Sunday, August 23, 2009

Boots and a raincoat

Well it's been such a wet year, I figured this was an appropriate title. It was Percy and Rumer who were wearing boots and a raincoat today. "Sacking out" probably has as many approaches as there are horses in the world. It is a critical part of young horses lives to get them accustomed to many different sounds and touches on their bodies. I like to approach sacking out with Alex Kurland's "Can I Touch You?". As with many of her exercises, this one is defined by the fact that it is a question. It is not a demand (the "You Will Stand Here and Take This!" game...doesn't sound like a game). It is the horse's choice whether or not to allow some item to touch them and by allowing it, they show they are comfortable with it. If they don't allow it, then the handler needs to find something they will allow to start with and build up confidence from there.

As Percy has had two occasions when he was "attacked" by his lead rope (he walked off and it followed him, then he trotted and it still followed him, then he cantered and it proceeded to start lashing around him like a very dangerous snake), I knew I needed to work with that. I spent one day just swinging it around him gently and clicking him for standing still. I progressed to letting it wrap around his legs and flop over his back. The next time I reviewed all that and also dragged it around on the floor under his feet until I could have him target my hand on a walk around the paddock with the leadrope dragging underfoot.

I wanted to go beyond this and looked around the barn which is when I came up with the boots and the raincoat. The boots had noisy velcro....another good experience on top of the velcro on the fly masks. The raincoat was a black windbreaker which made lovely shhhhhhh noises when rubbed on itself or the horse. It was lightweight and tickly too. I started out with Percy. Even though the name is "Can I Touch You?", I've worked with horses long enough to have had a lot of practice grooming, clipping, bathing a moving target horse. That isn't my goal though, so after I do the intial touch/click/treat, I move on to "Will You Stand Still While I Touch You with This?". Initially it is OK if the head goes up or the eyes look worried. I just keep the touch somewhere non-threatening like the neck or shoulder. I continue to touch/click/treat until I get a relaxed posture and expression.

At that point, I go on to moving the object around on the horse. Touching, rubbing, making noise and wrapping around various body parts are all steps that I take one at a time, making sure to do both sides of the horse's body. I made sure that I could hold the boot wrapped around Percy's leg and tear at the velcro while he stood still before I tried doing up one of the straps. I was kind of glad that he had moved his foot a couple times while I tried to put it on so that he had felt the way it stayed on his leg as he picked it up. The scariest part of the whole afternoon was when I did up one strap and he started to step back. I wasn't worried about his reaction to the boot, but George (the cat) had sprawled out on the mat right behind Percy and I was afraid he was going to step on him. I could just imagine the yowl and leaping black cat that would result and Percy would never let me near him with a boot again. Thankfully, George scrambled to safety just in time and Percy quietly stood. Phew.

After doing one boot, I did the same with the other and then put them both on and took him for a little walk. Interestingly, it was when he caught sight of them that bothered him! He'd put his head down for grass and see them and cock his head and walk away from them (well, he couldn't see them any more anyway!).

Next was the raincoat. I held it for him to sniff and after 2 C/Ts, I had to prevent him from trying to eat it. I rubbed it all over him, around his front and then hind legs, etc. By this time I had taken his lead rope off so it didn't get tangled up while I worked around him so he was standing in the aisle voluntarily as he got C/Td for the various parts of the body I worked on. He wasn't real keen on having me let go of it. Another fascinating observation. It was fine if I was holding it, but if I left it on his back and stepped away, he got a worried look in his eye. It was also very different to him if I held it out in front of me or off to the side. All in all, it was a good start I thought so I let him out to eat hay and got Rumer out.

I was able to proceed more quickly with her. Because of the way she likes to paw, I wasn't sure what her reaction would be to having boots on her legs. It didn't seem to make a difference. She pawed when she got impatient (when she does this, I turn my back on her and wait until she stops, then count silently to 3 and turn back to her). I was able to put the coat on her back while she also had the boots on and walk away for a count of 10. Every time she moved a foot, I would stop counting, wait until she stopped and then start over at 1. I did get a picture of her wearing them all but the aisle pictures always make them look like donkeys so I just put a photo of her booted legs up! And yes, I know the boots are all twisted around- they were way too big for her and moved quite a lot! They fit Percy though....mediums and he's only 1 year old??

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