Friday, 28 August 2009

A little off track

Grace is not the only rescue in the family. We also have a rescue GSD who goes more or less everywhere we go. So naturally we took her on our business trip. Well Sophie takes her work very seriously. Here you can see her digging a secure trench in which to bury her share of the company assets (a high tech frisbee). In the second picture you can see her contemplating whether or not the hole is going to be big enough. The edge also makes a comfy seat. And finally she tries her super model pose, her hair being swept back by the tail end of hurricane Bill. I didn't have the heart to tell her it wasn't quite a Cindy Crawford moment.

In the last picture Sophie is actually sitting on top of an ancient bronze age barrow (burial site). It would be hard to construct today, as the ground is solid slate, incredible that this was achieved without the benefit of modern technology and tools.

The beach is in Cornwall (Britain), so don't believe people when they say there are no decent sandy beaches in England - there are miles and miles of them here, complete with a ton of ancient history. And if you look for it, some decent grub and accomodation. The locals are great too and made us very welcome. (OK plug for UK tourism over!) All photos are taken on my Samsung S8300 :-)

I don't think she missed me at all!

Had to go away on business for a couple of days. YO was incredibly kind and looked after Grace for me. Apparently Grace was very well behaved and she certainly seemed very happy when I got back. So that was a good practice run for when I have to go away another time.

Foot picking is now sooooo yesterday and is more or less part of the routine. Grace has started mouthing the syringe (ok trying to bite it) but hates honey with a passion. Which is a bit of a bind because her oral sedative has been suspended in a honey solution. I have 5 days to teach Grace to love honey; this might be more challenging than anything else to date :-)

Monday, 24 August 2009

All loved up

My dearly loved Grey had this way of looking at me that used to give me the spookiest feeling that she could read my mind. And just being with her brought a huge sense of well being and calm. It was a remarkable gift.
I find it hard to believe but I think Grace may have that gift too. First there was 'the look'; the way she looked at me when we first met and this morning when I was stroking her face an air of calm and peace descended like a cloud. Amazing, truly remarkable.
On a more prosaic note I picked out her hinds again this morning. That's three days in a row. I am getting more confident and Grace is still being very patient with my faffing about.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Crumbs of comfort

Break out the beers! - I picked out her hind feet today. Very careful not to lift them high or hang about. But she was totally chilled throughout (as far as I could tell). So small step, but I was thrilled.

Also another horse I trim was looked at by a farrier today. Apparently he was impressed with the trim. Which the positive side of me wants to take as a compliment and the less positive side says 'yeah but he is only comparing it with pasture trims......' Also I never, ever celebrate because horses have a way of bringing you right back to ground level, so I don't want to tempt fate! :-)

But even so, I was very pleased with the progress we made today with Grace. Long may it continue :-)

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Invitation only

All horses (and people) have a need for 'personal space'. I'm sure you don't mind your favourite pals getting up a bit close, but if that creepy guy in the supermarket starts getting in too close, I am sure you start feeling rattled. Grace is just the same.

I am trying really hard to make our work together 'invitation only'. Unfortunately I suck at the finer points of equine body language. So for anything involving Grace's stable I make a point of waiting by the open door for her to come into my space. Then we have a go at the task of the moment. If she retreats to the back of the stable I don't follow her. I either wait for her to come back to the door or invite her to do something I know she understands. Targetting is a firm favourite because she understands that if she presses her nose on the target she gets a reward and she appears to enjoy the activity. Then we might have another go at the more challenging work if all seems well.

When she is tied up then of course she doesn't have the chance to remove herself from the activity, so I try to only do things which I know she understands already.

To be honest this is frustrating. It would be so nice to just march up and do whatever it is that needs to be done. But because Grace has been taught that when she is restrained people have a habit of doing things that alarm, or hurt her, or both I don't have that option. Not unless I want to undo all the trust we have built up so far and possibly get us both injured.

