Thursday, August 25, 2016

Rides two and three

I had guests all weekend, so I did not get a chance to practice what I had worked on with our coach until Monday. This time, my wonderful partner Chris was my assistant on the ground. Oak was definitely more nervous and tense the second time around. Maybe it was because Chris was not as comfortable as our coach? Maybe having Chris help instead of the trainer made me a little more nervous? Not sure. I practiced getting off and on (the saddle still worries me with its slipping!) and he seemed okay. Then I had Chris walk him off and Oak was very hesitant to move forward. He also started doing the weird kicking/stomping thing he does when he is really nervous, so I hopped off and we had a "re-do." He was much calmer when I hopped on a second time, and was better about walking with Chris. We just walked him around both directions and called it a day.

Hanging out with Oak after our third ride

Wednesday was our third ride. Chris has done some clicker training, so I suggested he practice walking Oak without me on him first and reward Oak for good transitions and for being calm and forward. Next, I had him mark and reward him for staying calm while I practiced mounting and dismounting. Oak seemed calmer. Then, I had Chris reward Oak as he had before only this time I was on his back. Only one tiny kick this time. He was much more forward and relaxed. I think using clicker training helped us all focus on the positive and relax and listen to each other. Chris said it helped him focus on what Oak was doing ride then that he could reward, which helped him stay calm. I felt like we had more of a plan, so I know my breathing was better, and Oak am sure liked figuring out what the heck we wanted from him!

I ended the session by moving Oak away from Chris with some rein and applying a little leg to cue forward myself. He did really well with it. The only new strangeness I noted for our third ride was that Oak was giving my outside foot a lot of side-eye. Before I dismounted I wiggled my feet around in the stirrups to address that a little. Definitely made him tense up. I waited until I got a little release (blinking), and I rewarded him with a pat and dismount. Overall really proud of him!

Oak is also cantering both directions now in the roundpen. He still has balance issues, and we are slowly building up strength, but he canters a little more each session. He moves off really well -- no bucking or kicking out which is great!

Gray got a rub from the flymask so I am waiting on that to heal up before I put a halter on him to work with him. It is always something with that horse! I have been playing with him at liberty in the paddock for a few minutes everyday, but I hope to really get some serious work done soon!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Oak's first ride

Put Oak's first ride on him today. We started by practicing mounting. I just got on and off a hundred times until he started to settle in. Then my wonderful trainer led us around a bit. We ended with adding a little leg and rein aids from me and her backing into more of a lunging position. We even got a few strides of trot before we called it quits.

He did amazing! There were moments of tension and anxiety of course, but over all he did wonderful. We ended when he finally started to breath, and snort showing us he was relaxing. My wonderful husband captured some photos.

First we started by playing around with getting up and down. So I got pretty silly...

dangling dangling
going up!
Look what I can do!
I am touching you with my foot!

Then I swung up and settled in...

Can see his tension here

Then we went on a pony ride...

and of course lots of rubs and treats
Good boy Oak

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

FKA Jerry: The dirt on Oak's past

A few weeks ago I pulled out Oak's Coggins in order to see when I needed to pull a new one. This is when I notice for the first time that the name listed as owner was different from the person I bought him from (most observant horse buyer in the world award goes to me) and that his name is "Jerry." Not out of the ordinary for a horse to have a different name or an unknown person on the Coggins, but it made me want to investigate further into Oak's history. So investigate I did!

I contact the person I bought him from and asked her about it. She told me the name and location on the Coggins were not from who she bought him from, and that she tried tracking it down, but got nowhere. Also, she changed his name to Oakley because she assumed "Jerry" was not his real name. Who would name a horse Jerry?

So I did some internet sleuthing and managed to track the name and address on the Coggins to a real-estate mogul (not kidding) in Florida. He also owns an Andalusian and Thoroughbred breeding farm about 45 minutes away from me.

So of course I send an email to the contact listed on the farm's website with pictures and a plea for more information on Jerry. I get an immediate response. Three responses in fact. Two from the real-estate mogul and his wife saying "Oh Jerry! We love Jerry! Yes he came from us! Our barn manager will contact you", and one email from the barn manager asking if she could call me. I say sure and quickly get a phone call.

So here is Oak's (Formerly Known As Jerry) Story as we know it now:
Jerry June 2015. Still a cutie (Picture from the Barn Manager)
 The real-estate mogul's wife loves Haflingers and they want to invest in horses, so they start off buying three Haflingers from a Florida auction (cause why not!) and buy some property to put them on. Jerry and his best friend George (Seinfeld fans?) are sold to them as broke to drive and ride. The barn manager thinks Jerry (Oak) was about three when they first got him. The Haflingers mostly lived as pasture pets being occasionally used for pony rides for the kids. In the next few years the family begins to invest in racehorses and Andalusians, and has exercise riders on staff now and they sometimes work the Haflingers (and by the barn manger's recollection treat them too roughly), but for the most part the ponies just hang out.
Jerry and George 2015. I wish I could reunite them Black Beauty style
In July 2015 the family decides they don't need the Haflingers anymore so they sell both Jerry and George. Jerry goes to someone named Sally (named changed to protect the not so innocent) who wants to use him as a trail horse. Barn Manager warns Sally that Jerry has not been worked consistently and therefore is pretty green, but Sally buys him anyways. Sally lives close by and the barn manager makes her promise to let them know if she ever needs to re-home Jerry. They always have a home for Jerry.

This is where the speculation enters the story.

