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.

Kameo: The Experiment (Week #7)

{Because of business in Chicago week #8, I wasn’t able to go to Wisconsin.  Cynda worked with her over the week and wrote this week’s entry.}

In lieu of last week’s visit, I thought I’d write a bit about what I did with Kameo this week.

Ok, here we go…………..

BecauseTchad wasn’t able to come to Wisconsin last week, poor Kameo was stuck with me. We had a nice snow fall on Saturday so I took advantage of the opportunity to expose her once again to being out on the track. The snow was a soft consistency and anywhere from a couple of inches deep to almost knee high where it had drifted. I asked her for a number of things, such as disengaging her hind quarters, approaching certain objects such as a tree limb or clump of grass (she liked that part), backing up as I backed up, and simply standing quietly in deep snow.

Kelly (my shepard/golden retriever mix) even helped us out by pretending she was a swamp monster and rustling the cat tails as we passed them. Kameo got pretty excited by the strange noise, but kept an eye on me and followed my lead….good girl!

I am quite  direct in asking her to do a number of things in sequence, so she did need to take a couple of breaks to rub her nose on her leg….this helps her think and figure things out. When we paused, she would rub her nose, lick her lips, and eventualy exhale and let her adrenaline level drop.

She clearly is understanding most of the seven games. Tchad has done a nice job introducing her to these concepts. This week gave me a chance to help her make sense of why he’s been practicing these with her. She’s learning that I’m pretty good at the games and they really do have a purpose.

I also did some work at liberty with her, both in the barn and out in the pasture with the rest of the herd looking on. When I’m with Kameo, I keep the sessions relatively short (20 minutes or less) but I ask for a lot different responses…… move over, look at me, back up, stand quietly, etc.

I was very pleased to see how much her understanding and interest has improved. I know that sometimes Tchad doesn’t see the progress but as he hones his skills, things will only get better. I’m looking forward to working with both Tchad and Kameo in week #8

New Stübben Saddle!

A client of mine asked me recently if I could use a saddle.

Her horse had died recently and she wasn’t using it anymore.

Imagine my surprise when she walks into my workroom carrying a beautiful Stübben all-purpose saddle with the pads!

Stübben Saddle!

It is an older version of this!

So now we have a good saddle to work with, and because it is a little deeper of a seat, I will have just a bit more stability than the higher Western saddle I’ve been messing with. I like the horn and seat of a Western saddle better, but the stability through the fenders is nice on an English saddle.

What I really want is someone to make me a custom design*.

Until then, I’m going to have to settle (and what a delightful compromise it is!) for the Stübben.


*What I would like to find is a deep but short-backed McClellan saddle with a bit of a higher pommel and cantle with fenders like a cross-country English. Kind of a combination of a jumping English saddle and a McClellan with a full seat that has a saddlehorn (or four).

McClellan Saddle

McClellan Saddle

Kameo: The Experiment (Week #6)

Week #6

Friendly Game, Back to Basics

I am not thinking of this as a setback, but we still have a lot to work on here.

I got to the farm and talked to Cinda about last week.  She had warned me about setbacks when we started, but I don’t think this is a setback, really.
I think that there are some higher trust issues that Kameo and I need to work out before we can move on.  She trusted me enough to work through the initial things, but now that we are moving on to higher level stuff, I am going to have to prove myself again.

Thursday started with some fitful grooming.  We worked on legs and feet, but she didn’t offer up her feet like she did last time.

I could chalk it up to her still being in heat, but that would put all of the responsibility on biology and not enough on my ability to communicate with her.

After I groomed her and played around in the barn a bit, I took the lead off and just let her hang out in the barn with me and one of the geldings.  She was wearing a halter and light cinch, along with a light saddle blanket that came with the new English saddle I got the other day (more about that in another post…) and just kind of moseyed around.

Spooky moping Arabian in Door

She hangs out right outside the door and watches. It is a little spooky.

I thought when I released her into the pasture she would kick and run like she did last week, but she played it cool and just walked over to the others.  So at least the setback seems to be of the “Can I trust you?” variety and not the “Take this, Jerk!” variety.  After last week, I’ll take it.

