Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I survived

My stint as primary farmer is over...for a while. My husband returned on Friday and boy were the horses and I (and Jack Russell) relieved. We were unbelievably lucky with the weather while he was gone. The country seemed to tip upside down and while snowstorms were pounding the central and southern states (and even southern New England), northern Vermont was enjoying the earliest Spring in a long time. Last Saturday we actually broke records for warm weather. Snow was long gone (except in the deepest woods) and the grass has already started to turn green. I took this picture while watering the sheep one day...they were all lined up along the barn and I couldn't figure out what they were doing. Turns out, this grass was struggling to grow up behind the bottom board and they were eating the tops off just as fast as it could grow!

Luckily, the horses haven't started to push through fences yet. I have taken turns turning them out in the round pen to chew off anything that might try to grow in there. Rumer especially seems to enjoy pulling it up by the roots so she may get a job in the garden this summer! With the clocks being turned ahead, I am now leaving everyone out until after dinner. I always have them out from sunup to sundown in all seasons so they can get as much moving around as possible (not to mention saving on bedding). While my husband was gone, I was turning them out before it was light and one morning Percy alerted me to a group of coyotes lurking just down the hill. I slept a lot better at night knowing our Livestock Guardian Dogs were on duty.

As far as training, I did what little I could in the last three weeks. In addition to being very busy, very tired and very short on time, I was dealing with a couple injuries that made me want to just sit down in the little available time I had so I didn't do anything major. One of the most exciting things to me was that I have been able to free shape Stowaway to both turn away and back up when I approach his feed tub with grain. This is major success in my opinion because he has been so difficult to explain clicker training to. I did not spend special time with him or focus on it, but each night as I fed, I just shaped him a tiny bit further and he now turns his head completely away and takes a full step back each night. I did nothing to "ask" him to do this- it was strictly shaping.

Percy is now exceptional at walking next to me, with his nose to the ground, at least a foot away from me when I walk through his paddock. For a boy of his age (not 2 until July 1), this is a good way for him to behave around people as a default behavior (a default behavior is a reliable behavior that has been strongly and repeatedly reinforced that he turns to when he's not sure what else to do). It keeps him quiet and calm with his head down, no temptation to bite anything or anyone and not too close to be in the way.

I also had to extinguish a behavior with him. One afternoon when I put him in his stall at feeding time, he had a complete temper tantrum. He bucked and squealed and stood up and spun around and at first I could not figure out WHAT the problem was. Then I realized that I usually did not shut his door during chores- I just put his stall guard up. The ponies all scooted underneath stall guards but Percy is big enough and polite enough to respect it so I was happy to leave his door open so he could hang his head out and watch and interact as I did chores. On that day, I had absent-mindedly shut his door and he was furious! I don't think I would have figured it out if I didn't know his mummy so well. But it is precisely something she would have done. Rather an opinionated bunch.

I knew I couldn't open his door at that point- that would have reinforced his tantrumming behavior. Instead I had to ignore it so that it extinguished. And I had to repeat that several more nights. Luckily I was confident in the structure of his stall! Now he is fine whether I leave his door open or closed.

We're back to more typical Spring weather now- temperatures in the 30's and 40's with some mixed rain and snow. This week I'm focusing on preparing for the TAGteach seminar that I am co-hosting this weekend (see www.TAGteach.com/events for more details- there is still room if anyone is interested. Feel free to email me with questions at bookendsfarm@gmail.com ). And then we'll get back to more focused training!

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