dancing horses

dancing horses

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Playing and Learning

So in my last post I referenced that I've been continuing to work on Carmen's self-management system using the TRT method. The idea behind this is not to desensitize the horse to things but to show them they can be in control of themselves when startling things happen. Things are introduced in a controlled manner to help the horse figure it out.
see Carmen's excitement at being back in the ring? 

In the end it doesn't matter that Carmen is fine with flags. What matters is whether she's okay when things happen that I didn't prepare her for. Tristan advocates doing short lessons and leave it when the horse demonstrates that they understand what is being asked of them. It doesn't need to be perfect before you leave it. I have to say that this is indeed working for us. At least on the ground.

Even though I haven't been doing targeting lessons once the ring froze, I have been trying to incorporate the idea in things as they arise. For example, when I was using the shop vac and moving the hose it, naturally, spooked the horses. But when Carmen stopped to look at it I would stop moving to 'reward' the behaviour I want.

I've been really focussing on my own body language and level of tension so that I'm not inadvertently adding to it. When she gets super tight in her body I've been drawing her attention to it so that she can let go.

On Sunday I introduced Carmen to the 'clappers'. I honestly thought she would leap out of her skin when I used them. But instead she simply looked at me like 'really?'

On Monday I knew I wouldn't have time to ride but I would have time to do a short session. I brought up my 'box' of toys. I set up my phone on the fence- it's not in good focus but it shows how she is.

The first part is playing with the flag. She's not supper impressed with it flapping but she's not losing her mind. The idea is to reward the release of tension. which can take some very careful observation. sometimes it's just a 'letting go' of the posture. I need to make sure that I don't simply teach her the trick of 'I drop my head and the bad thing goes away'.  I want her to be interested, not shut down.

I got a kick out her at about 3:50 mark where she wanted to check out the toy box and see what was in there.

The second half is me setting up the plastic bag (which she has little issues with now) and ask her to work around it. This time I set it up closer to the 'spooky' side of the ring. I like how her posture is mostly relaxed with some brief moments of tension. When she wanted to check it out I let her. I have no idea if that is 'correct' or not but I want to encourage the curiosity in her since it's been a long time coming out.  If I'm in a show and she stops to check out a banner I will likely loose as many points as if she bolted but it would feel way better to me.

Our session really wasn't very long. Just enough to set up expectations and success and then stopping when it felt good. I was happy with us. Especially since we were up there at dusk which is not Carmen's favourite time to be in the ring.

So far I'm happy with how things are on the ground. I'm away right now but am looking forward to see how this translates to under saddle.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Celebrating 4 years

Four years ago today Carmen came home.

 2015 was the year of a fuck-ton of snow. It was awful. Carmen's expression as she came up the driveway and got acclimated says it all.
she looks like such a baby in this photo. She sure has changed

One of my favourites from that day

Fortunately, today the weather was much better. And on saturday my ring was finally free of snow and ice!

However, the temperatures were cold and it drizzled off and on all day. So I didn't do anything with her.

Today, though was beautiful: sunny, warm and dry (all of that is relative of course). Julia was planning to come out and ride too.

In the morning I brought Carmen up to do some ground work with her. I was curious as to what she remembered. Turned out it was all of it. We had a good session and then I put her back out.
this is interesting....

When Julia came I did a little more ground work. Chester was stalking mice in the field next to the ring and caused a little bit of a reaction (bolt and rear). But right after that she settled right in. After a bit more I walker her over to the mounting block and  hopped on.

We are out of shape and I wanted this to be a good experience so we did mostly walk and a little trot. All I wanted to do was practice the riding exercises from the TRT method and they really worked. The biggest one was to keep a loose rein. But Carmen was good and despite some looking and tension, nothing happened. We moseyed around and enjoyed each other.

I don't think we rode long and then I hopped off. It's a start. On Tuesday I am travelling for work, followed by a visit with my sister so she's getting 10 days off (although, I don't think she's been 'on' so it probably should be considered time off. More like, time off continuing). Other then being out of shape, having her have time to think about how everything was okay is not a bad thing.

It was a great way to celebrate our anniversary (OMG, you guys I rode my horse!).

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Would You Melt Already

Just checking in to say that nothing is happening.

dreaming of spring
 The snow is finally going but it's painfully slow.
Me and my shadow

We finally had some temps going in the right direction. Heavy rain friday night into saturday took away a lot of the snow. 

My ring remains too frozen to do anything with. 

from earlier this week

after a day of rain and then sunshine
Seriously, how is the heat of my gaze not actually melting it? 

