January 22, 2013

My Sassy Girl

Dani has some sass and attitude from a life of being pushy and getting away with it.  She's a higher ranked mare in the herd hierarchy from what I can tell and she tries to be that at times in our herd of two.  Before I got Dani, 3 almost 4 months ago, she lived with a nice family that did some great work with her, she was head shy when they got her.  I still notice her issues with her head but she's not what I would call head shy.  Dani doesn't seem to have had consistent work on staying out of peoples space.  Before her former owners had her she was a pasture ornament, from what I'm told, so probably just did what she wanted.  She wasn't made to work a lot and thus when asked to move off in the circle her attitude is coming to the surface.  I've done work with her in leading and for the most part I feel she has improved a lot!  I still have to correct her but she's getting the rules.  This will be a process as well.

I recently started the Clinton Anderson Fundamentals.  The first exercise being the round pen exercise. The round pen ground is still hard and icy in some places so I'm still not completely comfortable with cantering too much in the round pen.  Let me describe the process I'm working under for those less familiar with Clinton Anderson.  First is to get the horse moving around the pen, establish direction.  You point, cluck and then spank.  If you have to keep spanking harder and closer to the horse you do that in order to get the horse to move, then you back off once they are moving in the direction and speed you want.  Then you step to the side and back to get the horse to turn inwards and change directions.  Dani has had some issues with turning in from her right side so I did a little bit of work in the arena with a long line helping her get that concept.  Honestly I'm getting pretty happy with her turn in response, it's not perfect but it's getting there.  I've had difficulty with the weather, darkness when I get to the barn etc so I've had little chance to use the round pen...it's been frustrating.  The inconsistent ability to work with her in the round pen makes this a bit harder.

I am working towards getting consistent turns of direction and making sure the horse turns when I cue.  In the video there are times that I have to get after Dani because she makes the wrong choice and turns her heels at me and changes direction without my asking.  When a horse shows attitude, kicks out or shakes their head at you it's their way of saying "get lost" and Clinton instructs that you have to hustle their feet.  It can get ugly but the horse will soon realize that the less attitude means easier work for them and less pressure applied to cue them.  I hope this Clinton's (and many other trainers!) concept makes sense.  Of course I know I'm not perfect either since I'm still learning this exercise hence why I recorded a session (I only posted a couple minutes of the beginning when she was being naughty!)  Later in the exercise there is a whole part of having the horse follow you around the round pen and moving their hindquarters...Dani has no problem with this but she gets too close so I tap her chest and move her off a bit, this still needs work. 

Her big issue is moving her feet quickly, she doesn't wanna!....but like I said I've not had her canter much because of the round pen footing condition.  She's a little lazy in moving her feet so it may take time combined with the weather. This exercise may really have to wait until springtime, I can probably move to the other exercises that don't require the round pen.

Another thing I read in one of Clinton's books is to treat all horses the same and expect the same from them.  He was discussing an abused horse and how the owner thought exercises needed to be changed for their specifics needs, it sort of sounded like giving them more leeway to me.  I get where she is coming from since I know Dani has had a bad experience with whips and trailer loading....she was never abused from what I can gather but I was concerned about the stick and string with Dani's issue.  Clinton's response was that horses in the pasture are still going to chase, bite and move the feet of the the formally abused horse just like any other.  Us as owners and trainers should not expect a horse to improve if we don't apply pressure when needed and release it when we get the correct response.  It's up to the horse how much pressure they require.  If done right they will learn that if they respond and do it with no attitude the cue will be subtle and to their liking. 

I've used the stick and string to smack the ground behind or in front of Dani when she was going the wrong direction, acting out with attitude etc.  I have not needed to "spank" her butt; I really don't want to and hopefully I won't need to.  She responds well enough to the cues right now (for a beginner), she kicked out that one time with just my hand raised!!  Can we say sensitive?  The camera only recorded a total of eight minutes so I never got the part at the end where she was turning in really well for being only the third time doing this with many days in between the last session.  I didn't get her following me around and moving her haunches on tape; she was a sweetheart for a lot of that, though at times I think she was trying to move my feet so I backed her off.  It will be a process as I learn and try to teach her.  We'll just keep going forward and working to improve together, I want to earn her full respect and I know that will take time.

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