Tuesday, October 19, 2010

First Frost- time to worm

We had our first frost last week, followed by many more of them! We are always lucky to hold out so long in this area but we are in a protected valley where the cold air slides off the garden most nights...the lower fields get frosted before the garden.

I'm not a big fan of regular worming for several reasons. First of all I don't like the fact that we are producing resistant species of parasites. Research has also shown that many horses are resistant to parasites themselves and do not need regular worming- local vets suggest doing fecals to determine the parasite load of individuals and worming accordingly. While I haven't done a fecal in years, the tendency toward rotund of my ponies does not indicate a parasite load! Last, but not least, because we rotationally graze (and that means only 2 or 3 days on a paddock and then on to the next- 30 days rest for each paddock before being grazed again), exposure to infestation is less than in other management scenarios.

That being said, I do like to worm in the fall and sometimes spring. We do see bot eggs on the horses and though I try to remove them, I don't know that I get them all. I like to clean everyone out before winter comes to be sure that all the feed that I'm paying for is being utilized by the intended recipient! This year we got a double dose of bots for some reason. Normally we see them in later August- this year I saw some in late July, then again in September. So when I ordered a blanket for Mariah and they had a sale on Ivermectin with a boticide, I added them to the order.

Day before yesterday, I stocked my pockets:
Right front- weight tape
Right back- paper and pen
Left back- one tube at a time of wormer paste
Left front- trash pocket!

It was great fun to see the different reactions. I remember when crinkly wrapper meant wormer and everybody suddenly refused to be caught! Not so with clicker ponies :) Crinkly wrappers mean goodies! Stowaway is the most suspicious but also the least reactive so I chose to do him first. He, Kizzy and Rumer were all in their run-in paddock together. I had waited until I was sure all hay was long gone as I know the magic of putting wormer in a mouth with any hay just means that the hay catches the paste and it gets spat out! Sure enough, Stowaway eyed me suspicously. He hasn't gotten many, if any, wrapped peppermints- mostly hay stretcher pellets, so the crinkly paper wasn't too convincing to him. But even though his head and eyes showed suspicion, he stood still for me to tape him and then easily administer the paste.

I could have worked with each horse with treats first, but again, I did not want to fill their mouths with goodies only to have them spit it out with wormer on it. I wanted those mouths empty and was relying on established trust...not "train today because I need results today".

When Rumer heard the crinkly wrapper, she came over to volunteer as the next patient. Always front and center, she happily stuffed her head into her halter, stood like a statue as I taped her and poked the tube in the corner of her mouth. I realized how nice it was to have all the youngsters familiar with the weight tape this year! No one new to introduce it to. It's always a windy day and nothing like a fluttering weight tape flapping about while I'm reaching underneath bellies to grab the other end. She was puzzled at the lack of fun involved with this process but didn't seem the least concerned about the wormer or offended that all she got was a an appreciative word and face rub for her patience.

Kizzy was standing off- fully aware of the process but always game for crinkly paper. She ignored my rude comments about her weight, obviously sure that it was her fuzzy coat and nothing to do with the fact that ribs are a theory-only with that pony. Times like this, I always look back at the pony she was when I got her- couldn't be caught, extremely head shy and worried about people. I adore her pudgy, furry self and am so glad of how she's turned around.

On to the other paddock: Percy, Ande and Mariah. I had put them in the round pen so I could drive through their paddock with the tractor to deliver hay to the barn. It was right next to the run-in so quite handy to my pile of wormer tubes.

