Friday, February 18, 2011

There's Just Something About Betty

Over the past couple of weeks I've done several mini-training sessions with Betty.

The result? I have been so incredibly impressed with every aspect of her. She is kind, friendly, sweet, willing, quiet, soft, responsive, and intelligent. Isn't that pretty much everyone's list for the perfect horse?

Here's how it went down: One of the things I always try to keep in mind is not to confuse "following" with "leading." Betty was a "follower." She'd follow me as long as where we were going wasn't too scary, and it was to a place she wanted to go, and as long as I made no sudden movements, or she didn't get too upset. She refused to go through gates, so to get her to go into any pen I had to arrange it so I could lure her in with feed. Of course this is hardly acceptable. She needed to be taught to lead.

After I got her haltered, I scratched and rubbed on her until she relaxed. With a horse as green as Betty is, she's not going to learn a single thing if she's worried about being eaten. Once she relaxed, I started asking her to give to pressure by stepping away from her side and pulling her toward me. I started with light pressure first, then increasing until I got even a touch of movement from her, then immediately released and gave her a good scratch. This same process repeated until I got her completely moving, yielding to pressure from all directions: side, side, front, and back. I only asked her for one or two steps at first, then built up to more and within ten minutes she was leading around the pen.

To make sure she wasn't just following me, I went onto another exercise I like to do, even with my seasoned horses. I asked her to whoa, then stepped away from her about five feet. I wait a few seconds, then clicked and pulled the leadrope towards me while I stood still. Betty passed with flying color--she had figured out how to give to pressure!

We did all this, along with desensitizing her to the process of haltering. After only three sessions, she is getting much easier to halter and even stuck her nose into it last night. Thankfully, because she's so friendly, she never has been hard to catch. She's usually right at my side, whether I plan to work with her or not.

Last night that was the case. I originally got Fabian's halter out so I could finish trimming his back feet. I got his front feet done the day before and he was being uncharacteristically butt-headed, so once we got through with his fronts and ended on a good note, I called it a night. Last night, though, when I let Paula and Bambi out with the others, they went into their version of "Ponies Gone Wild." Clearly, with that kind of mindset I wasn't going to get anything productive done with any of them.

However, I was wrong about one of them. Betty walked calmly up to me, in her quiet demeanor, amazingly ignoring the Daytona 500 activity going on just behind her. Although I hadn't planned on working with her, I decided to take her up on her offer and slipped the halter on her. Even though she's not quite two yet, she's a good-sized girl and Fabian's petite-adjusted halter fit her well. I led her through the gate (which wasn't an easy task since Fabian continued to run up behind her and bite her butt), but our lessons paid off. Betty remained calm and yielded to pressure when I asked her to walk through the gate while I fended off the dork-wads behind her.

Once we got through the gate and I made sure that it was good and locked, I picked up my farrier tools and led Betty into the roundpen. Since she knows how to lead now, the gates were no problem at all. She didn't even hesitate (YAY!!). I locked the roundpen gate and stood her in the center and made sure she was calm.

I wasn't sure how far we would get. The plan was to work with her on her feet. She doesn't know how to tie and even if she did, I don't like my horses to feel trapped when learning to pick up their feet and stand for the farrier. I've found that as long as I have enough control over them to keep me from getting hurt, with patience they eventually learn to just stand and let me trim them without much of a fuss. So, I set to work.

I set my tools by the gate and only took the hoof pick with me. I draped the leadrope around my back and over my right arm--loose, but in a way I could grab it if needed. I asked Betty to "whoa" and then, standing beside her, I bent over and ran my hand down her leg. She didn't react, so I did it a few more times. She seemed calm and relaxed, so I went ahead and did it again, this time stopping at the pastern, applying pressure and asking her to "give." Giving a verbal cue is just my personal preference, because I don't like a horse to always pick up its hoof when I have my hand on its leg. When I'm wrapping, treating a wound, or clipping, I want them to not move a foot at all, so I don't expect them to pick it up unless I ask them to. Eventually the goal is to get like Paula, who will keep her foot down when I put her boots on, but if I say "give," she will pick up her foot before I even get my hand on it (she's a very good listener). While I asked Betty to give, I gently lean my hip on her shoulder, lessening the weight on the hoof that I'm asking her to pick up. She responds brilliantly. I gently put the hoof back down and gave her lots-o-praise.