Realistically, it should all be gone this week. 

But it's taking too long. 

The horses get excited when I come out to the field. I am their entertainment system.

Irish: I have the bowl, quick grab the shovel.
Carmen: wait, I have an itch....

In the meantime I make plans. I realized that I have signed us up for three clinics in May.


Carmen: 'umm, you did what?
I have been buying some things to work on our relaxation. 

pride flag and hand clapper

Fun fact: Amazon is now sending me targeted ads based on pride parades....

Now if the weather would just cooperate.

It really needs to be not so cold at night for the ground to truly thaw.

Or if I could just win the lottery and build an indoor.....

might help if I actually bought a ticket

Friday, March 8, 2019

Stress and Horse Training

The weather is slowly and painfully getting warmer. Winter does not wish to let go.

Which gives me time to peruse the 'net. Not always a good thing but I managed to stop myself from impulse on-line purchases. Well, at least if you don't count things like flags and clappers for desensitization. Which I don't.  Anyway.

I was intrigued by a post on Warwick Schiller's FB page where he was explaining what he means by 'making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard'. He was explaining that he wasn't meaning that we punish the horse for making the wrong choice but show them and set up the circumstances to choosing the 'right' thing is easier.

Of course this sparked a debate. A few were quite emphatic that the horse should never ever feel stressed or upset. And if he/she does then the trainer is doing wrong. I read along and after a while I got bored- everyone was just repeating themselves. But it did get me thinking.

Clearly, I am not a horse trainer, nor am I an expert. Lord knows that there are enough self-proclaimed experts out there.

clearly I am not a genius horse trainer

I am, though, a thinker. I am an expert in my field. I do understand about growth and progress. 

So when did we start to think that if we are perfect all the time that the horse will be too? Does this not take away the autonomy of the horse? Making them a mere extension of ourselves and not a being with thoughts, feelings and desires?

And why do we think horses should never ever feel stressed? Is it because we want a full and deep relationship and believe that any disagreement means we have failed?

sometimes we keep it together 
If I wanted to achieve a stress-free life for Carmen I can retire because she has that now. Her life of eating and napping in the sun is probably all that she strives for. 

Carmen living her best life
(although more food and grooming is always welcome)
I've been doing a lot of thinking of how to tackle my goal this year of helping Carmen understand how to respond to pressure in a relaxed way and not a get me the hell out of here way. Doing this requires me to add some stress to her and then helping her find the right answer. 

Does this make me cruel? 

I don't think so. 

Science tells us that all stress is not bad. Stress is simply something that tells us we need to do something. Getting married is stressful but not bad (right L?).  Being chased by a bear is both stressful and bad. And in between there's a whole bunch of gradations:

When we train horses we put on stress. We take that away when they respond the way we want. Ideally anyway. Sometimes we can remove the stressor when we get the wrong answer too. But that's a different post. 

The goal, for me, is not to prevent stress from happening but to keep it at a manageable level so learning can occur. I cannot imagine a universe where training is always sunshine and rainbows. At least not for the average ammie like I am. 

My goal is also to let Carmen learn how to make good choices. Which means that sometimes she's going to make a decision that is not the one I want. I don't think that means I have failed. At least, not specifically. Sometimes a wrong answer is given because we don't know the right answer. Sometimes it's only a little wrong but on the right track (and it's only wrong to me, not to Carmen. She thinks it's the right answer). 

Honestly, if I gave up every time I got the 'wrong' answer I would have two pasture puffs and never step into a saddle again. 

I do love sitting in a saddle

Hopefully I'll be back in the saddle soon and I won't have so much time to think.  Or not as much anyway. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

Mischief Managed

Saturday night we got about 30 cms of snow. It was a lot but it was light and fluffy and easy to deal with. While I would prefer that the snow to be done, I had to admit that it was pretty.

I do love my woods

Guinness loves his ball, although a few times
it was lost in the snow. 
Sunday was a lovely sunny day and I was able to get some snowshoeing in. 

Today though was a whole different story. It was predicted that there would be snow followed by freezing rain and then rain. Which is a worry given the flood last week. The morning was snowy but I let the horses out to enjoy the outside while they could and took Guinness for a walk. 

hard to tell but it's snowing here. I still love my farmhouse
no matter what weather I have to endure. 
Around about 11:00 I realized that the horses were hiding in the stall so I went out to shut the doors and lock them in. Irish decided to prance around and generally act like a fool. 

Irish: Nooooo, don't take away my freedom. 

Carmen was conflicted. 

Carmen:  I don't want to be separated from Irish but I really don't want to be out in this. 