But oh dear, when I went in the round pen. Two little boys had been hearing crinkly paper and seeing me others and and they could not WAIT to see what I had planned. I decided to use jealousy in my favor with Percy the youngest (and most likely to say it's his way or no way) so I started with Ande. Of course I had one hanging over each shoulder trying to stuff heads in one halter- rather a challenge but I did manage to block Percy long enough to let Ande put his halter on. That, however, did not deter Percy's curiosity. While I taped Ande, Percy pulled the pen out of my back pocket. I retrieved the pen from his teeth and quickly scribbled down Ande's weight while Percy pulled the fluttery weight tape out of my front pocket and Ande tried to push him away because this was HIS game. Good grief. I let Percy pretend to fly a kite with the weight tape while I administered Ande's wormer and told him what a good boy he was to hold stock still and not even move his head. Then I retrieved a very soggy weight tape from Percy's mouth. The empty crinkly wrappers were shoved deep into my trash pocket where he couldn't get at them. While Ande tried to figure out what that stuff was in his mouth, I put Percy's halter on, much to his delight. He gave his best "I'm being good, I'm a statue, see me not mug you?" pose, while his little lip pooched with the effort of self control. The little red statue stood while I taped him, stood while I wrote down his weight and then really thought he ought to help with the crinkly wrapper. When the wrapper went into the pocket and he saw the wormer syringe, the expression changed to Worried. Having had stitches in his lip as a weanling, he's had his share of unpleasant experiences...see http://bookendsfarm.blogspot.com/2009/03/owie.html

I was wearing my treat pouch so I decided that I'd risk food in the mouth to reinforce a good experience. First I let him target the syringe for CT. Then I held his halter gently to prevent him from targeting it with his muzzle and just touched it to the corner of his mouth for a CT. Then he understood it was a "will you let me do this to you" game. If he moved- no CT. If he stood and let me touch him with it- CT. Then I let it poke him > CT. Then I poked it between his lips > CT. By now he was into the game and not moving a muscle as I worked the syringe further and further into his mouth each time. The worry was gone. I tried to give him plenty of time to chew each hay stretcher pellet so that he didn't have a big mouthful of food. Finally I pushed the plunger down and that was that. I wore a little of it along with some well mashed pellets but most of it stayed in his mouth. Then I continued the game- but even though he let me put the syringe back to his lips and even in his mouth, he did not want the treats. That's the bummer about wormer. It's such a strong taste that everything you give them afterward just tastes like wormer. But, the point was, he was not upset by the process and there had been no battle, no restricting and the worry had gone DOWN in the process, not up.

Last but not least, Mariah. When I took Percy's halter off (by the way, I would have done them all without a halter if they'd been in their stalls but in a group in paddocks, it was easier to organize with halters on), I turned to Mariah and laughed out loud. Her owner says she makes me whimsical and indeed she does. She was standing there, for all the world looking like a matron waiting in line for her flu shot. She was as close to the boys as she could get- firmly in line so no one who came along could get in front of her but not rudely pushing either. The expression was one of bored impatience. She knew she had to do this bloody procedure but she wished the technician would hurry up as she still had the grocery shopping to do. Ears to the side, back leg resting so that in my mind I could see her enormous pocketbook slung over her shoulder as she waited. Relieved that it was finally her turn, she stepped forward to her halter and stood like a stone as I crossed my fingers that my weight tape was long enough to go around her huge frame (barely!). She waited while I wrote it all down, didn't fuss as I wormed her (had that head gone up in the air, I would have had no recourse whatsoever), and then turned to go when I was done. What a hoot.

Anthropomorphize? Me? Never.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Voice Commands

Before I get on Percy, I want to have some pretty solid voice commands on him. I've learned a lot in recent years about putting behaviors on cue so I'm going about this very carefully.

The first thing I've seen is how many people think their horses (or dogs) know voice commands but in reality the animal is responding to body cues that the person doesn't even realize she is giving. The story of Clever Hans illustrates how well horses observe our body language (if you don't know the story, you can google it easily). Like a lot of people, I talk to my horses but now see that most of what they hear is, "blah, blah, blah, blah". They might be able to pick up something from my tone of voice. When longeing horses, I was taught to use a crisp, upward swinging tone to encourage a horse in an upward transition and a low, slow voice for downward transitions. If you think about this, then the horse really doesn't know the word. Others who do this: do you say "trot" the same way whether you are asking for it from walk or from canter? More importantly, I think if anyone videoed me longeing a horse it would be obvious that I am also using body language to affect the horse's response. Some Natural Horsemanship methods employ this but they use very obvious movements- not for the sake of the horse (again- see Clever Hans!) but for the sake of us humans who need to be obvious or we'll screw it up!

