Wednesday, April 7, 2010

All In A Day's Work

Spring horses are here and yesterday was the day to begin the beginnings. Derek has thoughtfully set up that round pen in the dry lot to make the preliminaries as easy as possible. The horses are comfortable in their surroundings, and ready to go to work. I caught each colt, one at a time, brushed and groomed, going over their bodies with a fine tooth comb to check condition, old scars, see if there was anything I need to take note of, for the day's work. It's also a good idea to make sure a horse can handle being touched, all over. My goal (which could have been amended if need be) was to get through any trouble spots and end with the colts moving freely off their halter ropes, walked, trotted and loped with saddles on, and then have them stand tied while the others have their turn.

Pedro was last on my list, as he will be, and he ended up just wandering around the lot, saddled, and getting to eat. Saddling him is a non issue, he thinks that thing is a part of his daily deal, now, which is exactly the way I want it. I did want to get another ride on him, but ran out of gas before it was his turn, so another day for that.

The first set of the season is always that way for me. I start out fat and out of shape.At least this year, I've been somewhat active so it's not quite as bad as coming off a full winter's rest, but hefting three or four heavy saddles gets wearing, and when it's time for that fifth one, doesn't matter what it weighs, it's a job! Pretty much anybody in the world can get a saddle on a horse in about 15 minutes or so. I can't guarantee they'll do it right, as I see it, or that the horse will be okay with that process. I took each horse, evaluated different things about the horse, and spent time setting us up for success for the rest of the journey.

Two Socks was my first victim to saddle, after Pedro. I knew what I wanted to see, in Soxie, and he came through with aces. We have already worked hard on getting him lightly coming forward off of halter pressure, lightly moving his feet, over, backwards and sideways. Soxie tended to want to lean on me and then Ginger, when I was working him off of her, and I hoped to see that tendency evaporated. I was not disappointed. What I really loved was when I disengage his hip and asked him to rock back so as to be able to lead out the shoulder through with the outside front foot, he floated back and stepped out so athletically and prettily I wished I had a video of it. It was text book, what that manuever should look like. Soxie carried this happy, cheerful look on his pretty face, like "see, I remember! I know how to do this stuff!" And then, he got to stand tied. Gone, too, was the restlessness of the other day, but on the other hand, he was tied 20 feet from all his buddies. Today, he'll be up top again, so we'll see how that goes. I don't mind at all, when a colt finds out there are powers greater than he, and it doesn't involve tugging and pulling on me to get the idea across! Soxie handled the stirrup slap, me jumping around like a loon, all about him, and next time we work, we'll see about stepping up. It's time.

Next up was Mocha. This is a good looking coming four year old that is the half sister to my beloved Slippin and Knosie. She is also the half sister to the bay bookends that are spending 60 days with me, as well. Because of an injury, she didn't get started when Slips and Knos did, but she's fully healed and ready to work now. In leading her around, I have noticed she tends to get sticky footed and dull when she doesn't really want to get along. I wanted to wake her up a little, get some respect and response, so I don't spend the next 30 days having to wear out my arms and heels, tugging and kicking her along.

Mocha is tall and wants to put that head of hers WAY in the air when she'd prefer to be left alone, too. In haltering her, she was blowing off my requests to bring that giraffe neck down to the level I wanted. Okay fine, let's work on that now, so it's not a problem later. One hand on her neck, another on the bridge of her nose, I work her neck back and forth, asking her to relax and come down. If she'd not been able to come through, or even took her nose away and left, I'd say, okay, go get her and start over. She didn't leave, and eventually the head came down. Very uninterested in acknowledging that halter, but compliant enough about having it slipped over her nose. Spang! Back up in the air goes the haltered head.

