Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ground Driving!

We're back from the large animal rescue class! For those of you that didn't know, I've been away for the past 3 days, down south in the Houston area getting certified for large animal rescue. Don't get me wrong, if I come upon an actual emergency I am going to let the firefighters do all of the actual work, but I can give some very good directions on how to do it and how NOT to do it. We covered everything from barn fires, overturned trailer, and mud rescue, to carcass disposal and triage in the field. (Not for the faint of heart - there was even a video of a horse being euthanized by captive bolt. There is debate on whether or not that is a humane method of euthanasia, but having seen horses totally freak out and run away with needles in their neck while being chemically euthanized with barbituates, I think there is risk with any method you use. The horse in the video was dead before he even hit the ground and it was very humane. It wasn't pretty, but death never is in real life - those of you who have seen it know that Dobbin rarely ever lays down and closes his eyes sweetly when he goes. And for the record, I do think that the most humane method of dispatching any animal is a properly placed bullet to the brain.) 

Here are just a few of the practical things we covered....

That you can't put out a blazing bale of hay with a small fire extinguisher, and that it takes a fireman about 80 gallons of water for ONE 50lb. bale:

 What happens if your "barrel horse" gets stuck in the mud (AKA proper sideways drags and harness application):

And how seriously serious and scary barn fires are:

Last photo is of a fireman's infrared camera. Yes, there is a horse RIGHT there in that stall - you just can't see it through the smoke. The picture about with the lady leading the horse? She simulated the crazy horse owner who went back in to get her horses. In reality, if there was that much smoke, she'd be dead on the ground before they ever found her, and the horses would be dead too. The firemen also said the smoke is usually black and not this pretty light grey color.

Other things we did included overturning a trailer manually and discussing how to get to those animals and how to get them out (which was really fun - no, there were NOT actual animals in that trailer!) and learning all sort of ways to properly apply a harness to an animal needing rescue (where the danger zones are, what not to do, where you need to be, etc). 

The class was outstanding and packed full of useful information for people in the rescue field and the average horse owner alike. It was SO worth it! 

Despite the fun I had, it does feel good to be back home. I headed out to see the girls this afternoon and was pleased to see that Immy has definitely put back on a good amount of her weight in the past week.

She says, don't judge me, my mom has been away since Wednesday and I am a dirty girl!

Today we went back into the roundpen for the first time. I am SO glad to report that she doesn't associate the roundpen with anything scary - she snorted and fussed for a moment, but settled right down and got to work. We lunged with the surcingle, sidereins and bridle today, and she actually made an effort to reach out to the bit in the walk! The sidereins aren't long enough to do anything other than jiggle the bit in her mouth a bit, which is exactly what I wanted. No matter what anyone tells you, you cannot make a proper dressage horse with the use of sidereins. Once she is under saddle and a little more broke, if I lunge her I will use a chambon instead. I don't make regular use of sidereins for any of my horses, and she is no exception. It's just a basic training exercise and right of passage that we travel through until we reach the more complicated things. One must learn the ABCs before words and phrases can be strung together!

Once she was done lunging, I brought her into the middle and rigged her up for grounddriving. I had originally planned on using a handler to start her out, but I didn't have one, so I decided to proceed alone. (DON'T DO THAT unless you already know how to start other youngsters! Safety first, always! I'm not an expert or a pro by any means but I've done this many times before and I am fully aware of all the things that can go wrong - and what to do if something does go wrong!)
I started off with some flexions and turning left and right with the bit before I even put on the driving reins. The process of grounddriving before riding teaches the horse to steer and to follow commands from something behind them, so learning what to do when pressure is applied to the bit is important. She is well desensitized at this point to ropes all over her body, so it was no big deal to feel the driving reins at her sides.   I also didn't start off right behind her with the reins in the driving position, but began in the lunging position holding both driving reins. This is actually a very common method of lunging.... it's just a bit complicated. It gives you an amazing feel of their mouth if you get it just right - I might actually use this instead of the sidereins for awhile! 
Once she was quiet and walking, I started to walk along with her. Gradually, I moved further and further behind her, until she was comfortable with being followed. I maneuvered the outside rein over her back and onto the correct side (again, don't do that unless your horse is desensitized to ropes moving across their body), and she relaxed into it and walked with her head low and quiet. We did some rudimentary steering exercises, coming across the middle of the roundpen to turn and go the other way, and it was interesting to see that she turns very easily to the right, but not well to the left. We also practiced "whoa" which is critical! She understood the concept well, but did wiggle at first. They need to learn to whoa and stay there, so we did just that a few times until she was quiet and not moving or wiggling anymore. She kept turning her head around to look at me with that very curious, "hey, what's up?" kind of expression whenever we'd stop. She also allowed me to very easily walk up from behind and remove the lines - she didn't mind at all. 

A+ for today's effort! No pics unfortunately - wasn't exactly in a position to take them myself! Safety first!

The girls after they had eaten dinner and were back out in the field... apparently they had already forgotten that they had been fed:

P is the one furthest to the left, Immy is in the middle under the tree.

It is very interesting to see how this mare is progressing - she is so stinking smart and nothing scares her, except for people and the past experiences she has had. She takes everything she doesn't know in stride, but the things that have hurt her in the past are huge obstacles for her. Following her experience in the roundpen, her earshyness has gotten even worse. I think at this point the best thing to try is clicker training - touch head, click and treat, touch poll, click and treat, touch ear, click and treat.... times a million. What do you think?

Oh, and I figured out why there has been screaming and fussing: she's in flaming heat AGAIN. Come on mare.... really?


  1. Regarding burning hay bales, this fire took 5,000 gallons of water to put out:

    Imogene really looks good!

  2. Clicker training is exactly the way I went with my super ear shy Pixie. We had to clicker train putting the bridle on too! It worked wonders :)

  3. I tried clicker training for a lot of things with Solo, but he is NOT food motivated so it was mostly fail -- EXCEPT his quaking fear of longe whips (yeah, he's been beaten with one) which I had not been able to conquer with the usual rubbing and such. We spent one day, longe whip just laying on ground. I led him closer and closer until he was straddling it. He got a click and treat for each step. He was standing over it, shaking, and I was shoving treats in his mouth until he relaxed. And it really worked. So for that one targeted fear, it was a very effective tool.

  4. I am also teaching our four fillies how to drive. I haven't ever taught a horse how to drive but it's going pretty well.

  5. That course looks so interesting, I would love to do one of those!

    You can use clicker training...or just treat training...which I use with my guy who is a bit weird. He loves treats and that's enough to work for him!

  6. That training sounds great and what a cool experience!

  7. I thought of her today while I was vigorously currying Ehre's ear. She was leaning into it and pointing her lip. Imogen doesn't know what she's missing.

  8. I'm so glad to get back online and see Immy's doing well again after those hurdles. She's still making great progress and really looking good - it's funny how not so long ago you were talking of her bubble belly and then after that upset she so quickly lost weight and needed to bulk up again! Stress is a bitch. If we don't hear from you again beforehand I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas.. give the girls and the rest of your menagerie a cuddle and an ear scratch for me! (Tho a gentle one for Im..!) xxx

  9. Glad she's relaxed and is doing well again! Phew! :)
    She sounds so smart, her training is progressing so well. I don't think the clicker training can hurt, maybe it will give her a new outlook/perspective on the issue? Tricky bit will be finding something that motivates her, since she's not that into treats! Enjoy your ponies and have a great Christmas!