Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Horsin Around, Part II

We had originally planned a trail ride on Sunday. Since my sister's mare Fritzy was tender on her hoof, we decided to give her a few days off and just work My Boy and Brandy again. Also, in preparation for the play day activities we have planned on our family guest ranch trip this summer, we wanted to work with the horses around some obstacles and play some desensitization games. Therefore, it was the perfect day to work get a work party going in the arena.

After some recent spring rains, new rocks had bred. Many of them were just poking the surface but were large and buried deep, and had to be dug out with a shovel. Others we just have to pick up and toss out.

Here my sister is picking rocks with her faithful Aussie assistant, Sadie.

Sis, are you feeding the rocks to your dog? Not that you'd have to do that. I've seen that silly girl eat more grass than my horse and more horse poo than, well, I don't know anyone else that even eats horse poo!The work crew continues their prying and digging and leveraging. Thump. Whomp. Clomp. Sounds of rocks hitting the ground, the rock pile, and the trees. Oops. Unless it's a drag and rake, we typically just toss them out into the woods. I hope they don't sneak back in at night?

Notice how Princess Sadie has moved to a more supervisory role? And how convenient it is that Pony Girl is spending all of this time documenting all of their hard work? I mean- our hard work!? I know it looks like I was just taking pictures. But I really did work.

I even had the stickiest job of them all, let me tell you. These mutants multiply like bunnies on a spring day. Like bling cowgirl boots on my sister's feet. Even strong garden gloves barely protected me from these spiky thistles. As I pulled each one up, I noticed their unique, almost carrot-like root system. Well, lacking the obvious orange color, of course. Interesting historical Pony Girl tidbit: The neighbor's farm my sister and I first took horseback riding lessons at was named "Thistledew Farm." Get it? "This'll do?" I always thought that was so clever.

After we got the arena in shape, we began hauling in some props. First came the little log, which we will practice walking and sidepassing over. Our horses walk over large downfall on the trails all the time, so this won't be a problem. Sidepassing over, from their backs and with them from the ground, might pose a new challenge.
We also put out cavaletti poles to practice trotting over. We can also arrange these into various shapes such as L's and squares, and practice backing in and out of them or 360-degree turns inside of them. I also brought out two plastic garbage bags. One was filled with crushed cans, and I tied it to a rope and hung it from the fence. I shook it every time I walked My Boy by it. Eventually I will stop him, pick it up, and shake it from his back.

I left the other plastic bag empty and tied it to the end of a stick. The first few times I just let My Boy sniff it. I tried not to laugh when his own breath hit the bag and caused it to move in and out, startling him a little.

When we approached this obstacle again later, I carried it and flopped it up, down, and from side to side of me as I walked, while I led My Boy behind me. He walked tentatively with his eyes on that scary white bag. But he kept following it, gaining confidence that it wasn't going to turn around and attack him. I think having your horse follow you with a scary object helps eliminate some of that prey animal fear. If the item is moving away from them, instead of towards them, they can become accustomed to it's look and sound without it being so threatening.

After I sensed that he was more comfortable, I approached My Boy with the stick and the bag and rubbed it on his neck and shoulder. He kept a cautious eye and ear on it, but tolerated it.

Our next challenge was the tarp. My sister's mare Brandy, who we call the spooky one (a daisy waving in the wind has been known to set her off) walked right on top of and over it with hardly a hesitation. The next challenge was to put the tarp on top of her. First, my sister dragged the tarp around the arena as she led her mare. Brandy didn't bat an eye. In fact, she almost looked like she was napping. It was time to try putting the tarp up on top of her. She wore it like a cooler and was unfazed.

In fact, as my sister walked her around, the tarp began to slip to the side a little with each step. I told my sister to keep going and just let the tarp slip off of her to the ground. And do you know what? Not a flinch out of her. What a good little mare Brandy was!

Now it was My Boy's turn. I loved how My Boy walked to the edge of the tarp and stopped. He then looked at me, as if to ask me what I wanted him to do next. Well, fold it up, of course!

Just kidding, silly boy. Really, just walk over it already!

My Boy got to wear a tarp cooler too! I'm not sure blue is your color, boy.
Goodness. He doesn't look too thrilled with it, either.

