to me softly yesterday at breakfast... the first time she's talked to me directly. THAT felt awesome.

The mares all hanging out together....

The biggest challenge I faced following the move was this: now that Bay Girl had friends, how would she react to being taken away from them? Beforehand, I always just caught her after dinner in her little solo pen, and she'd always be waiting for me, the only member of a herd that she knew. Now, with the company of other horses, I wasn't sure if she'd act the fool or not when I took her away to do whatever it was that was planned for that particular afternoon. I can't stand a herdbound horse, and take steps to ensure that my horses see me as a good leader that they want to be with (and therefore don't stress about the rest of their herd while they are away from them), but I fully expected her to have some sort of anxiety at first.

I expected wiggling, screaming, hesitating, and uncertainty.

What did I get?

Silence, obedience, and the best behavior I've seen from her yet.

Wow is all I can say.

She allowed me to catch and halter her without much issue, and I actually think I have the haltering issue figured out - or at least the cause. When you approach her and take her halter by anything other than the catch rope, she tosses her head, wiggles, and fusses pretty dramatically. When I happened to do this the other day, she reacted just like that, and I went to pat her neck to quiet her. She jumped and skittered away from me, and the lightbulb went off in my head. She thinks I am going to either deworm her or give her a shot. DUH! I am sure that if she was living in a band of surrogate mares, there was just a day when all the surrogates needed their shots and needed their dewormer, so someone just went through, grabbed horse by horse, and shoved it down their throats or stuck it in their necks. No matter if they fuss or wiggle, it has to get done and everyone is on a time schedule. Grab, stick, and repeat on the next horse. Add to my list of things to work on in the future: syringing her in the mouth with something delicious. This will not be an immediate goal, since all I want to do right now is get her to trust me handling her head (and not freak her out with the syringe), but I will make a mental note of this for later.

I put on her halter, took her to the barn, and gave her a nice and thorough grooming. She marched with purpose to the barn away from her mares, didn't even call once to them, stood like a rock in the crossties - the best she's ever been - and even let me curry and brush her face, forelock included. I curried her hard, I moved with less care around her, I touched her legs and belly all over, I rubbed on her face.... she was excellent about ALL of it. I even waved my towel around and rubbed her all over with it without much issue, though she is still unsure about it flapping around. I am confident that it won't take her long to figure it out. This mare is a genius, I swear. Not a day goes by when I don't marvel at how quickly she has picked everything up. And she has not ONCE shown me even the slightest bit of attitude or ever said 'no' to anything I have asked. She is the epitome of sweet and willing. And whenever we have encountered a problem, she has always stopped and figured it out on her own, or waited for me to help her. She wants to work with me, because she wants to do the right thing. And I think that maybe, just maybe, she is starting to figure out that I am not here to do anything but be nice to her. I don't think she's ever had that before in her entire life.

When I turned her back out with her mares, I took a video of her, simply because I expected her to go galloping down the hill to them away from me. Instead, she stood there with me for quite a long while, and it was only when I moved away that she bothered to leave - and she went at a walk.

Genius. Mare.


I am still contemplating names but the two that are sticking with me most are Portia and Jolene. Jolene just sort of popped into my head the other day and I am really liking how it feels.... sort of soft and gentle and graceful and easy. Portia implies sexiness and spunk, which I think doesn't suit her gracious personality quite as well. Time will tell on this one, I suppose.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

On Halters

Excuse me for being a bit remiss on my blogging as of late - between work, prepping for the holidays, a quick getaway to California, and an untimely head cold which became a bronchitis, I've not had much time for anything! I'm actually sitting in the Atlanta airport right now as we speak.... finally, a moment to sit down!

I've not been able to do much with Bay Girl over the past week (see above), but what I have done has been very successful. She continues to be easy to catch, and approaches the gate every time I come up. Yes! My boss reported to me that she also walked right up to her when it was time to catch her and bring her in for a rainy night. Double success!