Okay, says me, let's work on that . . . I slip the rope behind her left front leg, and apply some gentle pressure. What ensues next is Mocha, trying to figure out what she needs to do to get rid of that pressure, and she tries a lot of things before giving me the answer I am looking for, which is lowering her head. Her favorite response is to turn her head to the left, run through the pressure and wind herself up in the rope until I am forced to let go. I pick up my stick and block that with a tap on the cheekbone until she holds it straight. Then, it's coming forward, running over the top of me. Nope, a tap stops that, toot sweet, as well. Is she being naughty? Heck no. She just does not understand what I want, and is trying to figure things out. It's my job to help with that. We hear "make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy." Too many people just hear that first part, including me, sometimes. I really watched for the slightest give, the hesitation that she was even thinking about lowering her head, and it really wasn't long before she had her head down to her fetlocks, slack in the lead, and her eyes soft. THAT'S the goal.

I flipped the stick and string over her back, letting her know things might fly around up there. She wasn't too sure that was a good idea, but she had already trusted me about something hard for her, and the first bricks of a foundation are being laid . . . Mocha moved her feet uneasily, wondering if she were, perhaps, supposed to go somewhere and might get in trouble if she didn't. We'd just been working on getting her feet lightened up, remember, so she was not out of line to ask that question, not at all. It's my job to make my body language and energy clear when they are to move their feet and when they are to be still and handle commotion. If I am not clear in my signals, how can they be expected to be clear in their responses? Once she can handle that, I take the lead around her middle and let her know there can be pressure there, too. I make sure she's good with that, front and where the back cinch will go. I always saddle with a full rig. You might not want a back cinch, but if you do, you surely hope whoever started your horse used one, or you might find an unexpected rodeo when you go to saddle up . . .

During this time, the saddle is setting in the middle of the round pen, and when she finally does express curiousity about the "dead cow" (Richard Winters, I like that guy), I let her and encourage her to check things out. The saddle pad is hanging over the rail, and I've let her look at that, too. I want my horses curious and interested in what's going on around them, not tuned out and then, therefore, shocked as hell when something DOES penetrate and get through . . . I rub her with the saddle pad. This might feel like grooming to her, I don't know, but she likes it. She's a little sweaty by now and would like to rub me back. Nope, that does not work out. I can come into your bubble but you surely are not welcome in mine. She gets educated about where her space ends and mine begins, not because I slug her in the nose, yell, kick my feet, stomp or anything like that, but there's a sharp, inconvenient elbow, a bump here, a knock there, while I go about my business. I am not making a big deal of anything, but she learns that it's better for her to wait for me to do the petting. Saddle pad is in place and there's all kinds of lessons learned for ms. Mocha, in the process. I like getting a bunch of things accomplished, when I can, there's only so many hours in a day, might as well make use of them.

Mocha is tall, the Billy Cook roper I think will fit her best is not light. I take it on the left hand side, under the pommel with my left hand, grasping the first skirt on the right with my right. I bring it back behind me, letting the filly check the saddle out, now that's it's in a different place, which she does, and I begin the swing, which ends with the saddle more or less gracefully settling into place on her somewhat surprised back. One step forward, she finds the end of the halter rope, and having learned a little respect for that, stops and waits. I go around to let down my cinches (I know, if I saddled from the right, I'd already be there, but I don't mind and my colts need to stand quiet for that, anyway). I tighten the cinch, I have learned it has to be pretty snug this first time, to avoid that saddle ending up around the belly which is NOT where it was ever intended to be! I snug, and loosen, snug and loosen, her ears flickering in concern, head raising. I lower it when it gets high. Heads in the air are not relaxed horses, and I want her feeling good about this entire process, so I fix the problems as I find them. She's quiet, I snug up the cinch (Ray Hunt said to go three times around, I usually do two, but if three, and there's a problem, cinch won't come undone, leaving your saddle in a possible broken heap on the ground, and your horse with a black marble in it's experience jar) and fasten up the back. I also have learned to not use a breast collar on this first saddle. If they do jump around a little, I don't want the saddle pulling forward, either, so I left the breast collar over the saddle where it lives when I am not using it.

Mocha sent off like I asked, walking calmly, then picked up a little trot. Much to her surprise, the thing on her back came right with her and it felt FUNNY! She humped up three or four times, nothing to write home about, no bronc score for anyone and this untalented bucking horse rider prolly could'a stayed on, just fine. Not my way though :-) After that, non issue, walks, trots, lopes both direction, and now it's her turn to hang on a tie post and watch the rest.

