dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, July 23, 2012

so who's in charge here anyway?

I've been away for the past few days with Irish. Tonight rather than ride I decided to work with Steele on leading manners. Now he's been doing really well with this. I took him up to the ring and Irish decided that his wee world was ending and he had to call and call. This, understandably, got him a bit tense. But he needs to work and listen despite a silly orange horse telling him to come back. As always, I wore gloves and carried a dressage whip. the purpose of the whip is to tap him gently behind if he pulls back or doesn't move ahead when I do. I walk and say 'walk on'. He doesn't move with me- tap-tap-tap until he walks forward. I rarely have to use it.

The task was pretty simple- walk, whoa, stay out of my personal space. It started pretty well. He was responding. Whenever he became distracted I asked him to do something so that his attention was on me. The trouble started when we walked by the 'in gate' and I was between him and the exit. He started to crowd me. I told him to go over and he had wee tantrum and pushed harder into me. I moved him over more strongly. At which point he reared up and got front leg over the lead line. So picture this- I am in the arena (which is not fenced at this point) holding a 800 pound tantrumming baby with a rope between his front legs. I knew that I may have to let go but I didn't want to go there first because he would run back to the barn and my problem would be bigger. I don't choose to battle with horses but when I'm in that situation I know it's important to win. So I hung on the rope - moving with him to give enough slack so he wouldn't feel trapped but not so much that he could build up a head of steam. After 20 feet he stopped. I walked softly up to him- rescued him and then we went back to work (yes, my heart was pounding a bit but working with preschoolers teaches you to hide your feelings). I realized that I had ignored the subtle messages of him encroaching in my space which is why it escalated. So we spent the next 20 minutes walking back and forth by the ingate. As soon as he moved into me I made him move away- keeping his hind legs moving so he couldn't rear up. I could see him thinking on this and in the end he was walking softly beside me- being respectful. I then walked him out. Stopped and walked him back in. I could see him processing this but he decided to behave. A few times in and out and we headed back to the barn. On the way back we stopped a few times as well.

I then put him in the cross ties and gave him a good groom. which for him is the ultimate reward. Another issue that's been growing is that he doesn't want his face touched so I've been working on desensitizing him to this. This went well and I was praising him when he nipped me! Now horses bite for all sorts of reasons- fear/defense, frustration, dominance, pain, play. I believe that this was either play or dominance. But the reality is that it doesn't matter. Biting is a non-negotiable. I prefer the method in which you react immediately and quite strongly to let the horse know that he's made a big mistake. So immediately I got after him backing him out of my space quite strongly and speaking firmly. Then I stopped and acted normally. That's the hard part. It's so easy to take it personally - the 'my horse hates me' mentality. The truth is if he nips I don't care if he hates me. When my children were young I was okay when they 'hated' me for being 'mean'. So I went back to doing what I was doing. When he nipped at me again I repeated my actions. And then returned to normal. After that he was a model citizen. I even placed my arm near his mouth and he just ignored it. good boy.

Honestly, I'm not sure what I was thinking getting a baby but since I made the commitment I will keep at it.

just in case you think I was being mean :)

When I went in tonight to give him his night hay he nickered so I guess he doesn't hate me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In which Steele has a bath

Today was stinking hot- in the 30's. Add in the humidity and it really was too hot to do anything strenuous.

I am sure that my American friends are laughing hysterically at the sweltering Canadian.. but I digress.

I am taking Irish away for the upcoming weekend. A few dressage lovers are getting together for a fun time with the horses. Of course I can't take him dirty so he needs a bath. And since he's getting a bath, I decided that it was time for Steele and I to pass that hurdle. I am not sure if he's ever had a bath but I have been getting him used to the hose.

When I came in the house to change for this endeavour I went to say hi to my husband. He said that he was bored.
 Not to let the grass grow under my feet, I said in my most sprightly voice "Do you want to help me bathe the horses?"
And because he's so innocent he said 'sure'.

I got the hose and suds ready and Ed put the halter on Steele and brought him outside. Steele is funny with the hose: some dancing around and then stock still. It's like he's saying: 'oh-oh-oh, stop it, it tickles' and then 'ahh but it feels nice there'. However, every time  it's a bit better and he's getting the picture that I want him to stand still.
Then it was time for the suds. He quite liked that part- except for the tail washing- he wasn't too keen on that. In no time he was washed and rinsed and enjoying the breeze.

Irish of course was easy. He's had so many baths that he knows the drill. He even enjoys them.

And of course you need to see the shiny, squeaky clean horses. The Border Collie is a bonus.

Doesn't Irish look good?

Before I enticed them out to the field for the Photo Shoot they seemed  a bit cautious:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

It's a wonder that any work gets done

I have been told that Andalusians are very people oriented but I didn't appreciate how much until Steele came home. It's been interesting. When he first came he was curious but a bit reserved. I got the sense of 'and who are you?' Now he's definitely bonded to me and my husband Ed. With me he's quite well behaved. With Ed he's fairly well behaved. To use an analogy, Ed is the substitute teacher.

