A Different Kind Of Training

The in-laws got a puppy. Not only a puppy but a border-collie cross. Not the best idea for an elderly couple who are not particularly active but someone thought it was going to be a good thing. She spends lots of time with Daisy, our dog who is practically perfect. That’s good she can learn basic good dog skills from Daisy. We are miles from anywhere so they get to run loose, Daisy never roams at all, she’s a very good influence. There is, however,  only so much a dog can learn through osmosis.

They are working on training I’m sure but I have wanted to try clicker training with a dog and here was my chance. This is all new to me. I’ve played with Daisy a little bit but, as I’ve said, she’s practically perfect. I couldn’t think of anything to train her to do. She rolls over now, and gets all excited when I go to work my horse, but that’s about it. I’ve been reading up on Sue Ailsby’s dog training instructions and was excited to get started.

Sadly we couldn’t start at the starting point. Anything that requires more than one person, me, is difficult to do. My husband is busy, kids are small and scatter brained. We are improvising. Poor Daisy got locked in the house, she knows when treats are being fed and knows my marker. The puppy, she’s gone through many names, I’m not sure what to teach her to come to, is sweet and willing and seems to pick things up quickly. I have the basics down decently, I think, with horses but dogs are a learning experience. Thinking frantically back to my instructions we worked on absolute basics.

She’s young and wanders enough that I was able to work on coming to me without another person to play with. She learned “zen” easily. In horses it’s manners but taught in almost the exact same manner, ignore all attempts to get you to give them the treat until they turn away the click and reward. She eventually laid down and I reinforced that greatly. My end goal is manners first and foremost. If I figure this out there will be lots of extras, like with the horses, but for now I want her to stop jumping on my small children. They are right down there where sharp puppy teeth and claws do the most damage and are easily intimidated once she gets started. I want her to learn to sit or lay when she approaches people for attention, children especially but also my nearly 80 year old mother-in-law.

Hopefully we can keep this up. Children shouldn’t get in the way to badly, and are in fact a necessary part of the training since I want to train her to behave around them. She’s a fun new project while I’m not finding time to work Rusty.

A Quick Working

Rusty was out grazing in the yard. He had been out for a couple of hours and it was Coyotes turn. I had a couple of minutes, kind of. One small child was following me about, the other was pouting in her room. I sat the one in the back of my pickup, safely out of the way. He opened the back window, crawled inside and rampaged throughout the cab. Poor pickup, but it’s the price that must be paid for the privilege of playing with a horse.

It was a quick coverage of the very basics, things he has down, that we’ve been doing forever. A couple of bows on each side, backing from his tail, picking up his feet (he needs trimmed soon), Spanish walk, and walking collected back to the corral. He was happy to be playing again, enthusiastic in all that he offered, and not happy to be put away. Nothing was forgotten, nothing was slow to come. We will be getting back into regular work soon. I hope.

I even managed a bit of a ride on Coyote while putting him away. It was a good horse day.

I Did Work Rusty Today, But…

It wasn’t a good working. There are times when things go well. I come back to the house giddy and bursting at the seams with a joy that carry’s on for the rest of the day. Not today.

I wasn’t Rusty’s fault. He was great. A little pushy and frantic. It’s been weeks, a month maybe? since I’ve done anything with him. I’ve come for Coyote many times. I nearly got my finger bit off from careless feeding when I offered him a consolation award as I closed the gate behind Coyote. Mostly though I’ve let him out to graze and brought him back in.

Today one child was off with his father in the tractor, the other was outside playing, ignoring her beloved cousin who was here to play. I left the cousin watching TV and thought I would sneak out and play with my horse! I was excited and things were going well. I had brought along some dirty socks and was rewarding him for finding them. Then I was found. What fun is playing by yourself when you could follow your mother around, talking nonstop?

I wouldn’t mind so much, don’t usually mind, but my horse was frantic for his treats and clicking at the exact right moment really does take some concentration. I ended up shrieking at her. Afterwards I felt awful but there’s no taking it back, and I really did want her to leave me alone. A couple of minutes with my horse doesn’t seem like that much to ask. Of course it’s way too much to ask and I gave up on playing with him.

