Friday, February 4, 2011

Horses, classes, horses

Last week was recruitment week for Alpha Xi Delta and all the other sororities on Elon's campus.  With round after round each day, I was left with very little time to go to the barn or relax during our "Fake Break".   Last Sunday was Bid Day which means the girls that we accepted into AXiD ran down the hill and became new members.  They won't officially become sisters until after initiation but they will work towards that for the next six weeks!  By Sunday I was starting to feel pretty sick, and it only got worse on Monday and Tuesday.  I had a shallow cough, pounding head ache, sore throat, no energy.  I'm finally starting to recover which is great though.  

Sunday was also my first day of work at the new farm!  I absolutely love my new job, boss, and all the horses.  Since it is a beginner barn that I'm working at I'm able to really focus on the small details of the issues plaguing these schoolmasters.  I worked with two horses that day, Lucky and BB.  I worked with Lucky first, he's a palomino QH and probably about 15h.  His issue was that in the ring he randomly stops with most of the riders who get on him.  I got on him and just focused on keeping his energy moving forward.  He got a little mad at points and hopped around, but for the most part he was good and continued to move forward.  

Its the other horse I worked with I really adore though.  BB is a 15h seal bay (same color as Aston) QH mare that was a broodmare for many years, and is a recent addition to Blue Skies.  She isn't very trustworthy yet, and has issues picking up her back feet.  I worked her in the round pen, which basically means I used my body language to push her around the circle.  There was a lot going out outside the pen so it took her a little while to focus on me, but once she did she started to use her brain, and that's when I was able to start working with her.  You know a horse is ready to listen and participate by their body language.

When BB started to drop her head to the ground, lick and chew, and flick an ear in my direction I knew I had her attention.  At that point I usually stop paying attention to them (stop facing them as they move around the circle), look down at the ground, and do nothing.  Within seconds BB's head was on my shoulder, and as I walked away from her she followed me.  I could walk forward backwards or left or right and she would be there behind me.  She wouldn't invade my space or walk past me.  I patted her entire body jumped up and down beside her et cetera.  I ran my hand down the back of her back legs and if she threatened to kick out I pushed her back around onto the circle and lets her start thinking again.

Basically each time she did something wrong we started from scratch.  It sounds like a tedious process, but it doesn't take as long as it seems like it might.  By the end of 20 or 30 minutes in the pen with her I was picking up both back feet, touching her whole body and she wasn't showing any signs of discomfort or distrust.  I brought her back up to the barn and we let that be the end of it for the day for her.  

BB is owned by a family where the mother has five children that she home schools.  She is supposed to be her escape from the daily monotony, a creature that should give her an hour or two hours of mindless relaxation.  She was broke Western pleasure, and had her last baby last spring at 11 years old.  They bought her in December, with the owners selling her as a beginner broke western horse.  Unfortunately later that day (Sunday) the owners came out to see her and she kicked out as the owners were brushing her sides, and then when the 13 year old girl got on her she basically ran backwards.  Bad!  

On Monday I was planning on riding Aston for the first time but I was really starting to feel sick, sore throat, chronic shallow cough, and pounding headache.  As I was tacking her up Grayson was there to help me.  She wouldn't let me buckle the noseband or throatlatch, was running forward, backward, and dancing side to side and tossing her head everywhere.  Obviously it didn't take much for me to decide not to ride her, since I was already feeling terrible.  I somehow managed, with Grayon's help, to get the side reins on her and get her outside.  I think the root of her discomfort in the barn related to her hatred of being alone.  Sooner or later though she is going to have to realize that life isn't going to end if she's alone for twenty minutes.  She needs to be safe enough for me to handle alone in the barn because there will be some mornings when I'm at the barn alone and I need to ride go about my day.  I decided that I would go back to basics and start from scratch with her.  So while she was up and misbehaving on Monday, I just lunged her in the side reins and let her get her energy out. 

On Tuesday we started classes.  It was probably the lowest point of my sickness and yet I still managed to sit in class from 10:30-4:00.  I'm taking a class on Social Policy and Inequality, Forensic Studies, and Life in Marriage.  Two of the classes are for my major, Human Services, and the Forensics class is to fill my Upper Level General Studies requirement.  Surprisingly, the forensic class seems like it might end up being pretty interesting!  Sarah is in it with me, and our teacher is a riot.  Hopefully it doesn't end being too hard though.

