Sunday, July 15, 2018

Second Training Weekend, Part 2 (6/3/18)

When I got back to the arena the second day, I was relieved to see that she'd eaten most of her hay and drank a good deal of water because I worried about her pacing herself into an ulcer or colic. She was much calmer, too. Not frantic that her neighbors were being pulled from her pen, and happy to see me.

It appeared that she'd managed to find her brain overnight, but I still chose not to ride, knowing that the training plan was more intense than the day before. With her blow up over being saddled the day before, I wasn't sure what to expect, but she was back to being a "broke" horse.

Day one, I kept her with me, separate from the horses because of her anxiety. Day two, though, with her regained brain meant that she could be ponied from another horse. While everyone else was warming up, I took her into the arena with the other horses and did some circle work with her before handing her off to another posse member to work in formation.

She did incredibly well in formation, so got to go with the rest of the team across the bridge (she did awesome - but better than first weekend training) into the venue.

Right in the middle, surrounded by other horses.
For a horse who didn't want to be around other horses the day before, she did really well with horses close to her on either side. She got ponied all around the park, and got to see all sorts of sights: a huge rodeo arena (she worked in that for patrol car desensitizing in the first week of training), buildings on both sides, livestock barns, and vehicles. She had to stop and stand in formation, and work with the other horses. It was a great learning experience for her.

Despite me being an avid shooter, Skeeter *hates* guns. She's okay with the occasional shotgun or rifle blast from the neighboring hunters, but does not at all appreciate handguns. I know, I know, it breaks my heart, too. Gun training was planned after the tour of the vanue and I was cautiously optimistic based on her morning behavior.

I worked her from the ground during gun training, but it did not go well. The Posse member who had ponied her throughout the morning offered to trade horses with me, and since I was tired of fighting with Skeets, I jumped at the offer. I struggle with walking the fine line between being supportive in her fear, and disciplining bad behavior, so it was a relief to have someone else take it on. In watching the other person disciplining her, I realized I needed to reinforce boundaries, stimulus be damned. Because I was so concerned about trying to be comforting and supportive during something that I knew scared Skeeter, I was letting her walk all over me. My fear was that if I disciplined her for her fear, I would make her fear worse. She did much better with the other handler, which isn't surprising, since the other handler wasn't concerned with how Skeeter felt, she was concerned with keeping her ownself safe.

Skeeter hated the gunfire, but eventually quit trying to jump on the human holding her. I'll call it a win (for now). Once gun training was over, she relaxed again and started to show interest in other things, so we went over to watch the obstacle course.

She was very interested and wanted to go play, but because the other members were testing on the course, we didn't get to. There were still a few hours left of training, but I wanted to leave on a good note. The first weekend training, I didn't do that, and I think it negatively impacted her ability to relax for the second weekend training. She was in such an agreeable mood, I figured she'd load up easily.

I've spent a lot of time and money on trailer training, but she's a stubborn mare. While I was trying to load her, the next group of horses began their gun training. So in addition to having a horse that didn't want to get on the trainer, I also had a horse who was stressed by the gunshots.

I may or may not have threatened to walk her the half a mile down the street to the rendering plant - that's when I knew it was time to take a break. After an hour, I tied her to the trailer in order to avoid killing her.

I'm pretty sure we were trading hateful thoughts at this point.
 I sat on the back of the truck and tried to think happy, calm thoughts. I knew that continuing to try to load her with both of us being so frustrated wasn't going anywhere. There are very, very few things that drive me to tears, and this was super close.

Eventually, the rest of the Posse took a break and another member asked if he could try. Without much hope, I agreed. I told him the only thing he could not do was pull on her head - that's what got us in trouble in the first place. He tried every trick he knew - and he has a deep toolbox of tricks - but she wouldn't get in. She'd load her front two legs, scoot up right until her back legs were touching the trailer and stop. (It's the same thing she was doing for me.)

I, too, have tried every trick in the book. We even started out, when she was brand new to us, by feeding her in the trailer. She thanked me by eating all of the wiring and padding on the divider. She also learned that she can eat from the manger without getting all the way in the trailer, and that lesson comes back to bite me in the ass on the regular.

