Friendly Game, Yo-Yo, Desensitize, Halter Work, Head of the Herd
I got to the farm and was dressed and headed to the barn around 11. Hay is thrown around 9 and I wanted there to be a little bit of a break between the throwing of hay and training.
On my way to the barn, I was thinking: “Never was Clytemnestra’s kiss sweeter than the night she slew me…” *
I worry that I will get to a good place, push too hard, and then we will be back where we started. I have to work hard not to have that happen. It isn’t the disappointment I worry about. I can handle the disappointment. I worry about getting hurt. I am trying not to be too worried, but seeing the shift her body makes when she goes from comfortable to scared or angry is often frightening. I don’t frighten easily, but this is powerful.
This week we are going to keep working on the friendly game and all its variations, the yo-yo game, lots of halter work, and a new game I invented called “Head of the Herd”.
Thursday was a series of 30-45 minute sessions broken two hours apart. Friday was the same schedule, but it started earlier (I was already at the farm).
We started off with halter work. I put it on and took it off twice each session. Half of the time she gave me her nose and half of the time she turned away – a kind of resigned “Oh, OK. Have your way with me if you like.”
We got through friendly games and some basic grooming pretty well. She let the stick go down under her belly, but stopped short of letting my gloved hand go there. I was able to curry her a bit without a lot of nipping this time and managed to get her mane combed, but not her tail.
We started to escalate the friendly game by including the desensitization that we will be introducing tonight. It is really nothing more than a piece of really loud crinkly plastic on the end of the stick that you rub her down with. She tolerated it pretty well.
Thursday night on our fourth session of the day she would hang out with me in the pasture, but she would not let me put a halter on her for anything. Because I am not going to use a bunch of treats and bribe her and I am not going to wrestle her big ass I just hung out in the pasture with all seven of them.
This is when I hit on my new game.
I noticed that when I am out in the pasture with all of them she stands back and watches. Her lips are flying and the tongue is lick-lick-licking (this is supposedly a sign that they are thinking). I thought that perhaps, since she is so herd driven, she is watching for cues from the other horses as far as I am concerned. So I thought: “Why not establish myself as the head of this herd?”
I began, starting with the top mare, to push the other horses around while she watched. Bug and Kayla are the two alpha mares in the group, so I started with them. They are well-trained and yield easily, so I just moved them around here, then there a few feet at a time with no lead or halters. Then I moved on to the other mare and the two geldings. The lowest rung of this herd is the mule (who really doesn’t like me anyway) so that was easy.
She just stood back and watched – those lips and tongue flailing. I threw hay and then did it again before going into the house for my own dinner.
Lo! And Behold! The next day she was a thousand times more interested and calm. I had played head of the herd before I sought her out and she yeilded to me with no issues whatsoever for the rest of the day.
And what a day it was! We worked on friendly games, then worked a bit on yo-yo game, all the while mixing in desensitizing stimulation. I found some old Christmas garland in the garage and hung plastic bags from the wall of her stall. Then I covered her stall floor with them when we brought them in for grain. She wasn’t thrilled and it will take her a bit to get used to it, but the ramping in her stall is pretty minimal considering.
When we let them all into the barn, she hesitated at the stall door and then jumped in and over the bags. I won’t push it any more than necessary. Cyndi is going to alternate the plastic on-and-off throughout the week so that we are desensitizing her and not creating a neurotic.
Friday we worked in a lot more of the yo-yo game into our friendly stuff. I can’t just groom and friendly her for hours at a time. She gets bored and leaves. When Cyndi first started learning about the games, she taught Kameo to yo-yo. It is supposed to be a bit advanced, but she knows it and so we began working with it. She did great. I was able to get her in and out of the main barn doors and Friday night before we shut everything down for the evening we had a bit of a recital where Cyndi, the dog, and the barn cats watched as I led her down the aisle in both directions and then reversed the entire length of the barn (about 50 feet) in both directions.
Overall, it was a GREAT week of sessions. She seems to be picking up on things quickly and I have another humane desensitization idea for next week!
*Yes, I love reading Saki. Why do you ask? If you want another short story I identify this horse with, try “The Brogue“