Aside from picking up all four feet with success, I've also reintroduced the halter and have had very good results. If you remember from before, when I attempted to show her the halter and place it near her nose, she shot backwards as though I had shocked her face with a cattle prod. This time, I began in a confined area (a stall) instead of out in her pen, which worked well in my favor. When putting a halter on Bay Girl, it's first a matter of touching her face. She has been increasingly good about this, and is letting me rub all over her face with my hands as well as brush it with a brush. I even detangled her forelock a bit without too much fuss! Anyway, haltering.... so it begins with touching her face. This then progresses to getting a hand over her nose, which is where her objection begins. She tosses her head upwards against that pressure hard, and backs up away from the contact. In a stall, she can only back up for a moment before she gets herself wedged into a corner, and then she stops and allows me to continue. Note that she is not exhibiting fear while I am doing any of this, just objection... if she were afraid, backing her into a corner would be the LAST thing I would want to do because it would be a good way to cause panic on her part (and injury on mine). Once I have her stopped and have a hand over her nose, the rest of the process is easy. Slip the halter on over her nose, carefully place the crownpiece over her head, and buckle. Voila! This is FAR easier now than it has been, and she improves every time I do it. This is the first time I've been able to get the leather halter on her - I think she wasn't sure about the thickness (oh no large and scary!) of it versus her regular rope halter. She does not, however, respond as well to pressure in it... which makes sense. We'll be working on leading manners in the future.

Since the one setting back incident, I've been crosstying her in the pool barn (where there are concrete and enclosed wash stalls, and therefore no way to set back), and I've not had another incident of her going backwards since. We'll get back to regular crossties when I feel confident that she isn't going to shrink back away from anything that I do. Gogo was a habitual halter breaker in the crossties and while tied, so apparently I'm not the best at teaching horses to tie without fuss. But we'll see how I manage this time around.

The last thing to report is that I am SO PLEASED that she is letting me pick up all four feet! She is surprisingly much better about picking up her hinds than her fronts, and stands with one ready and cocked when she knows you are going it for it. I never lift them high, and I never crank on them, but I've never had her so much as resist having them picked up. This is the mare who used to cow kick so badly that she is permanently on the drugged list for the farrier when he comes to do her feet. I've not yet done anything with her feet except pick them and put on a little topical thrush medication for her fronts (caudal heel is decent but frogs are thrushy and therefore she lands somewhat toe first), but I've not had any problems with them. She does, however, hesitate and stand like a statue for the first minute or so when picking up the left front for whatever reason. She lets me rub all over her legs, poke her, tickle her, pull her chestnuts, and lean on her in attempts to get her to pick up the foot without any sort of objection at all... she's just slow right now to do it for whatever reason. We'll get there.

Overall, the progress has been fantastic and I'm really very pleased with her. Her "owner" (the man who owns the foal) came by last night to drop off a blanket... I wanted to pick his brain and ask him a million questions about her but my evening chores called me and by the time I could stop to ask he was gone. D'oh! I may have a lead on where she came from though... no guarantees but stay tuned for that!

Wearing the Big Girl halter AND crosstied properly (instead of on the lower ring due to her headshyness.... baby steps!)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

More Pictures of Sophie

A few recent pictures of the rather saggy Sophie...

It is uncanny how much she looks like her daddy Metro. I mean look!

Although she is a definite improvement on his conformation, bless his poor heart.
Should this work, I think she needs a different name. She is not anywhere near as delicate as the name Sophie implies!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pieces of Heart Horses.

(A repost from Eventing-A-Gogo. More on the little mare later!)

This story begins with a younger me, my beloved gelding Metro, and a laptop in a college dorm room. I was a freshman, completely enamored with my beast-gelding, and was spending a moment of my free time surfing the vast interwebz for old information about my horse instead of doing something important (homework? Why do that?). Quite by accident, I stumbled upon a sale ad for a bay mare named Chloe in Alberta, Canada. Her sire was listed as Blue Rodeo, Metro's Canadian-registered name. Immediately I perked up. He was her sire? I knew he had been kept a stallion until he was six, and that he had bred a few mares, but didn't know of any actual offspring around anywhere. Sure enough, the fantastic little mare was up for grabs at a fairly hefty price. Video clips of her showed some dressage and galloping cross country. Pictures told of a beautiful, well put together mare. Her description sounded like she was exactly like my Metro, even walking boldly up to a running chainsaw and attempting to put her nose on it (yikes!). I oogled over the ad for weeks, wishing I could somehow find a way to afford a second horse. One day, a big graphic proclaiming "SOLD!" appeared on the front of her ad. Disappointed but not discouraged, I e-mailed the owners and asked if I could be put in touch with her new owner so I could speak with her. After some complicated finagling, and some months down the road, I managed to reach her. We sent countless e-mailed to each other, chronicling our collective related journeys and our precious horses. I was enamored with the little mare.

