Thursday, March 27, 2008

My Assistant Horse Trainer

I've been stealing a few minutes a day lately to go out in the pasture and do a tiny bit of informal training with the yearlings.

Right now we're working on desensitizing them to my long, fuzzy pink training rope. I drape it all over their faces, necks, and backs, flop it around their bellies and legs, etc. until they don't think it's anything to worry about. (My stallion Senter's foals are fine about this, but the two Art Deco fillies are much more high strung and take more work in this regard.)

Because I don't have time to do real full-blown training sessions lately, all the sessions are done in loose the pasture with the whole herd of horses participating. This creates a bit of a challenge for the trainer, but it's a great test of your skills and sensitivity, since any horse who is overwhelmed by what you're doing can just leave the lesson whenever she wants. It's a classroom without walls.

For the most part, my lessons are very well attended. Usually I'm standing there flopping the rope on one filly, and the other six horses are crowded around me in a circle, "helping." This can be a pain in the butt when the pushier horses get in the way of me trying to work with the shyer ones, but it can also be an advantage.

Yesterday, Glory was horribly suspicious about having me drape the rope around her face and neck, so I just ignored her and made a big deal about how much fun we were all having draping the rope all over every OTHER horse's face and neck. Glory is so smart, curious, and pushy that I knew she couldn't stand missing out on something all the other horses seemed to be enjoying.

Sure enough, today when I went out with the rope, she immediately left the hay feeder to approach me and stick her face out towards the rope! I can tell that she still doesn't really WANT to enjoy having the rope flopped on her. After all, it's much more fun to freak out and pretend that something scary is happening. But her inherent bossy nature wouldn't let her be a scaredy-cat when all the other horses were being brave.

She's such a little character!

While I was doing all this, I had a very diligent assistant horse trainer, in the form of the buckskin filly, Torchsong. She was a tremendous problem child when she arrived here, but has since then developed a VERY strong attachment to me.

If I'm in the pasture, she likes to stand RIGHT up next to me. I mean, literally, if I let her have her way, she will stand directly behind me, put her neck over my right shoulder, and put her eye next to my eye, so close that I can feel her eyelashes brushing my face. Needless to say, it's a little distracting to try to conduct a lesson this way, when this is all I can see:

Or, she will stand on the opposite side of the horse I'm trying to work with, put her head over the other horse's back, and position her nose so it's almost touching my collar bone. Sometimes she grabs onto the rope I'm flopping around and "helps" by flopping it around herself!

Very helpful.
It's a bit unconventional, doing the training sessions right in amidst the herd this way, but I like the way if forces me to really interact with the horses on their own level, as one of them.

I like that I can pick up the babies' feet without having to tie them or hold onto their halters. I like that they all leave the hay feeder and come join the lessons willingly, because I know then that I have their full attention. And I like that they can leave the lesson at any time if they become bored or overwhelmed, because that keeps me on my toes as far as keeping the lessons short, interesting, and appropriately simple for their young attention spans.


Rhea said...

Oh, I just loved hearing about your training sessions. I love the horse that is right behind you, putting his head on your shoulder. You have amazing interactions with these horsese!

I'm glad the lucky horseshoe seems to be working...I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you!

Any lambs yet?

Rhea said...

Oops, I'm sorry, Torchsong is a she, not a he. :o) I love hearing about your life on the farm, thanks for sharing!

Nancy Chase said...

Thanks Rhea!

No, no lambs yet. I go out and check the ewes about 4-5 times a day now, but I'm guessing we have about another week before we see any lambs.

Believe me, there'll be LOTS of posts about new lambs, once they start arriving!