Beyond Belated!

Friday, March 16th, 2007

This is severly belated. Belated really probably doesn't even cover it... Where in the world have I been??

Well, firstly, January brought a new job. Jim McDonald had an opening at his Audiology office for a "Patient Care Coordinator" and felt that the job would suit me well. Turns out he is as good a human reader as he is a horse reader. I am beginning to get the hang of the job, and in the process discovering that I really have no job other than cross checking everyone else's stuff. I am enjoying it despite the reduced amount of time that it leaves to spend with the horses.

Horses... that is what is supposed to be going on here!

I have gotten back into seriously playing with Bonnie again, and she is really my main focus now. Her owner really doesn't do anything with her as their personalities don't really mesh. That is just fine with me as I am quite content to really be the only one that works with her.

Case history... incase I haven't. Bonnie is an interesting character. She ended up at Graham when she was donated for a fundraiser and then no one ever bid on her. So her current owner bought her out of mercy, and continues to keep her there for the same reason. I suppose it is sad, but really she couldn't be in a better place. Bonnie is a Paso Fino and was once a show horse. Unfortunately, as with so many show horses, people like to excite them and make them "hot" so that they are really reved up when they hit the ring. The unfortunate reality is that "reved up" really means "deathly afraid' in horse language. What people do not care to acknowledge is that the horse is actually afraid for their life, and not enjoying the situation at all. With many breeds that suffer this treatment they are rarely breeds that will really "blow up" as a result. The people gain the "hot" that they want, and the horse simply suffers through their fears. Horses are too disposable in this situation.

So Bonnie arrived at Graham probably 2 years ago and was dealthy afraid of the arena. She practically could not go into it without having a full out horse version of a panic attack. Slow work of many good people at Graham has brought her leaps and bounds since then. Now you would never know that at one time she almost couldn't go into an arena at all.

She's come a long way... so where is she going? It wasn't until I began to work with her steadily that her real personality was revealed. It was quickly obvious that she didn't like people, and really would rather have nothing to do with humans if she could. She let me know this in no uncertain terms with a grimace and pinned ears whenever I made my way into the pasture to fetch her. However, there was something odd about her nasty expressions... despite her nastiness, I had a gut feeling that she wouldn't really truely hurt me (unless of course I did something dumb like trap her in a corner). So she has arrived at the point where she is no longer deathly afraid of things, and simply chooses not to like them instead.

Add into this mix that Bonnie has a version of equine diabetes (that is about the easiest way to explain it!) that causes her to eat a lot and gain a LOT of weight (which is SERIOUSLY dangerous in a horse, and can cause similar problems to those that Barbaro dealt with) so she dives for grass whenever there is an available chance.

So really, the work that I have been doing is taking her one step further than simply not being afraid any more. We are moving into gaining her full trust and having her be happy and willing to do things with a human. She is secretly beginning to change, though she'd never admit to that what so ever.

So our time together usually ends up something like this....

I mosey out to catch her, and she knows I'm coming. I don't care for the fact that we're always working, so I am sure to change our routines as much as possible, in the hope that we don't have a routine. I head out to the pasture and find her head stuffed in one of the hay feeders and she will look at me with suspicion as I head into the pasture, via whatever entrence I choose at the moment, which is sometimes walking half way down the fenceline and then climbing over, just to keep things interesting. Riley, the 1000 lb dog (he's the most dog like horse I've ever met) is usually the first to come exploring. I gently pat him, let him have his licks of my gloves, coat, or whatever else he finds tasty at the moment, and then shoo him off and begin my wandering way towards Bonnie who is fully well aware of me yet doing her best to solomly ignore me.

I wander to and fro, nearer and further, and finally get close enough to really touch her, but instead I just stand and hang out. She gives me a nasty look, to which I simply smile and resume my chilling out (hopefully in the warm sunshine). I wander around a bit more before I finally gently nudge her away from her smorgasboard. She expresses her displeasure with a swish of her tail and pinned ears as she ambles away from me, which is only as fast as I nudged her in the first place.

