The New Year rings in with my good friend Judy visiting her horse, Allie, who is stabled here for the winter. It is pleasant enough on January 2 for us to enjoy a nice trail ride. Sara and Allie are wonderful.
On the morning of January 4, Gary comes to the barn with me. It ha been a week since we have asked Ruby to lift her feet. We clean everyone else’s feet in front of her stall before bringing her out. For the first time, she lets me clean all four feet! Happy New Year to us both. She shook her back right a little at first and then lost her balance. So I put the foot down. But, on our second try, I cleaned her hoof well. She responds to the word “hold” when I am asking her to stay still for me.
At lunch, I stay in Ruby’s stall with the door open while she eats. It is peaceful. When she is finished, she backs for a treat. I did not ask. The other girls are not out of their stalls yet, so she stands in the open stall door with me while we visit with Zena, who is hanging her head around to see what we are up to.
In the evening, oh, we have so much fun! I stand next to Ruby in her stall while she eats again. And, again, she backs up, looking for a treat. We come out of the stall, and I let the other girls out for their hay. But, I have left the slider to the causeway open and Ruby has gone in. She finds Allie’s yellow grain measure scoop and an empty water bucket sitting on a chair. By the time I peek in to see what is up, she has knocked the scoop on the floor and gotten it stuck under the bottom rung of the chair. I walk around her to pick it up, but it is too late. Judy’s scoop is cracked. I put the scoop and bucket in the office and, when I open the door to come back out, Ruby has her dog bone dangling from her mouth. I HAVE to give her a treat! I toss the bone back on the chair, and she picks it up and gives it to me again! Actually, she sort of holds it in front of me – she doesn’t specifically move it in my direction. Well, she ends up with three treats before I put the bone in the office. I am planning to fill the grain measures for tomorrow morning, but ruby is still standing outside the tack room door. I look around for a safe toy I can toss out to her. I pull a towel out of the dirty blanket bin and give it to her. I toss a second over her neck. After filling the grain measures, I open the door to find Ruby playing with the towels on the floor. She picks one up and clearly holds it out to me. She does not hand it TO me. She just holds it out for me. So, yes, she gets another treat before I return the towel to the tack room. The causeway is only 10 x 10, with the spigot closet, a couple wall cabinets, the hayloft ladder, and four halter hooks taking up some of the room. I walk around her and down into the arena; and ask her to follow me out. Instead, she turns to the lead ropes hanging on the halter hooks, removes one, and tosses it on the floor in front of me. My pickets contain no treats. I give her the hand-wipe / palms up “no-more-treats” sign. I eventually have to step back up into the causeway and into the tack room to get my switch. I tap her quietly on the rump to let her know she needs to join the others. After she steps down into the arena, she turns to me because she really wants more play-for-treats. I say goodnight and slowly close the door on her pretty face
The weather remains fairly pleasant so, on January 6, my neighbor Maxx, one of the fellows who helped to rebuild my pens last fall, comes over to help me replace some of the fence dividing the two pens. We leave the horses in their stalls so they cannot harass us so, by the time we are done, Ruby is pretty much ready to just be out. For the first time, when I hold up her halter, she sticks her head right in!
The next day offers a fun little morning. Again, Ruby sticks her head right into her halter and, as always, she backs in her stall for her treat. When I bring her out, she receives a treat for walking to the teeter-totter. I ask her to pick up Sue’s ball, but she just touches it. So, I pick it up and put it back down. She then picks it up and I take it from her before treating. I put it in one of the black hay tubs. She picks it up and holds it for me until I say give. I walk her to Zena’s stall and take her halter off. She backs up, looking for a treat. I quietly shake my head no. So, get this … She walks forward and tries to stick her head back into the halter that is hanging with its lead rope over my arm! I about die with surprise! How can I not hold it up so she can put her head through and receive a treat?! I take it back off and give her the no-more-treats signal. Zena has finished eating, so they both wander outside. I need to invent some longer play sessions, but I am so un-creative and non-spontaneous. I will have to ask Trish for help.