A year or so down the road, I got back in touch with the mare's owner. We discussed setting up a custom breeding for me for a Windfall baby out of her, now redubbed from Chloe to Sophie. My Metro had died by this time, and I wanted to keep a piece of him alive with me always. This never ended up coming to fruition, as I ended up buying Gogo instead. I told the owner that if she ever needed to find a home for Sophie, she could always contact me and I'd take her in a heartbeat.

We kept in touch over the following few years, just little drop ins to ask how everything was going and how our little mares were doing. Sophie was bred and produced a precious little filly by a Swedish stud, born right in the middle of a horrible storm with no muss or fuss. Life went on as it always had.

A year and a half ago, I couldn't get ahold of the owner. Her e-mail had been changed, and I had to do some serious Googling to find her. It took some time, but I managed to get ahold of her again to see how Sophie was doing. Much to my surprise, she was for sale. The owner was pregnant and no longer had time for her. Would I like to buy her for $10,000? Well, I couldn't exactly afford that random expense, much less keep two horses at the level which I was accustomed (spoiling rotten and sparing no expense), so I unfortunately had to turn her down. I was heartbroken. I wanted that mare so badly it made me ache.

She offered her to me again some months down the road. Again, I couldn't afford to keep two horses, so I declined. I forgot about it in the haze of rehabbing Gogo. We lost touch again.

The week after Gogo died, completely out of the blue, I received another e-mail from the owner. I hadn't spoken to her in nearly a year. Would I still be interested in Sophie, she asked? Price dropped to $2500.

Good lord. Could that timing be better? One door closes, another opens.

This isn't the perfect deal. She's 15. She had an old stifle injury years ago that I know nothing about. I have no idea what she's been up to, if anything. I have to hear back from the owner concerning all of these things. But honestly, with this horse I wouldn't even care if she was just another expensive hayburner looking pretty out in a field. Let's hope she's not, let's hope she's perfectly rideable and wonderful, but either way it wouldn't matter to me. I've been actively pursuing this horse for almost 7 years. She could have three legs in the grave for all I care.

It's interesting about how much resistance I've gotten about this. Everyone says not to even bother thinking about pursuing it. Everyone is absolutely sure that they know what I want. Even my own mother told me I wanted a different kind of horse than this. I think that is all very interesting, seeing as aside from owning a piece of my heart horse, I don't even know what I want. To be fair, externally I imagine it looks like I want another uber-talented youngster who can replace Gogo as a Prelim prospect. In reality, the more that I think about it, the more that I feel ill about the prospect of essentially breaking and killing another horse. Do I want a horse with huge expectations and then be horribly let down when I fail to take them anywhere except to Lameness Town, or do I want something sweet and fun that will pleasantly surprise me if they turn out to be a good riding horse? Do I actually want to look at all of the following: a big, fancy warmblood that will win everything but totally fall apart a few years down the road? A little project mutt that will be fun but might not amount of anything at all? An off the track broken down maniac that might either kill me or itself in the process of turning it around? When you put it all that way, it's hard not to get discouraged about this whole process, and I'm pretty soured off the whole sporthorse ordeal at the moment.

This is not a good picture of her - I will have better ones later - but you can get a vague idea of what she sort of looks like:

She's a lovely lovely girl. I'm set to fly out to see her on the weekend of January 7th and 8th. I can't wait. Who knows? She might be completely unsuitable and useless, and I might hate her and turn her down. But on the other hand, she might be exactly what I need to turn my funk around and get me back on the track that I know I am supposed to be on. Only time will tell.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Peeling Away the Layers

Getting to know a new horse is always a long series of trials and errors. Horses with an unknown history make this a much larger challenge, especially when they have obvious issues going on. In Bay Girl's case, the more time I spend with her, the more I can begin to predict what her responses to things are going to be, and know what her nuances are. At this point, I can take a stab at what Bay Girl's history may have looked like. My guess is that the issue at hand is two fold: she is largely unhandled, but the handling she has had has all been very rough, particularly relating to her face. She is one of the most headshy horses I have ever met.

