Monday, September 6, 2010

What do you do with a 2 year old?

I was recently admiring someone else's monthly goals for their horses and pondering doing that myself. It seems I have nebulous yearly goals but as she said, putting goals into months makes them more pressing and increases her chances of getting them done. I'm not sure if I'm just wishy-washy but when I thought about making monthly goals, I couldn't figure out how to combine that with being flexible and dealing with things that come up (opportunities) and adjusting my goals to suit the training needs as opposed to getting it done...(which somehow sounds like "make it happen" :)!

So I guess instead I have "projects" with each horse- what I am working on at any given time. Take Percy, for instance. A very long term goal is to get on him! I don't expect to do that until he is three, but it is a project I am working on now, even though he's only just turned two on July 1. One of the steps in this big goal is to get him used to a bit. I could stuff it in his mouth and let him wear it for a few hours and he'd get used to it. But I choose another route. I like Alex's "self bridling" technique and used it to introduce the bit to both Rumer and Percy last winter, when Percy was only 18 months. So, if my goal was to get the bit in his mouth, you could say I've already done that. But as I've worked with Ande and Rumer, I see more and more ways to break that lesson down, even though both Ande and Rumer self bridle.

Another piece of the "getting on Percy" goal is getting him used to me all over him, getting used to touch, to weight, etc. I honestly see grooming as part of this goal. Especially with a youngster with Thoroughbred blood as they can be so sensitive to both touch and fears.

Today, while Percy was eating his breakfast, I took my grooming box into his stall and thankfully, he chose to eat his lovely second cut hay rather than take everything out of the grooming box and dismantle it. I like to be able to groom him on cross ties or loose- I think there is value in both situations. As I groomed him, I was happy that I could use the grooming mitt and brush from head to toe without any concern or squirminess from him: around his ears, under his tummy, all the way down each leg, the inside of the opposite leg I was near, between his hind legs, etc. I was not worried about being kicked or startling him at all- he was completely relaxed. This tells me both that he is comfortable with me doing these things AND I know how much pressure to use without pushing him over any threshold. The ponies are happy with a rubber curry comb and pretty stiff brushes. But with him I use the mitt and a soft dandy brush. I can scrub enough to get the dirt up, but not so hard to make him dislike it. I did not click or treat at all- we are beyond that. He did listen and look for a CT when I picked out his feet because I do still occasionally click for foot manners, but I'm weaning him off it.

After that, I got out the little headstall thing my niece gave me for bitting. It's like a bridle but no noseband or reins and has little snaps to clip the bit on rather than complicated leather and studs. When I worked with him last winter, he had learned to take the bit into his teeth happily. The further steps I have found are:
  • front teeth
  • incisors
  • bars of mouth
  • holding it in the proper place, rather than immediately spitting it back out
  • being comfortable with the bit coming back out
  • the headstall approaching his eyes
  • headstall approaching his ears
  • headstall going over his ears
  • the feel of wearing the entire contraption for any duration
Today, Percy willingly took the bit to the bars of his mouth and held it there for a couple seconds. The best part of the whole experience was I started thinking about the ideal of a dressage horse seeking out the bit- ideally reaching for the bit and the contact. That's exactly what Percy was doing. I had gone through the process with the others of teaching myself to anchor my elbows to my sides and not raise my hands at all when they are taking the bit. That is me putting it in the mouth. I want Percy to put it in his mouth, not me. I loved the image of him reaching out to grab it and pull it up in.

So those were today's little lessons- didn't take long. But baby steps on the way to being a riding horse! Tomorrow we'll do something different.


kyley said...

this is great.
Gives me ideas for when I FINALLY buy a foal from the chincoteague pony auction, which is a long-term goal for me in a few years.
I'm excited to start thinking about how I will start this youngster with positive methods.
I know it won't be easy (especially starting with a wild-born foal)....but I know in the end it will be well worth my effort. :)

smazourek said...

I'm very interested in the self bridling you mentioned. My mare HATES bits with a passion. I don't plan on riding her in one very often but she'll need to get used to it if we ever get to show.

Bookends Farm said...

I actually made a video of the process last winter if it would be helpful to watch that.
The quality isn't great and as I said, I've broken it down into more and more steps but it might be helpful. If your mare really hates bits, you want to go VERY slowly and build a lot of reinforcement for every tiny step. At the beginning she will probably not want anything to do with it and you'll have to click for even bringing her head slightly near it. Good luck!

Bookends Farm said...

Kyley, I'm going to do a full week of it! :) I have a friend who was at the pony penning this year and she said she was amazed at how quiet and calm the ponies and foals were. They seem very accustomed to people and were held in nothing but snow fence!
It is so so fun to start them off with positive reinforcement right from the start.

smazourek said...

Thanks! I just bookmarked your video.