Sunday, March 15, 2009

Zoe's yoga

Zoe is a TB mare who belongs to my daughter. She is Percy's mom so has been out of work (as an event horse) for a little over a year. She is definitely a high- energy and high-anxiety horse. Before being bred, she could never have more than a month off of work because she would get so wound up because she was bored! Thankfully, she adapted well to motherhood and Percy kept her busy enough that she certainly did not get bored. When they were weaned in early December, she seemed to transition into vacation time without too much trouble.

My focus with Zoe has been relaxation. Last winter I did a fair amount of work with her on head down. My daughter had taught that to her already but she would only go down to ankle height for me and then would "trampoline" back up. If you didn't click the instant her head went down, she'd bounce back up, then down and up etc. I felt like she would really benefit from the self-control of duration work. In addition, I think her body needs a lot of the stretching that comes with head down and her mind needs all the relaxation it can get. Basically, like a lot of moms, she needs yoga!

When Zoe gets very anxious, she chews on her tongue to calm herself down. Today I was working on Elly on her mat in the paddock next to Zoe and I happened to look up to see Zoe standing next to the fence chewing on her tongue. She loves to work, loves attention and really wanted to be the one I was working with. So when I was done with Elly, I took the doormat into Zoe's stall to work on the mat and head down. I had done some work with her on this mat before but it wasn't as solid as I'd hoped. The previous time I positioned her on the mat with a lead and she figured it out pretty quickly. This time I was hoping she would offer it by herself but it wasn't that solid yet. I did get her to put both feet on it by having her target my hand but she had only the toe of one foot on and the heel of the other. I probably should have gotten her halter but she was offering head down with her feet like that (as I said, I have done a LOT of HD with her!) so I decided to go with that.

I think the biggest lesson from working with her today is I need to decide exactly what criteria I'm working on and be clear in my own mind so I can be clear with her. I lumped too many things together: the mat, the head down and exactly what was I looking for in HD. It's been a while since I have really focused on her so I should have had some review of: nose to the floor, not just low, then add the duration to that and then bring the mat into it. As a result, we didn't get too far and it was dinner time so I decided to stop there and try again tomorrow when I was more mentally organized.


bonnie said...

How is Zoe doing now? I have horses on my property for the first time in my life. I have been riding at a stable for about two years, and wanted to see what it was like to take care of them 24/7.
I am interested in clicker training, and have been working on the first step, targeting. I have a TB mare too, she is sweet but I wonder if she has anxiety issues. She became very attached to our other horse, and after three weeks we separated them; they can still touch noses over the fence. There are some areas where their view is blocked, and the mare can get upset and start cavorting and bucking and galloping until she sees the gelding again. My anxiety is that I'll be riding her and she'll suddenly get anxious about finding him. She has always been willing and happy under saddle, but I've never seen her respond with such force in the pasture before. So I'm working on little things to overcome both of our anxieties: lunging, clicker targeting, hand grazing interspersed with walking on a lead etc. I rode once in the pasture with my instructor, which was fine. Am still a bit nervous about doing it on my own though.
I've only had a few sessions of c/t so far, the gelding seems more interested than the TB. The TB is a little wary, as if I'm going to require some action from her that she doesn't want. Very interesting.
Your training blog is quite helpful.

Bookends Farm said...

Glad to hear you're finding this helpful Bonnie. I'll post an update on Zoe!
There are lots of things you can do with a clicker to help your mare. The most important thing I would stress is to use progressive baby steps. Choose your goal- say to ride in your field alone, and then break it down into as many steps as you can think of and work up to that without stressing yourself or your mare at any point. So you might first see if you can keep your mare's attention in her paddock in a halter and lead. Really observe her to see if she is attentive to you and if you can ask her for anything and get a response. I would definitely recommend head down exercises as they are calming! Try to do it at first when the gelding is in sight and if that goes well, set it up so that he perhaps is not in sight. Is she finding her work with you rewarding enough and relaxing enough that she will still focus on you even with him out of sight? By doing this in tiny baby steps, you fill in any "holes" that may exist in this process which could suddenly expose you to a surprise! In addition, this gradual process will reduce your anxiety in the entire process by building your confidence, giving you a solid process to go to if things do get worrisome and help you tune in to your mare's feelings on a very subtle level.