Friday, January 2, 2009

Keeping up with all three horses

I've had a couple of interesting sessions in the last few days, and I wanted to share them. I've been thinking a lot about how to keep all three horses progressing and connected with me even though I have limited time to play. (I'm the office manager for our small business and a homeschooling mom, plus I do most of the family errands/chores in addition to routine horse care. I feel as though I'm constantly juggling..)

Anyway, over the last week or so, whenever I've had time, I've been haltering and tying all three horses to posts along a wooden fence, and then moving back and forth along the row picking hooves, grooming, and playing some close-range games on the 12 ft rope.

This has been working really well and has several benefits:
- It allows Guinness to observe the older boys reactions to routing handling (including the observation that they accept me as leader)
- It helps them all to develop the patience to stand tied for a period of time
- It is convenient
- It prevents me from ignoring anyone
- It allows me to inspect them thoroughly for any injuries

Yesterday, after everyone had been groomed, I took Smokey to the opposite side of the wooden fence and played with him (circling, sideways, yo-yo). Then I asked him to "saddle up" while I stood on the fence. He politely came to get me and I swung my leg over his back and then gave him a bite of carrot. Unfortunately, Guinness was looking out into the woods, instead of at us, so I dismounted back onto the fence. Then I got Guinness' attention and tried again. You should have seen the astonished look in Guinness' face! ("She is SITTING on him!") It was very funny. I repeated this again and then walked Smokey in a circle, then dismounted and retied him. (The last thing that I wanted Guinea-pig to see was Smokey having his usually panic at being ridden away from the others..)

Next, I moved on to Cody (LBI/E). We played a few games in which I had to get strong and precise with him, but balanced this with bites of carrot. He responded really well. (He has been somewhat crabby lately.) I then asked him to sidle up to the fence for me to mount. He did this very willingly, but immediately swung around to look at my leg. This looked like a half-hearted attempt to nip - but I popped a carrot into his mouth and his attitude changed. (I haven't even sat on him since October due to his various injuries.) He kept wiggling around like "ooh yuck, I can feel her rear end on my back" - he has very rarely been ridden totally bareback. We walked a circle and when he relaxed I dismounted, with Guinness watching the whole thing. Then I released them all and fed them dinner.

Here is a photo of me the last time that I sat on Cody!

Today, I tried something new. A few days ago, I bought a surcingle with lots of rings on it (on sale at Southern States) thinking that I could use it in Guinness' training. I went to the pasture this afternoon with the idea that I would work toward teaching Smokey how to pony Guinness as we play "Follow the Rail" together. Eventually, I could tie Guinness' leadrope to Smokey's surcingle, and then walk along beside them. (Smokey has historically had a lot of trouble with Follow the Rail while mounted - my leadership on the ground doesn't translate well with him.)

After grooming all three horses while tied in a row, I release Cody & Guinness, but left their halters on them to cue them that the games weren't done. I fastened the surcingle around Smokey and then led him along the fence line all the way around my back field, down the chute, and into the big field, using the end of my rope to keep the others at bay. The Rockies went nuts galloping around, bucking and trying to distract Smokey. Eventually, Cody placed himself out in front of us, and Guinness brought up the rear. I forgot to mention that we played games and did obstacles along the way, with the horses at liberty joining in too!

Next, it was Cody's turn. When I turned Smokey loose, he and Guinness pretty much stayed up at the barn while Cody walked the perimeter. (I brought my carrot stick we me this time.) This was a very good opportunity for Cody to be alone with me in the big field. He got very animated (which I laughed at) and I put him to work sidepassing and doing other tasks. By the time that we left the big field, he was totally focused on me (and my Cheerios). The other horses joined us in the chute, where I released Cody and captured the baby.

Guinness was pleased with the attention, until the other two horses left him alone with me. He followed passively behind me at first (unlike the other two that walked with me in zone 2), and then he tried to balk and stop. Fortunately, I had the rope under my armpit in a power position. I got him moving again and then immediately released the pressure. We moved into the large field where he could hear Smokey calling for him, but he didn't call back and Smokey didn't come to get him. As we moved down a hill, I jogged and he responded to the pressure and began to gait. I gave him a Cheerio when he caught up with me. I released him in the chute, and then I whistled that it was feeding time and everyone came running in.

It was truly amazing how many skills/tasks that we touched on while simply leading one horse at a time around the fenceline! We played with transitions, obstacles, Follow the Rail, keep your attention on me, sideways, and lots of other games.

One last thought: Feeding time provides a wonderful opportunity for me to prove that I'm the herd leader. (Pat Parelli demonstrates this idea in a segment on the December '08 Savvy Club DVD.) I don't stand for any hoof banging or pawing as I dish out the chow, or I run the offender off. As I pass out the grain, I back each horse away from their bucket until they give me a sweet face (ask permission) and then I allow them in to eat. I also make a habit of handling them and moving them around as they eat - running them out if they make any threatening gestures at me. Tonight, I went back out and guarded Guinness' hiney when Cody came to take his remaining food. Cody was surprised and Guinness was pleased. Cody stood very close to me and mooned at the bucket, but didn't try to push past me. :-)

Fun, fun! I'm looking forward to playing with the three of them together more often.

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