My daughter and I had a nice day today. The 8 inches of snow has melted and left mud in its wake of course, but it was GORGEOUS in the 50's and up to 60 with a bright, warm sun this weekend, so I couldn't possibly spend it in the house cleaning. I did get the worst of it cleaned up though ;-)
My daughter really wanted to do something with Jen. You may remember that Jen is a rescue (see http://www.savingmissjen.blogspot.com/). The first year we had her we spent just dumping food into her, and loving on her to get her over her tension, anxiety and fears. Last year we started clicker-training with her, rewarding her for attention, focus, and fun games like targeting cones, follow-your-footsteps, touch-the-goblins. She will not accept a bit in her mouth, she clamps her jaw shut and flings her head up, no matter how many, or what value treats we use. So I've started her in the Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle. She was quite tense mounted. I guess I can't say "under saddle", since we used a bareback pad, because her back muscles were still quite wasted and in no shape to hold a saddle. She braced, wouldn't move forward, and was a balled up bundle of nerves and anxiety. When I bought her, I was told that her only issue was being herd-bound.
I rewarded her for taking a few steps forward, and flexing her head/neck to both sides, and then put her away for the fall/winter. I've just spent more time loving on her, expecting some more respect on the ground, and just being very calm and loving with her, and spending time just stroking her and talking softely to her.
Today was her day. Unfortunately, I left the camera in the house, but hopefully I'll remember next time. So we changed out the gullet in my daughters saddle and messed with girths until we got an OK combination. We decided to stay in the paddock to keep her emotions down for the first time we've done anything for about 8 to 10 months. She was only mildly concerned about saddling, but treats took care of that, she sighed and did a lot of licking and chewing. She took the Bitless with no problems at all. I stood on the ground and we practiced a lot of lateral flexion. Her first reaction to the feeling of any pressure at all is that her head goes up and she braces. I don't escalate pressure (start where you want to end up), I just take up contact and wait, while she works it out. the head goes up, it goes down, she tries pulling the rein out of my hand, then finally, the neck relaxes and she gives her nose. BINGO! instant release with a click, and then a treat. Yehaaa!!!! Repeat ad naseum. Jen has a lot of braced default behaviors that is going to take a lot of time and repetition to undo. Did the same thing on the other side. Then hubby came home, so I stopped to talk to him for a bit. Jen fussed, pawed, fidgeted, and was trying everything to figure out how to get another treat. She finally settled down, dropped her head, relaxed, closed her eyes, and then it was time to reward her with more fun.
I briefly repeated the lateral flexion on both sides, and she braced at first again, but remembered much quicker this time. I think I'm going to have to use this sort of thing for her for awhile, a lot of repetitions on one thing, then a break and do it again. She tends to forget between sessions, so hopefully a break and repeating it will break that habit. She also needs repetition, or she gets anxious wondering what the next behavior is that she will get rewarded for. She gets fizzy and tries too many things. Lakota, OTOH, gets bored, so we do something until she gives me a good try, or improves, then we move on to something else, and go back to the first thing (maybe). Interesting difference in horsenalities.
So then I had her walk along side me, and we practiced backing up a step each time I asked her to whoa. Interestingly, she settled down, relaxed and was very happy to be moving, where she was more tense with the flexion at a standstill. I think she was anxious about the other horses in her space while there was food involved. But she needs to learn to deal with that, too, and she actually was much better than she has been in the past. Then rather than saying whoa and stopping abruptly for a halt, I decided instead to "breath out" and just "stop riding(walking)", and blow-me-down, but she whoaed beautifully and so relaxed! We practiced that for a bit, and it was fantastic, she was so soft and relaxed, very unlike herself, it was beautiful!
It wasn't in the plan today, but she was doing so well, I asked my daughter to hop on board. Jen is supposed to be her horse, I didn't know she had so many issues when I bought her, but I did figure she wouldn't be as perfect as the seller said she was. She hopped on board, and we walked through the paddock. At first, I did the leading, as we had to walk past the other horses grazing, and Jen can be pretty defensive of her personal space, I wasn't sure if she would act differently while someone was on board. But she was! She did fantastic! At first she braced and her head went up, but we didnt' ask for anything. Just stood there at the rock she mounted from, and scritched her withers while I rubbed her neck and told her what a good girl she was. When she softened and relaxed, we moved off. After a few laps, I gave up the reins to my daughter, although I walked alongside just in case I needed to snatch them. But she did beautifully, and whoaed on a breath out. Gorgeous!
But the BEST part, was we dismounted/untacked on the far end of the paddock away from the barn, and Jen was astounded! She sniffed at the saddle and mouthed it multiple times while my daughter wsa holding it, and I had the bridle hanging in my hand, and she turned toward me and put her nose right into the noseband. Awwwwww....... she wanted to keep riding!!!! Both of us were just so happy to see this, after the tense, anxious little girl last year. This is exactly how I wanted to leave her ,wanting more, not thinking "When will this be over with?"
Darn, I wish I had the camera.
But we did take Lakota out for a little spin in the yard. Everything is mud, so we only did a few circles and figure 8's in the gravel of the drive, but she was really begging for a turn, so who was I to say no?? =D
Threw on the bareback pad and Bitless, and walked around the yard a bit to look for goblins. Then I mounted up, and we had a nice little ride, and Lakota was her sweet self, as usual. Then I asked my daughter if she wanted a turn, and she said "Sure!" with a huge grin on her face. She mounted up, and it was just so comical! She has been taking lessons, and is a nice little rider, W/T/C ready for jumps now, and perhaps just a wee bit cocky about her ability. But she's been riding school horses, not uber-sensitive older greenies. She usually has a comment about my riding ability, my lack of ability to post, the fact that I haven't cantered since I was her age, etc. Well, she could not keep Lakota on a circle to save her life. Poor Lakota was so confused, and getting a bit ticked off. Lakota doesn't fill in the blanks for you, and my daughter kept looking down, losing her focus and thinking about something else, or yakking and not paying attention, and she almost ran Lakota into a trailer twice, the roundpen panel, the woodpile and a truck cap. She couldn't keep her bent, and she kept trying to head back up to the barn. She had a little bit more respect for her mothers riding abilities after trying to ride MY horse. Not that she's bad, certainly not. She is just incredibly sensitive and reads your thoughts. And you simply can NOT get strong with her, or she will either brace, or get upset and start getting spooky. Less is more with her, and if she isn't doing what you ask, then you are not being clear, or are just being too overbearing.
I hopped back on Lakota after my daughter was done for a few circles just to get her confidence back, and then we were done for the day. My son ran in the house and grabbed the camera, so I at least have some photos of Lakota and I and my daughter.