Eventually, we were down to the last tool in his toolbox - a manure fork. We bribed her as far in as we could get her, with me holding the grain outside of the window to force her to stretch as far as she could, then he poked her in the ass with the manure fork until she stepped up into the trailer to get away from it.

I had hoped to leave on a good note, but two plus hours after I wanted to leave, I was just happy to get in the damn truck and go.

To say our 40-hour training was disappointing would be an understatement. I was seriously questioning our ability to work with the mounted unit, and was beginning to think about switching from mounted to the volunteer (ground) unit. Surprise would be an understatement when I received our certificate of completion for the training.

We are nowhere near being ready to patrol, and I'm still not 100% sure that we'll ever make it as a mounted team, but I'm not ready to give up quite yet.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Second Training Weekend, Part 1 (6/2/18)

The Posse's 40-hour training is broken up into two very long weekends. Well, they're typical weekends, but they feel very long. There is a lot of training and desensitizing that has to go on in order to be patrol-ready. I had high hopes of being able to ride in the second weekend training. I knew we wouldn't get certified, but Skeeter had been doing so well, I thought I'd at least get to ride in warm-up and maybe in formation.

I was so, so very wrong in thinking that.

Skeeter loaded into the trailer pretty nicely (for her), but when we got to the training arena, she lost her mind. She stepped off the trailer, looked around, and said "oh, fuck no. I'm not doing this again!".

Suddenly, things that we've been doing for years were impossible for her to do. Her stress and anxiety were off the charts and the only think I can think of is that her last trip to the training arena had been so stressful that she just couldn't function.

I tied her to the trailer and she could do nothing but pace. I groomed her and attempted to saddle her any way. It was like she'd never seen a saddle before. I got the saddle on the first time, but couldn't get it cinched up because she was moving so much. I tried untying her from the trailer, so she wouldn't feel too confined, and she had to move her feet. And, boy, did she move her feet! She hasn't bucked with a saddle since she was first learning to wear one. Lucky for me, my saddle is light, so I was able to hold onto her lead with one hand and pull the saddle with the other.

I moved her feet a lot, doing lots of turns and transitions, in an attempt to get her to focus on me. After a few minutes, she calmed down enough for me to saddle her a second time, but she was not happy about it. Though I was able to saddle her, I decided it was not in my best interest to attempt to ride her, so we settled in to watch the goings-on.

This was her "happy" face for the weekend.
I'd like to say that the weekend got better, but that would be a lie. She had moments of not-so-bad, but mostly she was anxious and upset all weekend. Part of me wanted to pack it in and go home, but I wasn't about to give up. I don't know if that was the right decision, but I made it and stuck to it, so we both got to suffer through the weekend.

We found out that she hates it when trucks fart at her (air brakes releasing). The water truck wasn't scary, but the farting was and she about turned herself inside out every time.

Then the med-evac helicopter came for a visit. Helicopters fly over our place occasionally, but they never seem to bother the horses, so I thought she'd do okay. She didn't mind at all while it was flying over, until it was time for it to land. She did pretty well, actually, just had to move her feet and circle around me once or twice as it was landing, but no big explosions from her. I wanted to hear the presentation from the helicopter team, so I put her in the round pen and let her be.

When the helicopter left, I went to fetch Skeets out of the round pen only to find that she had rolled in it and slipped it off to the side. I took it as a good sign that she relaxed enough to roll, even if it meant she scuffed the hell out of my cheapo saddle.

It had been a big day, and we still had hours to go, so I stripped her of the saddle and put her in her pen, where she could watch what was going on in the arena, but not be forced to join in the festivities. With her safely tucked into her pen, I could join in on the activities on the ground, where I learned a lot about escorting and controlling people from horseback.

We finished the night with fireworks. The posse horses did great, and Skeeter watched from the safety of her pen, though she refused to eat or drink until I went and sat with her for a while. Once I saw her finally calm down enough to eat, I felt comfortable leaving her overnight while I went home.