Thus ensues a game of circling the round bale feeder at liberty, she on the outside of the circle, and I on the inside of the circle. I only respond to her with as much energy as she puts forth. After a few laps I begin to experiment with changing her speed and direction by using my carrot stick in front of me to slow her down, and using visual pressure by staring at her eye to slow her further and turn her away from me. Once I work her a bit away from the feeder she will stop, and as soon as she does, I simply back away and give her some room. At this point I can approach a bit more easily, and she is much more willing to stand, though not always. If she moves off, the process repeats itself. (I am very much looking forward to summer when she'll have her muzzle on to find out how she will be to catch then)

Once I've finally been given hesitant permission to touch her (granted by her not moving away when I gently raise my hand and place it firmly yet gently on her shoulder) I carefully drape my rope over her back and slide it up her neck so that I can put the halter on. At this point she gives in, and doesn't fight in any way. Her demeanor is quiet, yet resigned in a way. She doesn't really express any more of the severe displeasure that she did before then, yet the first touch is always difficult for her. As I reach up I never know if I will be able to actually touch her or if she will simply move off before I get the chance. Her whole body tenses as I raise my hand and place it on her. I stand quietly until she finally breathes again and then continue on with the halter.

We finally amble out of the pasture (usually with Riley following along at a distance, though of course stopped at the gate) and I allow her to graze for a minute or so on whatever grass she can find. By now we are very proficient at the driving game from zone 3 (and sometimes 4). This is a riding position (being next to her middle) and helps her to build confidence out in front of me so that when I am up behind her while riding it is not unfamiliar. We make our way down the hill and into the arena  where I open the gate and ask her to back through. She is doing extremely well with this exercise and is now able to back to the end of the 22' line through the gate.

We continue to work with the driving game from zone 3 and further back, I spend a lot of time on her "off" side, which is her right side. She does not like me on that side, and will do whatever she can to change sides if she has a choice. I am also working on the circling game with her asking her to speed up and then slow her down again working on lowering her energy. Right now if I can get her going quickly, she pretty much stops dead when I raise my stick. Sometimes it takes some persistance and a bit more of a shake to the rope when she doesn't listen, but she immediately looks into the circle and asks a big question. The next goal is to work to try to teach her to simply slow down instead of stop completely. We are getting there slowly.

I have done some bareback riding with her, which has been more of a passenger game than anything. I only ride her when she allows me to get on, which is when she places me in zone 3 while I am standing on the pedastal. It is then that I know she's accepting enough, and I take my time to rub her all over before getting on. I allow her to go whereever she wants, as long as it is done slowly and calmly. We don't do this often, as I would rather spend more time on the ground to get her adapted first so the riding is better later.

She has made some pretty big changes over time. She is not pinning her ears as badly when I go to catch her anymore. Some days are worse than others, of course (it figures the day that mom and dad come to visit she is quite nasty!). For the most part she is pretty easy to catch when she is out on the grass. I simply approach her and as soon as she stops grazing, I back off. It doesn't take her long to simply not graze and stand and wait. She is taking less time to give me permission to touch her as well, which is a great sign.

She has also made changes when I work with her bringing her in. When I would draw her in from a yoyo game originally, she had a lot of trouble even coming in to allow me to pet her. She would get close and then swing her head away so that I couldn't touch her or reach her easily. I just let her be that way, and didn't push having two eyes. She is getting much better about it, and will now come in to me, but won't let me pet her head, I can pet her shoulders or neck though, which is better than nothing. She comes past me sometimes, which is a bit invasive so I am suspecting that she is hiding a bit there. We'll work through it as we have with all her other funny quirks.

Life is busy right now, and we're doing well. Summer time has brought on LOTS of mowing on the farm which is keeping Jim and I both busy working for Jim McDonald. We don't mind though because the work is enjoyable. It just means less time with the horses. I have decided to postpone my return to the ranch for another summer to be sure that we are in a good position to handle me being away for 3 months. It would be terrible to go away and then come home to a pile of debt! That would ruin the whole mindset of the trip, and I definately don't want to do that! I'll get back there eventually, its too much fun to stay away!