Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Best Laid Plans are None

The best laid plans are also tarps.  I didn't know what to expect when my trainer arrived today.  Would she be too sore to ride after her wreck?  We had originally planned to take Bombay and Gabbrielle out for a trail ride together, so I saddled them up and tied them each in a stall.  When the trainer arrived she said, "I'll bet you have everything planned out that you want to do today, huh?"

I said, "No, we don't have to do anything if you are sore.  I can ride both horses and you can watch if you want."

She said, "Ride both at the same time?"  Her eyes got big as she imagined me standing up with one foot on each horse's back like a circus performer.

"No, one at a time," I said.  "One can learn how to stand patiently while tied and I'll ride the other."

She said she is sore in her neck, back, and butt, yet she's ridden several horses over the past couple of days.  We started out just doing ground work and desensitizing Bombay and Gabbrielle to the plastic bag.  If you've been reading my blog a long time, you know I used to do this a lot with my horses, but it didn't really help them get over their spooky behaviors.

The trash truck dropped a plastic bag earlier this week, and it has been stuck on my neighbor's bush.  Each time I walk a horse near it, the horse gets anxious, especially when the wind fills the bag and it shivers and rattles.  The trainer taught the progression involved in introducing the plastic bag in such a way to help the horse become more confident with it, as well as what signs of relaxation to look for that are your cue to remove the bag and offer the horse a release from the stressor.  If the horse is anxious, you keep doing what you are doing with the bag until it gets used to it, and visibly relaxes, and then you give it a break.  Once it is comfortable with one movement at one distance, you move up closer and test out both sides of the horse.  You do different movements.  Sometimes you gently wave the bag from side to side, sometimes you swing it in the air, sometimes you beat the ground with it, sometimes you ask the horse to touch it with its nose.  You always start out with the horse following the bag.

Once we worked through that, I mentioned that I used to work on trying to get the horses to walk over a tarp, but found that it was just easier to lay the tarp over their back and make them wear it.  She said the reason why it is so hard to get a horse to cross a tarp is because it looks like a big hole in the ground, but it's a great exercise in gaining your horse's trust.  Once they do cross the tarp, you know they trust you.  Also, when their feet step on tarp covering sand, the sound is very much like walking through water, so it's a precursor to crossing water on a trail.

She said she would bring a tarp for our next lesson.  I said I had one if she wanted to try it now.  We laid it in sort of a long roll that the horse could step over next to a fence.  She lunged the horse in half circles next to the tarp first.  Both Gabbrielle and Bombay acted like they were terrified of it.  Once they settled down and were more agreeable about doing the half-circles near the tarp, she sent them toward it one step at a time.  If they got in her space to try to avoid the tarp, she back them away from her and re-positioned them facing the tarp.

Each time they took a step forward to investigate she took the pressure off in sending them forward and I praised them and made them feel like brave champions.  They were feeding off my enthusiasm and eventually either jumped the roll or walked over it.  Then we spread the tarp out a little more so that it wouldn't be as easy to jump, and started over.  Gabbrielle took more work, so I mounted Bombay and rode around while the trainer worked on Gabbrielle's fears.

When she finished with her, I decided to see if Bombay would walk over the tarp with me on his back.  The trainer told me when to stop and let him investigate and when to squeeze and push him through.  He wanted to get his head all the way down to sniff the tarp, so I fed the reins out.  She said, "Be ready to get one of those reins back to pull his head around if he gets scared and takes off."

I trusted him not to overreact and kept the reins loose.  Bombay stepped right over the tarp.  I stopped him on the other side and petted him, turned him around and went back the other way.  With each pass, the trainer unfolded the tarp a little bit more until it was flat on the ground.  His hooves definitely made an odd sound on that tarp, but he didn't mind.  On one pass he even got the edge of the tarp caught on his hind foot, flipped it up in the air and dragged it a little bit with him and didn't freak out.  I was so proud of him.  He's normally my spookiest horse.

