Sunday, September 2, 2007

Baby Steps

I thought I was going to work on halter breaking Penny today. Ken had time to come out and help me, so I put on my training gloves (to prevent rope burn), gathered my long lead rope, and we headed out to the weaning paddock.

The fillies, who happily stand still to let me scratch their withers and fondle their faces, who let me pick up any of their feet without needing to be restrained, took one look at me carrying my soft pink rope, and started careening around the paddock like I had crashed into their space blowing a trumpet and juggling flaming chainsaws.

Okay. Time for a new plan. Clearly some desensitizing training is in order before anyone is ready for more training to lead. These are baby horses with baby brains. So, the training has to take place in baby steps.

Some parts of horse training can be really, really boring. Like Ken and me standing around in the paddock for an hour wiggling and flapping ropes in the air somewhere in the general vicinity of the fillies, until the fillies realized the ropes wouldn't hurt them.

The key is, just keep gently and calmly doing what you're doing until the horses get tired of snorting and leaping around, and decide that it's just not worth the effort to be freaked out anymore. The moment their inherent laziness outweighs their instinctual fear, you're in!

At that point we let them sniff and nibble the rope, rub it on their necks, shoulders, backs, rumps. Eventually we drape it over their heads and ears, rub it against their bellies, flop it around their legs. When they stand still for that without flinching, we feed them and let them alone as a reward.

We did two sessions today. Penny was the worst. She's still not entirely resigned to being weaned, so her nerves are still a little on edge. She's still expecting something bad to happen to her whenever something new occurs. So she ran around a lot and wouldn't stop until she was actually tired enough to want to rest. Only then did she settle down enough to let us rub her with the ropes.

On the bright side, we got to see that she has no trouble jumping over the water trough---longways!---so clearly that powerhouse build she has is going to translate into some athletic ability as she grows up.

Glory was the next worst. With her, I get the feeling that she isn't actually scared. She just refuses to take my word for anything. She is smart, willful, and suspicious of any new idea I present to her. She wants to be persuaded that something is a good idea before she will accept it. Ahh, the dubious joys of a super-intelligent horse.

Libby, as usual, was just a joy. In the beginning, she only ran a little because the other two were running. Pretty soon, she was standing there, enjoying having the rope rubbed all over her, and pushing herself in front of us for MORE rope rubbing whenever we turned our attention to the other fillies.

I just can't believe how agreeable she is. She's so eager to learn and eager to please. I envy whoever ends up buying her!

By the end, they were all doing well, although I suspect that by tomorrow Penny and Glory will both need another session or two to remind them that being calm is the answer we're looking for.

But, like I said, baby steps. If I let them learn at their own pace, they'll build confidence and trust, which will make future lessons easier. I've got time.

Assuming of course we don't go broke in the next week, which is certainly a possibility. We only have about 2 days worth of hay left, and pretty much no money to buy more. Our hay supplier wants to start a flock of Icelandic sheep, so we've been working on a deal to trade sheep for hay for a month and a half now, but he keeps putting off finalizing his decision.

We really need that deal to go through, and we really need to sell some of these horses. I know the market is really bad right now, but everyone says what fantastic, gorgeous, enviable horses mine are. I can't believe I haven't been able to sell even ONE of them in the past 11 months.

Oh well. I do what I can. I guess I have to be satisfied with baby steps for me, too, getting this farm rolling.

I've set tomorrow aside to post a bunch of stuff on EBay. I hope that will bring in enough cash to buy hay very, very soon!

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