If I am going to transfer my voice commands from the ground to under saddle- which is my purpose in teaching this before getting on- I won't be able to use my visual body cues because Percy won't be able to see me. So I need to teach this carefully and test it thoroughly to be sure he is responding to my voice and not something else.

In hand, Percy walks off promptly when I walk off. So he is responding to the visual cue of my movement. Some horses wait until they feel a pull on the lead to walk off. Some horses have to guess which their person wants from day to day. In beginning to teach him voice cues, I follow the rule of
new cue -> old cue -> behavior
in this case: voice command immediately followed by walking off
Done repeatedly and consistently, Percy anticipates that when I say "walk on", I will then walk. I start to see his body begin to prepare for the walk as I say "walk on". I am very careful as I do this not to combine the new and old commands. I don't want to say "walk on" AS I begin to walk, because then the words become "blah, blah, blah" as he is really responding to my body (a horse's easier and therefore preferable way to read people). I want to be very still with my body, maintaining a forward position just as I
if would if I were expecting him to stand still next to me. But when I saw his body prepare for walk from my words, even though my body hadn't changed, I knew he was anticipating that walk would come next.

This is similar to our newest Jack Russell Terrier, Eloise. She came through a rescue and previously lived in an apartment, always on a leash when she went outside. As a result, she learned to LOVE her leash because she LOVED to go outside. So when the leash consistently and repeatedly was followed by going outside, the leash became a cue for going out! I find this very funny because I've never had a dog who liked a leash before! My older Jack Russell, Beetle, Hates his leash. To him, it means being constrained because he grew up off leash and when he sees his leash, he gets very depressed. The presentation of the leash became a very different cue for these two dogs. Also important to note is that even though Eloise is now off leash almost all the time, she still LOVES to see her leash and gets very excited. She doesn't like to be on the leash (she pulls and pulls) but seeing me pick it up still elicits real excitement from her.
Her early and consistent lessons have stayed with her.

So, back to Percy. I want him to respond with enthusiasm when I ask him to walk on. Preferably not as much as Eloise with the leash (!), but I want him to walk off willingly and happily, not sluggish and unsure. What made Eloise so enthusiastic? Positive reinforcement! Going outside was hugely rewarding for her. Luckily, Percy is a temperament that likes to move so walking off is rewarding, but I can add more power to that with the click and treat.

I have not been clicking and treating to this point because walking off with me was taught when he was just a weanling- I haven't had to reinforce that for quite some time. And when I added the verbal cue, initially he was still responding to my body, not the voice. But when I see him begin to move, even a tightening of his muscles and or a lean of his weight forward, in response to my voice- before I move my own body, then I click and treat. I am reinforcing the fact that he responded to my voice.

At this point, (which is where we are spending time right now), I am being as observant as I can. I always preface walking off with the verbal cue. If he moves before I do, I click and treat. If he doesn't respond, I simply walk off with him. I also have to watch to be sure that he doesn't walk off without any cue. Practicing this, horses sometimes just learn walk-stop-walk-stop. They aren't responding, they have just learned the drill. So I stand for different amounts of time before cueing him. If he moves with no cue, I quietly slide my hand down the rope and ask him to stop and back up...no unrequested forward! He is learning that if he responds to the verbal cue he gets a CT and is becoming more and more responsive to it.

When I do get on him, it will be a different situation so I will be very rewarding when he responds. But taught this way, I am confident that he really does understand that "walk on" means walk (and I will teach, whoa and trot and canter the same way). Then I can transfer "walk on" to a leg aid, in the very same way. At that point the verbal cue will be the "old" cue and the leg aid will be the "new" cue. So I'll apply a little leg and immediately follow it with the verbal cue. As soon as he responds to the leg aid before the voice command, he'll get a CT and we'll be on our way.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Good, Better, Best (and bestest?)

