Yesterday was another good horse day. This time I got to experience three different characters. Skye and Diego again, plus Buster who I used to ride and lunge at the stables. There’s something lovely about going between three such different personalities in one day. Not least because with the new need for slower emotional development in Skye, my work with her has become a bit samey. Which is as it needs to be, right now, but it means that I do really appreciate having other animals to work with too, to keep me engaged in a variety of things.
First, clicker with Diego. Well, before that even, headcollar and leading out to the field for us to muck out, and he was the most mannerly I’ve ever known him. Normally in the morning he can be a bit anxious or sometimes aggressive, as he’s had to wait a short while before new haylage. Anyway, he was lush in the session later. Continued building on the targeting and following-the-target. Some lines of raised poles were up in the arena and D swerved these like, “hang on, you’re trying to trick me!” He’ll merrily follow you over one raised pole, or raised poles that aren’t in a line, but this seemed to remind him of “work”. Laughed, set him up more carefully, and he went over them fine. A bit clumsy with his front feet, but that’s precisely why we try to add a few raised poles into every session, get the thoracic sling working and the proprioception improved. Make his life easier, when it comes to carrying a rider.
Used chaff as his reward yesterday and this worked much better. He found it less stimulating than pony nuts, so it was a little less motivating. But motivating enough that if we kept the questions just within his comfort zone and only ever-so-slightly outside of it that he was a happy bunny. The longer chew time was definitely important for him, so that’s good to know. And I’m trying to be more conscious of teaching paired behaviours. Eg: following a target and standing politely. Making sure that he understands there is an appropriate time for each. Did some more A-to-B with a friend and got him latching onto her target for following too. Teaching him that it’s not just humans with treats that are worth co-operating with. Humans in general are worth being polite and willing for. His destiny is as a riding-school horse, so we really need to focus on his attitude.
Got a little bit of trot again! Which had been my main hope for the session, so that was good. Few more steps than the day before (ie: subtly increased criteria), then called it a day there. Heavy praise. At this stage he’s in it for the treat, but it’s definitely beginning to transfer over into other praise. He’s starting to enjoy a scratch, rub, and pleasant word a bit more. Especially likes a scratch on the top of his neck, in front of the withers, and on his bum. Actively sought out the latter, once he realised it was a possibility. And again, this is part of our focus. He’s not going to be getting clicks/treats during the lessons on a weekend, and that’s the job he came here for. But if we can get him happily working for any type of praise, with perhaps the odd clicker session here and there to keep him sweet, then hopefully that would make for a more obliging lesson horse.
After D, I was tasked with long-lining Buster whilst my friend lunged Lady. B is an absolute superstar. I’d not done anything with him in months so I’d forgotten how obliging he is. What a different character to Diego. We didn’t know for sure if he’d ever long-lined, but he was golden. Just needs some extra walk and halt work on straight lines for a while, after his McTimoney session this week.
The chiro was talking us through his sore bits and the neck was the main issue. Talking through his brachiocephalic she said, “which would happen if he’s tucking behind the contact” and we were like, yeah he does do that. He can worry about his mouth at times, you see, and his go-to options (like most horses) is to either bear down onto the bit (which then seems strong to the rider) or to hide behind it (which seems light, but then he ends up squishing his parotid gland and airways, not ideal). So with the long-lining, I was told to just focus on keeping him happy with the hands. And this is what I mean about horses being far too generous. He worries about his mouth, but never questions being bridled. Ever. He’s no idea what I’ll do with him (even the best riders, a category which I’m not part of, can lose their balance and accidentally yank on a rein), but he merrily cracks on with his work and always does his best.
Anyway, he did beautifully. He trickled into the halts at first, uncertain whether to push through my hand or yield to the request (which was given verbally too, of course), but improved massively even just in the one session. Opened his mouth ever so slightly once or twice at the beginning, then it went quiet as he realised I would never pull backwards more than squeeze of a few mm to make a request. And he’s a joy, the lighter you are the sweeter he goes. We had a few moments where he began taking the contact forward just a touch, and working into the outside rein nicely. But I haven’t long-lined in years you know, and it did remind me of how much I rely on leg rather than hand for steering. A moment of lost concentration and we wibbled off our lines. He’s very responsive really, absolute gold-dust that pony. So we’ll see how he goes over a few weeks and hopefully the walk work will be good for his general posture too.
Then on to Skye, after volunteering. Same routine as a couple days prior. I’m keeping everything low-key at the moment for her, just letting her settle. Stuck around to walk with the herd for a bit afterwards, enjoying the evening sunshine. They’re all becoming less interested in my targets now, letting us get on without too much interruption. Skye is still protecting them from the new horses. She seemed especially stuck to Velvet yesterday. It’s funny how she swaps between them. But in general, she seems to normally be found near Velvet, Verity, and Nancy.
They were all such delightful characters yesterday. And they demand different things from you. No-one can help but love Buster, he’s a diamond. How could you not love someone so kind? Buster lives inside the CARE system, everyone’s a friend.
Diego, it’s easy not to love him. He’ll pull a face if you’re in his space uninvited, even bite if he considers you a threat to his haynet, and he doesn’t give you his body quite so willingly. He has learned to easily slip into the RAGE system, which isn’t nice or safe, and he has a strong sense of autonomy. But he is having more and more moments of being pleasant and polite and enthusiastic and affiliative which are a joy to see, and his cheeky character is really quite comical.
Skye, well. She’s so gentle and quiet, once she feels safe. You feel that she’s been put (by humans, always humans) in situations where self-preservation were top of the agenda. She’s been afraid, too often, and quickly goes to the FEAR system. Sometimes it is very very subtle and people might think she isn’t actively afraid, but it’s still firing up pathways from when she previously was, so it still needs addressing. And now she’s shown us this separation anxiety too, which is straight from the PANIC system. She’s a perfect horse, would do wonderfully in the wild, but for a safe and happy life in domestication she needs to learn some emotional self-carriage, and that has been emerging these past few months. I love Skye for her honesty, her gentleness, and for the cute, surprised look on her face when she discovers that something the weird human is doing could actually be fun.
What a joy these animals are.