Friday, October 28, 2011

Family Therapy Horse

I usually write about the Mags and her progress, and she's doing great. Katie and I took her to the park yesterday and let her run free in the arena where she rolled and I got her to walk and trot on a lunge line, by voice command. She's still not always sure what I want her to do, and she'd much rather be sitting in a big fat hammock drinking a drink with a flower in it, but she does try for me.

The biggest lesson with this horse is learning to trust that just because one stupid mean pony bucks you off and breaks your hand and costs alot in hand surgery, doesn't mean that every horse is mean. In fact, most horses are just mosey-ing along. I don't like things that break my already tenuous confidence. That pony needs a few firecrackers in her horseshoes, as payback.

I have learned that Maggie doesn't buck or rear when she gets scared, she just leaps forward for a few strides. As long as I can hang on to that, I won't fall off. She usually does that when a dog startles her by charging a fence. That seems like her only pet peeve so far. She always leaps forward but then stops, because ultimately she is extremely lazy. She has no interest in running off with me. She is really strong, though, so I have to make her very supple in the bridle for the kids, so she won't manhandle them into going her way with her strong mouth.

Otherwise, she's the most excellent family horse, and it's only been 2 1/2 mos. I figure safely by Valentine's Day, anybody could ride her. At this rate. Even Barry likes her, and doesn't mind that hay costs too much right now. She's like the family therapy horse. Each night we go on a walk in the neighborhood and all the kids get on bareback for a little ride. We talk about our day.

Couldn't have done all this work without Katie, who has helped on the ground and in the saddle. Building my confidence and also being a strong, capable adult who could be another set of hands when training. She also loves horses. Really lucky how it all worked out.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nascar in a Dumptruck

Mags learned to trot in the last few days! She's really comfy to ride too. She is stubborn, when she wants to come home, you have to have the arms of Hercules to get her to turn the way you want (back on the trail). I took her out in the rain, and she got used to splashing trucks, walking through puddles - the noises sound differently in the rain. I also rode in a bareback pad with stirrups, and since it was cold her nice fat body kept my legs warm. (bareback is the best, but I'm too chicken to ride without stirrups yet, my leftover fear from pony-that-broke-my-hand years ago).

So now we'll work on canter, which for her is like Indy 500 fast. Like driving a dumptruck at Nascar. And we'll keep taking her on the trail and getting her used to going out. Just repetition, and positive reinforcement. And lots of hay. (I love my dumptruck horse, though. Did I tell you we passed a house on our trail where a guy was standing out front putting up Halloween decorations, and he said "That horse needs alot of exercise. She's too chunky." I just stared at him, 5'4 tops, with the gut of sumo wrestler hanging over his belt. So many things came to mind to say back to him. She's supposed to fat, dorkus. She's a draft. YOU, on the other hand. Too many quesadillas, pal, and it shows.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Maggie the Milk Maid

Katie and I have been working with Maggie everyday. It's day 65 today, and we borrowed a driving collar and some harness pieces from my neighbor and we suited her up in all the heavy equipment, complete with bridle with blinders on. She ended up looking like a little old man horse, off to make milk deliveries in the neighborhood.

She is the most amazing horse, because not only did she let us dude her up in all this heavy stuff around her neck and on her back, she also let us tie a big fat heavy tire to some string behind her and she pulled it scraping around behind her like a man-eating tire monster in the driveway, without any fuss.

I realized the dreams of a young Amish boy by hearing the clinking of the harness as she walked, I just erased all the cement and city noises and replaced them with rolling green fields and women in the kitchens making pies in long dresses. That's how it is in my mind when I work with tubby Maggie. I sweat out there with the tons of fun horse, but I know that after work there's going to be a fresh pie in the kitchen. (Except there isn't.)

After our little tire drag exercise, we unharnessed her and then took a little trail ride up the mountain, to get her used to going out. It's only her 4th time up the mountain and she's getting used to dogs rushing the fence and barking, and cement trucks with air brakes. And I (who walked half the way, Katie and I switch halfway) saw a bug on the trail that was flailing around on his back and I righted him with my shoe cause he looked so in need. I was later repaid for this good deed by finding a eucalyptus leaf laying on the trail that was the perfect shape of a heart. (Picture of that later.)

Who says there's no treasure in them thar hills?

When I put Maggie away to eat her hay in the barn, I peeked in the hay bin to make sure she had enough and there was a perfect green egg, nestled there. Lovely, lovely surprises.

Farm life in the city.

My goal - to have an old wagon that Maggie can pull. I'm only missing one piece of harness. And the wagon.

