Friday, August 22, 2014

Baby horse diaries

I've been starting a friend's just turned 3yo gelding.  So far I've been taking my time trying to put a good foundation on him on the ground before I climb on.  Even though I've been one of two primary people handling him since he was born I've been surprised at the lack of handling he's actually had.  Really besides leading 20 feet back and forth to the turn out every day he's mostly feral.  He's had to learn a lot of things that you really take for granted in an older, trained horse.



I've been doing lots of groundwork with him.  He doesn't just need to know how to lunge, he needs to go where I tell him to, even if he's scared of something.  He needs to be respectful of my space.  He has learned that saying NO isn't an option, it results in lots and lots of groundwork and doing it anyway.  I slowly built up the obstacle here asking him to continue going over it in a calm manner as I changed it.  I even lead him while I rolled the barrels out.  He needs to be obedient and trust me.  He needs to learn to go forward.  I don't mind if he's scared but he needs to try to do what I ask. I think that this makes well behaved brave horses.  




I've laid over him a couple times.  He first had to learn that the mounting block wasn't going to eat him and to stand quietly when I moved from his head to his side.  He also has to deal with me stomping up and down the mounting block, patting his other side, and jumping up and down next to him.  He had to learn to wear a saddle pad.  


So far he's worn a saddle once.



He also needs to get on the horse trailer.  Before I could do that I had to take him OUTSIDE.  What I first thought was going to be pretty easy was actually pretty hard.  He'd never really been here before, always in the barn, the arena, or in the pasture.  He was very nervous and disobedient about going further away from the barn so we had to halt trailer loading and just work on being comfortable being in different places.  I got a buddy horse to go outside with him and we made it all the way to the end of the driveway where the entire neighborhood was out!  He met a golf cart, loose dogs, and children on bicycles!  He was most scared of the asphalt.  At times I forget how little he actually knows.  I was very pleased and slightly surprised that he didn't trample anyone.  


Then he had to get close to the horse trailer.  This took a couple sessions.  Yes, I believe in bribery.  At some point in this he decided to say NO!  very loudly, by getting further and further away from the trailer and rearing like the Black Stallion.  So I had to up the pressure and be very aggressive with my groundwork.  This was our longest session and maybe lasted 25 minutes, I've been keeping the sessions very short, about 15 minutes in length.  I don't want to fry his brain or push him to the point of making my own problems.  


I use a lot of pressure and release as well as bribery in trailer loading.  The inside of the trailer is the "safe zone" and is also full of horse snacks.  The outside of the trailer is full of groundwork.  It was several sessions before he realized he could step up and put a front foot on the trailer.  At first he started to paw inside the trailer with a foot so I rewarded that behavior.  Then I stopped rewarding the pawing and rewarded him standing with one foot, etc.  Each time I wanted another behavior I ignored the first one and rewarded any effort of exploration on his part. After his rearing episode he realized that me coming out of the trailer after him is a very BAD thing and I've gotten some very good results by applying a little bit of pressure on the rope and crouching like I'm getting ready to barrel out full steam.  He thinks about backing away and then looks at me and puts some slack in the rope.  Good evidence of learning.  


After several sessions where he became very comfortable with putting his front feet on I had to get his back feet on.  This was a matter of moving the snacks further inside the trailer and rewarding any forward motion.  


Next I worked on self loading, he needed to be "sent" into the trailer while I stood outside it.  No pictures of this!  I worked him on a circle and eventing closed off part of the circle to send him forward into the trailer.  I didn't mind if he looked inside at first but I did mind QUITE A BIT if he decided to run me over to get away.  I want him to go where I tell him to at the end of a rope and to go those places without me leading him.
Finally we are working on going into the trailer and having the door shut and waiting quietly for a few minutes.  The first time I did this he was very good inside the trailer but then I had to push him off the trailer because he was convinced he was stuck inside forever and ever.  After that we had to go over him saying NO! again because then he didn't want to get back on.

I worked some more on loading and staying on when the door was closed and he proved to be a quick study.  He knew when the door was closed that he couldn't get out and I reinforced this by saying "whoa."  Then when the door opened I had him wait and then said "back" several times so he knew he could only get off the trailer on a verbal OK.  He's confident enough in the trailer to look for things to eat and stick his head out the window to see what's going on.


When he does all of these things instantly and consistently we will move the trailer to a different location and see if he still loads, then I need to decide how I want to haul him before we go for a ride.  I can haul him loose, or teach him to stand for the divider to be closed and I need to decide if I want him to be tied or not.  I know that people have gone on trips with far less work but I want to do it right, I don't want to get stuck some place because he doesn't want to get back on the trailer, he needed the groundwork to help with his RESPECT issues, and I want the trailer to be a positive experience and not just a thing that takes him away from his life.

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