After Irish was done voicing his feelings I got a lead line over his neck and brought him inside. 

The sleet/rain started around noon. I went out to clear out my drainage paths. The snow was heavy and the freezing rain was face peeling.  But I was fortunate and the rain stayed off the coast and was not as heavy as predicted. 

Late in the afternoon I brought out the horses to groom them and clean up the stalls. Carmen watched me do Irish and I could see that she really wanted her turn. They are starting to shed and she finds that she feels itchy. 

When I went to get her I fumbled with the halter while she tried to help by shoving her head in it. When I first brought Carmen home she wasn't so sure about being groomed. Now she loves it. She will show me her itchy spots and when I say 'do you want me to do it' she will stop and wait for me to get it. 
Flexible Carmen showing me her itchy spot

Now normally I just ground tie Carmen and she never moves. These days though I am finding her curious. My work with getting her to 'face her fears' has made her want to inspect every single thing that is new. When I brought her out she inspected the little shelf I have to see if there were any treats. There weren't. But there was a blue plastic square (it belongs on the bottom of a water bucket - it keeps the cord inside. It had fallen off and I threw it there to deal with later). She sniffed it a bit and then settled in. 

Carmen: I am ready. You may begin. 

After I finished grooming her she gave a shake like she had finished rolling. That feels better. I left her there and went to clean out her stall. She stood there looking around but not moving.  I went to walk by her with a half bag of shavings and she turned to follow me. 
Carmen: Oooh let me see it. 
Me: ummm. okay. See it's shavings. 
She grabbed it with her teeth. 
Me: NO! Don't spill it. 
Carmen: I need cookies. 
Carmen: Snow days are boring. 

She sniffed the shelf again and suddenly she grabbed the blue square. My jaw dropped. 
Me: wait, what are you doing? PUT THAT DOWN. 
Carmen mouthed it a bit and the spat it out as I walked toward her. 
Carmen: it tastes stupid. I am hungry. 
To be safe I put the square in the tack room. 
Carmen: Yay, the feed vault. Now we're talking! 
Me: Just hang on. I'm working on your dinner.

ooh. I like dinner. 
I have to confess that I am enjoying this curious, mischievous Carmen. It's such a nice change but tense, worried Carmen.

I'm wondering what this will mean for our under saddle work once things thaw.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Right Tools for the Job

As expected, the outside stall doors were frozen in ice Tuesday morning. We were able to get Carmen's free. (and by 'we', I mean Ed).

This allowed us to lead Irish outside through Carmen's stall. Which was fine. When I brought Irish in she would follow and then get super excited when I took him into his stall. She would run back out again, just in case he was going out.

 For a couple days it was bitterly cold and very windy. We were able to chip the ice away from Irish's door when the temperatures became more reasonable. Unfortunately, the bottom of his door had a thick coating of ice which prevented it from sliding along the floor guide.

We tried chipping it but couldn't get it off. I poured salt all along the bottom and that helped but not enough.  I sprayed a mixture of alcohol and water on it which also helped a bit.

Yesterday I tried using a hair dryer. It worked a bit but it took forever to get even a little melt.

sitting on a horse blanket over ice holding a hairdryer.
My life is so very glamourous. 
The issue was the angle, and being able to get a direct line to the ice. I think overnight the ice would build back up (like a stalactite). I persisted though, periodically taking the shop vac and sucking up the water.

The horses were suspicious. I did notice though that Carmen was much more intrigued and relaxed by the whole thing.

the noise of a shop vac is not keeping our
heroine  from her meal. 

After a bit I gave up and turned to the next fun job: chipping the ice out of my drainage ditches. I also spent some time doing a good clean in the barn. It was nice and warm (relatively) and it motivated me to do some spring cleaning (not in the house though. That would be silly).

The hairdryer was only marginally helpful. I found myself wishing I had a heat gun. I then realized that I didn't have to wish, I could just go and buy the tool that I need. I stopped at the hardware store on my way to get feed.

nothing like a new power tool

Does anyone else feel that sometimes they are their own worst enemy? It's not like getting this is rocket science. Or even expensive. 

It still took about 45 minutes but it worked a treat. 

I felt a ridiculous sense of accomplishment. 
I finished cleaning stuff up and then opened the door for Irish and Carmen. They were hesitant. Maybe worried that the shop vac was still there? 

honestly, it's like they think it's a trap! 
I have everything working. Just in time because more weather is rolling in. We are under a snowfall warning for Saturday night and another storm on Monday. I am more worried about Monday because it's supposed to be a rain/snow mix. 

Spring is coming though.