January 8 offers an excellent training session. Trish has not been here since before Christmas, and is visibly surprised at how much taller Ruby has grown in her short absence. She comments on Ruby’s increased ability to remain calm. Hanging her head over the stall wall, Ruby thrusts it through her halter for a treat; and backs as soon as we begin to slide her door open. It is all so pleasing for Trish’s return for the New Year. Having an agenda does not mean we will keep it, but our plan is to lead and back Ruby, and give her some things to play with, before asking her to yield to our requests for her to move her shoulders and/or hips right and/or left. We plan to finish by cleaning her feet.
We attach a lead to each side of her halter and, together, we as her to follow, stop, and back – all of which she performs well. She thoughtfully steps over a small jump – a pole that is eighteen inches off the ground. She stops with just her front feet over. I think she is waiting for a treat. This would mean she remember that from over a month ago. She then quietly lifts her back feet over. There is no wiggling or hopping; and she does this again for us later. We want to remove one of the leads but, when we do, she wants to play with (nip at) Trish’s sleeve. I reattach my lead to deter her. Trish begins to use the Parelli method of backing Ruby – wiggling a finger, then the rope. But, Ruby already back well to my flick of the fingers – the same motion we all use to ask a person to back away. Ruby moves her hips away with the slightest touch of our fingertips. But, moving her shoulders is a diffeent story. This is because dominant horses do not want to move their front feet for others. We keep the two leads in place to prevent nipping, and take turns asking her to move her shoulders – first one step, and then two steps to the right – then left. She earns a few treats because her effort becomes better over a half dozen attempts.
We return her to her stall and bring Zena out for hoof cleaning. When I bring Ruby back out, I have to ask twice for her to pick up her back right foot and three times for her back left. But, there is no jerking or striking – just pulling away, moving toward me, or losing balance. All in all, it is a very good morning. With all the horses outside with their hay and Trish gone, I begin to pick the stalls. But, before Trish even reaches her car, Ruby comes galloping back in. I am in Sparky’s stall with the barrow at the door. Ruby goes into the first stall. It has thin wooden flooring and houses my hay cart (which is now empty), barrows, and hanging picks, rakes, shovels, and brooms. She finds an empty plastic feed bag, partially full of twine, and plays with it for ten minutes. When she comes out, I am at the far end of the arena, picking Allie’s stall. I have to block the door with the barrow. Ruby pushes on the pipe gate to try to squeeze in, but I ask her to back. When she realizes there is no playing to be hand, she turns and gallops outside
The weather is horribly cold and wet today. In the evening, I sit quietly with the horses as they munch their hay in the middle of their pleasantly dry arena. Back at the house, I review James English’s Trust-Technique website. The next day is cold and quiet. When I put flakes of hay in the rubber feed tubs, the horses usually toss it back out with a swish of their heads – in order to find the leafy goodies that filter to the bottom. But, tonight, Ruby puts both front feet INTO her tub. She rests one hoof on top of a flake and uses her other foot to paw the flake apart. I decide she is a dog in horse’s clothing.
Today, the horses end up together. There are hay piles in both pens. Allie goes out first and opts for the larger east pen. Sara considers both pens before opting for the smaller west pen. Sparky joins Allie by moving her off her pile of hay. Zena joins Sara. Ruby comes out last – trotting into the east pen before realizing that her mom is not there. She moves Allie off her hay but Allie comes back and moves Ruby off – and uses her hip to keep Ruby off. Sparky backs up to Allie with her ears pinned, but then returns to her original pile. I think she said, “I could run you off if I wanted to.” But, Allie just turns her hip toward Sparky and continues munching hay. I am thinking that, maybe, I can finally keep all five of them together.
The next day, I put everyone out together but, for the entire day, Zena keeps Allie from wandering into the arena.
It is the middle of January. I have ordered a pair of grooming gloves from Georgia Horseback and they arrive today. They have large protuberances on the palms that serve as a curry comb.
