Sunday, June 14, 2009

"The One With the Hair"

That's the way one of the lesson moms referred to Rumer the other day :) I certainly knew who she meant- Rumer has inherited her mom's abundance of mane and forelock. But I decided it didn't help her look much that I had pulled her mane from the withers forward and stopped about 6 inches short of her poll and never went back to finish it. So she looked like one of those Thelwell ponies who's just had his mane washed.

I have to give a product endorsement here, even though I'm not famous enough to get paid for it: I love the "Solo" pulling comb. There is no "pulling" involved so the horses don't mind it, your fingers don't mind it, and it does a very quick job. It does thin somewhat, although not as good as regular pulling. And with some of these ponies, nothing short of hedge trimmers is really going to be faster. I've done 2 TB manes, one QH mane and two pony manes with the blades that were on it (and I mean from winter, bottom-of-the-neck length) and they still work. I have had to take it apart several times (a 2-second job) when it got bogged down with hair, but then it works great again.

So after finishing Rumer's mane, cutting her first bridle path (I used scissors since my clipper blades need to be sharpened) and trimming the dead ends off her forelock, she looked so much better than I needed to face the bath scene again. By now, the days are warm enough that setting a bucket out in the sun supplies warm water so I emptied a morning water bucket into a wash bucket with sponge and scraper. This provided amusement for both of us for the entire session since drinking water out of a bucket with a sponge was a new and fun experience for her so every few minutes, she'd go over and push the sponge around with her nose, drink a sip, and then be done. But it seemed to provide a little break when she needed it so I just let her do it, even though the water got pretty gross.

Because she has gotten so good about so many things, I decided to sponge her with no clicking. I was curious to see how she would respond. The result was that I did bathe her entire body (didn't try legs) and managed to get her looking better. However, I also got soaked myself; the barn walls and a 12 foot area underfoot got more water than she did; and she never stood still for any of it. She didn't do anything bad or wrong, just kept moving away every time I put the dripping sponge on her. Because she was so quick with her hind legs as a wee one, I watched them carefully to make sure she didn't get defensive with them when I sponged her rump. I've seen many an older horse get a bath this way on a regular basis. But it wasn't really what I was looking for. So I scraped her off (one of her biggest issues was the drippy water running all over her tickling like a herd of flies) and decided to start again.

I got out the doormat I used to use for mat work. The plywood was out in the round pen and this was easier to grab, plus I thought it would be less slippery when wet. I have done little mat work with Rumer- not much more than getting her used to stepping on it. And this was a different type mat so I just started from the beginning. One of the most frustrating things about the doormat is when they paw at it, it flops all over the place. That is good for getting them used to things under their feet, but is a pain to try to hold it in place with your toe so that it stays put until they stop pawing. But we muddled through until she got the point that standing with both front feet on it was rewarded and none of the other nonsense was. I could step away from her and count to about 5 without her moving so I pulled out the sponge again. At first I literally just pulled the sponge up out of the water a little and C/T'd her for not moving. I was going to have to overcome all her moving behavior from earlier. My goal was to have her stay on that mat.

I worked very slowly up to pulling the sponge out, wringing it out and wiping her with it. Once I was using the sponge, it was getting complicated with the sponge, the treats and the rope, so since my goal was to have her stand, I just unclipped the rope and she was free to go or stay. She did a little experimentation with stepping off and on again, but found that standing still got a more regular reinforcement rate than stepping off and on again. Of course she still had to step off occasionally and play her little Bob-for-Sponges game, but then she'd go back onto the mat. Once I could wipe her neck and shoulders with the damp sponge and have her not move from her mat while I went back and forth to the bucket, I decided that was enough for that day. Between the water, the treats and the sand from the mat, I too, looked like a Thelwell model...

Moral of the story is- she capable of handling "normal" training (ie she's not difficult or been spoiled by CT as some would predict) but I'll have a much more cooperative and happy pony if I continue with the CT method!

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