After putting him away I tried to follow her around and be a kind loving mother. It was too late, I was already too grouchy. It was nap time anyway so I sent her off to bed, which would have been the perfect time to work with Rusty but the whole grouchy thing, so I cleaned house. Cleaning resolves grouchy better than anything. My house is clean, cleaner that is, and my horse unworked. Maybe tomorrow.

It’s Been Forever

At first it wasn’t because I didn’t have anything to say, life was just too busy. I rode Rusty in his new bit. He did fine. We worked more on painting, he prefers painting me to painting on paper.

Then it was life being too busy and no time to work or write about it. Tanna came over and she and I branded our little herd of cattle. Girl Power! We let some guys come and help and got the big bunch of cattle worked and everything hauled to pasture. It’s good to have them out of the corrals. The mud is incredible with all the rain we’ve gotten lately.

Tanna graduated high school Salutatorian! Congratulations! She’s awesome, great with horses and cattle and kids and a wiz at math. We are really going to miss here when she heads of to college this fall, hopefully she’ll come back often to visit.

The garden is mostly planted. Way too many tomatoes, lots of peppers, the first planting of sweet corn, twenty different types of squash! Pumpkins are my favorite. We are making a sunflower house, on steroids, for the kids. A big spiral leading to the house its self, with the outer row in beans and tomatoes. Things that can form a tangible shield to protect the next rows of ornamental corn and sunflowers from being trampled by over enthusiastic children until they come up and can be seen.

I made the horses a little pasture where they can get out together and eat some of that grass they are craving so badly. The tree row is knee high and with a section of it fenced off they have been spending part of their days out there filling their manes with burdock. Yay.

Now I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing. Rusty is still hanging out in the pasture not doing anything but eating. Coyote is working and being grouchy, it’s what he does. And I am still not writing about it even when there is time. Hopefully this will get me started again.

But first I need to go finish planting the sunflower house! So here are some pictures of what we’ve been up to. No captions so take a guess as to what they are about, I have work to do.

The Perfect Pony

Coyote that is.

As we came through the yard the father-in-law waved us down. I thought I was going to be in trouble, but not this time. He wanted to know if I could bring a horse. The cattle are still in the feed lot, waiting for working and summer pasture. A calf had climbed through the feed bunks and was in the wrong pen. Of course he couldn’t find his way back so there they stood, on opposite sides of the fence, calling each other.

I was going to just throw a bridle on Coyote and go bareback, but decided to saddle him in case we had to do any real work. He stood in the yard munching on grass as I quickly threw my saddle up onto his back. The kids were on the four wheeler with the father-in-law and we all went after the cow. Halfway there they got called to go refill the planter with seed and Coyote and I continued on our own. Gates opened and closed, respectively, behind us we easily found the cow on the fence looking for her calf. It was easier to move her than to try to get the calf out. Ears back, teeth probably bared, it suits him but I couldn’t see, he dove in behind the cow. Neck stretched he maneuvered behind her, driving her towards the gate. She stopped and tried to turn back. Coyote dropped low meeting her nose to nose as he wove back and forth matching her in the dance. Recognizing her equal she turned and fled before him, fleeing out the gate.

With cow and calf reunited we turned our attentions to a new target. A calf lay dead just through a gate. Lost to sickness, quickly, unnoticed until too late. His mama stood watch, mourning her loss, unable to understand why he wouldn’t rise. It would be a simple job to bring her out the gate, to a new pen or a new calf. The rest of the crew had finished refilling the planter and were back to help. Leaving them watching from the lane I urged Coyote into the pen.