On Friday, I brought out one of my halters as per my plan, just to let her check it out and see what her reaction was going to be to it. She was largely unfussed until I moved it towards her face for her to see - then she reacted violently and shot backwards as hard and fast as she could. She of course had her other halter on, and was connected to me by her leadrope, so she didn't go far, but it was an interesting reaction. She could not have reacted more violently had I stuck a cattle prod up her nose. This isn't her just being unsure of the halter... this is her having a triggered memory and responding accordingly. Following this, she did let me rub on her face with my hand without fuss, so it will be interesting to see how this develops. I'm thinking a bit of clicker training would do her some good!

She also, on Friday, allowed me to handle all four feet without issue! I hadn't even tried to pick up her hinds until now, given her reputation for being a serious cow-kicker, but she offered both hind feet to me in a completely relaxed way. She has some thrush on her right front, but now that she is allowing me to handle her feet I should be able to clear that up pretty quickly. Her feet are all right, fairly flat and unattended but she is comfortable on rocks and lands flat for the most part. There is definite improvement that needs to be made, but we'll get there over time.

Yesterday, a first happened: she was waiting for me at the gate at the end of the day when I went to go get her!

What a good feeling that was!

We went through much of the same routine - grooming, foot handling, rubbing on, etc. I was sharply reminded of how careful I need to be around her face - when walking under her crossties, my shoulder accidentally bumped the crosstie on her right side (the side she is strange about), and it wiggled her halter. To my surprise, she panicked and set back hard in the crossties. Thankfully, the crossties are bungees and her halter is rope and can't break, so she bounced right back forward, nosepiece of her halter pulled down around her nostrils. Oh great, I thought, as she snorted loudly and wiggled her lip against it. This is going to be fun trying to get that back on her. I unhooked the crossties (carefully, as she jumps when they bump the wall), talked to her quietly, and managed to gently pull the halter back up on top of her nose. She let me retie the halter too, all of which is good practice for the future. Clearly, I need to be exceedingly careful with everything I do, as I still don't know what all of her triggers are going to be.

After our grooming session, I let her loose in the roundpen, just to see what she would do. I was hoping to get a few pictures of her, but as you can see, she wouldn't stop following me around!

Whoops got caught trying to get into the bucket on the other side of the fence!

How cute is she?
Overall, progress is forward. I think I'd like to start doing some clicker training with her, starting with the idea of "whoa" for whenever she feels like she needs to leave. The most important thing right now is that I solidify our friendship in her mind. I want her to see my coming as something good, and know that she can trust me. Considering that shortly ago she was completely uncatchable, I think we're making good progress in that way.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sheet On, Sheet Off

If there is one lesson I have learned in horsey life, it is thus: What goes up must come down... and what goes on the horse, must also come off again.

And by that, I mean Bay Girl's blanket.

As I stood in her paddock yesterday watching her mill around by her haypile, I thought to myself, "I thought I was so clever for getting this blanket on her. But... how am I going to get it off?"

Maybe I should have thought of that BEFORE the fact.

The sun had come up, the misty rain had disappeared, and temperatures had reached the low 50's for the day. All of the other horses on the property had been stripped of their clothes, and were all gleefully grinding mud into their coats with gusto. From my early morning view out the window in the pool barn, I watched Bay Girl wiggle around under her blanket, fuss at her leg straps, mill around some more, throw in a few gigantic bucks, and roll in the mud. It wasn't the blanket that she minded, it was the leg straps that were annoying her. She let me put them on without fuss (so long as I did them both from her left side), but we'd have to see how she felt about them when they came off. I had already tried once to pull her too-large blanket forward when it was already on her... she had none of that nonsense and I left the blanket where it was, drooping excessively over her butt like a gaudy green wedding train. She looked a bit like some large and formless green boogie monster had fallen asleep on top of her back, and was unwilling to get up for any reason whatsoever. Form fitting it was not.

"Alright, sweetie," I told her as she ambled over to me, "let's see if we can get that off." She eyeballed me with interest. I think she had no idea what was coming.

The first problem I faced was that the blanket had slipped so far back that the strap encircling her belly was now tightly pressed against her. It was a very old school buckle strap, so I had to pull it a bit in order to release it. Bay Girl felt the squeeze, and reacted by jumping and skittering around. I managed to get it off without further fuss, but it was clear at that moment that getting the blanket off was going to be much more difficult than getting it on.

I moved back to her leg straps, talking quietly to her the whole time. "That's a good girl," I told her. "They're just leg straps, they're not going to hurt you.

