Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Zoe's yoga 2

I wrote about Zoe a while ago and the overarching theme with her is still the same- relaxation. She will now relax on the cross-ties while I groom her, putting her head as low as the ties allow. I reinforce this a LOT still because the distractions for her are many. She knows what is going on in the whole county. Something I have come to realize about the head down exercise is how many repetitions it takes in a good situation before you can expect it to work in a worrisome one. This is a light bulb realization for me- one of those duh! realizations. To a certain extent the exercise is relaxing in itself- the way that breathing deeply can be relaxing. But it is far more effective if you know how to breathe properly and practice it many many times in a quiet situation so that when you use it when tense, it is immensely effective. The same is true for head down and I regret that I did not understand this better with Smarty.

I do not know what Zoe's future holds but I do know that if she can learn to calm herself down, as so many horses have learned to do thanks to Alex's work, she will be a much happier horse regardless of her future career. She does have her tongue chewing habit, but I see that as a coping strategy rather than a calming strategy. It keeps her lid on, but does not reduce the heat under the pot!

Today I brought her into the aisle and increased my criteria for her head down behavior. Not only was she to put her head down, but I wanted her two front feet square. Due to a slight conformation issue, she got in the habit of grazing with her right foot back and her left forward. I have not concerned myself with this before in the head down exercise but I decided to give it a go today. Since I was introducing new criteria, I followed the rules and relaxed my standards on the other criteria. I did not expect her nose to be touching the floor or her head to stay down for more than a second at first. I asked her to stand square, then asked for head down and clicked as soon as she did it. Luckily, she did not move her foot before putting her head down but after it was down so I had time to click before that foot went back. When she lifted her head for the treat, I would give it to her, re-align her front feet and ask again. It took many repetitions but finally she left her feet square long enough to come up for the treat without needing to be re-set.

This was a small thing, but I felt I was able to introduce something difficult for her without really changing the external stress levels. I thought this might be a good baby step before throwing anything too stressful at her. I wanted to get her really working on responding to the cue and feeling the relaxation. I saw no tongue chewing which was great. There were a couple things going on- other horses coming to the door, dogs barking, etc which caught her attention but each time, I gave her only a second or two to listen to the distraction and then asked her to lower her head and she did.

My daughter also noticed that while she remains quiet for grooming, when the saddle comes out, the tongue chewing begins. So after we had several successes at head down with feet square, I brought out her saddle pad- no saddle, just pad. She had been relaxed and quiet for quite some time while we were working and I was curious to see her reaction. While she didn't offer to put her head down when I put it on her back, I watched carefully, and she didn't seem at all concerned. No ears pinning, no tongue chewing. I think I will continue to work the saddle in as the next distraction. Since no one is riding her, we can introduce this just as if she were three and was wearing a saddle for the first time. Hopefully we can bypass the saddle being a trigger for nervousness (or excitement or irritation or whatever it is that is causing the saddle to trigger tongue chewing!).

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