Percy's 2 year old education continues with some review of the Good, Better, Best exercise this week. When he was just a weanling, I taught him to to yield to a little pressure on hips and shoulders and chest. I find this a very important thing to teach and regularly remind because horses instinctively push against pressure and youngsters turned out together practice that a LOT. "I'll shove you and you shove back." Instinctively this works for horses or other prey animals (from whence "herd" and "flock" comes) because it puts them in a tight group with less exposure to the predators nipping at the outside. Anybody who can push to the inside of the group is safer than those who stay on the outside! When you're a baby horse, it's just plain fun to shove back and forth with your buddies in the pasture. So regular, positively reinforced lessons in yielding to my touch counteract those instincts. Think about what happens when you use more pressure instead of positive reinforcement...what instincts come up?

So he knew how to move both his hips and his shoulders laterally and was very very good at it. However, this week I noticed we had lost a little of the coordination between the two. I'm guessing this came about because on our daily treks to pasture and back, if he crowded me a bit, I'd touch his shoulder and ask him to step away and he did so he'd get clicked. But I wasn't paying attention to what the back end was doing.

So it was time to review Good, Better, Best. Again, this is my interpretation and my experience of the exercise. If you want full explanation from the master, go to Alexandra Kurland's books and DVDs. She initially got the exercise from John Lyons and refined it further for her uses and of course, added the +R. I love it because I have found it helps so many riders and horses to really feel and understand their connections. It's a great way to really soften up one's aids and develop an incredibly light and responsive horse (remember, the sign of a good rider is one who looks like he's sitting there doing nothing!).

Although Percy has worn the bit, I have not yet asked him to work in it. Those baby teeth are still
falling out (found one in the paddock just the other day) and being replaced with new ones coming in. Anybody who has ever dealt with a teething child knows how painful that can be. I'm not going to add further insult to injury. Therefore, our G, B, B is done in a halter and not quite as refined as if done with careful feel with a bit. But it does teach him to yield, to bend (not overbend) and to connect his front end with his back end.

I begin by sliding my outside hand down the rope toward the snap. The slide is important...I refer you again to Alex's work! One note I'll make on it though is that at the clinic, Alex reiterated the importance of using two fingers to slide rather than the whole hand and Wow, did Percy tell me it's about TIME I got a little quieter! Putting a tiny bit of pressure on the rope, I ask for a fraction of a give toward me. This is very, very slight because once I ask with the bit, all I will be asking for is a give of his jaw. It will probably not be visible to the naked eye. I'm just going to be asking him that when I pick up the contact, I want him to soften his jaw to my hand and not brace against it. With the halter really I'm only asking him to show me he's paying attention by giving me the slightest response. The microsecond that he responds, I quietly drop the rope from my left hand and CT to say thank you. That's "good". I taught it by itself first.

Then on to "better". Here, I ask for a little more as I'm looking for him to soften in his poll. I always precede asking for "better" by asking for "good". It's a series of gives which I want him to learn and be able to run through mentally as soon as I pick up the rein. After "better", comes "best": asking for still a little more bend so that I can see his neck bend (not the kind of nose to stirrup bend you sometimes see which makes no sense to me). Although I initially teach these at a halt, then we progress to doing it at a walk and I have to be careful to keep the horse moving forward- I don't want to confuse him but just explain that he's to bend while maintaining forward movement.

Finally, we go to the hip. Once we've practiced the good, better, best gives, I ask for even more and look at his hip to get him to yield his hip and step up and over with his inside hind. This is where I noticed Percy had gotten disconnected. The first couple times, he simply stalled out rather than stepping over. Oops. I needed more forward and more obvious "bestest" ask to get that inside hind activated. Today he did very nicely at it. We're going to stay here for a bit until I see that he's thinking about his inside hind when I initially ask for "good"....that's the point after all. I want him to respond to my picking up the reins by stepping up and under with his hind end. For now, we'll keep it an obvious step over, but once he's got that down, I'll ask for less and less so that I'm only getting a step under when I ask that lightly.

Then it's on to 3F3 and HSS!