I detailed out this first saddle for this filly because I wanted to illustrate how you can get a lot more done than just setting a saddle on a horse, cinching them up and away you go. I wanted to make sure she could come forward off of pressure, move back off of pressure, have some respect for my space and get the beginnings of an understanding of when to move her feet and when she needs to be still and wait for direction. This sets up the rest of our training in a tone I hope to continue, smooth, uneventful and undusty!

The other colts, three year olds, both of them, were with me last Fall. They have each been saddled several times and were ready to ride when I got the plague and had to send them home whilst I either passed on or recovered and could bring them back. Fortunately for me, they are back!

The filly, who I call Foxy, is quite a bit more skeptical than her brother. We spent far more time, working on hook up and getting her to even be willing to turn toward me when I changed direction in the round pen, rather than spinning her butt (middle hoof) and taking herself off, as she chose. Her attitude changed, from hanging her nose over the round pen, looking longingly into the distance, as she discovered that being with me is quiet and restful, taking off means moving your feet and working hard! She's got a lot of heart, and working hard didn't bother her all that much, which will be excellent for us, a bit further down the road. Once I got her coming to me, the rest was a piece of cake. If I had not solved that particular piece, it might still have gone well, I don't know, but resistance always shows up, and when it's later rather than sooner, it is NOT as good!

I did the same string over the back, around the legs, that I did with Mocha. I'd not take for granted just because she ended up saddling quietly last Fall, that we could merely pick up where we left off. Heck, I can't remember stuff I learned last Fall, pretty unfair of me to expect her to! With just a little preparation, she's wearing her saddle and it's again, uneventful and the dust has settled from our earlier go-round. I find a spot for her, and filly stands tied. (I am untalented at embedding images, they come in on top of the blog and I have to drag them down. It's too far for me to go, now, so you'll see the rest of them on the sidebar!)

HopScotch, the bay brother, is a born rockstar. He wants to get along, and with him, getting along is just taking a little time to let you know what you want. He joined up immediately, stayed soft and soft eyed through the entire process. Saddling him probably took less than 15 minutes, though you know, had he need more, I'd cheerfully have given him whatever time he required.

I played with the owner's three year old pony gelding,while everyone stood tied and thought about their day, or their hay, or whatever it is horse's dream of, while standing tied to a post. Probably being free and grazing on the nice grass springing up all around . . . anyhoo.

This is one of those cute, cute ponies, and he's a sweetie. Doesn't know a whole lot, which is fine, and that is what I am there for. Spent some time getting him to come forward off pressure, and back away from it. Trouble I see with most ponies, is people just expect them to get along with kids because everyone is small and why not? I really commend these folks for going to the extra mile for their pony and getting him the education that is going to set him to be a wonderful partner for a darling little girl. I am honored to be a part of that. My own Ringo . . . well, you guys have read about him, and some of our adventures together. I'd not be who and what I am today, without him, for better or worse! Ringo, after having to move his adorable little feet around, pretty willingly, really, also got to meet a power greater than himself, in the form of the tie post. There were a few temper tantrums, but he quickly learned that pulling on a rope halter is not nearly as comfortable as those wide nylon ones that give him plenty of base to work from. Tiny pyrotechnics turned into a pony standing, hip cocked, tail swishing gently, just like the big kids.

Great day at the barn, and if it doesn't rain me out, will be another one today. We'll work on all four quarters reaching equally, forwards and back. Getting that arc in the body with all things working as they are supposed to, leaves no room for brace. No brace, no buck. That's a good thing. And now, the sun is shining, the clouds have passed, hopefully in Plattsmouth as well as Omaha, and it's time to head for work!


Anonymous said...

Love your write-up and your approach - make sure the ask is clear and look for the try! I really think a lot of it is that simple, now if I can just avoid over-complicating!

Good Hands said...

Thanks you, Kate! I think you are right on target and that is my goal as well! I stopped by your blog, like yours too. Cooking and riding, great combination of interests! I'll be back!