Sunday, April 22, 2012

So much to tell but so little time. I've been working with Danny's "uncle," Riley for the past few weeks attempting to get him into a halter again. When we first brought Riley home to Tennessee three years ago, I took both Django and him to my friend's barn. She's been my riding instructor for many years and she has a large covered arena to ride in. I thought, having the horses there would give me the opportunity to ride them every day with someone nearby who could help if I got into trouble and that I could get to know them and they me. It didn't work out that way. I hurt my hand badly when Django bolted during his first hoof trimming. I have no idea what spooked him but he tossed our farrier, Dale, at least eight to ten feet away and he dragged me down the hill while I held on with futility to the rope. When I finally gave up and let go, I jumped up and ran up the hill to check on Dale. When I asked if he was okay, he looked at me a bit shocked and asked if I was okay...I didn't realize that my hands were bleeding profusely. So, I put on a pair of gloves...that I should have been wearing all along...and I soldiered up while Dale trimmed the other horses. I didn't realize that I was already getting the beginnings of a bad staph infection.

A few days later, we took the "boys" to Brandy's place and that was the last I saw of them for two weeks as I got sicker and sicker with each day until I finally ended up in the emergency room with my arm discolored and swollen twice its usual size. When we did go to pick the boys up, Brandy met me as I was getting out of the truck and apologized for what had happened to Riley's face. She had a young apprentice working for her who evidently loved riding my horse. He however didn't appreciate all of the hours under saddle that she was putting in on him and he became progressively difficult to catch and halter. Her answer to his reluctance was to put a halter on him and leave it on when she turned him out to pasture. When I found my poor guy, the halter was half off and so was his left ear! He was timid and spooky and he wouldn't even look me in the eye. His face was covered in horrible, deep sores that took over a month to heal. They did eventually heal but the emotional scars and fear did not.

Three years later and I still have a very difficult time catching and haltering Riley. I admit that I haven't worked with him as much as I should have. I blame the celiacs disease that had me sick for most of last year before it was finally diagnosed at the very end of the year. I didn't work with or ride any of them last year. Still, he seems to have gotten worse not better. Now that I'm feeling better and the weather is beautiful, I decided that it was time to cure this problem. I started out being more aggressive than I should have been and I ended up just chasing him around for several hours. That did not work.

A friend suggested that I wrap the halter around his food bowl. I did that and it helped but we didn't seem any closer to actually getting the halter on him.

So, another epiphany moment....I finally realized that a prey animal, like a horse, does not need to be chased. Instead, to assert my authority over him and become the head of the herd, I need to push him. I think part of the poor guy's problem and the reason his fear has escalated is because he's recently been usurped as leader of the herd by the return of alpha mare, Mouse. I hated to be one more female pushing him around but it was necessary. I got him in the round pen and I gently pushed him into a free lunge with my lunge whip and voice. He kept trying to stop on his own and I'd push him on. After working like that for a while, I asked him for a whoa and he stood still for me. In fact he stood while I rubbed the whip over him and then the halter. He stood while I walked over and got his feed bowl that I'd filled with feed and then covered with the halter so he'd have to put his nose through the halter to eat. I held the bowl while he ate and I pulled the halter up across his nose. He didn't even flinch.

I still haven't put the halter on. I want him to be completely comfortable with it before I do but I have been working with him in the round pen every day and he is so much more compliant about every thing. I've also learned that I can't let him walk away from me. I always have to be the one to walk away.

I spoke with my friend Huston last week right after a session with Riley and he told me that I had to work on horse time. If you go into the pen to work with a horse and you think you've only got ten minutes, it will take you five hours to accomplish anything. But, if you go in thinking that you have all of the time in the world (because, as Huston told me, the horse does,) it will take you ten minutes to reach your goal.

Now, the funnies on Danny this week....for one thing, he likes to be the one getting all of the attention. He can't bear it when Riley is the one in the round pen working with me and not him. As I lunge Riley, Danny often runs along with him on the outside of the pen. When Dan and Django saw me feeding Riley an extra treat after our session on Friday, they both protested vocally but Danny actually tried to climb into the round pen!! The little stinker put one foot on the trailer bumper and the other several rungs up on the round pen fence! Lucky for him and us, he realized that he wasn't going to be able to do this even though he'd seen me do it several times. He's also hiding the feed bowls again. Someone needs to tell him that Easter has come and gone and we are no longer hiding "eggs." The next BIG CELEBRATION will be his birthday with is in just nine short days. Yippee! TWO YEARS OLD!

Speaking of age, my old girl, Brandy, can be both clever and funny. Last week when I first started to establish the routine that I hoped would allow me to finally and easily halter Riley by getting them all into the round pen to eat and then taking them out one by one, I decided that I'd try to spend a little time with each one before removing their halters. So, I led each of them over to the tying post and had them stand there while I groomed them. The only one who objected to this was Danny because we still haven't done the tying lesson that I hope will give him patience. But, unlike Dan, both Mouse and Django love the attention. Mouse was the first one to get the beauty treatment. Brandy was already out because part of the reason for putting the others up is to allow her to get her large portion of food that will hopefully keep weight on her aging frame. I'm standing there grooming Mouse and Brandy walks up right behind her. Now, this was an odd thing for Brandy to do because she knows that any where to the rear of Mouse is not the safest place to be. Still, she kept gently nudging Mouse with her nose and every time I'd shoo her away, she'd come right back. I finished with Mouse and I walked her a few steps away from the post before releasing her. When I turned around, I found Brandy had taken Mouse's place and was standing squarely in front of the post just as if she was tied to it. The girl was ready for her salon session.:)

As for Ms Mouse, another second go at motherhood has made her somewhat more serene. Of course, she still lets all of the other horses know she's boss but with Danny, it is another story. I'd so hoped that uniting them again would result in her teaching Dan a few manners but she is so gentle with her corrections that I'm certain they have no effect on Danny. Even though he's lost the family jewels, the boy still thinks he's the prince of the kingdom. A few days ago, I was watching them and Danny crowded up against Mouse's rear end. This is something that he tends to do with all of the horses and us. He just hasn't learned about personal space and boundaries yet but with Mouse, as I said above, this is a dangerous position to be in.......or so I always thought. When Danny got too close for Mouse's comfort, she didn't kick but rather stretched one of her rear legs out and pushed him gently away. A mother's love evidently is the strongest thing in the world.

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