Monday, October 19, 2009

Let's start at the very beginning...

Michael and I went out to the in-laws' place yesterday to visit. While we were there I worked a little with Outlaw, but I forgot to take pictures — for some reason that is really hard for me to remember, probably because I have my hands full and my attention focused on the horse. It really works much better if someone else takes pictures for me (hint, hint, Michael).

Anyway, the last time I was there, Outlaw allowed me to walk right up to him in the pasture, and spent a lot of time smelling me. Michael and I had come right from visiting Panama, so I imagine I smelled like horses and horse treats, which might have had something to do with it.

Yesterday, on the other hand, he wouldn't let me get close enough to clip the lead rope on his halter. Keep in mind that he has been ridden maybe three times in the last year, and caught perhaps a handful of times more than that. Because my in-laws rarely work with the horses, and as a result they are quite wild, their halters stay on all the time — but I personally would like to get Outlaw to the point where I can walk right up to him and halter him.

So I spent about 45 minutes yesterday walking him down. This might ordinarily be quite the challenge on 80 acres, but luckily two of the four horses were grazing in the driveway (the gate being closed), and Outlaw and his other companion didn't want to stray too far from the fence line.

Basically what I did was to stop moving or move slowly every time Outlaw turned and faced me, with my loosely cupped hand outstretched. Soon as he would turn to move away from me, though, I brought my hand down and shook the lunge line at him once or twice. Remember, this is the deaf horse, so I while I couldn't remove the pressure if I ever wanted to catch him, I could at least reduce it and make it obvious by my body language when he was doing what I wanted.

At first Outlaw (and all the others) ran all the way from one end of the driveway to the other along the fence line. I think this driveway has to be a quarter mile long, so long story short, I did a lot of walking at first to find the horses again. But when that didn't work, Outlaw started running a short distance, then stopping and turning to watch me. I think he expected me to give up (because I imagine that is the most common response from my in-laws), and was interested when it became obvious that I wasn't going to.

Outlaw got a pretty good workout before I was able to catch him. Finally, though, he allowed me to walk right up (slowly) and clip the lunge line on his halter. I walked him down to the round pen.

In the round pen, I released him, and we worked a bit on him allowing me to catch him. Initially I just walked away, left him to his own devices for a few minutes, and then walked back up and clipped the lunge line to his halter again. That wasn't a problem, so I tried slipping the new halter I bought him on over his old, rough, weather-beaten halter. Still no problem.

From there I went to free lunging him a little bit. Nothing very regulated yet — I was just making him run by shaking the lunge line (coiled up in my hand) at him a little. I wanted him to learn to stop running and approach me, or at least face me, when I held my cupped hand out to him.

It took a few times, but he seemed to figure it out. We'll see next time I go out there to catch him — I may have to walk him down a few more times, but I'm hoping it won't take as long next time.

One other thing we worked on: stop and go on a lead. Since Outlaw can't hear, I can't tell him, "Whoa," or (the command I've inadvertently taught Panama) "Come on." So we worked on him following my lead, but also on signals to stop or walk when he doesn't respond right away to my movement. When I wanted him to stop, I used a quick, slight downward and backward pressure on the line; when I wanted him to walk with me and he wouldn't, a quick little jiggle of the line with some slight forward pressure took care of that right away. Pretty soon, he was matching my moves about half the time, with only a quick reminder needed the other half.

Even though Outlaw is deaf, I've decided to talk to him anyway, even knowing he won't hear me. My line of thinking is as follows: I think when we talk, our body language usually reflects what we are saying, so by making myself stop talking I may also be "silencing" my body language to some degree. And quite frankly, talking helps me, because on a purely psychological level, it makes me more deliberate about asking.

Anyway, Outlaw is a bit overweight and hasn't been worked regularly in a very, very long time, so even with the leading practice to give him little breaks, all the running had made him sweaty. I decided we'd done enough work for one day and let him go. He moved quickly away from me instead of letting me walk away from him — another thing we'll have to work on in the future.

Although the in-laws live about an hour away from us, I'm thinking of trying to plan my work schedule so that I can go down there one day during the week, this week or next week, since we won't be able to make it next weekend. I want to work with Outlaw again soon to reinforce the work we did yesterday on catching, but I also want to progress on to grooming him and working on ground manners. His ground manners are pretty good once he's caught, but I think he could still use a refresher, not to mention the time spent together would be good for both of us!

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