Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lunging Shadowfax

Well, I finally felt well enough (and brave enough) to try and lunge Shadowfax. Not that he's bad to lunge. When he is lunged consistently, he does just fine. But he hasn't been lunged consistently since we bought him. (I know that's bad, but first there was knee deep mud and then I was injured and Foxfire doesn't really know how to lunge since his horse was never trained to do it.) I don't know why I decided to lunge Shadowfax today. Foxfire was actually out of town with SH doing SCA equestrian stuff. And you would think that I would want to do it when he was around. If for nothing else than the fact that he could take pictures. (I still don't have any pictures of me with my horse. Sigh.) But for some reason, I felt like doing it for the first time this afternoon, and so I did.

Now, I don't exactly have much experience lunging horses. Back when Cash was still sound, JJ showed me how to lunge him a couple of times. But that was well over a year ago, and Cash was extremely well trained. All I really had to do was hold the lunge line and speak the cues and Cash did what I said with absolutely no fuss. A few months ago, at the jousting clinic, JJ had demonstrated lunging Shadowfax to me, though, because of my injuries, I couldn't actually lunge him myself. Shadowfax is not quite as well-trained or willing as Cash. With some consistent work, he probably could be, but he's not there right now. Even with JJ lunging him, there were quite a few fireworks. So, I knew there were probably going to be some problems when I started lunging him. And there were. But they weren't that bad. And by the end of the relatively short session, he was actually doing pretty well. So here's a brief summary of how things went.

Now, since I had treats in my pocket, the minute I walked out into the pasture, Shadowfax came up to me. How he knows I have treats in my pockets, I don't know. I only have treats about one in ten times I go into the pasture, but, I swear, the horse is psychic, because he always seems to know when I have treats. When I don't have treats, he'll look up at me, but he doesn't come over unless I call to him. If I have treats, I don't have to call, he just comes. Smart horse. I haltered him and led him to the trailer which is where we keep the lunging equipment.

The flies were bothering him, so I decided to spray him, which I knew he wouldn't like, but he needs to get used to it. I pulled out the fly spray and when he saw the bottle, he stepped back just a little and looked nervous. I held the fly spray in the same hand the I held the lead rope in, and with my other hand, I pulled out a carrot stick. I held the carrot stick up next to the fly spray where he could see it. After a moment he stepped forward and reached for the carrot. I made sure that he had to rub his nose against the side of the bottle in order to get the carrot. Then as he was munching the carrot, I slowly sprayed his front legs. He sidled away a little bit in a semi-circle on the lead rope, and I followed him until he was against the side of the trailer and couldn't sidle any more. I again sprayed his front legs and he sort of shifted a bit, but couldn't really go anywhere. I sprayed his leg again and he finally just stood there, so I gave him another carrot stick. As he was munching the carrot stick, I moved to his side to spray his side, back and belly. He moved forward and got away from the trailer, so I moved him around in a circle again, until he was against the trailer again. I rustled the pocket with the treats in it and then sprayed his side again. He twitched a little, but basically stood still, so he got another carrot stick. Then I sprayed his back leg. We went in a circle again and he ended up back against the trailer. Etc... We repeated the pattern several times until I had gotten him to stand still while I sprayed him all over. Then I held up the bottle in front of him again and when he sniffed it, gave him another carrot stick. (The carrot sticks are pretty small, so I can feed him a lot of them.) I put the fly spray away and got out the lunge line and whip, and led him over to a clear flat area.

Now when I started all of this the donkeys and Ziggy were way on the other side of the pasture, but when I started to walk Shadowfax in a circle, they ALL had to come over and see what I was doing. Ziggy actually stayed far enough away not to be a problem, but Kanny and Tessla managed to actually get between Shadowfax and me just ahead of the lunge line, they kept walking and I actually let them lunge with us for about half a circle because it was really sort of cute. But after half a circle, I stopped because I figured sooner or later someone was going to get out of sync and cause problems and I truly did not want that. I locked the donkeys in the goat pen and started Shadowfax walking in circles again. He actually did really well walking at the end of the lunge and after about 5 or so circles, I asked him to trot. He didn't trot right away and I had to ask more forcefully and flip the whip a little bit to actually get him to trot, but he trotted eventually. When I asked him to go back to walk, he did so promptly. When I asked for trot again, he did a little better and he was always willing to slow to walk.

However, when I asked him to canter, there were some fireworks. He wouldn't go from just the voice cue, so I had to flick the whip at him several times. I finally actually touched his rump with the whip, not forcefully, just enough for him to feel it and he bucked and kicked out. I yelled, "NO!!" and he immediately went into a hell bent for leather canter. It wasn't exactly what I wanted, but it was a canter and he wasn't pulling on the lunge line or anything. I let him run around about five times, then tried to slow him to a trot. At first, he just kept running. I tried different things to slow him and finally figured out that speaking extreeeeeemmmmmmmllllllyyyy slowly and letting my voice drop in pitch and volume was the way to get him to slow down. He gradually slowed down and finally dropped into a trot. I trotted him two circles, then asked for a walk, and he slowed to a walk. And then I asked him to stop.

Sadly, he doesn't seem to understand "Ho" at all. The only way to get him to stop is to pull the lunge line shorter and shorter and he'll eventually stop. It's a bit frustrating, but I suppose there are worse things. I'll ask JJ what I can do to teach him to stop when I say "Ho".

I switched which side the lunge line was attached to and started him walking in the opposite direction. This time when I asked for trot, I got it a bit more easily, I still had to make tsk, tsk noises at him, but I didn't have to flip the whip. I walked, trotted, walked several times, then I asked for canter. Again there were fireworks, but a loud "NO!!" was all it took to make him canter instead of buck and kick out. (He only did one buck and one kick before he went into the canter on each side and I sort of wonder if he would have gone into the canter after expressing his displeasure even I hadn't yelled. Who knows.) Anyway, he did hell bent for leather canter again and I let him go for several circles then I started slowing him down. I asked for a slower canter, by saying "canter" in a slow drawn out way on a descending scale, and he actually slowed into a nice controlled canter. After a couple of more circles, I asked for a trot and got it immediately. I asked for walk and got it fairly quickly and then I had to pull him in to get him to stop.

I switched directions again and asked for walk, trot, walk, trot, canter, trot, walk, and got everything I asked for reasonably quickly and with NO fireworks. I tried asking for stop again, and again had to pull him in closer to finally get him to stop, but he did stop a bit more easily than before. I decided that that was a really good positive note to end on and didn't lunge him in the other direction again. Maybe the lunging was a bit uneven in numbers of circles in each direction, but I wanted to stop on a positive note and wasn't sure it would go as well in the other direction. I gave him a carrot stick and told him that he'd been a very good boy.

I led him back to the trailer, switched the lunge line for the lead line and held the fly spray bottle out to him again. At first he pulled his head back, but then seemed to remember the carrots and nosed the bottle. I gave him another carrot stick. I closed everything back up in the trailer, led him over to the gate to the backyard, took his halter off, gave him another carrot stick and petted him a few times. I let the donkeys out of the goat pen, petted them, petted Shadowfax again and came inside.

It wasn't a very long lunging session, and it certainly wasn't perfect, but I am very happy that it went as well as it did. And even though my arms and shoulders are a little tired, my ribs and tailbone don't hurt any more than usual, so obviously it didn't strain my injuries. Now that I know that I can lunge Shadowfax, I will try to do so several times a week. Hopefully, he and I will both improve our lunging abilities, and it will strengthen our relationship.

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