Of course no job that seems simple ever will be. The cow was unwilling to leave her lost calf and the pen. Near the gate recent rains had left deep, mucky footing, slick and treacherous. Easing up to her gentle and quiet I was caught off guard as she spun away. Coyote lunged after her. My saddle was loose and nearly slid off his side, I wrapped my fingers through his mane, clinging until balance could be found. Then he was back under me again, following the cow as she dove the other direction. Nothing more than a passenger I stuck with him, only trying to keep him out of the worst footing. I did offer an opinion as he gave up position in an attempt to eat the cow. Pulling hard on the reins I tried to prevent his teeth from closing on her back, tried to put him back in position, tried to keep him from loosing her as he took his revenge. I failed. We turned her back as she reached the far side of the pen.

Back and forth they fought, head to head, neither willing to give. Our arch grew smaller, passing the gate each time, until at last she turned and pretending that it was all her idea, ran out the gate with her tail over her back. Coyote was winded. I was beat. The job was done, my horse was awesome and I couldn’t stop grinning. Pausing to let Coyote breath as the cow ran through the open gate into her new home, the children began clamoring for a ride. Rested and ready to get home Coyote was pulling towards the final gate blocking him from his destination. I asked him to please wait a moment and instead step over to the four-wheeler? He acquiesced, if not willingly then without protest. One child after another stood on the back of the running four-wheeler, reached for a helping arm, and scrambled onto his back. Behind the cantle for the oldest, squeezed into the seat with me for the youngest. For this short ride, on a trusty mount, the usual helmets were forgotten. Coyote the hot, cow eating horse of a moment before lowered his head and plodded happily along. The youngest, nestled in front of me, took up the reins, guiding us home.

No Bit News

I got it. He is not happy about it.

I was working really hard to get him to like it. He learned to tolerate it, I gave up. Every time I let him out in the yard to graze I put it on him. He got to eat the nice green grass on the condition that he wore the bit, positive association right? Kind of?

The I forgot, got tired of it, was in too big of a hurry, and it fell by the wayside. I haven’t had a chance to ride him anyway. Well almost no chance, I took him far a very little ride quite by accident the other day. Other than that fun, tackless, adventure, I haven’t ridden him. He has been grazing and we have been working on painting. That’s about it.

The children, one of them in particular, have given up naps. That leaves me grouchy and in no shape to work with him anyway. And no time to write about what we aren’t doing anyway. Painting is coming along slowly. He has been painting large objects, like barns, for a long time. He happily touches the paper with his nose when no paintbrush is involved. As soon as he’s holding a paintbrush he starts flailing wildly, hitting anything insight, besides the paper. Aim is difficult, we will keep working.

After accidentally riding Rusty without a bridle I’ve worked up the courage to ride Coyote without too. I tried once, a very long time ago, and he ran off into the barn where I jumped off as soon as possible. I’ve been to scared to try it again. I ride him all the time without using the reins but having them there as a backup is such a crutch, I couldn’t quite get over the need and try without anything on him. I didn’t die on Rusty.

The next time I went out to catch Coyote while he was out grazing the yard and put him away, I led him over to a step and hopped on. We went straight to the fence and I climbed off. Once again I didn’t die! Always like when that happens. The next day instead of a straight, terrified, line, we meandered, did a couple turns, and added a back. Now I’m hooked. I was so sad yesterday when he was standing so close to the gate that it didn’t make sense to get on. Not dyeing is great reinforcement for any behavior and seems to have trained me.

My two perfect horses.

The New Bit Is Here! But…

It’s awful. I have this great new toy but haven’t been able to play with it!
Ok, it only came yesterday (day before yesterday now). I want to play with it so bad! I snuck out while the children were outside playing with their cousins the first night. The bit was so pretty, shiny and new. I got Rusty out and forced it into his mouth. Maybe a slight exaggeration but I did push things a little faster than I ought to have. He’s only worn a bit once since the middle of last summer sometime. He was not interested in having it in his mouth. Although the bit is supposed to be able to be used without a head stall, on a horse who is use to it and to wearing a bit period, it became apparent to me that I should have put it on a headstall before trying it on Rusty. It was not going to stay without help.

I had picked out a headstall to use earlier, after ordering the new bit, so I went up and got it. Put the headstall on the rings of the bit. It was ready. I was ready. Time to try again. And here came the children, done playing, the cousins were leaving, at least one child was crying. Oh well, maybe tomorrow.