I am currently on vacation. I love being home. In the mornings I've been coming out to feed and then going back into the house for coffee. I then ride Irish before the heat sets in. After I turn them out and then clean the stalls. Today as I was cleaning Steele came down for a visit. Keep in mind he's leaving the green pasture to hang with me in the dirt paddock and stall. The visit went like this:
Steele: "Hey watcha doing?"
Me "cleaning"
"let me sniff. Oh that's mine but who's is this?" snuffle snuffle
"Hey, can I dump this out to check it over?"
"alright alright. You know you really should lighten up a bit."
He then came between me and the manure bucket and just happened to put the itchy part of his head in close proximity. He even closed his eyes in anticipation. What else could I do? I scratched.
'ahhh that feels so good."

I then moved over to the large water trough.
Steele, sniffs and curls his lip "oh that's stale"
I dump it out. He backs up, ears pricked.
I grab the hose and the scrub brush and scrub it out.
"whatcha doing now? can I try? oh that end is prickly. why don't you use it to scratch my neck? Ah much better'
I finish scrubbing the trough and turn on the hose. He stares, mesmerized at the water as it flows out. Every now and then he puts his nose in the stream and then snorts. Normally I leave the hose to fill up while I get other things done. However, as I contemplated this a number of images ran through my head.

The primary one was of Steele picking up the hose and chasing me with it. "Remember yesterday when you hosed me with this? Well how do you like it? Huh?"

So I stayed by the trough. And because my hands were free I scratched him some more with the brush.

I am doomed.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Trailer Loading

Yesterday, Steele and I worked on Trailer Loading. Obviously he's already had some work done to get here.
This is him on the trailer (either first or second time). The woman I bought him from introduced him to it:
 and what I like to call 'The Hand Off"
As you can see it's a lovely slant load trailer where the horse walks in one side and out the other.

I have a European trailer that is a bumper pull:
I love it. I can walk Irish up to it, throw the rope over his neck and say 'walk on' and he does. When it's time to get off, I lower the butt bar, tug on his tail and tell him to back off and he does. It's awesome. And necessary because I trailer by myself.  It's also very satisfying when we're leaving a show to be asked for help and say 'no, thank you', walk him up and watch him get on with no fuss. While other horses are giving their owners a hard time :)

Steele: "hey, I thought this blog was about me, why are you going on about Irish?!"

I may be wandering off topic a bit. Sorry. Back to Steele. 

My plan is for Steele to do the same. But Rome was not built in a day. And I own a trailer so I can take my time and get him used to it. There really is no excuse to not tackle this. A couple weeks or so ago I started but then found a wasp nest in the trailer so that ended that lesson.

Here's how I got rid of the wasp nest with no stings----
Steele *ahem*

oops sorry about that. Where was I? Oh yes, loading. If you are going to ask a horse to defy all instinct and go into a small cave you better have a plan and you better be calm about the whole thing.

Last night I lowered the back and we spent about 20 minutes practicing walking up the ramp and then backing off. Each time he came farther in. I am using clicker training to work on this. He loves it and it really does simplify the issues. By the end he was walking on and backing off with absolutely no concern. It was easy. I gave him all the time he needed to sniff and walk around. I also asked him to stop before he thought he wanted to. I find that when horses are uncertain and you choose the moment of stopping rather then letting them do it, they are much more likely to move towards the object and things go much quicker. I think next time I will involve my husband to help close him in and get him used to that. Once he's calm about the whole thing I will work on the self loading.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In which it is proven that I am an idiot while Steele is not

I came home from work today and decided to do a bit of work with Steele before supper. I decided that a trek down to get the mail would be the perfect ticket. So off we headed and he was lovely. I could hear Irish calling but ignored it because he needs to deal with Steele leaving the same way Steele needs to deal with Irish leaving. When I was 3/4 down the long driveway I heard galloping behind us and my heart dropped. We turned to see Irish gleefully galloping down towards us. So here I am with a youngster on a lead, 2 dogs and full grown horse running around the lawn. The only thing to do was to head back and let Irish follow. I figured he would come back into the barn. In the meantime I was trying to figure out what kind of mess I would find in the stable- I figured he busted his door.

I kept my body language very low key and spoke soothingly. I have to say that I was beyond impressed with him. Irish came trotting by us and Steele went to trot with him. All I said was 'whoa' and shook the lead line a bit and he came right back to me. All the way up the driveway. Once Irish blew past and away and Steele became a little upset about it but again, he came right back to me. So we walked all the way up the driveway.  I did not want to or give the impression that there was any reason to panic. And he didn't. I was beyond impressed. It's not every full grown horse, let alone a youngster that could deal with this situation with the calmness that he displayed. And the trust to stay with me and listen to me rather then join his buddy in mayhem.

When I got back to the barn I saw that the issue was me: I had left Steele's outside door and stall door open so Irish simply came through his stall. Talk about feeling like an idiot.

