Has it been three months since a certain bay Arab-ish gelding came into our lives? Well, yes, it has been. And while it’s been a learning experience for The Boi as I work with him to fill in training holes, it’s also been a learning experience for the Mocha girl. Not only has she needed to learn how to be a retired horse and settle into retirement, but she has needed to learn how to share treats and human attention. And that is a work in progress.
I continue to be astounded by the speed with which Marker is developing confidence in me. He is still pushy on the ground but is learning to share attention and treats with Mocha. Recent rains have softened up the gravel roads so that I can ride him on them without him wearing shoes. It’s been nearly two months since I last took him on the road, and what a difference. He’s more relaxed, he looks to me for support more frequently, and while we encounter Scary Stuff–yesterday was not one but two encounters with the Horse-Eating Stroller, as well as a Scary Bicycle–he’s more prone to listen to me than Mocha was in a similar situation. I don’t have the same coiled spring under me and there are a lot more loud snorts involved. However, in his second encounter with the Horse-Eating Stroller, he just passed it with high head, then issued a Loud Snort after we went by. I don’t feel the need to resort to a Pelham setup with him like I did with Mocha. So far, anyway.
Otherwise, it’s pretty much working on building up his conditioning under saddle and continuing to focus on sharing and proper ground handling behavior. I don’t like to do very intensive training under saddle until a horse is sufficiently strong to do some of the things I want to ask for, including collection. I moved too quickly with Mocha, so I’m taking my time with Marker. We are doing small things–he sidepasses, he does haunches turns (well, kinda) and forehand turns (well, kinda). I can stop him by tightening my abs and sitting up, even without saying “whoa” (which is a huge thing in my book, because getting that good whoa in an emergency, especially on the road, is all-important).
But the other thing is working on whoa on the ground. It helped that the husband did some work with him when we were both handling the horses, as part of transitioning Mocha to a.)being a retiree and b.) sharing. Now that I’m handling both horses by myself, ground manners at liberty are HUGE. I’m finding out that Mocha needs as much work at sharing as Marker. He wants to be first, and is still working on fear of missing out when being handled. Mocha has not needed to share me with other horses before, and has exhibited crankiness and aggression when other horses try to move in on us.
That…doesn’t work. Not in this scenario.
One goal is to be able to have the horse I am haltering remain respectful toward the loose horse (primarily a Mocha goal). Ear pinning is one thing but lunging, squealing, or even threatening to kick the horse sharing attention is not acceptable. Racing through the gate in either direction is not good either. Not moving out of the way of the haltered horse is not good (both horses need to work on this).
Standing for the “whoa” command is another goal, for both horses. While Marker’s a greater offender because he just can’t resist the lure of cookies, Mocha is just as bad at times with her sneaky creep. However, they’re both starting to get it. I will make both of them stand after I unhalter the other, waiting for that moment when they’re both standing to give them a cookie at the same time. I try to do this in the same place every time so that they associate the location with standing quietly. At some point we will need to work on generalizing that goal, but it’s coming along.
Mocha also needs to work on not rushing through the gate. She’s not bad when leaving the field, but there have been times when she will try to bolt through to get back into the field before I finish getting the gate out of her way. Not a good thing with a barbed wire gate. I pulled her back out yesterday when she did that, and She Was Not Happy. Balked at going back out, but…I prevailed, and we reschooled the gate.
Marker still needs to work on personal space. He is just so happy to see people! treats! attention! that he gets pushy at the gate. However, he’s starting to learn back much better, though sometimes the end of a lead rope needs to come into play to get his attention. He is a pocket pony by nature and owners before the person I bought him from (who had been working with him on this) let him get away with being pushy in people’s space. He is a touchy boy, and often needs to touch his nose to my hand for comfort. But he is slowly learning that there is a difference between being in my back pocket and checking in for reassurance. Or trying to help me put his saddle on….
Both horses are coming along in their new lives. They also have developed a friendship, which is good. Mocha seems to have accepted that she is retired, but that retirement still means rules and manners.
So it’s all good here–just nice and boring, except for funny moments (both the lady pushing the stroller and I burst out laughing when he emitted that Loud Snort after he passed the stroller the second time). That’s the way I like my horse training. Steady, quiet, a building of routines, and minimal drama.
Hopefully, things stay that way.