Kameo: The Experiment (Week #8)

I got to the barn around 9:30.  After throwing hay I went to go get her from the pasture.  It was then I realized that she is playing a bit of a game with me.

I am being tricked.

The past two times I’ve been out to the pasture, she has culled herself from the herd when I’ve called her.  She comes up to the door and then hesitates before walking in, but won’t take a halter in the pasture.  She walks in the door and then proceeds to do whatever she wants in the barn until I can finally get the halter on her.

So what seemed like a really great breakthrough is really not so much.  I go out to the pasture, show her the halter and lead rope, she pins her ears, and then ducks into the herd.  She does a kind of circle around the herd and then comes inside on her own.

She then stands at the hay stall and fusses and stomps while she eats.  This needs to end.  I thought that I was getting a really cooperative horse when she started coming inside on her own, but I am getting a toddler who doesn’t want to go to school.

Once I get her in a halter, she is ready to work.  I have gone back to basics – lots of grooming and friendly work.  Her flinch is almost gone, but pops back up right after I put the halter on her.  I was able to brush and manipulate her legs and hooves, so at least we are making progress.

When I bring her out of the barn onto the asphalt drive, she then tries to be really pushy and take over.  She wants to drag me to the grass.  Part of it is just the season – the Winters in Wisconsin are hard on the pasture.  Right now the pasture is mud and slush, so a healthy lawn of green grass in late February  is something like a keg at an AA meeting:  Not good.

I don’t want to lose control of the situation, so I turn it into a game at the door.  I start backing her into and out of the door.  Any door.  She still tries to bolt out of her stall if you aren’t paying attention, but she is getting more comfortable standing still while she is halfway over the threshold.

I thought that, as a small triumph, I would try to get her to back up into her stall from the aisle.  I felt like this is dangerous, as the barn’s main aisle isn’t very wide and it meant that I would have to face her as she backed in with my back pinned against the wall.  IT WORKED!  I got into position and then began backing her up.  As she moved, I was able to direct her hindquarters so that she didn’t get started by backing into the door frame.  This is what I was worried about – I had a mental picture of her getting to the frame and hitting it, where she would then rear up and stomp my face into the floor.  This did not happen.

She backed in all the way and then stood there for a second.  I worked her in and out for a bit and then took her back out into the pasture.

Because we have a lot of downtime in-between the sessions, I thought I would see what kind of work can be done in the pasture/barnyard so that I could still be hanging out with them.  I started to do a little bit of fill and grading – on the West side of the pasture.  It is really low and is swampy – especially as the snow melts.  The water doesn’t run off quickly and just sits.  So I start to dig out the culvert that drains the property and open up the ditches.  Then I start to empty wheelbarrows into the lowest parts of the depression.

The funny thing is that Kameo kept coming over to me as I worked and filled the wheelbarrow.  If I had a proper harness, I would have asked her to help me out.  As it was, I was content with her being curious. At least it wasn’t the nasty mare that I had two weeks ago.

We were also able to get some blanket play together.  She didn’t mind the blanket and is still ok with the cinch.

Both days this week, I worked with her face and mouth. While in a halter, she is surprisingly good about having her face, ears, and neck touched without flinching.  I have been doing some friendly work with her mouth and chin to get her ready for a bit and bridle.

There is some old, unused maple syrup in the cellar of the farmhouse, so I took a dram of it and have been using it as a bit of a tease for mouth-play and the bit.  I take just the smallest amount on my index fingers and work them into the corners of each side of her mouth.  It isn’t enough to be a treat, but just enough that she registers “sweet” when I play with her  mouth.  Once she is ok with the fingers in her mouth, I take the smallest amount and put it in the center of the snaffle bit that I’ve been working with.  She takes it in and holds it for a minute.  I have been trying to make sure that I take it out before she either gets tired of it or scared and haven’t tried to attach it to the bridle yet, but we are getting there.  I did this a few weeks ago before she went into heat, but now we can start to use it more regularly.

And that’s it.  I feel like we are beginning to be back on track, but still not there yet.  I am planning on incorporating saddle and bit play into the grooming and friendly process every time so that it is a totally normal thing for her.

Week #9 begins circling and driving.  I have been practicing holding the lead rope and driving stick, so that I don’t end up a cartoonish knotted mess, but the proof will be in the round corral this coming week.