Anyway, afterwards I headed out to the barn and put Aston in the round pen.  I used the same methods I used on BB that I explained earlier, though Aston responded much differently than BB.  Because the round pen is in a place that allows her to still see all the other horses on the farm, she didn't think there was much point in paying attention to me.  It took a while but she started to pay attention so I stopped moving.  Eventually she came over to me and we were able to play that part of the game.  I had a saddle pad handy so I just starting flapping it at her, all over her back, around her legs, and rubbing it on her face.  We spent two days doing the same thing, Wednesday ended up being beautiful weather again so we played more outside!  

Wednesday I went out to Blue Skies again to work with BB, and since I was still recovering from my cold I only worked with the mare.  When I arrived Deborah wasn't there yet, so I pulled BB in, groomed her, and started to use one of the techniques that teaches race babies to pick up their feet without protest. You slide the lead rope around the leg creating a loop around the pastern, and then pull to pick the foot up.  She didn't have issue with this, and I soon headed into the round pen to begin the same process I started last time I worked with her.

Consistency is key to creating positive actions and habits.  After about 15 minutes I was picking both feet up without a problem, so I headed back up to the barn and began tacking her up for my ride.  I was assuming the worst would happen when I got on, as she misbehaved so badly with her owner.  I didn't have any issue with her, and in fact, I didn't even pick up my stirrups for the whole ride!  She's western pleasure bred and broke so its like sitting on a couch when she trots!

As I was going around the ring though I did notice she absolutely did not want to go over the trotting poles that were set up, and started to back up when I asked.  It could be that the owner wasn't thinking and was aiming the horse at those poles when she got on and BB said, "WHAT?! No way am I going near those scary things."  I had Deborah walk over the poles with us, and then they were no problem at all.  Hopefully thats all it was!  She really is a nice little horse.  

Pony's new blanket!
I headed back to Elon to go to my Science Without Borders class, and afterwards I went out to see Aston.  The whole gang was out there so we all kind of hung out.  Rebecca was there and ended up riding Dazzle, and she asked me if at some point I'd be willing to jump Dazzle.  I am, I just won't do it unless the horse is fit.  I don't have the time to ride the horse for free, but I'm affordable if she decides she would want me to ride her regularly, I'd be happy to!

Anyway, she mentioned that her old horse was about the same size as Aston and she was looking to get rid of all her old stuff.  I said I'd definitely be interested!  On Thursday it felt like Christmas!  Not only did my box of stuff arrive from Dover (Aston says "Thanks Granny!") but Rebecca brought out a whole pile of her old horse's stuff for Aston, and only asked $100 for it!  I now have a cooler, waffle sheet, stable sheet, and turnout sheet, standing martingale, running martingale and extra 48" girth all for $100!   Plus since the stuff I ordered arrived Aston also has a medium weight turnout blanket, four Dover brand boots to exercise in, pulling combs (finally!) and a non-slip pad.  I'm so excited!

My poor little horse finally has clothes to wear when its cold and rainy like it was today.  I think its the first time she's ever really worn blankets, and she's adjusting really quickly.  She doesn't have a huge winter coat, so she should be pretty comfortable in all her new clothes.

On Thursday morning Jim Bob came out bright and early to trim the mare's feet.  I'm so glad they are finally done since its been 4 months since a farrier has touched them.  It will take a few more trims to get them looking perfect, but hopefully she will be able to stay barefoot for a while, since she has such good feet.  Jim Bob hung around for a while and we all just talked like usual.  I love the whole team I have, they are just the best, I couldn't ask for a better barn owner/farrier/vet, and thankfully we don't see much of the vet.  Anyway, Jim Bob mentioned that one of his horses was close to being hit by a car (the other two pasture mates that also escaped were hit and killed, Scout escaped with a laceration on the fatty part of the leg above the hock).  He said he may bring Scout over here to get fit/tuned up since he may have found a home for him.

I said I'd be happy to take him, so just to let me know!  He also mentioned that he has his eye on an adorable dark dappled gray medium that he is thinking about buying.  He said that he'd send that one over to me too, so it can get going and sold.  I asked him why he likes ponies so much more than horses, and he explained his reasoning to me (and now that I have my own horse, he can send me as many ponies as he wants!).  The people who buy ponies are usually first time buyers, they haven't been soured to the horse world yet, and they want the very best for their children.  They are comfortable spending obscene amounts on the ponies because Pookie needs the very best to be able to win.  By the time they are buying horses many kids have burnt out of the sport, or parents become less willing to be so financially supportive.  All his reasons make sense, and while I don't have a network to get a pony sold super easily, I have the tools to get them going well, and then we can take them down to the lady who has a huge network for pony sales.  Hopefully yellow will find herself a home through that connection this spring!  

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