Which leads me to reflect on some human behaviours I have seen recently. And I find myself wondering why is it that people chase a 1,000lb flight or fight animal into the corner of its box where it has no escape so its only defense is to lash out or bite?

We have options when we work with animals; we can work cooperatively and have a willing companion who throws themselves into the relationship/work and who enjoys our company, or we can have an animal that maybe does all we ask, but no more and is resentful every step of the way. Shame that I see so many of the latter and the dumb animals and horses don't know any other way.

Although the patience required is stretching my nerves a bit, Grace's learning progresses so much faster when she has chosen to

Monday, 17 August 2009

In the eye of the beholder

Tell me what do you see in this horse's face?

To me she has a kind and intelligent eye. She looks interested and ready to 'talk'. But I know in her lifetime she has been described as 'evil' and a 'witch' (to name just two negative epithets).

The trouble is of course, she can't talk, so if someone says something emotive, inaccurate or just plain wrong there is very little she can do to defend herself. And of course defending herself in the only way horses know how, is partly how she ended up heading for the meat hook.

I have never found Grace to be aggressive or difficult. Defensive when scared, yes; but purely reactive and she lets it go when the threat is removed.

And this is why I have two particular pet hates; amateurs breeding foals and inappropriate use of language. More on those later.

The training went well today. If progress continues at this rate I am hoping to be able to start syringing sugar water into her mouth by the end of the week

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Do what you can manage

Kept it simple today. No problem with Grace, but the trainer was feeling lazy..... :-)

Majored on picking up her hind feet. Actually got to tie her up outside too (bonus because the 'lads' were in).

When we started the foot work if she was tied up outside she would swing around, desperate to protect her offside and if I got near the hinds she was very 'unhappy' and would let loose if I pushed it too far.

Today, no swinging and all four feet - one at a time - were lifted on command. The fronts got picked out at my leisure. The hinds were tapped for a lift and when that was satisfactory we left it at that.

Progress, but so unnecessary (I keep thinking if only, if only, if only) that it can be frustrating. But hopefully I've learnt my lesson and will be more careful about who can handle her and when in the future. And of course long term I want it not to matter.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Eat, 'work' and play

Although Grace doesn't 'play' yet; the work and eating bit is going quite well (touch wood and any other talisman to hand please!).
Our training got a boost with a visit from 'Aunty' today. Always helpful when an understanding and responsible adult can lend their presence for some 'stranger danger' training. New people in her space is becoming less of a threat, so long as they don't move (blinking is allowed) :-)
We did a little loose schooling work in the barn, with Aunty watching. Tried out the can I get Aunty to feed me mid work out, but moved on when asked. Very good, ignoring the bilateral lameness in front, not a foot out of place. (I am sooooooo keen to get the shoes off and get her feet sorted.)
Definitely getting keen on the syringe bumping, I am hopeful that I will soon be able to tie this up with the lip flapping work and start dropping sugar syrup into her lower lip pouch. All in preparation for the day when I have to drip the sedative in. Ate all her lunch which is always helpful and an easy turnout this afternoon, even though there were two other horses near the gate.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Morning blues but afternoon bliss

Brought Grace in this morning. Easy as usual, but she looked so miserable. She does this some days, looks really really sad. I don't know why, but I am guessing that something somewhere is hurting. She was very quiet when I put her in the stable and didn't rush over to her hay as usual. (Didn't do her usual enormous dropping either). It is possible that she was mildly colicky, but there were no other signs and at lunchtime all her hay was gone and she was much perkier.

We practised 'feet', targetting and touching the syringe and having lips and ears fussed. She was very good and even picked up her back feet, although she is quite worried by that. I am teaching her that when I touch them with the blunt end of the lunge whip she has to lift them up. Just a lift is enough for now, even if they go straight back down. Then I will ask her to lift for longer and longer periods and gradually work my way towards them, just as I did for the fronts.