One leg strap released. All quiet. Second leg strap released. All quiet.

Then she moved for a moment, and both straps swung and bumped her lower hind legs. And she lost it. Her eyes registered for a moment with KILLER ANKLE BITING MONSTERS! before she took off, and then she was gone. I suddenly found myself with a terrorized mare at the end of my lead rope, racing in circles around me. The only thing I could do was casually shuffle my feet and talk to her, acting like there clearly was nothing here to be worried about, all while she ripped around and around me like I was some sort of perverted may pole. The more she ran, the more the leg straps swung around her legs. My saving grace was that she understands the idea of pressure and release well, and never once pulled on my leadrope. She also never went sideways or backwards - she only went forward. I was never drug anywhere, pulled off my feet, or moved from the spot where I was standing. And because I just hung around and chatted casually to her while she was in her moment of panic, within a minute or two she stopped dead next to me, with a look in her eye of do something lady!

This is why you ALWAYS unbuckle your blankets BACK TO FRONT, leg straps to belly straps and lastly to chest straps. If I had unbuckled her chest strap first and she had taken off, she very well could have had a terrible wreck within the confines of her backsliding blanket and might have been unable to free herself. I was taught to unbuckle blankets in this manner many years ago, but this was the first time I've ever actually been glad that I did. It's the same idea as wearing a helmet.... sure, you might be able to go for years without falling off, but the one time that you DO fall off, you are going to be SO glad that you bothered to put it on.

"You are so silly," I told her after she had stopped moving, giving her a moment to calm down while I scratched on her neck. She snorted loudly a few times, stood like a rock, and let me finish unbuckling the blanket. Not wanting to risk another takeoff when I had the blanket fully unbuckled, I slowly folded it back upon itself, eventually able to slip it off her butt with only a minor butt tuck on her end. Once I unhooked her leadrope, she stayed with me until I left, the same happy and curious look in her eye the entire time.

Obviously, just because I got the blanket on her by fluke chance does not mean we've conquered blanketing yet. We have a long, long way to go before she is ever sacked out enough to this kind of thing that I can just toss a blanket on her without thinking twice about it. There is a lot of potential in there, and a thinking brain for sure. She stopped of her own accord when running scared from something... that is saying something.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Model Student

Bless this little mare's heart. Either I'm a Grade A horsewhisperer (unlikely), or she is a complete and total genius. I cannot believe how good she was today!

The weather has been completely and utterly miserable as of late, with temperatures in the 30's and nonstop wind and rain/snow/sleet for days. I may be a Northern girl, but I've been in Texas for almost an entire year now, and I have been horribly spoiled by all the recent warm weather. I hate the cold!!
Due to all the nasty and miserable weather, all the horses have been inside in stalls for the past few days, getting their exercise by going in our Eurocizer. It's big, quiet, and scary looking for horses unfamiliar to it... but I've never seen one fuss about going in it for the first time, and they always figure it out within a minute or two. For the little mare, however, I wasn't sure how she was going to deal with it.

Lo and behold, look at that! She was fine!

Awful picture, I know.... I have GOT to get my camera out to the barn.
The only fuss she made was when I was loading her and the wind caught the panels and swung them her way.... before I could move her she got goosed in the bum and skittered around in a circle until she was facing the panel. She never even put pressure on the lead when she moved, bless her heart. Dumb wind!

Add "walking in the walker" to the list of things Bay Girl is all right with. Who woulda thunk it?

If she hadn't already gotten an A+ for that effort, she doubly earned it later in the day. Temperatures tonight are supposed to drop into the 20's, and while everyone is stalled, it is still undoubtedly chilly out there. Bay Girl has hardly any winter coat, but we were pretty sure that she had never worn a blanket before in her life. I expected that getting a blanket on her was going to take a few training sessions, but thought I would introduce her to the idea of her blanket today to begin with while everyone else was getting theirs put on.