The weather is horrible on Sunday – cold and rainy. I spend time on the Trust-Technique website reading and watching videos related to the importance of having a quieter presence when I am in the barn. It is still bitterly cold on Monday, but I stand outside Ruby’s stall, quietly practicing being-in-the-now. She exits her stall quietly, so maybe it works. In the still-cold evening, I stand by Zena and Ruby as they eat the hay from the tubs. Ruby again puts both front feet in her tub, using one to hold the flake in place while using the other to paw the hay apart. I find this interesting because the horses usually either pick the entire flake up in their teeth and toss it out of the tub, or swish it out with their heads. So, how did Ruby decide to do this differently?
On Tuesday, Allie behaves as if she wants to be with the other horses but, when I come out later, she is outside while everyone else is in the arena. Still, she is leaving me with the impression that she would rather e with the groups than in the other pen alone. When I come out for Wednesday evening feed, it is clear that it is Zena who is guarding the door, forcing Allie to stand outside.
On Wednesday evening, for the first time since she was little, I bring Ruby into the tack room to eat her evening grain. The photo shows how I set it up. I play a DVD on low – just a kid’s general ABC video to see whether the light and motion will bother her.
During the day, I watch the five horses move among the piles of hay, and there is not much fussing. But, a pattern has developed in the evenings. Zena will not let Allie come in from the chute until Ruby has gone into her own stall. Then, Zena will go into hers, leaving Allie to trot on in and down to her stall. Even though my own horses stay out of their stalls any time they are not eating grain, I keep Allie in her stall at night. This way, I know she is getting plenty of hay and a place where she can lay down without fear of harassment.
On Friday, Ruby eats both her morning and evening grain in the tack room. I will continue this while it is too cold for me to play with her in the arena. While Ruby is busy eating, I ask her to lift her front left foot. She acquiesces without turning to nip. Very cool.
On Saturday, in the tack room, Ruby lets me clean her left front foot with the hoof pick – with no one other than her grain dish at the head. Very cool again. After I put them all out for hay, while I am picking stalls, Ruby runs in from outside and goes directly into Allie’s stall. I am done, so I close her in and walk to the tack room. When I return, she whinnies, begging to be released. I open the pipe gate and she races outside. It is too cold for Trish to work with me this week; but Ruby and I have a great week just the same. My son, Andy, has given my granddaughter Taylor a bow and arrow for Christmas and, on a Saturday afternoon with the horses outside, they use the arena to practice
It is REALLY cold and windy on Sunday. Ruby eats her breakfast in the tack room with me. It is only five degrees on Monday. Brrrr!!! Ruby eats her breakfast in the tack room and lets me pick up all four feet beautifully. Tuesday is just cold all day. I am busy with another project and spend little time in the barn. Again on Wednesday, Ruby lifts all four feet, and lets me pick both fronts and her back left. On Thursday, while she eats, I place an old folded bed comforter on her back. Andy was going to pitch it, so I told him I would play with it in the barn. I pick all four feet on Friday while Ruby is busy with her grain. For the first time, I walk away from her, leaving her lead rope hanging while a fetch a pair of scissors from the small adjacent storeroom. I not very neatly trim her bridle path. Another first. Judy drives down from Traverse City for a visit, making for a nice end to a very good – albeit cold – week.
The next week starts with a pleasant Sunday morning. Finally, a bit of nice weather. I clean all four of Ruby’s feet in the tack room, spray Bannix – an antifungal – in her front two (squirt, squirt!) and open the quilt one fold so it lays a little larger across her back. On wonderful Monday I clean all four feet, spray Bannix in her fronts again, and open the quilt over her entire back. I then pull it off over her head. I use detangler on her tail – squirt squirt.
Trish comes on Wednesday, wanting to start Ruby on trotting-on-command. But ruby has no interest in anything more than a walk. Neither of us want to pull her forward and, even though Trish suggests using the short whip, I don’t want to drive her. In retrospect, we probably should have because I learn later, from Carolyn Resnick, that driving a horse forward is an excellent leadership development maneuver.
Gary and I leave town to go snorkeling for a week with Gary and Belinda cares for the horses. If you enjoy swimming and snorkeling, Anthony’s Key on the island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras is a wonderful place. We’ve been twice and I would go again. Check it out on-line.