The barn office hadn’t been used for a while, so I spent some time cleaning it while the horse raided the haystall and then I started working on a few designs I need to have done by the end of the month.

Barn Office

This has become my office & design center.

So I was all set up for Friday.  I had the computer, a desk, and my pencils, sketchbook, and a coffee pot I brought from the city  in the office.  I figured I would play in the barn all day on Friday – the weather is so nice I couldn’t do otherwise.

Friday started at 7.  I got up, threw hay, then went inside to eat.  I planned on working in the round pen.  I cleaned off all of the ice and snow Thursday in my downtime and got it ready to use.  I don’t want her to lose her footing and create a problem.

As it turned out, clearing the roundpen was a bit of prep for next week.

See, it turns out that we have had some problems I need to figure out.  Either she is unsure of me because I am green (a polite way of saying that I don’t know what I’m doing) and confusing her, she is trying to assert her dominance, or she is still scared.

When I brought her in Friday morning, she was fine.  She wouldn’t take a halter in the pasture, but instead walked up to the barn door when I tried to halter her.  She then stood at the barn door waiting for me and then calmly walked in when I opened it.  That’s weird, I thought.

So we did our grooming and friendly stuff, but she was still edgy.  I brought in a couple of different horses throughout the day to see how she would interact with them and who would make her more comfortable.  We got haltered and did some work, then I let her back out.
The second time I went out to the pasture, I called her by name and she walked up behind all the others – the head mares were right at the door.  When I shooed them away, she stood there as I held the door and hesitated, then walked through the door on her own with some hesitation as the head mares stood close.  That was nice, but I can’t figure out what it means.  I am thinking that she is comfortable taking direction from me but still worried about her place in the herd and the biting, nasty things the head mares do to her when she gets really confident with them.

In any case, she took the halter once we were inside and we did some lead-work and yo-yo, then lots of friendly and grooming.  She is weird about her feet and legs, not like last week where she gave them to me freely.   I incorporated the simple cinch and saddle pad that came with the Stübben saddle a client gave me into the friendly stuff and then we backed into and out of doors and the stall again, and then I let her be for about 45 minutes just wandering around the barn while I worked.

Cinch & Saddle Pad

She was actually pretty good with the cinch and saddle pad.

When Cinda came out to the barn in the late afternoon, we brought out some traffic cones and tried some work in the driveway.  She is really resisting my lead outside, and then when I tried to do a bit of driving and circling, she lost all interest – pulling me any which way.  I haven’t mastered the lead rope and carrot stick in my hands and so I was confusing her terribly.  When Cinda took over and showed me how it was done, her ears perked up and she was fine.

So that is where we are for the time being.  She is iffy about me.  Not as bite-y as she has been, but it is still there and I am going to need to get really good with the next few challenges.  I have to prove I know it better than she does.

An odd thing happened when I threw hay the last morning before leaving to catch the train back to Chicago.  I threw the bale in flakes for everyone and then when I walked up to her, she pinned her ears, brayed, and took off to another flake across the pasture with a kick.  This is something that I haven’t had her do before.  It is an interesting puzzle piece.  She usually gives that exact same reaction to the head mares when they come over to eat on the flake she is eating.  I have seen it a number of times.  I am left wondering if she gave the grunt-kick-switch because she saw me as one of the alphas or because she was showing me just how done with me she was for the week.

And here is where the carefully planned out schedule I mentioned in the Goals & Process post breaks down.  I am going to have to drill handling the rope and stick this week before I get to the farm.

I am also going to have to figure out exactly where I stand with her and try to work from there.

Cinda’s interpretation is that I am green and need to be more adept with the aids because I am confusing and boring her. I would add to that that I feel like I am still in an unsure place with her and have to do a little more proving myself to her as a leader as well as stop boring and confusing her.

So that is where we leave it for the week.  I am not too down about it, but after the 4th and 5th week it is hard not to be a little disappointed.

If you see me in the city with a rope and a long stick practicing and looking a little crazy and a lot eccentric, be nice to me.  I have a difficult mare I have to prove myself to.