Excuse me while I rant a tad bit here--one of my biggest pet peeves is when people DROP a horse's foot. Then they wonder why their horse won't stand well for the farrier or to have its foot cleaned. Think about it--if you had someone holding your leg and you didn't know when they were going to suddenly just drop it, you'd be antsy, too, right? I find this is the number one problem with horses that I have come in--they are worried about me dropping their foot. Once they learn to let me set it down, they start immediately standing more patiently while I do my work. (Of course the exception to this rule is when they are leaning on me. After several failed attemps to get them to stand on their own, I will drop a foot, and often thus the entire horse if they're leaning on me, to prove my point, but that is for discipline reasons and definitely not an every-day event).

OK, rant over. Thanks for stick'n with me.

I went through this process with all four of Betty's feet. She's pretty kicky out in the pasture so I was extra careful with her back legs, but she's such a sweet girl that she wasn't even mildly rough when she pulled away--no worries about kicking at all there. Most horses have some trouble with their right back foot, but Betty didn't like her left back foot done. Eventually the reward of getting her butt scratched won her over (doesn't it for us all) and she let me clean out all four feet without much ado.

I don't believe that she's ever been trimmed, so her feet are in a state of ragged self-trim. I hadn't gotten the chance to inspect her soles before last night but I was pleasantly surprised to find that her feet are in fantastic shape. Her frogs are perfect--clean and shed at just the right level with her sole, her soles are nice and concave, also cleanly shed, and she has no sign of any disease whatsoever. The only thing I need to do is clean up the broken-off hoof wall. Good deal!

Since she did respond some to the hoof pick going into the mud on her feet and scraping out around her frog, I didn't want to push the issue too much so that's where we stopped. I would love to get her feet trimmed but she obviously wasn't used to the feel and I didn't want to overwhelm her. She'll need to get used to me handling her feet more first.

After that I did ask her for some advanced movement on the lead. I asked her to move on the forehand from both directions and she did that beautifully, then I asked her to pivot both directions. The very first stepover she stepped on herself which threw her into a little bit of a fit, but she calmed down quickly and we tried again. Within a minute she had figured out the crossover, which will be a lot easier to perform when we finish her pedicure.

I gave her a good scratch all over her back--she's shedding so it really sent her nose into overdrive. She led right over to her pen really well and seemed happy to be away from the rowdiness that was still going on in the larger pen.

She's a loner, Dottie, a rebel.

Eventually the wild ponies of Borneo settled down and realized it was supper time. I got Bambi caught and put her in with Betty, ran water, and got everyone fed. Momma kitty wanted some extra attention (apparently she's forgiven me for her terrible ordeal at the vets last week) and I got a gorgeous picture of a sunset that I'll save for my next post.

Hope you all had a great day as well,



Anonymous said...

tres interessant, merci

Kate said...

Betty sounds really nice and it looks like she's going to come along just fine.

Couldn't agree more with you about people dropping horse's feet - it's just rude, IMO. You give rude, you get rude back in return.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I'd add gorgeous to her attributes too! She sounds like she's a wonderful horse. I believe in not rushing a young horse too. I'm willing to bet she's going to be a superstar.

One of my pet peeves is dropping their feet too. I always set them down easy. My verbal cue is "pick up" and they all do it with no problem.

smazourek said...

She's a keeper, that Betty. I enjoyed reading your description of how you've worked with her. Good stuff there.

juliette said...

I adore that you are taking your time and going slow with her. That is the very best way. She will repay you in safe kindest for many years.

Annette said...

I'm the same as you about handling the feet. I teach my horses to lift their feet when I say "foot." And I always gently set them on the ground when I am done. I used the same method as you to teach the donkeys to lift their feet for the farrier. I didn't know what I was doing - it just seemed logical. Glad I was doing it right!

Jessie McCandless said...

Thank you for all your kind and supportive words!! I'm so glad to hear that others do similar things--it was just something that made sense to me as well.

Kate, I think you're right--we had a little setback going through the gate yesterday to be put up, but it's almost nice to see her going from scared and confused to "I just don't want to" LOL We worked it out with just time.

Arlene, I hope you're right--I think she's going to end up a super nice horse as well. She's got a ton of potential :)

Shannon, I'm afraid of that--I might just have to keep her! LOL She'd be a nice broodie once she got some points on her for sure.

Thank you, Juliette--I think she will. Her confidence is growing--it will be nice to get her out and used to all sorts of things.

Annette, I don't know if I do it "right," but like you, it's just what works for me. :)