Grace now quite likes the touch the syringe game, although she finds it much harder than the tabbard as it is of course smaller. Success does mean a lot of treats though, so I think she finds it worth her while. It was good to see her happy and enjoying the work.

Tea time she goes out for the night. Very quietly, I partly open the door and slip in to put her headcollar on. She used to stress about this, but no more. Now she stands like a rock - even when she pushes the door wide open with her nose, her feet don't move and she doesn't show any anxiety. Then when I am ready, we quietly walk out to the field and her friends. No towing or messing about involved. Bliss!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Minor screw up on my part

Yesterday I mentioned how some things push Grace's buttons. Well I pushed them today.

We have been working on getting her comfy with people doing things in her stable. But largely stuff that doesn't involve her; like filling her water buckets, skipping out etc and she has been fine. We have also worked on 'targetting', grooming, playing with her ears and lips and picking her front feet out. Although it took time, so far so good.

But I pushed her too far today and she let me know. Whipped round and lifted a hind leg. I really thought she was going to let fly - I couldn't help myself I yelled 'nooooooooooo' and how surprised was I when she stopped. She put her leg down, stayed 'guarded' but removed the threat.

So I invited her to the front of the stable put her head collar on and worked on the sensitive bit out in the open yard. She was much better, but I was careful not to push it. Having moved on a bit I then repeated the exercise in the stable and although she was rather alarmed we did manage to do it with out her feeling the need to get defensive. So we have a lot of work to do to make Grace feel the stable is a safe place for her.

We did finish the session a bit further on than we started, so although the threat was not nice, it was understandable and we both learnt a lot. I just wish I had eyes in the back of my head!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Two people are dangerous

Actually Grace doesn't have a problem with two people in all situations. Just when one is being a bit 'threatening' and the other is trying to do something like pick up her feet. That really pushes her buttons.

We always like to start training sessions from a 'safe' place. Today my fab OH came up and we spent time handling her together. Me in the stable and him over the door. No restraint of any kind. I had the clicker and the treats. Grace loves my OH as do most animals, so the session went well. I clicked and treated her when she let him handle her head without any fuss.

We also did a bit of loose schooling. After yesterday's antics, today Grace played riding school plod. Still desperate to please and still keen for cuddles when the session was finished.

I had a brainwave (or maybe not, time will tell). Having had some success teaching her to 'target' my yellow tabbard, I thought I could transfer this to a large plastic syringe (minus needle). She hates syringes, but does seem to know the difference between wormer type syringes (disliked but not scary) and those with needles which induce terror.

The plan is if I can get her to 'enjoy' bumping the syringe with her nose, maybe I can combine this with the lip play and then maybe she will allow me to drop sedative into her lower lip 'pouch'. Ok I know it's a long shot and there are bound to be unintended consequences, but I am going to try. (Just so long as she doesn't start nose bumping syringes with needles........)

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Risk v Reward

Well I've just had an absolute blast and am very happy :-)

Grace has had 6 days without any strenuous work, because last Tuesday she slipped and was a bit sore after. She has been turning out as usual and doing her in-hand work, but none of the hard physical stuff.

Today I decided to loose school her. Well, she is feeling very well and had great fun showing off her fab movement and her 'airs above ground'. Apparently she is quite good at balancing on two feet as well.

But despite the high jinks she did everything I asked, walk, trot, canter, whoa, and about turn. When we finished she walked right up to me (but not into 'my' space) and looked me in the eye. I could practically hear her say 'Well was that all right then? Do I get my treat?' Well of course it was and yes she did. Then she followed me to the barn door and we went quietly and calmly back to her stable.

I always admire and respect a horse that can be that full of itself, but still be obedient and then when the work is over be so calm.

And as if that wasn't enough Grace iced the cake by eating all her lunch (she struggles sometimes if her mouth is very sore).

I am not taking anything for granted, but I am determined to faithfully report our performances both good and bad and while she does have 'issues' so far its been more good than bad.

