Friday, August 29, 2008

We should have called him "Clown"

I really need to start remembering to carry my camera with me every time I go out to play with Gabe. He does the funniest things and is such a big goof.

Last night I thought we'd change things up a bit. I haven't been able to find a thing that this horse reacts to negatively yet. Well, except for the tying episode. As soon as I get my brand-new 6x6 post in the ground and the concrete dries, we'll have another go at it.

Ropes following him on the ground, wrapped around his body or looped across his haunches don't phase him. Plastic issue. Even me standing next to him with a pair of pool noodles and rubbing them all over his body and bouncing them off adverse reaction. Dressage whips and lunge whips, whatever. He goes over poles and logs without issue. Today I think I'll get the tarp out and get him to walk across it and stand on it and maybe even see if he'll tolerate it over his body. The more I desensitize him, the more he looks to me as his fearless leader.

Last night his playful side just couldn't be contained. I decided it was time for him to start really feeling like he was "working." So, out comes the saddle pad and my heavy-duty surcingle. Yes, he is saddle broke, but on the racetrack, when the saddle goes on, it's time to RUN! I need to change that mentality a step at a time so when I finally do get on he doesn't feel like he's going to the starting gate.

I tossed the saddle pad up and turned to grab the surcingle. In the two seconds it took me to pick it up, the big booger reached around, grabbed the saddle pad in his teeth, flung it around for a bit and dropped it on the ground. He looked at me with his ears perked as if asking "Again?" Pick up the pad, toss it back on. He reaches around and pulls it off again, playing with it for a few seconds before dropping it to the ground at my feet. Ha! The third time I tossed it up there I had the surcingle in my hand and put it on top of the pad immediately. But the surcingle still needs buckled on. I reach under him to grab the girth and the whole thing disappeared! He had reached around to the other side to grab the surcingle and pull it off, too! Flexibility? Yeah, he's got it. Two more attempts and I had the pad and the surcingle snugly in place. No issues. I think he just wanted to play. He didn't seem to resent or dislike having the pad and surcingle on, he just wanted to play.

So, the second "new" thing I had planned was a faux ditch between two cavaletti poles. I had set it up using an old, deflated air mattress. I like the nice, heavy plastic of the air mattress because it doesn't blow or "crinkle" in the wind. Plus, I'm all for re-purposing old stuff whenever I can.

Anyway, I took him over to my new ditch to let him sniff it and get a good look at it before I asked him to go over it. Wouldn't you know it...he quickly found the edge of it, grabbed it, and pulled it out from beneath the cavaletti poles! He waved it around a bit and tossed it. I positioned it back under the poles. This was not going to be an issue for him, not at all. He didn't bat an eye when I asked him to go over it. I expected him to jump over it, but apparently he had other plans. He trotted right on top of it as if it wasn't even there. I managed to get him to jump it twice without sticking a foot in the middle of my ditch. Next time I'll add a bit of water to it and see what he does.

Bravery is NOT an issue with this horse!

We ended our 45 minute session with a bit more saddle pad work. I flicked it all over his body, around his legs, over his neck and finally draped it over his head. He seemed quite embarrassed to have this huge white pad perched over his head like a silly hat. He looked at me as if to say "Okay, are we done playing dress-up now? I feel like an idiot and the other horses are all laughing at me. Give me some dignity woman!"

Today we haul out the tarp, an umbrella and a bike. I'm also going to set a couple of the cavaletti up to about a foot, just to see how he reacts. Tomorrow I'm going to pull out some of the huge bleach bottles I've been saving (again with the re-purposing!) and place them at random intervals around the arena because tomorrow, we start the long reining work. I'll use the bleach bottles as guides to long rein him around and through. This should be fun! I did a lot of long reining work with Star and with a few other horses I've worked with in the past. With Star I took a few long reining lessons with a classical dressage instructor who had once trained with the Cadre Noir in France and we got to the point where we could do half-passes, walk and trot pirouettes and a tiny bit of piaffe, all on the long reins. I believe it's a great way to introduce new ideas to a horse before you ask for it in the saddle.

I'll try to remember my camera next time, or at least employ one of my family members to shoot the session.


  1. It sure sounds like both you and Gabe are having lots of fun. Gabe does sound like he is full of the devil. One great horse, enjoy.

  2. You know, the cowboy actor, Slim Pickens had an appaloosa that did that thing with his saddle blanket and the horse and the gimmick was used in a couple of films. If i can think of 'em, i'll let you know.

  3. Too bad we don't live closer to one another. It'd be fun to trade horses for a day. You seem to know more about what you are doing in the desensitization, and my horses need to be desensitized more than Gabe.

  4. grma f...he's pretty awesome. Robert has accused me of being "smitten." Of course, I call Gabe my new "boyfriend" and Robert just laughs.

    Saddle Mountain Rider...It would be kind of fun to try to teach him to do it on cue, but I'm afraid he'll think he can do it ALL the time and I'd never get that booger saddled!

    Nuzzling Muzzles...I've dealt with many, many highly sensitive horses and they are all different in what makes them go off the deep end. You are doing all the right things, it will just take time. I've been really lucky with Gabe so far, he's just so trusting and curious, more than any Thoroughbred I've ever dealt with. I'm being very careful to preserve those qualities in him, which is why we are going slowly.

    If you haven't read "Become Perfect Partners" by Kelly Marks, I highly recommend it. It really helps owners learn how to "get inside" the heads of their horses to figure out why they respond and react the way they do. Some of the things are so obvious that you kind of go "well, I can't believe I didn't realize that sooner! DUH."