Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Those moments

I had one of those days, they are very rare.
Everything just went like I wanted it to. Pretty much.
I worked and everything seemed easy. I got done work and went to see Indigo. The sun was shining and it was warm. It felt so good. The horses were just dozing in the warmth.

I told myself I was only going to just hop over the fence and see her. Well you all know how that goes. I went into the barn and got a hoof pick and two brushes and hopped over the gate to groom her.
Indigo thrives on human contact. She loves to be brushed, pampered, petted and most of all fed the little sweet morsels I keep in my trunk. That horse can hear the rustle of a plastic wrapper or a ziploc bag from miles away I swear. She is sneaky too. I hear the other horses walk up but Indigo creeps up and then BAM you have horse licking the back of your head and shes standing there demanding your attention weather you want it or not.

So I groomed her and she stood stock still only turning around to lick at my already slobbered jacket from the day before. She is falling asleep in the sunlight and grooming just totally chilled out about being a horse and being fuzzy and there being warm sun.

Remember how I mentioned that there are rare moments I can hug her and she will just stand well today was one of those days. I thinkt he warm sun had her so at ease I buried my face in her warm sunny mane and inhaled her sweet horse scent (she smells different than any horse) then I just rested my head on her warm back and slowly scratched her furry belly. She just stood there totally chilled, eyes blinking sleepily, ears lopped off happily and my grooming tools and gloves at her front hooves. I rest my head there for the longest time just listening to the gurgle of her belly and silence of the winter air (with no wind, finally!).

I love her coat in the winter. Well I love it all the time. She gets this gleam to her hair no other horse has. When I had my head on her side I could see thousands of little rainbows in her white hairs. For a white, speckled horse she sure has a lot of colours. I admired the tiny prisms in her hair for the longest time. She stood content in my company and I in hers and her horsey scent. Well until I reached into my pocket and put a candy cane in my mouth. She craned her neck around, snuffed at me and then started licking my shoulder in affection to the belly scritches she was getting. There was probably some subliminal "feed me" messages in there that got to me.

See I hand feed her. Her and Naigen are the only two of my horses that ever got/get hand fed. Naigen was just a sweety and was gentle and patient about everything. Indigo, well she wouldn't get any if I had to stick stuff in buckets. The others would gobble it up first or she would have to share. Shes pretty good about sharing when I walk up to a pasture buddy and offer. However if that pasture buddy comes up to us all bets are off and the ears are laid back. No one touches me. No one touches her when I am there. I don't want to be trampled because another horse is chasing her. They damnwell know they wait until I approach and there will be no attacking when I am with or handling another horse. There is consequences for this like being chased and segrigated from the herd and attention until they change their tudes and come back without the angry teeth and hooves.

Anyway, hand feeding. Hand feeding DOES NOT create nippy horses if you do it right. This means the horse only gets treats when you offer the hand and when they grab at your hand there is consequences. For Indigo all I had to do was maul her muzzle in rubs. She hates her nose being touched. Indigo knows a few tricks. Well mostly she has to do something and I open my hand and offer the food to her, not her lipping/biting my hand. She is not allowed.

She knows how to smile and boy does she. Before I even ask her to do a trick she goes through a whole routine to see which one I just might open the vending machine on. First she smiles. Then she smiles again. Then she turns her head away and then comes back to smile again. This is about the time I usually ask her to smile and she graciously does so again for a mint, candy cane, horse cookie, apple, carrot or whatever else I happen to have that then becomes horse food.

She has never been nippy. Not offered once to bite. She knows shes gotta do something before I open the hand. She just tries to figure out what that is and respects that invading my space or hand is not the way she gets the goods.
Tricks are a good way to feed your horse treats and make him do something for them. They learn quite quicky you are a vending machine that takes behaviours instead of quarters.

Take my pony for example. Keebler does target training. Since he has bit before (unintentionally, he tried to take something from someones hand and took more than the treat not realizing it ended and skin began) he gets his treats dropped in a pail but to the same effect.

He knows I give treats but hes gotta do something first. Keebler does target training. He touches various objects. It's quite fun and especially if you have a horse that has a very high play drive (can you say geldings!?) I don't think he could ever get bored of it.

Another example was my friends gelding. He hated his mane being pulled so I sat there once and every time she pulled hair out he would get a horse cookie. He now loves his mane being pulled and doesn't fidget at all. The food renforced the positive things about standing still, took his mind off his aggrivation and made it a pleasant experience.

So I am going to give anyone who reads this a challenge. Teach your horse something new and do it with a food reward. If you are worried about nippy or beggars use a bucket designated only for this training.

Some motivation try:

Picking up feet (each time the horse picks up his foot give him a treat or have a helper give a treat)

Streching. This is something I reccomend doing with long carrots or licorice. Make your horse streach all the way around and touch their hip on each side and if your horse can get further than their hip kudos to them! It may take a few tries for their muscles to enable them to reach there and sometimes various sessions but it is a very positive treat giving session for their body. Then make them reach between their front legs as far as they can. Some horses even "bow" and then stand on a stool and as high up above their heads as they can reach.

Fear of plastic bags: I used this one on Keebler. He was terrified of bags. I put a carrot inside and got deeper and deeper bags every time. Now he stuffs his head inside and doesn't fret about flapping plastic that he was terrified of for 5 out of his now 8 year old self.

Trailer loading. Now I am not talking about putting a flake of hay inside the trailer and trying to convince the horse that it's not scary. You wouldn't jump off the grand canyon for 1 million dollars would you? Thats how a horse feels about using food for trailering. I am talking about making a horse less anxious about trailers. Try a treat for each food. In a relatively short period of time you will find your horse is putting feet on and hopping on the trailer just to get that morsel.

etc...what does everyone come up with?


The Wife said...

I was just telling the husband that I needed to work with Miss Priss. She has gotten a bad attitude from not being dealt with in awhile. I may have to try one of these. Like you were talking about in the previous post, there's just not enough hours in the day!

Sydney said...

Studies were done at my university involving horses learning rates. Horses of all ages (but mostly young ones) were taught things. Some were rewarded by food and others used various horsemanship methods. The horse enforced by food was more willing to offer the same behaviour again than the ones without. They also seemed to remember new behaviors better when enforced with food.

Pony Girl said...

Great post Sydney.
I like your idea of treats, I tend to be a treater even though my vet reprimanded me for it once, LOL! ;) Everyone has their own opinion, I guess. I have noticed my gelding is more mouthy now since I have been giving him treats, under his previous owner (little treats given) he was rather nonchalant about it. I try to put the treats on the ground or in his grain bucket, rather than hand feed him. When I was a child I had a pony that bit, it was awful. He picked my sister up by the finger once. It just terrified me and a biting horse is one I don't want, I guess it spooked me! :)

Sydney said...

See what I did with Indigo yesterday cause I was feeding her old candy canes without making her do tricks. She tried to invade my hand space and every time she would do it she got a pointer finger in the muzzle, which she hates being poked. The got the idea after I did it twice that she was to ASK and then I was to GIVE her the treats, not her demand them.

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