The next day dawned dreary and overcast. The children were exhausted and cranky. Rusty was mad at me for putting something in his mouth and only wanted to go eat grass. I put it on him and otherwise ignored it. I brushed him thoroughly, picked out his feet, and worked on other stuff. Then the bit came off and he went back to his pen.

The next day rinse wash repeat. He quit being quite so mad about it, but still wasn’t speaking to me. Usually I turn him out to eat grass before I work him. He is so obsessed with grass right now, it’s hard to get him to pay any attention. I thought maybe if he didn’t get grass ahead of time he would be more interested in treats. Didn’t work. He was only interested in picking at the few green weeds along the side of the pen. How can a few measly treats compare to the lush green grass. Then it finally dawned on me. Why fight it? Why not join in? If, when hopefully, I work him today I will pick a large bucket of grass to use as a reward. Duh. Sometimes I amaze myself with how long it takes me to figure things out.

Oh well, so much for getting to try riding in my new bit. There I go rushing things again.

A New Bit

I’ve been riding Rusty in a halter. It works well for us. I want to greatly emphasize that it is working well. He hasn’t run off with me, mostly he stops to a shift of weight and an exhale. He steers light and responsive. Any problems we have are green horse problems coming from lack of experience and lots of enthusiasm. I want to make that clear because few things drive me as crazy as the old “my horse wont stop anymore, I need a harsher bit” thing.

That said I want to start riding him in a bit.

I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to do for a bit though. I usually ride young horses in my much loved snaffle that my mom gave me way back in high school. It has seen many colts, many miles, it’s a great bit, simple and beautiful. When I first started Rusty we used it. He didn’t like it, Coyote doesn’t either. Some horses are just weird. That is how we came to be in a snaffle. He was at that age where baby teeth are coming out and mouths tend to be uncomfortable. He’s getting older and, maybe, past that now. I put the snaffle on him for a ride and let him carry it without attaching any reins. He was fine with it. But I still wanted to see what else was out there.

I want the bit so we can work on some finer points. We are starting work on side passes, yielding hind quarters and such. I want to be able to gently, slightly, pick up one rein and speak to one side of his mouth. In a halter I have to stretch my arm clear out to the side to give a directional aid. That is a lot of work, slow, and not graceful. And not efficient. I can’t hold steady pressure on one side while turning slightly to the other, it has been bothering me.

I happened to see a comment with a picture of a girl’s horse in a new type of bit I had never seen before. Like the war bridles I had admired for so long, she didn’t have a headstall on her horse. Unlike the war bridles her bit had rings on each side like a snaffle. The bit was leather with a chin strap that held it on when used without a headstall. I was intrigued. I researched a, very, little bit. Mostly asking her how she liked it. She and a friend of her both rode in them and both loved them. We found where they were sold and ordered one. I can’t wait for it to get here so I can try it! Hopefully it works and Rusty likes it. It’s a big expenditure for me, mostly I’ve been riding in the same tack since high school.

First Time On Cattle

I spent the night psyching myself out. After out last attempt to ride out of our comfort zone did I really want to try it? What if he spooked? What if he ran away with me? What if I undid all the careful training I’ve put into him? The what ifs were driving me crazy.

But it was too late to back out. Well maybe not too late but the arrangements had been made, Tanna was coming over and I had told my husband we would do it. That makes it nearly set in stone. The calves were nearly done calving, over the last week there had only been three calves born that needed to go out. I had originally thought we could put them out and then ride Rusty. Somewhere along the line I decided that I could ride Rusty to put them out. A simple easy little ride. Introduce him to cattle with trusty old Coyote to show the way.
What had I been thinking?

The day dawned sunny and still. Tanna arrived early and my husband took the kids. I girded my loins and saddled my horse. Tanna is very patient with me. She walked Coyote around in our little pen while I rode Rusty around with him, waiting for me to get comfortable. Then we went after the pairs.

