It's warming up fast after that snowstorm and arctic winds we had last week, and the critters of the desert are all starting to make appearances. The lizards and snakes are coming out, I saw my first butterfly of the season today, and my husband had a bobcat run in front of his car across the street to our neighbor's house last night. The hummingbirds and quail have been out for a few weeks now. The bunnies and coyotes are always around regardless of the weather.
Yesterday I noticed that some critter had been creating a burrow in one of my hay bales. When I tore the bale apart, I found bunny fur inside. This afternoon I know I had placed both my gloves on a hay bale, but could only find one glove when it was time to shovel manure. Something had dragged the other glove back behind the bale under the tarp to the front of yet another burrow hole. Just seconds later a ground squirrel made an appearance, so it is my number one suspect at the moment.
I'm learning that paths less traveled get covered by grass. While out walking a horse I was having a hard time finding trails I used to take. Fortunately, some people took the time to mark forks in the path with piles of rock to help people like me out. While out on the trails I found hoof prints that could only have belonged to tiny, wild pigs or javelina. I still haven't seen one, but the footprints are enough to convince me that they are around.
I know my horse trainer is doing a good job because the last time she rode Bombay on the trails, she made him walk through a mud puddle that he normally would avoid. I don't blame him. I avoid them too. Bombay is a clean freak, but my trainer wants my horses to do what she and I ask, so she pushed him through the puddle. I praised him, because I knew it was hard for him to get his pristine feet muddy. Then today when we were out for a walk, he showed me how brave he was without me asking by plowing right into a mud pit when he could have easily walked around it with me. The poor guy sunk in up to his coronet bands, realized it was deeper and thicker than last week, and he daintily hopped out. It was pretty cute. I knew he did it to impress me, because he looked at me for my reaction, knowing I would praise him.
Along with the grass and mud comes the weeds. This is our first experience with how aggressive they are around our new house. When we moved in, the previous owners had done quite a bit of work to clear them out. We still had some work to do ourselves, but now I know that it would have been much worse if it were for the sellers cleaning up the place to make it presentable.
The trainer did the cruising exercise on Gabbrielle today, and had the same trouble I have keeping her at a consistent pace. That mare is like a 10-speed bike when it comes to trotting and she's got no jog in her, so my homework is to work on the first step of collection by holding the reins taut until she tucks her nose in, and then releasing. If she gets good at that from a stand still, then I have to move her up to a walk while asking her to tip her nose in, then move up to the jog with the nose tipped in. She's a giraffe at the moment.
The trainer burped while riding, and Gabbrielle jumped. She said, "Golly! What's going to happen if I fart?"
So, the trainer started desensitizing her to odd noises from the saddle, blowing raspberries and whatnot. Gabbrielle eventually stopped jumping and flicking her ears back, so I can rest assured that it is now safe to fart in the saddle while riding her. What a relief!
Gabbrielle also got some plastic bag desensitization today. She learned to relax while following a swirling plastic bag, and touch her nose to it while it is making crinkling noises.
I found out that I've been handling crowding incorrectly. As I was leading Gabbrielle back to the barn, she got ahead of me and pushed her body into me to avoid the plastic bag on the ground. I put my palms up by her poll and made a pushing motion, but she just kept moving forward faster instead of moving out of my space. The trainer explained the I have to bump her face with the lead rope, stop her feet, and then push with my hands and stay with her as she moves away. If I'm doing it right, she should be able to make a 360 degree turn, pivoting around her hind end without moving forward. So, I'll work on that.
The other thing that impressed me was how the trainer handled a dropped rein. When she was done with the ride, Gabbrielle shook her entire body hard enough that one rein slipped right out of the trainer's hand and fell on the ground. I walked over to pick it up for her, and she said, "I got it."
She leaned forward, grabbed the rope halter and pulled Gabbrielle's head around to her shoulder, and then she was able to pick up the rein near the bit. Every time I've lost a rein in the past, I dismounted. Now I know there's an easier way.
I also told the trainer about how I was working Lostine's feet, and she just would not back up fast enough to stay out of my space. The trainer tried it and thought it might be an issue with her age and arthritis, so she recommended that I back her with the method of just holding the lead rope under her chin and walking forward beside her head while facing her, instead of snaking the rope and swinging the whip at her chest. She can't back up fast enough, so she always gets whacked with the whip. Gabbrielle on the other hand backs up like a sports car with not much more than a look from me. The trainer didn't discourage me from backing Lostine, because it helps build up her haunches, but I don't need to be as demanding of her as I am with the other horses. This is a case where she thinks the lack of effort in backing is not a behavior problem, but a physical problem.
She feels that when training a horse in a new way, it should understand and remember what you are asking for after three tries, assuming you are using clear, consistent cues and releasing the pressure as soon as the correct answer is given. If the horse is still not doing what you ask after that, you have to look at whether it's a behavior problem or a physical problem and the only way to really find out is to push harder with stronger cues. Since she wasn't getting any kind of attitude from Lostine, she thought it was age related.
The trainer is also trying to figure out if Gabbrielle's choppiness at the trot is related to her shoulder problems or something that can be trained out of her. On the next lesson she'll work on the one-rein stop more because right now Gabbrielle is not stopping her feet, but spinning. If she masters stopping her feet, we will ride together outside of the arena, and if all goes well with that, she'll work on getting Gabbrielle through the gate to the trails from the saddle.