Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Working with Riley
Major breakthrough with my horse Riley on Tuesday. Riley, Sensational n' Honey(Danny's half brother and uncle....same sire, Traveler's Sensation, and Riley's mother is also Mouse's mother), was hurt (nearly tore off one ear and had awful sores on his face) when an apprentice, at the barn where I was keeping him, left a halter on him and then turned him out. That was in April of 2009; since then, he's been very head shy and almost impossible to catch and halter. I haven't ridden him in over two years despite the fact that he is the gentlest, sweetest and most level headed horse you've ever seen. Farrier and vet visits are always a trial and I have to start several hours before in order to get him haltered and ready. I'd just accepted that he was always going to be this way and I had to work around it. That was until the last farrier visit when Riley missed a much needed trim because I couldn't catch him at all. Part of that was because of Danny and the fact that I have to keep the young stud separated from the two mares. In the past, I'd used the round pen as a way to corral Riley and eventually wear him down and catch him but after moving the geldings and Danny to another pasture, I no longer had that option. So, this past weekend, we moved the round pen from the lower pasture to the upper one where the boys are. I am enjoying that round pen so much. I can work with Danny there without having the others...mainly the very jealous Django...bother us. It's large enough to ride in so that I can ride alone now and don't have to wait for the rare occasions when Steve is actually home to ride with me. The biggest joy from the newly re-acquired work and play area came yesterday though. I've been feeding the boys in the pen just to get them use to coming into it every day and not thinking it is something to be dreaded or feared....where I might actually put them to work,lol. I wanted to try my rope training halter on Danny to see how it fit so I took it with me yesterday morning and tried it first on Danny and then Django insisted that he try it on also....yes, Django loves being worked with so much that he actually sticks his head into any available halter whether you want him to or not ;-). Then I thought, "Let's see what Riley thinks of this lighter halter." Great idea but it took some doin'! For over an hour and a half I patiently worked with Riley. At first, I couldn't even get close to him but I refused to chase him because I know it does no good since I will wear out before he does. So, I gently talked to him and kept edging slowly closer until he finally let me touch him without moving away. I'd pet him for a while and then move nearer to his head. Time after time, he would eventually move away but each time, I kept getting closer until he finally would smell the halter and let me touch it to his face. During most of this time, the other two boys were still in the pen and still getting in the way and Django was still saying, "Let me put the halter on. I'll put it on. I just want to please you. Come on, let me play!" No, I'm not hearing voices again but even though it might be personification intensified, I do think that's how Django thinks. I know that he can't bear for me to give any of the other horses my attention but him. So, I finally decided to put him and Danny out so that I could work with Riley without interruption or intrusion. When I returned to the round pen, I was able to walk right up to Riley and he didn't pull away but rather dropped his head into the halter!! The poor guy was so scared that he was trembling as I pulled the halter around his head but I just stroked his face and quietly reassured him. And then, as soon as he relaxed, I removed the halter. That might sound like a lot of work for that little triumph but trust me, this was a major breakthrough and worth the time and effort involved.
I plan to repeat the exercise every day and I hope we can accomplish our task much faster each time. In fact, yesterday, it only took 15 minutes before he stood still and let me slip the halter over his head. After he was haltered, I worked with him for at least fifteen minutes more, having him back and turn and walk with me. I always try to end any session with my horses, whether we're doing ground work or in the saddle, on a positive note. So, I'm not going to rush Riley but rather remove the halter each day as soon as he relaxes. When he is completely comfortable being haltered again, I'll begin to groom him on lead while tied and then we'll do a bit of ground work before we move on to riding. Riley learned to trust me a bit more this week but he isn't the only one who had a lesson. For me to be that patient, taking my time and learning to be still and quiet is just as tremendous a stride and I'm hoping we both continue to learn and grow together over the next few weeks. I'm sure that with the confidence and trust we both gain over time , we'll be back on the trails before you know it!