Sunday, February 8, 2009

Back to Leading Basics

I got my quiet sunny Sunday today. When I cut the horses loose, they whooped it up, galloping all over the place, rearing and bucking, and of course, rolling in the mud. The ground condition wasn't safe for riding, as the horses slipped and nearly fell several times, so I spent the day dry grooming them, and working on leading skills.

With all my equitation lessons last year, I spent way more time riding Bombay and Lostine than I did ground training Gabbrielle. We had a bad experience last spring when I tried to take Gabbrielle for a walk up and down the road, and Lostine kicked a rock into a sagebrush bush, which spooked Gabbrielle, and she ran circles around me, only stopping to rear. I just kept dodging her hooves and trying to lead her back to the barn. Pulling on the lead rope and commanding her to whoa had no effect. I was hanging on with all my might, but afraid she might get away from me and run out into traffic. Fortunately, with each circle we got a few steps closer to the barn until finally I could close the gate behind us and let go. I didn't try to lead her off the property after that, because she obviously wasn't ready for it.

I decided to try again today, as this is one challenge we will have to tackle if Gabbrielle is to move on in her training. It's all about the progress. Knowing what great memories horses have, I decided to take it in baby steps. First I walked her just a few feet out the gate and said whoa. She stopped and looked around while I petted her. When Gabbrielle is curious about something, she reminds me of a King Cobra the way she lifts her head so high that I can't even reach it. I then turned her around and walked her back through the gate onto the property.

I continued this process of walking further and further off the property, saying whoa each time she started to pull on the lead rope, and stroking her neck as a reward for stopping. Instead of getting better, her behavior got worse, so I had to back off and return to her comfort zone. Lostine wasn't helping by running back and forth whinnying. Lostine was jealous because she thought I was taking Gabbrielle out to the pasture to graze, but Gabbrielle was interpreting Lostine's behavior as a warning that there was something to fear.

When my arm couldn't take anymore pulling, I contemplated using a stud chain, but my goal was really to make going off the property a good experience and adding a chain under her chin to get better control probably would only make the experience worse for her. Instead, I put her away and took my other two horses for walks up and down the road. What a difference! There was no pulling what-so-ever. Of course, whichever two horses I left behind ended up being a nuisance by charging up and down the fence line. They even got my neighbor's horses going, and there was a lot of galloping, whinnying, bucking and rearing going on. Fortunately, my neighbor was only cleaning a stall, so she was safe. If anyone had been riding on her property I would have stopped my horse walking.

I also did a little despooking with Bombay. He still hasn't let me rub one of those white plastic supermarket bags all over his body, so I fed him a carrot out of a plastic carrot bag. He jumped and stomped when I tried to pet him with it, but within 30-seconds I was able to rub the carrot bag all over his body and give him lots of praise. Hopefully, after a few more times using that smaller bag, I can move up to the bigger plastic bag and make some progress.

Gabbrielle is a pro at backing up for me, even when I don't have her on a lead rope. Yet she has a long way to go before she can lead forward on a loose rope. Right now leading her is akin to being pulled down the street by a Saint Bernard on a leash. I know I need to make this a priority or I will have even bigger problems when she grows. I'm going to have to work daily walks into my schedule. I'll have to make taking walks a habit for all of us, in part so that I get my exercise, so that Gabbrielle learns to lead and feel comfortable in new spaces, and so that Bombay and Lostine learn not to panic or get jealous when I do take Gabbrielle away.

I went to the market while the horses ate their lunch. Some low-class shart left a cart smashed against the side of my car. I had purposefully parked way out away from all other vehicles so that some idiot wouldn't put a dent in my car by carelessly swinging his door into it, and I ended up getting scratches from a shopping cart. Then when I got home I discovered that I bought a tub of Deli Select meat that someone had opened and ate 3/4 of the meat! Of course, I immediately threw what was left in the trash. This used to be such a nice town, but I have to wonder about its future with some of the riff-raff that are moving in with no social skills and morals. Of course, I know a kid could have eaten that meat or smashed that cart into my car, but what kind of parent just puts a partially empty meat container back on the shelf and allows their kid to smash a cart into a car?

I took Gabbrielle out for another walk when the horses were rested with full tummies after lunch. This time Lostine and Bombay seemed less concerned about me taking her away. Gabbrielle walked on a looser lead and got a lot further. I let her graze on our lawn and was happy to see the first sign of spring: Green grass underneath the brown grass. I was going to walk her back to the barn, but she wanted to show me what a big girl she was by walking part way up the street. I gave her lots of pets and pats and we ended on that good note.


Grey Horse Matters said...

Sounds like you have a good plan with the leading and walking. Can't believe someone ate the meat and put it back on the shelf. Some People!

ranchette said...

There's always something to work on with the horses isn't there? Doesn't matter whether we can get in the saddle or not. Be consistent and firm and even Gabrielle will come along. My big horse doesn't do well off property either, so I've had some of these same discussions. We're ok on leading, but working on trails off property by himself when spring starts. It's usually an adventure the first time out.

Katharine Swan said...

Glad to hear you were able to end on a good note with Gabbrielle. A friend of mine recommends walking away a very short distance and back, away and back, over and over and over, gradually lengthening the walk every time the horse becomes comfortable with the new distance. She says it helps them understand that they do get to come back every time, and is less scary than simply walking away from the barn in a straight line.

Interestingly, I took Panama for a walk away from the barn today too. I'll blog on that on my own blog shortly.

Andrea said...

That first walk sounded scary! I am glad you were able to get her back to the house!! You are brave.

And I am glad Gabbrielle was so good for her walk today!! A full belly always makes it better. You are so good to work so much with her.

Rising Rainbow said...

Sounds like you have a good plan.
I would add to what Kathrine said walking the horse short distances back and forth. It's a great way to soothe herd bound horses and teach them it's OK their buddies will return.

Train Wreck said...

You went from a soggy day to a busy day! I have to agree with RR I have heard the same thing. Good luck to you!

lytha said...

i was truly inspired by mugwump's story about training that warmblood colt to have manners on a leadline. if you haven't read it, i recommend it for you.

Flying Lily said...

How aggravating about the shopping cart and the lunch meat! Grrr.

I really think so many training issues come back to leading and other ground work, where you build trust and obedience. You are doing such great work with your horses.

Mrs Mom said...

What an excellent day! Glad it turned out so well for you, even with the mess from the market.

Keep up the excellent work there NM!!

Katharine Swan said...

I agree with Flying Lily, poor ground manners are the root of many training problems. I didn't say this before, but good for you for working on leading and Gabbrielle's comfort level first! An impatient rider would just have taken her out under saddle for the first time, spent the entire time fighting with her, and then wondered why they had so many problems.

Shirley said...

Have you thought of tying up the other two horses so that they aren't distracting Gabrielle? Sounds like the plan is a good one; maybe turn her back to the barn just before she starts resisting so that she doesn't think that resisting gets her back to the barn.

Lulu said...

Have you ever thought to restrain the horses that you are not working with?

I only ask because I have found, while working with my youngsters, that tying up the pasture mates makes things so much easier. With the others tied, or in their stalls, the horse I'm working with is better able to concentrate on the lesson rather than her friends running around like wild horses.

You are obviously making progress! Good job!