06.08.26: Hitting the Valley

Yesterday was not the greatest day, at least the afternoon wasn't.

The morning started out with a very short Remuda just talking about the day before. Our class started at 9:30 with a lecture from Kaafa, the wife of my instructor from last year, talking about Leadership. It was quite interesting and when you suddenly know what you didn't know you didn't know before, it can seem like a daunting task.

The most profound thing to come out of the lecture was that Respect is an appropriate response to pressure. Respect is earned by an appropriate application of pressure. The response that you get is the feedback that directly tells you if you applied the pressure correctly. Applying pressure appropriately in regards to the horse can be difficult. It’s tough to read all the million subtle signs and understand what is going on and then decide how to appropriately apply pressure. Oh, and I should add that all of that has to be done in less than two seconds.

Kaafa's lecture was really well delivered, and delightful to listen to. We took a break from there and then met up in the playground for a trailer loading demonstration, which of course, is not about the trailer!

Kaafa chose to work with Libby's horse, Thor. Thor most definitely lives up to his name. He is an ex-race horse that was raced for quite a while in his career and then bred following that. He was not gelded until he was 5, and in his life span of 10 years he has had 16 owners. Libby has only worked with him for a week; she has owned him for six months but turned him out to pasture to allow him time to learn to be a horse again. She wasn't planning on bringing him but her other horse got an injury. He is also 18 hands high, which means that I can't even see over his back. Kaafa couldn't either, and as she was beginning to ask Libby more questions when she started the demo she laughed and said she should have asked more of these questions before she agreed to take him on!

It was quickly apparent that Thor's primary concern was still his safety. Kaafa had to address that first, and began doing so by simply walking around. Beyond respect, the other most important thing in dealing with horses is to have a plan. Kaafa began by simply walking around to try to keep Thor's attention which was very difficult at first. He could not focus on her because he was too worried about his own safety.

Kaafa explained that horses have stages of being able to process things. The first stage is rejection or opposition, followed by tolerance, acceptance and lastly invitation. Thor was firmly planted in the rejection phase in the beginning. Kaafa began to try to work him over a wooden bridge, which at first he could not even put his feet on, and would eventually simply leap over the whole bridge. It got to the point where he was doing that more out of flight than out of desire, so Kaafa moved on.

She explained that sometimes you have to try to build tolerance in another area so that a previous area starts shifting to acceptance. She pushed Thor's boundaries and began working on the friendly game with him since his friendly game was pretty weak. Kaafa began by letting him drift on the end of the line, swinging the carrot stick out in front of her. He was very skeptical but finally she was able to shorten the line, and then she worked facing him swinging the stick and string behind her, and then finally over her head. He gradually became more accepting of things.

She went back to the bridge and after a bit of work was able to get Thor to process walking over the bridge rather than leaping over it. He was still unsure of himself but he was really gaining a lot of ground. He finally could walk over the bridge comfortably, and Kaafa began asking him to back up while still on the bridge.

At that point she began asking him to explore the trailer, and he chose the smallest trailer out there, which meant that he pretty much did not fit in it at all. He still explored it, and was most comfortable there, so that is where she went. Finally, he shifted to a point where safety was not so much of an issue and Kaafa began working with Thor's comfort. She had him circle close to one of the trailers, and then would only allow him to stop and explore the trailer. That was how she created comfort for him. He began exploring it, and in no time he was able to put a foot in and stick his head and neck in. He couldn't stay there though, but it was better than nothing.
(Libby is the one in the orange on the right)

She moved around a lot, never really staying with one situation more than ten minutes or so. She would work with him until he had a personal break through, get more comfortable and relax, and then she would move on to something else. It’s the best way to handle horses since they do not have one track minds.

She ended up working with him well into lunchtime, by that point I think my brain was pretty fried. Since our entire class of 80 was missing from lunch, they didn't mind much. We ate lunch and then I headed up to spend time with Roscoe.

I worked more in his pen backing him up by his tail which he seems to be getting the hang of, and worked more on his ears. He was still unhappy with having his ears rubbed. I've come to the conclusion that he just doesn't like it.

We headed out of the pen shadowing down to the bottom of the hill (eventually... horses never go in straight lines, unless they are right brained of course). And let him get some water to drink before we headed off to find some things to do. We stopped at the pedestal which he had a bit of trouble with. I'm not sure if it was him or the size/shape of the pedestal; it was rather high and had sloping sides. We moved off of that after a while and headed out into the playground. I worked with him more on backing up around things, and just wasn't doing so well. I didn't have a clear plan, and I think Roscoe knew it. I just wasn't feeling very balanced at all, which happens, but it is still frustrating.

I was letting him graze when Don drove by and asked how I was doing. I told him ok and he started talking to me to find out what I was working on. I explained to him about the backing up and the ears, and told him other than that I was a bit lost. So he asked me to do some things to check the sensitivity of Roscoe's ears while he was eating, which of course was perfectly fine. So he brought me over to sit on the edge of a jump bank so that I was pretty close to the height of Roscoe's head.

He asked if I remembered when Kaafa had explained that some horses just need their hand held sometimes, and I said yes, but was unsure of how that would apply to Roscoe. I explained to him how I worked on desensitizing several horses back home to various things, and we talked about the fact that that method won't work with all horses. He showed me how to firmly hold Roscoe's face, and then firmly rub the inside of his ear and do so until Roscoe relaxed, and then let go. Roscoe definitely didn't like it, and fought most of the way, but would relax after a few seconds. After doing that a few times, he shook his head hard just like a dog. I really just think he doesn't like it. I'll continue to work on it to get him to a point where he doesn't fight it. It’s important to be able to touch and rub horses all over as you never know when there will be an injury and having them desensitized can mean all the difference in the world.

At that point it started to rain so we hustled down to the Coverall and hung out until the rain stopped. At that point I was rather cold and wet so I put Roscoe back in his pen and gave him dinner and then I headed down to get warm in the shower. Dinner held some great discussions about the day's lecture and demo with Thor. I think my brain was still so full at that point (it still feels that way even this morning). After I finished up dinner and swung by the computer room to check out the pictures, I headed up to look in on Roscoe one last time before going to the cabin to go to bed.

I was pleased to see that he watched me come almost all the way up the hill. That is a big deal for him because he doesn't really care for the company of people, he much prefers horses. To have him watch me come up the hill was a good thing. I checked in on him and made sure he had water for the evening and had eaten all his food and then headed off to bed to crash.

Everyone got there a little while after that and we laughed and read for a long time before finally falling asleep. Today is laundry day, and who knows what else...

Next Page: Sunday, August 27, 2006: Another Day