  • July 2015 Sold to Sally in Central FL
  • August-October 2015 ???
  • November 2015 Bought by last owner from somewhere in Georgia sold by someone named "Taylor"
  • February 2016 comes to live with me

The barn manager swears that Jerry did not have any of his three large scars on his body when he lived with her, nor was he nervous or reactive. She describes him as laid back, friendly, and very green. I know she could be lying, but after talking with her I believe her. I also see that horse slowly coming out again in him. The person I bought him from got him from someone she described as a horse dealer/meat buyer in Georgia in November 2015.

So somehow between July 2015 and February 2016 (when I got him) he went to at least four people -- one (Taylor) a horse trader/meat buyer. In less than six months a horse can go from living the life of luxury to ending up scarred (emotionally and physically) and discarded in some slaughter pen. It can happen that fast people. Hug your ponies tight tonight, and (I know this goes without saying) be careful who you sell your horses to

And no, I don't think I will call him Jerry. ;)

Friday, August 5, 2016

Pushing Thresholds

I had the dressage trainer out to the farm for our second lesson yesterday. I showed her what we have been working on; walking and trotting under saddle on the lunge, getting used to the whip rubbing on him and being friendly, and stretches.

During our review she reminded me that I have to be consistent with my cues. She likes to use clucks for trot and kisses for canter. Speaking of canter that is where she went next. I have asked him to increase his speed and energy at the trot but I have not tried canter yet. She suggested we get canter out of him first before we think about climbing on top and I could not agree more.

The first direction we tried I got as loud as I possibly could driving him from behind and could not get a single stride of canter. Instead I got him snorting at me, so we stopped. That was obviously over his threshold of pressure and he was not ready to canter yet. We gave him a rest and tried the other side. He immediately picked up the canter going to the left, so that told us he is having some sort of issue physically picking up his right lead. I was relieved I got canter so easily on at least one side. Canter is not an easy gate for draft breeds. Bodhi took forever to be able to canter on the lunge line. We will work towards getting that right side now, and getting a more sustained and balanced canter on the left. I am glad we pushed him a little though, because he demonstrated he could handle the challenge and stayed calm, and responsive through our session ( minus the snorting I got to the right that I read is "I get it, but I can't right now").
boingy boingy boingy

Now that we were both a bit more tired and relaxed she came over and held him and fed treats while I practiced jumping around, standing on the mounting block and pulling and climbing on the saddle. He was tense at first but definitely started to shift his focus away from the silly things I was doing, and became more interested in enjoying his treats. The saddle was slipping really badly, which limited what I could do but we ended on the high note of me hanging over the saddle. Now I need to figure out how to keep that saddle from slipping!

Just hanging out, no big deal
Oak has had one heck of a week! I am really proud of him. I have to take the next week off for work, so hopefully we won't backslide too much. Grayson has also been my little shadow lately anytime I am around the barn, reminding me I have two horses and he would really like to play too!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A lesson that clicked

Pre-lesson selfie.

Oak and I (along with our new friends Jess and OneZ!!), had a lesson at our friend Kathy's farm on Tuesday morning with Karen Jones from Body and Soul Horsemanship. Karen has a background in dressage, bio-mechanics, and natural horsemanship. though she has most recently been focusing on  Straightness Training and positive reinforcement (clicker training). She decided to pursue clicker training when she adopted a very troubled Lipizzaner/Andalusian named Rhett. Rhett's story has been really inspiring to me because he shares similar triggers (saddles, mounting blocks) and insecurities (everything involving people) with Oak, but Karen has really been able to make huge progress with him. I was also really geek-ed out with be able to talk to someone about positive reinforcement training with horses. If anyone has followed me over from my first blog, you already know that I started experimenting with clicker training with my last horse Bodhi, and I have continued to dabble with Oak and Gray.

The two horses that participated were OneZ and Oak. Both horses have had past abuse/neglect that have left them with a sometimes negative view of people. We started the day off by reviewing the basic concepts of why use a marker (the click), how you pair your marker with the reward, and how to shape a horse's behavior using a marker (so when to click). We started this basic lesson by teaching OneZ (completely new to clicker) how to touch a target. Teaching a simple behavior, like touching a target, is a great way to introduce clicker training to your horse -and "charge" your marker. During Karen's introduction, I noticed several bad habits that I had developed in my treat delivery. During Oak's first session we addressed those habits. We also talked about how she has helped Rhett through some of his fears of human touch with the clicker, so Oak and I have a plan to incorporate more positive reinforcement in our massages, stretches, and grooming sessions. She found that just desensitization was not getting very far with Rhett and I have similarly hit that wall with Oak, so I am really happy to have a new tool (well old tool) to use to help him relax. Same story with the saddle and mounting block. My take home was that positive reinforcement is a great tool to use on a horse like Oak. I just need to increase my rate of reinforcement and keep at it!

With OneZ we worked on many of the behaviors he has learned through natural horsemanship (backing, moving his hips, and shoulders, side-passing), but instead of increasing pressure when he did not respond Jess just paused and asked again looking for a chance to reward him and build on his initial try. Karen explained that with clicker training there is no "make." We give the horse a chance to earn a reward, and if he does not respond, then he loses the opportunity. So Jess started off by using her old cue for back and then clicked the tiniest response. Once OneZ was in on the game she was able to slowly ask for more steps (or head down, or faster) by rewarding what she liked with a click and a treat instead of an increase in pressure. OneZ has been getting frustrated sometimes with some of these basic tasks, and Jess guessed it may be a reaction to the pressure (because of his history of inappropriate handling). OneZ took to clicker training wonderfully and seemed to enjoy himself (though we learned he is not a fan of cheerios).

I think we all had a positive experience and Jess and I plan to have play dates to work together in between the next time Karen can travel down to us for a lesson. I was super proud of how Oak handled being off the farm. He is such a wonderful guy. Gray came along as a spectator only this time, but it will be his turn next!