Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dear Mother Nature...

.... can you STOP being awful for 5 seconds so I can get Immy under saddle please? 

Christmas is finally over, and the New Year is right around the corner. (I know... where did the year go!?) I spent most of Christmas Day fretting over my girls, watching the radar as a massive winter storm came crashing into Texas, wreaking total havoc and bringing several inches of rain, snow, ice, and subzero temperatures with it. I had left Immy in a medium and P in a sheet, due to the fact that I knew the chilly weather was coming, but the days preceding were nearly in the 70's. The last time somebody other than me changed their blankets, Immy bolted with her blanket still half on (thankfully she managed to slip out with only mental trauma to show for). When I went on vacation, I left no instructions for blanket changes - I didn't anticipate that it would need to be done. Poor chillybears!

Thankfully, they survived the weather unscathed. When I got home, it was absolutely frigid (for Texas) and  snow was still on the ground (completely unheard of for this area). P, who had been in the sheet, was most happy to see me coming with a heavier blanket - usually she is the one who prefers to be naked, but not that day!

By Friday, everything had completely melted. This unfortunately meant that everything that had previously been frozen had now become total mush. The arena was soggy, so that was out. The roundpen is obviously covered, but the tractor lives in there. This usually isn't a problem - I just move it myself, and put it back when I am finished - but the ground outside the roundpen was far too soft and squashy for heavy machinery (one quick way to tick off your barn owner is to tear up their grass!). That left me with a single option: ponying! Braving the elements, I suited the girls up with a quarter sheet and a cooler, respectively, and headed out to the big pasture. Immy was a bit jumpy to start out - unfortunately, I had to whack P when she tried to bowl me over on the way out, which scared Immy half to death - but once I was up there, everything was fine. We had a little bit of trot time near the end of our ride, but unfortunately, P felt awful behind. Going into the new year, I'd like to alter her schedule some, and move her to poolwork and some light trail work and ponying only. I think that is probably about all she'll be able to handle from now on, poor old thing. 

Happy girls eating their dinner:

Today was a bit of a fiasco, all things considered. I had a horrible day from start to finish, and was exhausted by the time I got to the barn. The schedule that seems to work best for Immy is to work her one day, then give her the next off for just loving and feeding and happytime, then work her again the following day. (My goal here is to maintain her trust and our friendship, and to never have her anticipate my coming with work or  other unpleasantries). While they were eating their grainfoods this evening, I thought I'd take the opportunity to give P a quick shave and a haircut. Out came my quiet little Wahls, and the Bearded Lady was tackled. With her shaggy goat whiskers and bridlepath gone, I turned around, facing Immy with the clippers still running. The second I did it, and even though I was several feet away from her, she took off. Ooookay then... I guess we need to see that the clippers are not terrifying monsters!

Well, that was a huge disaster. I was able to catch her and touch her with the clippers off, all over her neck, shoulder, and cheek, but when they touched her nose (while off), she jerked violently and ran backwards. She finally touched them and let me touch her nose with them, but she was pretty sure they were going to bite her up until then. And then I turned them on, well away from her... and she bolted, again. I had a terrorized blur on the end of my lead rope, running around me in circles as fast as she could. With some work, I managed to touch her shoulder, neck, and cheek with the Buzzing Death Machine, but she was absolutely panicked inbetween her bouts of brainwaves. She did get to the point of reaching forward and touching them with her nose of her own accord while they were on, but it scared her half to death when she did. The clippers were on for so long that they finally died, but it ended on a good enough note. By this time, however, she was so freaked out that I couldn't even put her leadrope over her back without her bolting off again. She was shredding the grass in the small pen she was in with all of her mad galloping, so I finally just gave up pretense and took her into the arena for some additional desensitization. To her credit, having a leadrope tossed over you while you have a noisy blanket on is definitely different from having a leadrope tossed over you while you are naked, so that did not help matters. Doubly not helping matters was the fact that my seriously neurotic Monster dog was completely freaked out by the entire thing (serious separation issues, and something fast and scary was happening with mommy... must run into the pen and help! Must growl at scary horse! Must run under mommy's feet!). Yelling at Monster dog to get out of my way so she didn't get run over/trampled/kicked/stepped on only scared Immy more... the neverending cycle! (Seriously though, the dog has mental issues.... she puts herself at risk daily in her desperation to be wherever I am. She gladly throws herself in harm's way just to get to me. If there was a swirling river of lava between the two of us, I have absolutely no doubt that she'd jump in and try to swim across to get to me, even if I was telling her from a distance not to.) 

In the arena, I was able to toss the leadrope over her from both sides, and she finally relaxed a little bit. We ended the session with lots of face rubs and pets, and she actually mentally came back to me very well. She doesn't always, so that was definitely a positive thing.

Touching her nose and face with my hand is fine with her at this point... touching her nose and face with anything else is not fine. (Exception to this: brushes and combs. She likes to be brushed and fussed over, so these things are ok in her mind). I have to keep telling myself that it wasn't that long ago that I couldn't touch her face at all from the cheeks forward - hell, I couldn't even crosstie her because it freaked her too much to get that close to her face! - so this is just another step in the process. We'll definitely be working on the clipper issue. At some point, just like everything else that used to scare her to death (remember how terrified she was of blankets and legstraps? The first time a legstrap touched her leg, she did the same terrified bolting!), she will realize that it isn't out to kill her, and life is still ok. 

Tomorrow we'll do more desensitization work with the saddle - I've already leaned on her and put my feet in  stirrups and stood with my full weight on her (more elaboration tomorrow!), but I've only done it from the left side. She needs more right side work, and then she'll be ready for her first ride!


  1. I don't want to nag, but I promise clicker training will work wonders with her! It takes all of the fear and negativity out of desensitization. It gives them come control over what is happening which gives them confidence. It gives them the choice to accept something because they want the reward instead of being flooded (not saying that's what you did) until they give up. You really should check it out. Please!