Monday, 10 August 2009

A horse that practically catches itself

In my book is a real godsend. As the laziest person in the universe I hate trekking across a wet field to fetch my horse in. So Grace's new habit of lolloping over to the gate all on her own, so I just have to put her head collar on is winning her lots of brownie points.

I went to gaze at her last night, about half an hour or so after turning her out. She was on the far side of the field but she still made the effort to fetch herself over to the gate for a cuddle.

And this morning and I have another headache, the grass was very wet and she was about 200 yards away. I needn't have groaned because by the time I had the gate unlatched she was there and waiting to be brought in.

I have yet to figure out why when I put her headcollar on she feels the need to hold the rope, but its not a problem because she hands it over when it is time for me to unravel it to bring her in. Maybe she is being safety conscious......... :-)

As per usual in the morning I just picked her fronts and played with her head a bit. Ears are now not a problem to fuss with. When her teeth are done I will work on bridling her all in one go rather than one strap at a time!

Hard news

Hmm received much food for thought today. Have been digging into Grace's history. New information suggests that apparently the breeder always had issues, especially giving her injections or getting her feet done. But she was broken before the age of 6 and received some schooling - always had trouble on the right rein, but no obvious physical problems.

Will have to think this through. On the plus side today's mini session went well. Picked up both fronts, gave them a thorough picking out and played with her mouth. No problems with any of it, though she did get a bit bored with the lip flapping......

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Effortless training

Had a bit of a bad head the last few days so training for Grace scaled back to things that don't require too much effort from me.

Today we went to visit her at lunchtime in the field. Very pleased that when she spotted us by the gate she came all the way across the field on her own, (leaving her mates behind), just to say 'hello'. We indulged in much head scratching and rubbing and put some fly cream on. Did a few 'back' and 'come here' exercises and she was perfect every time. Very pleased. And I think she was grateful for the fly cream too.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Cattle crushes are for cattle

Grace has a bad scar on her butt and a corresponding, severe crush injury to her pectorals. We don't know, but we suspect she may have been put in a cattle crush. I am on a mission to find out how she acquired her various scars and deep fears of certain situations.

The good news is a kindly samaritan called me last night. Apparently her horse was stabled next door to Grace until Grace was three. All was well with Grace and her handling at least until that point.

I have also been given a lead on how I might locate Grace's breeder.

Even if I don't manage to find anything else out it is good to know that at least in her early years Grace was well handled. So her current fear of various things is a learned behaviour which we are determined to help her unlearn.

And this morning I managed to have a good dig in both her front feet, which are unfortunately oozing black goo from under the shoes, but we will work on that. The frogs which were pretty rotten are improving with 12 hours drying out on an Aubiose bed every day.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

One small step for Grace, one giant leap in faith

Today's lunchtime session was so rewarding. Grace didn't put a foot wrong. I so enjoy working with her. Bright, keen to learn and cuddly. Our session included:

1) loose schooling - practising 'turning' and being relaxed
2) step back when I point at your chest
3) pick up your foot when I point at it
4) touch the target when it is over my arm
5) touch the target when it is over the stable door
6) allow me to gently pick up the loose skin over your pectorals
7) look me directly in the eye
8) follow me and stop when I stop

The whole session was 30 minutes, broken up with changes in venue, cuddle sessions and stable tidying. Each 'bit' of the session was probably only 2 minutes if that.

Little things I need to make sure I don't reinforce - 1) Grace was experimenting with touching my arm, the clicker or the bag of treats when I would have rather she focused on the target. Moving the target to the stable door successfully managed this. 2) Grace also tried experimenting with 'if I paw at the floor will I get even more treats?' As she used to have a habit of striking the ground with her foot when stressed or impatient I am not going to encourage this habit. Later she could be taught to 'count', but we are not ready for that yet. Experimentation is a good thing, but I have to be careful that I don't encourage unwanted behaviours.