Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Training Weekend, Part 2 (4/15/18)

When I got back to the training grounds on Sunday, the horses on either side of Skeeter were being pulled from their pens and she was getting anxious. For a horse who normally doesn't give a hoot about other horses, she was pretty certain she was going to die if she was left while her neighbors went away. But that's okay, because I "rescued" her and she was more than happy to go to the trailer and get tacked up.

There was a lot on the schedule, and I had a brief thought of riding, but dismissed it. We started the weekend on the ground and the training was just going to get more intense, so I decided to stay on the ground. Skeeter got lots of practice standing tied in different locations, which was so good for her. She stands tied now like an old broke horse. Well, most of the time.

Part of the desensitizing planned for Sunday was 'exotic animals', which maybe weren't so exotic, but more 'what they'll see while patrolling the fair grounds'. The night before, Skeeter had already met the mini horse who freaked her the eff out. Skeets jumped like a spider had touched her when she saw the mini the first time. It blew her ever-loving mind (which I found hilarious).

I helped set up the pens in the arena for the animals and got to handle an alpaca for the first time. I guess I expected that they'd have hooves like horses, but their feet are the things nightmares are made of. Holy crap, they could disembowel a person if they wanted to.

Those are big ole nope toes for me.  *from Google images
Luckily, the alpacas weren't set on disemboweling me or the other posse member trying to move them and they went pretty well. We then moved a goat, sheep, and the mini into the other temporary pen, with enough room for people to ride (or lead) their horses around. Despite sleeping just a few stalls down from the mini, Skeets still had to snort and blow at it, while the mini completely ignored her.

She finally quit snorting and blowing, but was still perplexed.
She was so focused on the mini, that she completely ignored the sheep and goat. They did not exist in her world, so I'm fairly certain there was no desensitizing acquired with the other two animals, though I tried to point them out to her.

Having shared space with alpacas at the lodge last year, she wasn't too terribly interested in them, but politely introduced herself at my request.

After seeing the 'exotics' we headed to the other end of the arena to play with other things: the tarp, raincoats, noise makers, etc. We've done a good job of torturing desensitizing the horses at home, so there wasn't much that was hard for her, until we got to the tambourine. I know it's completely my fault we haven't done much with noise makers, because I don't like noise. If I don't like noise, then why on earth would I buy my horses noisy toys? That was a big old fail on my part. The tambourine was not her favorite thing, so I spent a lot of time shaking it around her head, on each side of her neck, rubbing her body with it, until she stopped moving.

When she could stand still, I tried again, but this time over her head. She did not like that a whole lot, but quickly calmed down and stood in one spot. I figured that was plenty of work and moved on to the smoke bombs and flares.

She did okay with them - hated the smell of each - but the smoke in the air and fizzy sound of the flare didn't seem to bother her. She did move away from the smell every time the breeze (yes, just a gentle breeze, not gale force winds!) shifted, but there was nothing panicky about her moving away - it was just obvious that she'd rather not be breathing that stuff thankyouverymuch.

We have an amazing obstacle course at the training center: teeter-totters, bridges, shower curtains, a tire hill, and a bunch of other cool things to play on. When it was our turn to go over, the trainer who had ponied Skeeter yesterday offered to pony her through the water crossing and I jumped at the chance. I wanted to make Skeets cross it, because it's much deeper than the creek at Mom's place and figured I could drive her through it, but getting ponied was much better.

Day two of being ponied went much smoother

With the successful crossing of the water, I took her back and we went to work on other things. I drove her across the bridges without any problem and started her on the teeter-totter. She's not afraid of it, but is also smart enough to know that all she has to do is step to the side to get off. We have two teeter-totters, so she got to go over them again and again and again until she quit trying to step off, then I turned her around and made her to them from the high side a couple of times.

Besides the water crossing, the obstacle I was most looking forward to was the tarp-covered mattress. I watched horses struggle with it last year, when I was working ground support, and wanted to see how Skeets would do. I wish I'd had a free hand to video it, but she did pretty well. It took a couple of attempts to get her to cross it each direction. When I first asked her to step up on it, she thought it was just a tarp, which is no big deal, but the squishiness of the mattress was a surprise and she wasn't entirely pleased. We crossed it in both directions multiple times until she stepped up without hesitation.

The 'shower curtain' and the other obstacles were simple in comparison. She wasn't thrilled with being driven through the long strips of material she couldn't see  through, but she went anyway. We still had a bit of time in our training rotation, so we practiced dragging a tiger.

Not afraid at all.
 After a quick working lunch, it was back to the arena for gun desensitizing. We have hunters nea.rby, so the sound of rifles and shotguns doesn't bother the horses, but they're not fond of pistols. I've shot into the manure pile on occasion, but the horses have been free to run around their pen, I've never had any of the "confined" in a halter.

Skeets did really well for the most part. There was some jumping initially, but she never tried to bolt or pull away. Eventually, the jumping slowed to flinching. I allowed her to keep moving her feet, but she slowed to a stop on her own. She stood nicely, without even flinching, while the trainers finished up. Well, we thought they'd finished up. They'd gone through 30-40 rounds and most of the horses were doing great. Skeets and I thought they were done, but it turns out they were just reloading for round two.

Round two was just too much for Skeeter. We'd reached a great stopping point, but then the stimulus started up again and that was it. She was d-o-n-e. I made her stay in the arena until round two was done, then we went back to the trailer. It was easy to decide that it was time to go home. I'd asked a ton of her, and she'd done an amazing job, but she was done and we needed to head home.

Knowing she was ready to just shut down, I wasn't sure how well she'd load, so I asked a couple of the trainers to help me load her. She loaded surprisingly well, in under ten minutes, without a fight (but with some granola bars and a final treat of black oil sunflower seeds), and we headed home.

The rest of the posse still had a couple of hours' worth of training, and I felt bad about leaving, but I got over it pretty quickly.

While, we won't be certified to ride this year, I'm unbelievably proud of Skeeter.

1 comment:

White Horse Pilgrim said...

You have been on a challenging adventure!

Isn't it curious how differently horses react. Over here in England, three of us chanced upon a herd of alpacas in a field. Like, behind a fence, safely contained. One horse was terrified, and another wanted to sniff the alpacas. Mine thought that it was a great opportunity to get her head down and eat.

With all the winter pheasant shooting, a lot of horses here get used to gunfire in the vicinity, but not their riders shooting!