I walked. There was one cow in the lane, her calf was sleeping in a little triangle of fence. I led Rusty in and he went after the calf like a dog after a piece of meat. I thought he should be spooking and cowering at it bouncing off the fences and his legs, he thought maybe he should eat it. I remembered then that the father-in-law said he had seen Rusty with a calf the other day. It had slipped through the fence and was laying in the feed bunk on the horses side of the pen. Rusty reached over and picked the calf up by the scruff of its neck. I guess the calf was alright if limping a little when he finally let it go.

I kept walking and letting Rusty check things out as we pushed the pair out the gate. He was very interested in the goings on. Then, finally, I got on. Rusty was overly energetic and excited about what we were up to. But he stayed controllable and calm, overall. Tanna sat back and offered support while she let us try to do the work. Rusty wanted to lunge and pursue them at a trot, I held him back attempting to convince him to walk. What ever the speed he happily followed the cow and calf out the gate. After he succeeded in clearing the corral of cows we headed for the cornstalks to check our heifer.

I stopped for a refill on cookies, then walked through the narrow twisting maze of fences that led to the corn field. This walking is not to be ashamed of. Preventing problems is  not the same as walking as a result of them. Once out in the open I remounted and he was off like a shot. Or maybe a trot. I let him go, Coyote plodding behind. Even at a walk he was zipping along in typical Morgan fashion. We made it clear out across the field, saw that the heifer was not in the process off calving yet and started back. We had been on the horses a long time. Large portions of that time were spent in abject fear, quite exhausting, and my helmet was hurting my forehead. I was ready to get off.

We still had to make it back to the house though. Rusty was starting to act up. Not bad, but he was getting tired too. He fell out to the side with his shoulder. He was scared of the cows in our path. Coyote plodded reassuringly along. I was going to try to ride back through the maze of fence into the corral but cows were coming out and while I could handle one or the other both combined were more than I could handle. I walked the rest of the way. It was good to be off and good to be home. It was a great ride and a great day.

Gate Work

Plus some other stuff. Mostly going back and fixing what I broke on our last ride.

I took him far beyond his comfort zone on our last ride, this time I went the opposite direction. There is a little pen behind our house, it a converging point of corrals and lanes, a holding place before the final push into the front corral where the loading chutes and head catch are. It is small, but big enough to ride in. An awkward shape, wide on one side narrow on the other. Sharp metal wind break and protruding chunks of cement further reduce its usability as a riding ring.

But for now it was perfect. I wasn’t worried about Rusty bucking me off on the hard cement. I was happy to have fences to confine him while leaving room to trot a circle. He wanted to go away. That same way away that caused so many problems last time. He knew where the grass was and was determined to reach it. There was a fence in the way. He hunched his back and dropped his head, mad that I wouldn’t comply. I sat deep, holding tight to my saddles broad pommel. We made another circle. He wanted his way. I was feeling comfortable in not having died yet. My seat improves drastically once I stop cowering in fear. We worked out the kinks. Not in one clean moment but in a series of questions and deep discussion.

Can you stop when I ask like this I say? I can but only when we are going away from where I want he replies. Will you yield when I squeeze my leg on this side I ask? Whoa, you mean move my shoulder way over here like this he responds? Until we discovered that we did speak the same language. We could find a middle ground where each of us are able to supply input, one persons desires are not law. Yet. And yet. If I ask surely it doesn’t hurt to think about answering politely.

Then we introduced a new question. This is a gate. Can you stand next to it? Will you let me bounce it from your back? Look how fun it can be. All we have to do is stand here, next to the gate, and eat treats. That was easy. Now can you take one step sideways while I hold the gate? One step I said. No, he said, one step is not possible, I must take many. Oh I see, I replied, I am asking too much. Have we worked on side passing at all? Please forgive me, you are so light and responsive, I forget sometimes that you don’t always know what I am asking. And so it goes until I force myself to climb down, scratch his forehead and unsaddle. Relations are repaired and I can’t wait for next time.

There is a video to go with this but it is too long for the blog. It will be up on his facebook page Monday, I hope, when I get into town where there is internet. Check >here< to find it!