Marker Training Journal #4

Isn’t that just a boopable nose? He certainly thinks so.

The Boi keeps on making progress. Sometimes he surprises me because he picks some things up faster than Mocha did at the same stage of training. And then I have to remind myself that he’s three years older than Mocha was when we started doing this work, and has had a lot more exposure to the world in the course of eight years than she had encountered when she was five and a half…even when she was eight.

But part of it is also his sunny temperament. He genuinely likes people and would happily move into the house with us if he could. Though he’s happier and better off outside, really.

Some of the progress which is going on has to do with his relationship with Mocha. She’s becoming more confident around him, though he is still in the process of being indoctrinated into The Mocha Way, which includes “don’t steal my treats,” “give me space, especially on my right side,” and “be mannerly with humans.” However, it’s starting to show up that she also depends on him for alerting to potential problems in the pasture. She also is starting to park out a little bit, on her own, which amuses me. Not sure how or why that’s happening.

Under saddle, he continues to gain conditioning. I’m starting to see the existence of withers as his back muscles up. This week, he was clearly tired by the time we had put in five days of work. Well, this week I had upped the conditioning phase of our training, and introduced frequent walk-trot transitions. It took me a couple of years to get around to doing that with Mocha, and I’m not making that mistake with him. He picked it up faster as a result, and doesn’t seem to get quite as frustrated with being asked to shift gaits every ten strides or so. But I think I’m modifying the exercise where we do smaller circles as part of a larger circle. I generally do the larger circle with the smaller circles in one direction, then change. I think I’m going to change that out and alternate the smaller circle directions. He bends better on his stiffer side when I do that–tried it on Friday and liked the results.

But he still struggles with making turns going downhill, especially at the trot, and wants to break into a canter because it’s easier. He doesn’t do that if I remember to provide support with rein and leg to put him in the proper mode for making that downhill turn.

This week I also saw some of his spooky moments. He was startled by three fawns bursting out of cover in the field, and jumped sideways. That was all he did. Afterward, he eyed the spot but didn’t get reactive. In the same situation, Mocha would have been skittery and spooky. And his jump was nowhere as big as hers would have been. Then we had a bicyclist come by after he was untacked, and that made him whirl and do his big roller snort, which sounds scary but which I’ve figured out from him is commentary. We “chased” the bicyclist after he went by, so I’m hoping that bodes well for our next encounter. It took Mocha some time to adapt to bicyclists, so we’ll see how Marker adapts–and as for the snorts….

A big roller snort from Mocha puts me on alert, because that’s a prelude to old mare pulling a big spook-and-spin. From Marker, that’s one way that he discharges anxiety. But he also uses it to comment on things–an unfamiliar scent, something he sees, as well as releasing tension. I’ve heard more roller snorts from him over the past month than I normally hear from Mocha over the course of a year.

The clippers continue to be a matter of discussion. At this point, I’m also cracking down on behaviors which have annoyed me but needed to be sidelined in favor of dealing with other things first. Now we’re working on two evasions that I particularly dislike–tossing his head from side-to-side to keep me from placing the clippers on his crest (and other things he doesn’t like doing), and backing up when he doesn’t want to do something. He’s picked up on my corrections pretty quickly for those, so now it’s a matter of reinforcement. The clippers have moved from open fear to “I don’t like this.” As a result, I’m comfortable becoming more insistent about his tolerance. But his ground manners have improved. Ground tying is pretty solid, except when he thinks he might get some cookies. He relaxes when I drop the lead to the ground. He will walk on a long lead without needing to get into my space, though he still likes to touch his nose to my wrist occasionally as we walk. He gives me space when dealing with gates. Defensive resistances are starting to fade as he becomes more accustomed to us.

He also has his Moments of Cuteness. Unlike Mocha, who seems to have a weird bias about not eating windfall apples, Marker has discovered the apple tree in their field. I’ll occasionally see him rooting around looking for windfalls. Yesterday, when we turned them both loose, instead of hanging out in the lower field, he made a beeline to cross the ditch and head for the apple tree. Hubby joked that he probably heard an apple fall. Very likely. Yesterday, when I was grooming him, Marker twisted himself sideways to show me a particularly itchy spot he wanted scratched. The degree to which he can lean without moving a step also cracks me up. The horse can contort himself in an almost catlike manner, though in temperament he’s more like a dog. And oh does he like to have his head scratched.

I’m happy with the Boi. It’ll be interesting to see how things unfold as he becomes more fit.

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