Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Separation Anxiety

I finally got around to splitting up the horse herd today. The two older fillies and the two yearlings by my stallion all have their basic manners learned, but the two Art Deco yearlings are still not even what I would consider fully halter-trained.

In part, that's because I knew I wasn't going to sell them, so I worked with all the sales horses first. But in part, it's just because they have much more challenging temperaments.

Even with patience and persistence, they have not been making progress while living loose with the rest of the herd. So today I lured them into separate paddocks, where they will be in a more confined and manageable space---apart from the influence of the herd---so that I can work with them properly.

It was like weaning day all over again. Once they realized that they were alone, both Grace and Glory, started hollering, and all the other horses were running around in the field calling back. Lots of neighing and galloping for much of the afternoon. A little separation anxiety can be a useful tool to adjust a horse's attitude.

Deliberately choosing a non-confrontational task that would put me in their vicinity for a good stretch of time, I spent a couple of hours out there, scrubbing all the water troughs and rearranging them so that they were in the right places for all the newly rearranged animals. While I was in their paddocks, both Grace and Glory immediately began acting much more anxious to be near me, now that their other companions were gone.

This is the change of attitude I was hoping for, the start of a willingness to acknowledge ME as their "boss mare" instead of constantly flaunting away, saying "I don't have to. You're not the boss of me! I go where the herd goes, not where you go."

I spent a lot of time petting them, scratching their itchy spots, and generally being their buddy. Tomorrow will be time enough to start the actual lessons. Today I just wanted them to think about how nice it is to have me around.

Meanwhile, the sheep are still enjoying their new pasture. Because the grass is tall, higher than the sheep's heads, the two big manure piles left over from last summer are prime real estate for standing on to get a better view of the pasture. Most of the time, they are occupied by hordes of lambs playing King of the Hill, but today the grownup rams were doing the same thing.

I saw Preston butt Taj right off the side of the hill, so that he rolled right over as he tumbled down to the ground and landed on top of a very surprised lamb. Proud of himself for his obvious victory, Preston then gave Nicholai a little nudge. Nicholai whacked him in the ribs with the pointy end of one of his horns and chased him off the pile. Doesn't matter how big you are, you don't mess with the King!

Nicholai is such a wonderful ram. He insists on being the boss, but as soon as the other rams acknowledge his dominance, he is kind and friendly. If any of the other rams get in a squabble with each other, Nicholai gets between them and puts a stop to it. He's definitely a benevolent king.

As I was standing out there in the tall grass, checking out the sheep, my cat Oliver was prowling around making a pest of himself, as usual, so I indulged in a little entertaining kitty torture. Whenever he wasn't looking, I would toss a pebble to land next to him. He would jump sky-high, but couldn't see what made that noise. Then I would toss a pebble on the other side, and he would jump again. I think I almost got him convinced that the pasture is haunted! :-)

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