Thank heavens I have this sensible Spanish horse. One of us needs a brain. ;)

Monday, July 9, 2012


Obedience is probably the most important lesson a horse needs to learn. The tricky bit is to teach it in a way that doesn't destroy spirit or trust. In a young horse it's also important to figure out the balance between pushing them past their comfort zone without going into the danger zone. I define the danger zone as the point at which a horse is too freaked out to learn anything of value. It's easy to stay within the comfort zone without even realizing it. Making the assumption because there haven't been any problems everything is fine. I've been trying to find that balance with Steele. Not to mention continuing to work with Irish, work full time, maintain a relationship with my husband, continue with photography and have actual friends that I spend time with.

One of the Steele's non-comfort zone is going away from his barn and paddock (and Irish). We've been going farther and farther away and he's been doing real well. Tonight I took him out and partway down my trail. It goes by the manure pile and there's lots of 'stuff' to look at. He was really good about it. A bit forward and I had to correct him a few times. One of the 'issues' he wants to raise with his union rep is the idea that he can be led along over grass and not graze. It really seems to be a bit much from his perspective. However, I've been firm without being mean about it. Tonight though we started getting swarmed with deer flies. Which really pushed Steele into being dangerous because they were driving him absolutely bonkers. It would be easy to say 'well, he's just a baby and the flies are nasty" and then just put him away. However, he needs to learn to behave even in these circumstances. At 800 pounds his behavior bordered on putting me in danger. When he's full grown it WILL be dangerous. And the reality is that he needs to listen to me even when bugs are bad.  So I brought him up to the small paddock- this brought him back into where he feels safe but I kept up with the lesson leading and being respectful. In a few minutes he was being his normal polite self. I did a bit more and then we went into the barn for his favourite thing- being groomed. Seriously, I've never seen a horse who enjoys being groomed more.

Next week I am on vacation so I can really do more work with him. :)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Fly

I am posting this story at the request of a friend on Facebook:
I had just finished riding Irish and had him cooling in the cross ties. All of a sudden Acero comes flying into his stall, dancing around, shaking his head, banging against the stall door. 
Me: "Steele what are you doing?"
Acero: 'owowowowow. getitOFF!'

Me (in a stern voice): 'Steele stop it!'
Acero goes flying out of his stall and into Irish's. Further dancing ensues. 
Me: "Irish do you know what's going on?"
Irish: "sigh"
Acero: "OW!!!GETITOFF!!!!!"
I suddenly spy the horse fly on his wither.
Acero: 'thankyou! You are AWESOME, The best really.'
me to Irish "Does this happen often"
Irish "you have no idea!" I am sure that he rolled his eyes too!
Acero: "is it supper time yet? I think it's supper time. I'm hungry. I'm sure it's supper time. Can we eat now? how about now? Now?'
Me: 'yes, now.'

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Adventure Begins

It's hard to know where to start this story. As with most life stories it has roots and tendrils into various parts of mine and other peoples lives. I think though I will choose to start this when my husband and I moved into our renovated farmhouse in the country. I built a barn and brought home my TB/QH cross Irish Gold. Part of  the dream of having my horse at home involved a second horse. I had my heart set on purchasing a young horse. There were lots of reasons but when you scrape them all away it had to do with a dream of raising my own. I had previous experience in purchasing a 2 year old and a 3 year old but never a baby. I made a list of what I wanted. Okay, truth be told I made multiple lists. The first one was a list of favourite breeds. I had decided I wanted a warmblood.  I spent a long time looking and it seemed that there was always something not quite right. So I made changes to my list and finally arrived at my final list:

  1. gelding (I already had a gelding and it seemed easier to have two)
  2. between 15'3 and 16'2 in height. I didn't need a giant of a horse. 
  3. temperament was key- I wanted a sensible and brave horse. One who can be taken into new situations without freaking out
My other list was what I wanted to do with this horse:
  1. ride dressage
  2. hack out - this was a must. I love to ride in the woods and trails
  3. show, but this is a small piece. I show to have fun and see how I'm doing
  4. go to clinics and other events. 
I was starting to get frustrated in my search when a friend contacted me. She breeds Andalusian horses and they had a young colt for sale. She thought I should come and look. I decided to go but really wasn't thinking I wanted a Baroque style of horse. And I definitely didn't want a grey. The idea of grooming a grey horse with a long mane filled me with horror. But I went. And I fell in love. He was perfect. His temperament seemed to suit me down to the ground. I liked his movement. My friend let me ride her Andalusian mare. I was impressed. Not only was she comfortable but she was so tuned in- really trying to figure out what I wanted. I went home and reflected and asked to come for a second look. This time I dragged my husband along. Actually he came willingly. I liked him even more the second time. And then the deal was made and my fate was sealed. His name is DC Acero. 'Acero' is Spanish for 'Steele'. 
Irish and Acero meeting
This blog will be a place to chronicle my journey with this horse. Based on early signs it will be quite the adventure. But we'll save that for another blog entry. :)