We were very proud of how our horses handled these props and obstacles. I did not ride My Boy, I approached and worked through everything with him on the ground. I think the most important thing for me was to not force my horse to face something new and scary and keep pushing it at him until he "got over it." I think this only reinforces to the horse that the object is indeed scary! Rather, I applied the prop (pressure) and as soon as My Boy sniffed it and relaxed a little, I removed the prop (release.) I felt this really showed my horse that these things looked and sounded scary, but were not going to jump up and get him. Then, I would move him on to a new obstacle, and revisit the previous one later. After a while, it was like, oh that crunchy bag of cans again. No biggie. Bring it on! I am no horse trainer by any stretch of the imagination. I just try to do what makes sense to me, from a logical, common sense perspective, as well as a horse behavior perspective. I found that with everything I showed my horse, even when he looked at it big-eyed, a little snorty, or with ears forward, he was still very curious and wanted to put his nose to it. That showed me that his motive was to learn more about it, and not just use his instinct to turn and flee in fear.

We were done horsin' around for the weekend. My Boy deserved a graze from this little patch of heaven for being such a good boy! Just watch out for those thistles, My Boy!


  1. Your Boy, er ah, My Boy is beautiful. You really work well with your horse.

  2. Wow, you guys have really been busy and seem to have gotten quite a lot accomplished with your horses.

  3. Wow! This is really great! You are giving me the motivation to expose my Baby Doll to more 'scary' things and to work with her more.
    She's a bit like Brandy, but is also curious, so I hope she will do as well.

    By the way, did My Boy get more handsome?

  4. Sounds like a great time! Durn them thistles!! LOL!
    You need to drag the big log from your horse!!! oh and I lope with the tarp flapping in the wind! I have built a curtain at the entry of our lot here at the house! I leave it hanging all the time. I also carry barrels from the horses. I try to think of various forms of tortures (Oops I mean training for my horses!) Great pics!

  5. My Boy is too cute! You and your sister should try competing in an Extreme Cowboy Race. My sister's friend has done five or six of them, and they are both going to compete in one next month...I will be vacationing in Eastern Washington with my family, so I have to miss out on this one. We went down to Oregon and watched her compete with the one and only, Craig Cameron, back in April. I left the info about Waska on my site, but I probably should have left it here instead. Oh well...
    PS-LOVE the queen Aussie! I have one too!

  6. I can totally relate to "Tarp Therapy" I have to carry a flag in our upcoming 4th celebration! Yikes You'd think it was a Fire breathin dragon!My Rumor is doing better, but not so good running inbetween the other girls carrying flags!!

  7. What a productive and fun day! Can I send Frosty to you to be desensitized? Everyday we still go through the "OMG-the hose is gonna eat me"-I don't want to find out how fast he can run on three legs if I threw a tarp on him-LOL.

  8. Yes Sis, we had a great weekend, except for Fritzy being lame.
    I was so proud of Brandy. I really thought she'd react to something we set up in the arena. But she handled everything better than expected! Even tonight when I took Fritzy up to the arena to check out her foot she didn't seem bothered by anything we put in the arena.
    So, what are you saying about my bling cowgirl boots? That I have a shopping addiction? By the way, my other half is not mad at me about the newest "bling" cowgirl boots. I think he kinda likes them! I did tell him that I wasn't going to buy anymore. Oops.

  9. I've got to get working on more games, and reading this I almost got out of my chair to start planning. You and Paint Girl (+ significant other) did a great job cleaning up the arena. Such fun days doing stuff together. And Bling Boots? A cowgirl never has too many.

  10. Don't even get me started on my boot addiction!! I don't have a shoe fetitsh, just BOOTS!! Love them! I just bought another pair this past weekend! But they were on sale and I couldn't pass them up! When that's all you wear, you need several! That's what I say and I am sticking to it! LOL! Hubby doesn't seem to mind, actually he is glad because I never by myself anything!

  11. This post is great! I'm planning on doing stuff like that with my new horse - he's prety level-headed, but those sorts of exercises are good for human and equine mind...

    Your boy is so cute and such a good horse!

  12. Great job!! Those horses are going to be complete Teddy Bear's before long. It's nice to see people who really love their horses and spend the time necessary to train them correctly before exposing them to new things. Good for you!!

  13. We have huge thistles here too!! They bloom nice flowers! Well kinda!

    I always tarp my colts when breaking them!! I do it kinda like you do too!! Great logic!!

    My father in law likes the plastic bag but he is stupid with it and shakes it like a crazy wild man and freaks out the horse. He tries hard but is just stupid. I have tried to tell him he is going about the wrong way but he won't listen to the stupid blond girl who majored in horse training in college. She knows nothing. I don't know it all, but I do know you can't shake the bag like a mad man for the first time and expect the horse to just stand there! You did a great job!!

  14. I can only imagine the laughter that goes on during your 'horsin' around'!

    Thanks for sharing it with everyone on your wonderful blog.


I love hearing from my readers!! I truly enjoy all of your feedback, advice, helpful tips, and stories. You all make me laugh and I learn so much from you, too. I will try to post replies to your comments as often as I can.

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin