Thursday, November 11, 2010

Training is a two way street

I was lunging Shadowfax earlier today, and I made an interesting discovery. Normally, when I lunge, I face towards Shadowfax with the lunge line in my leading hand and the lunge whip in my following hand. I generally hold the whip at about waist height pointed at his rear unless he starts circling in too close, when I point it as his shoulder and say, "out".

But today, Shadowfax was just meandering along at the walk, and I was trying to get a bit more energy out of him when somehow I ended up with my body perpendicular to Shadowfax facing the way we were turning and my whip hand pointed sideways with the whip at about chest height pointed as his rear. He suddenly started walking more energetically. I "corrected" my position. He slowed back to meander. And I had an AHA! moment.

I deliberately turn my body perpendicular and hold the whip out to the side at chest height. Shadowfax walks more energetically. I maintain the same position, but slow down my rotation. Shadowfax slows down. I speed up my rotation. Shadowfax Speeds up. I speed up more. Shadowfax goes into a trot. I slow down. Shadowfax drops back to a walk. THIS IS SO COOL!!! I'm not saying anything, not giving any cues other than my body position and rotation and he is doing what I want him to do. I slow down, turn to face him, stop rotating and lower my whip hand to my side letting the end of the whip drop down almost to the ground. He slows down and almost stops, but doesn't quite. So I softly say, "Ho". And he stops.

I have learned a new and better way to communicate with Shadowfax while I'm lunging him. I am so excited. I go up and pet him, switch the lunge line to the other side of his halter and start him walking the other direction. I assume my new position. Sadly, it doesn't work quite as well going clockwise. Probably because I am right handed and have a little trouble holding the whip in my left hand. It still works better than my old position. He has a more energetic walk and responds more promptly to my cues. Interesting.

Apparently, training is a two way street. I am training Shadowfax to walk, trot and canter on cue, but he has just successfully trained me to stand and move the way that he wants me to. Obviously, I still need to work on my clockwise position and movement. I'm sure he will let me know when I get it right. :-)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

First I can't get him to canter, now I can't get him to stop

Actually, I could get him to stop. I just shortened the lunge line and firmly stated, "HO". I just couldn't get him to properly transition downwards into a trot.

To start at the beginning... I lunged Shadowfax again yesterday evening. He did fine going counterclockwise, which is the direction we usually begin because it's easier for me to hold the lunge line in my left hand and the lunge whip in my right. (Should we sometimes go clockwise first? Or is it okay to always start in the same direction?) After we'd switched directions and were going clockwise, he transitioned nicely up into a canter, but when I tried to slow him to trot, he wouldn't slow down. There were no fireworks or anything, he just kept cantering. Considering that up until now, my main problem lunging him has been getting him to canter, I wasn't expecting to have trouble slowing him down to trot.

My usual method of getting a downward transition is to say in a low and slow voice, "...and...trot..." or "...and...walk...". He usually transitions downward before I finish saying, "and". (To get upward transitions, I speak faster and with an upward inflection, "and trot!" or "and canter!". I usually have to repeat a couple of times.) Since, in the past, I had trouble getting him to canter, I decided to let him keep cantering for a while. When I thought it looked like he was getting tired, I tried to slow him down again. He still wouldn't slow. I couldn't let him get away with ignoring me again, so, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, I shortened the lunge line and said "HO" and he stopped quite easily.

Once he stopped, I made him stay at a walk for a while in the same direction. Then I switched directions and did walk, trot, canter, trot, walk in the other direction. He did fine. I switched back to the clockwise direction, but since he was pretty sweaty and breathing a bit heavy, all I did was walk him. He walked quite calmly, and when I said "HO", he stopped within two steps which is pretty good for him. I went up and petted him and gave him a carrot stick.

After switching to a lead line, I tried to get him to bow, but he seemed to have forgotten how. Despite the fact that he had done it quite well the day before. Oh well... I finally got something close to what I wanted and so I gave him a carrot stick. I led him back to the paddock gate where Ziggy had been standing and watching us and turned him loose.

I chained the paddock gate in the open position and walked toward the backyard gate. Of course, Ziggy, Shadowfax and the donkeys all followed me. I gave each of them a carrot stick and a pat. And this time, Shadowfax was a little better about waiting his turn. He is learning.

I am going to try to be more regular about lunging Shadowfax and doing other work with him, he definitely benefits from consistency. (Doesn't everyone?) But we'll have to see how it goes. Shadowfax is a very sensitive horse. He can tell when I'm in a bad mood and it makes him nervous. I'm pretty sure that that is one of the main reasons he threw me. I was having a pretty bad day that day. I let my emotional turmoil affect my riding, which led to me being a lot more aggressive in my cues than I normally am. It made him nervous and he acted out. I will have to make sure that I can be calm when working with him, and know that on days when my anxiety is really acting up, that it is probably better to just stay away from him. I learned that bit of knowledge the hard way. But hopefully, now that I have learned that lesson, I will do better, and Shadowfax and I will work well together.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lunging Shadowfax for the first time after a long break

With one thing and another and a flood on top of it all, I haven't lunged Shadowfax in a very long time. I've been working with him a little on ground manners, but I haven't done any serious work with him for months. Finally, things have calmed down a bit. And yesterday, Foxfire and I finished the paddock gate so that I can lock everyone but Shadowfax in the paddock, making it easy for me to lunge Shadowfax in the pasture. So... I decided to lunge Shadowfax this evening while waiting for Foxfire to get home from work. It actually went a bit better than I thought it would.

Shadowfax generally did what I told him to, though I usually had to ask him several times. I had to wave the whip at him a fair number of times, and a couple of times, I had to touch him with the whip, but there were no major fireworks and at times, he actually seemed to be enjoying the workout.

I hadn't planned to do more than walk and trot, since when I first starting lunging him, the major problems came when asking him to canter. But while I was trotting him, his ears pricked and he spontaneously went into a happy little canter. Since I usually have trouble getting him to canter, I didn't slow him down, I just started saying, "canter" instead of trot. Since he transitioned upward on his own, and I let him get away with it, I was NOT going to let him transition downward on his own, so when he tried to slow back to a trot, I said, "canter" even more firmly and waved the whip at his rear. He kept in canter, though he did kick out a bit in exasperation. I made him keep cantering for a couple of circles, then told him to trot. He willingly slowed to trot.

After the first series of walk trot canter, I switched directions and made him go the other way. I had some trouble getting him to go out and keep walking. He either wanted to just walk in very small circles around me or go into a trot farther out. We eventually got things straightened out. He did try to stop on his own a few times. He is very out of shape. And I had to chase after him to keep him going. But we managed to do walk trot canter in both directions twice.

After that, he was somewhat sweaty and he was breathing a bit heavy, so I decided that that was enough for today, even though we really hadn't been going that long. (I need to get a stopwatch or something that I can hang around my neck and time our sessions.) I walked him back over to the trailer practicing "Ho" a few times on the way. He has gotten much better about stopping, but it is something that still needs a little work. I switched from the lunge line to a lead and just walked him around the pasture a little till his breathing got back to normal. I've been teaching him to bow for a treat, so I asked him to bow once and he did it very well, so he got his treat. I walked him back to the paddock gate, then I turned him loose and opened the paddock gate to let everyone out.

Ziggy and the donkeys were waiting at the gate and immediately came up to Shadowfax and me to find out what was going on. And as I walked to the backyard gate, they all followed me. I gave them each a treat and a pat before going inside. Shadowfax still gets rather excited about treats, but he is learning to let the others have their treats, and that if he behaves, he will get one too. He still needs work, but he's not nearly as pushy as he used to be.

Anyway, even though he was far from perfect, I think he did a pretty good job of lunging considering how long it's been since he's had any practice. He may have his issues, but he's a good horse, and I'm still very glad that I bought him.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Donkeys at play

I look out the window and see that Kanny and Tesla are chasing each other around the pasture. I love watching them play. Kanny will chase Tesla for a while, then Tesla will chase Kanny. They don't seem to care who chases who as long as it's an excuse to run. Kanny has a very funny little canter. It's more like a rabbit hopping than a normal canter. His front legs move together and his back legs move together. He doesn't always move that way, he can canter normally, I think he does it just because its fun. Silly donkey.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Shadowfax has a mild colic episode

This morning when Foxfire went out to give the horses their morning grain, Shadowfax didn't come to his stall as usual. That was strange to begin with. Then even when Foxfire led him to his stall, he showed no interest in his grain. That was just unheard of. Shadowfax loves food, any food, especially his grain. At meal times, he follows us from the backyard gate to his stall, making hmmm hmmm hmmm sounds. And as soon as we've dumped the grain in his bucket and given him permission to come eat, he dives in very enthusiastically. He has to wait to get permission, because when we first got him, he was a bit pushy about food and we had to teach him manners.

Anyway, for him not to immediately dive into his feed meant that there was something wrong. Foxfire came in and woke me up and said I should come check on Shadowfax. When I made it to the pasture, poor Shadowfax was just standing in his stall looking extremely apathetic and lethargic. He is normally very alert and curious about everything going on, but not this morning. He barely even reacted to my voice and my touch. I put my head up against his stomach and listened for gut sounds. There were some very faint sounds, but not his usual noisy gurgling that you can hear just standing next to him. We decided that he was probably colicing.

Foxfire had to get to work, so I called Dr A's answering service (It was about 20 minutes before her office opened)and waited for her to call back. At 8:05, I still hadn't heard from her, so I called her office. This time her normal receptionist answered and we discussed Shadowfax's symptoms. As we were talking, Shadowfax actually started looking better. He started looking around, then moving around a little, then wandered over to where Ziggy was and started to graze. TR said not to let him graze if he hadn't pooped, so I went over, haltered him and led him back into his stall. Since Shadowfax wasn't in obvious distress, Dr A said she couldn't make it over until 11am. But that if he started showing signs of distress to call her back.

Shadowfax kept getting better and better. And as he felt better, he got more and more frustrated about being kept in his stall. We normally only put our horses into their stalls at feeding time. So for him to be in his stall and not be eating confused and annoyed him. However, aside from looking aggrieved, he was looking pretty much back to normal. But he still hadn't pooped. And when I listened to his stomach, his gut sounds were still VERY faint.

I did some work in the yard while I kept an eye on him. Then eventually went inside to get something to drink and to sit down. I checked on him every 15 minutes to make sure he was still alright and to look for poop. About 10 minutes after Dr A's receptionist called to say that Dr A was on the way, Shadowfax pooped. It wasn't a very big poop and it was rather loose, but it was poop and that was a good sign.

Dr A arrived, looked at his poop, listened to his gut sounds and decided that she still wanted to tube him and give him some oil to help clean out any problems he might still have in his digestive tract. Poor Shadowfax did not understand what was being done to him at all and he acted pretty scared. He actually stopped breathing for a while when they first put the tube down his nostril, then finally he had to take a huge breath. After that, he relaxed slightly and behaved well for the rest of the procedure. I'm pretty sure he'd never been tubed before since both his previous owners said that he had never coliced. It's no wonder he freaked out a little.

Anyway, Dr A said to let Shadowfax out of his stall after Ziggy and the donkeys finished eating the fresh hay that I'd thrown out for them. (They'd finished off our round bale and we weren't getting another one delivered until the next day.) And that it was okay for him to graze the grass. But to not give him any grain for dinner, just a flake of hay or preferably, alfalfa. Tomorrow morning he gets half of his usual grain and he can eat hay and graze and then tomorrow evening he can resume his normal feeding schedule.

Shadowfax was quite happy to get out of his stall when I finally let him out. He went over to where the herd was grazing and joined them. He was completely back to his usual alert self. But I did keep going out to check on him fairly regularly. I can see him out the window now, grazing with the donkeys. I am so relieved that it was such a minor episode and that he got over it so quickly. I don't know what caused it. I wonder if the flood washed something bad into our pasture that he ate and if that was what caused the problem. We did clean the pasture of debris as thoroughly as possible before letting the horses back onto it, but we could have missed something. However, none of the other equines seem to have had any problems. I suppose it could be just one of those things. It is colic season. Anyway, it seems to be over now, and Shadowfax seems fine. So that's good.