To start, we hung all the blankets on everyone's stall doors so that they would be easily accessible when it was time for me to toss blankets on everyone (they had been in storage prior to this). Bay Girl spent the day looking out her stall bars at this new and scary thing, and apparently didn't seem to mind much. She watched with interest as I blanketed everyone else in her aisle, and when it came time to introduce her to her blanket, she surprised me. After some initial loving on, I clipped her leadrope to her catch halter, brought her to the blanket, and let her see, sniff, and investigate it for a little while. She was VERY interested in the blanket, more in a curious way than anything. She never balked or hesitated, so the blanket came closer to her. She continued to be quiet and relaxed about it, albeit curious, so I touched her with it. She blinked, snorted a bit, and went back to sniffing it curiously as I touched her side with said scary piece of fabric. I moved the blanket higher, ending over her withers. She still didn't do more than sniff curiously. 'Hmmm', I thought, 'she must know what blankets are. She doesn't seem to care at all.' I moved it higher, up over her back. She sniffed curiously. I let it rest upon her back... and that was when it became clear that she had really never worn a blanket before. She scooted forward, eyes wide, suddenly unsure of the intentions of the green monster now resting dangerously upon her back. But just like every other time she has been scared or uncertain, all it took was a soothing worn on my part and she stopped. Many pets, scritches, and snacks later, and I had the blanket resting in its proper place over her back with no muss or fuss. Her eye was soft, her demeanor was curious, and her continual reaction to the blanket was to turn her head curiously from side to side, eyeballing the weird thing laying upon her back. I riskily took a chance at buckling it. Front buckles... no problem. Belly strap.... no issues there. Leg straps, which I was very worried around.... no biggie. She was fine! Singing her praises, I let her go again, leaving her to wander in circles around her stall, looking curiously back at the strange green thing on her body. After her initial reaction, she genuinely didn't care.

10 points for the genius mare. I can not believe how smart she is. It took her all of 10 minutes from start to finish to be wearing her first ever blanket with no muss or fuss.

That for sure makes me wonder desperately what she'd be like to saddlebreak! I bet she'd be a cakewalk! (Or a lunatic.... you never know what she's actually been through!)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

December Plans

December is here in full swing, and with it has come cold, wet, miserable weather. We've been enjoying temperatures in the 60's and 70's up until now, but they are actually talking about possible snow flurries on Monday... whaaaaat!

This poses a small problem for the little miss mare that I hadn't banked on happening so early. We have no idea if she has ever worn a blanket in her life... ever. She may have, but the likelihood is no. Her winter coat is thin, and she lives outside. She has a shelter and a three-sided windbreak, so she'll in theory be fine, but it is supposed to drop into the 20's and be windy and sleeting by Monday. I won't be there over the weekend to try and see what she thinks of the blanket, but when the weather gets this foul, the horses are stalled and shut in to the barn. It stays pretty warm in there, but she certainly won't be able to buzz around if she gets chilly... poor thing. Blanket introduction is absolutely going to be a top priority for December.

December Goals:
1) Continue desensitization to touch (touch with hands, grooming tools, towels, etc, on legs, body, belly, and face)
2) Introduce turnout blanket
3) Continue working on not just catching, but haltering as well
4) Work on picking up front and hind feet with no kicking, pulling, or wiggling!
5) Go on walks around property and desensitize to anything scary we might find!

It feels nice to have goals again. I haven't done any goalmaking since last November when my Gogo reinjured herself for a second time.

My plan is to start bringing a second halter out with me whenever I go to catch her, and not do anything with it for the first few times. She is fine with me approaching while carrying her usual leadrope, but she might not feel the same way about a different halter. In an enclosed area, while wearing her normal halter and lead, I will start to introduce her to the new halter, and once we are accustomed to the idea of it, we'll start to work on putting it on overtop her other halter so that I still have control of her while haltering. We tried to take off and put on her halter only one time before... that didn't go very well! Once she beings to relax about putting on the halter in an enclosed area, we'll start to work on putting on the halter whenever I go out to catch her. Not sure how she'll feel about this... much praise and reward is in order for any little try she gives me. The plan is the same for the blanket... slowly introduce it to her, allow her to look at it, sniff it, inspect it, and then hang out in close proximity with it while we do other things that she already understands (like grooming). She accepts floppy things like sheepskin grooming mits around her, so from there we'll progress to larger towels and see how she feels about being rubbed with them and being draped with them. I can also try this with saddle pads once she understands towels, and get her used to the idea of bigger and heavier pieces of fabric being around and near her. (A blanket is a gigambo and scary piece of fabric... best to start small.) Who knows what this might trigger... I don't know if she was ever saddlebroke or not, or if she had any sort of previous and bad experiences, so this may elicit some seriously bad behavior on her part. We won't know until we get there.