Then the trainer rode Gabbrielle over the folded up tarp in both directions.  Since she hadn't unfolded it all the way during the ground training, she didn't try that from the saddle.  She wanted to end on a positive note with her, because Gabbrielle made huge progress in just one hour.  The trainer actually didn't expect to get her to walk over it today.  She thought it would take a few sessions.  She thinks both horses will be safer and more confident on the trails after that exercise.

Neither of us had planned to do any tarp training today, but our willingness to go with the flow paid off.  My trainer still had to exercise all her strained muscles by doing the ground work and bending over to rearrange the tarp, but she insisted she preferred to exercise the muscles than let them get stiffer.  She even did some cruising at the trot on Gabbrielle at the end.  I reached into my saddle bag to grab my camera only to discover that I left it back at the house, so no pictures today.  Sorry.


Marissa Rose said...

Thats so good! Hahaha, the plastic bag thing reminds me of pony. You can desensitize her to a plastic bag for like a week, and she'll get over it, but if a few days pass and she doesn't see it, you'll have to start all over!

I'm so impressed by both of their willingness!

~Allison said...

Shy loves plastic bags. . .she knows I bring carrots and other foods for her in them. Silly pony.
I like tarp exercises. Your horses are coming a long way :)

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Yeah, I'm always feeding out of plastic bags, making a racket with them, and shaking buckets of grain, but if one little factor is different, like the bag is attached to a bush and not me, it's not the same as receiving treats.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

They did great!
I'll never forget the first time I introduced a plastic tarp to Apache in preparation for ACTHA Competitions. I went through all the trouble of being careful and not spooking Apache, and laid the tarp all careful and slow. I spread it out and then laid rocks and branches along the side, like they do in ACTHA competitions to simulate a creek.
My horse watched me quietly, calmly from about 10 feet away as I did this.
But as as I was standing on the middle of the tarp, bent over, with my back to my mare, I felt something push against me and almost fell over face first, and when I turned to see what pushed me, I laughed out loud!
It was Apache standing on the tarp, poking me...probably laughing at me because I thought she would be scared of the tarp. lol!
I hopped up on her after that and we rode over and back and forth several times and she was soooo bored. But she did it willingly for me. I just love her!

So to challenge her I took the huge, black, round trampoline cover that we removed from my kids' trampoline to replace it with a new one, and I set that up on the ground with rocks and branches all around the edges.
Now that was truly a Big Black Hole!

But still, it didn't take long for my mare to get used to it. I sat on the middle of the Black Hole and Apache wanted to be near me, so after about 15 minutes, she was standing on the Black Hole with me, too.
And then we walked across it, and backed up over it several times.

And the next day, I saddled her up and, after a couple tiny spook-in-place balks, we rode over the Black Hole. Over and over.
I just love my girl. :)


Dreaming said...

I am thinking you had to have been so excited and so pleased with the progress. Wow! I call that a good day!

Dreaming said...

And, speaking of best laid plans, we probably won't get to Phoenix for a visit. I had to take a quick trip home to help my dad. I'll be returning just in time for us to begin the drive home. We may not have time to spare as depending on how things go I may need to get back here fairly quickly.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Dreaming - Thanks for letting me know. I was going to email you soon about that.

achieve1dream said...

What a great lesson!!!! I love your trainer. A lot of trainer get so caught up in their "plan" that they can't go with the flow. Kudos to you both. :D And to the horses also of course. I think with regular work Bombay is going to be an awesome trail horse. I could have it totally wrong, but he just doesn't strike me as the scared spooky type, but more the playful/bored spooky. :)

fernvalley01 said...

good lesson again ,hope the trainer is feeling better soon

An American in Tokyo said...

All the horses at my riding club love plastic bags. They think they are all full of treats! Whenever you bring out some carrots or treats, put it in a plastic bag. Soon they will be happy to hear the sound of a plastic bag!