Friday, October 14, 2011

61 Days

Rode the Mags out on the street yesterday without anybody on the ground (Katie) helping. We only went about 1 block. All she wants to do is see if she can eat every lawn along the way. So I had to steer her into the middle of the street where alas there is no grass. The challenge now is getting her focused on steering the way I need her to go, not stopping at every In and Out for a shake and some fries. (Hey wait, chocolate shake? Why aren't we stopping again?)

Cause I read a trainer that said "there's only going to be two ways of doing things, your way or your horse's way, and it always has to be your way. Cause with horses there's no 'meeting of the minds.' They want a leader."

It's been 61 days, and Maggie is rusty at steering, but better at bridling. Bridling seemed impossible about a week ago. Now she's just getting it without a fight. She turned a corner. I figure her steering gently like glass is a few weeks away too. I am very close to being able to get on and just go on up the trail, and relax.

Now I'm slowly going to borrow all my neighbor's driving equipment and teach her to drive. She does like to go out. She's an adventurer.

Also her feet have to be trimmed and her teeth might have to be floated. Since her teeth were probably never bothered with when she was on the pee line. They can get sharp and have to be filed down with this huge file. Doesn't take long for the vet, but like the DMV, it isn't a chore you love to do.

All I know is, when the kids are demanding things, or homework swallows me whole and I'm lost in a vast wasteland of Nathan's middle school experience, I slip out into the barn and there's that fat Maggie looking for a pet or a scratch or goddamn it how bout a freaking apple once in awhile?? She loves apples now. She has big quiet brown eyes and she's grateful for everything.

Mom's therapy. At the cost of hay. Love the smell of hay too, smells better than money.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

That old Maggie is doing great. Today, it's been 7 1/2 weeks since she came here, and today I was ground driving her out in our back driveway (me walking way behind her with long ropes up to her bridle, steering her), and she was actually kind of figuring it out, to keep walking, turning and stopping when I said. She doesn't always understand, sometimes she turns all the way around to look at me like "Hey why are you back there, all the scratching happens when you're up here by my face." But then she'll turn back around. There isn't a fast speed on this horse. Nothing is important enough to get to in a rush. I think she's Southern. I perhaps should have named her Georgia.

What I'm liking today is learning that (I keep learning this) repetition of the basic things actually works. Doing the smallest things, gently and over and over, actually gets you a compliant horse. Mostly. I should try this in other areas of my life. Shooting for 2%, instead of 100%. Score everytime. But for now I'm building a mellow carriage horse. Very fun.

What I also like is that when I go out to her paddock to clean up her poops (which she lines up neatly against the back wall), she comes over and stands directly behind me, like a giant shadow. I don't even hear her, she's just suddenly there, and she just waits there.

She isn't even looking for food, she'll actually leave her hay (a very big deal for her, hay's all she's got, she has no pockets) and come over to stand behind me like hey, how bout a scratch.

Love that.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Safe and Steady

Well let's see, it's been 7 weeks since we got the Mags, big fat horse in the backyard.

I've been working in the garage (cleaning it out), and sometimes we let her out to wander in the driveway - she likes to pick through boxes like she's shopping, and then go over to Moose's door and take a big poop.

I haven't had time to work with her except at night like 9 pm, I go out and saddle her up and ride for about 5 minutes in the back paddock. Just to get her used to the basics of saddling, bridling, mounting, steering and stopping. I say it's for her, but I'm figuring out that maybe it's for me. Routine and the basics, getting us used to each other, making it boring so that when we get out on the trail she knows what I want and there are the least amount of surprises, most amount of control.

Last night it seemed like she finally was understanding steering (yay!), then tonight she was more heavy at turning (boo). Last night she was worse at bridling, tonight she finally figured out what I wanted - that she didn't have to lift her head up, that nothing bad was going to happen with the bridle. My friend Nigel said, she's just not used to it, that's all. So she's not evading to be mean, she's just learning it all.

I'm going to try and do 30 days in a row under saddle so she expects to be worked with. Tonight when she wasn't steering so well from the saddle, I got down and put long lines on her and tried ground driving her, and she did really well. So she is learning - our back area is a little confined, so it's hard to manuever. It is amazing to build the horse, doing all the training. I have the little bits of time, and I'm learning her as she's learning me.

She'll do anything if you scratch all her itches - her stomach, her chest and the back of her back legs - she sticks her nose out and quivers with happiness when you scratch her.

She does like to work - when I come out at 9 I expect to see her sleeping, but she comes right over like hey, allright, bring on the molasses. I can see her pulling a cart for us, all the kids piled in back, not really getting anywhere, maybe just around the park and back. But who needs to get anywhere, it'll just be fun. But first things first, I'm still going to keep making her safe and steady.