Other than that, she has already let me handle her fronts without issue, so we'll continue doing that before we progress on to her hinds. My guess is that more than anything, she suffers from a serious lack of handling rather than any sort of major abuse (but again, I don't know), and it is interesting in how this manifests itself. For example, the poor mare is very skittish when you work around her right side, but much less so around her left... that is a desensitization issue more than anything.

It's pouring rain outside right now..... sure am glad to be inside!!!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

November brings progress!

As per my plan, my first week of time spent with the Bay Girl (still without the perfect name) has been all about just making friends with her and finding a little more out about her personality and what she does (and doesn't) know. I've been completely pleasantly surprised - despite her jumpiness, she truthfully is a sweet and sensible girl. She wants to do the right thing... she's just not completely sure of what the right thing is. Or whether or not the right thing is going to be safe for her, of course.

The first day I spent with Bay Girl, all I did was catch her, lead her into the barn, and work on touching her and grooming her. We had found out previously that she knows how to crosstie when I gave her a bath a few months ago, so I figured I would start there and get her comfortable with the idea of me being around and touching her. She was squirmy at first when it came to me approaching, but relaxed fairly well into it.... she even let me brush her tail and mane! (I cut her scraggly long mane with scissors a few months ago... she did NOT stand well for that!) I eyeballed her small hock sores and decided that I would try to shoot for doctoring those later in the week, given her reputation for cow-kicking when you handle her feet. I also tried to handgraze her when we were done... she absolutely refused to do more than sniff the grass and look warily around. I doubt she's even been afforded that luxury, if she's ever tasted fresh grass at all... poor angel.

The following day was Thanksgiving, so I was away from work and didn't get to work with the sweetheart, but on Friday I was around and able to visit with her a bit. I didn't have much time, but I stuffed my pockets full of a few handfuls of sweet feed - the only treat she is remotely interested in taking from a person - and spent a little time in her pen, just wandering around and letting her sniff me and take food from my hand. I do feed treats by hand on certain occasions, and proving that human hands are a good thing and not a source of fear or pain is one of those times when food can be useful. Nice pets and tasty things come from hands, not smacks and pain. Two days before, even putting her muzzle on my hand caused her to snort and jerk away in alarm. With a little bribing, I had her gently touching my hands without fear.

Saturday was filled with unpleasant gale-force winds, and Sunday I was off from work, so Bay Girl was left to muse on her handling for a few days before we resumed work on Monday. The farrier was out on Monday, and she was sorely due for a trim, so I brought her up into the barn for a little grooming before he worked on her. I had only crosstied her in the other barn before, in an enclosed wash stall, so I wasn't sure how she would handle being crosstied in an aisleway with nothing behind her. Much to my surprise, she stood like a rock! I was able to groom her all over (goosey butt included, which was surprising), and she even let me touch her face! The entire time, she stood quietly with a peaceful look on her face. Progress, thy name is Bay Girl!
When the farrier was ready for her, he lightly sedated her as per his usual, and it became clear that she either has a phobia of farriers or a phobia of men. (Men is my guess... she reacted the same way to another one of our male boarders). Until she went to sleep, she skittered and snorted while I held her, but finally relaxed into it as the drugs took effect. She was being unusually strange about her left hind however... not really wanting to put weight on it while her other feet were being trimmed. Sore hocks from carrying a big fat baby around? Not sure. Her legs are clean and tight, to be sure, but we don't really know anything about her history or why she ended up where she did. Some sort of unsoundness issue? Or just the pregnancy aches and pains? Only time will tell with that one.

Afterwards, she was relaxed enough (and still a little doped) to eat a little grass!

Tuesday, we made even further progress. She crosstied in the barn aisle and didn't fuss when the other horse in the barn left, got a nice grooming, let me pick up her front feet without any incident AND let me doctor her hock sores with NO fuss at all! This is the mare who broke out in oozy hives from an allergic reaction this summer and had to be put in the stocks to doctor her wounds because she kicked so bad when you touched her! (Previous to when I arrived, but I heard all about it!)

Now that I have a better understanding of her reactions to everyday things, what she does and does not know, and what we need to work on, I'm working up some goals for December work. I suppose this blog is going to be a bit uninteresting for now, but that's life with starting a horse over!

What a pretty face. She still need a name!