Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Learning Curve 1

It's been a month since my visit to Alexandra Kurland's brand new Clicker Center.  I've done a lot of processing, experimenting and practicing since then but not much writing.  I hope to begin to amend that now.  

At the clinic with Alex this past August, she suggested I bring Percy down for a visit.  I was thrilled at this possibility- to see the new facility, to work further with Alex and to get Percy out to more new places where I felt safe with other clicker trainers (in this case the best).  The only glitch was that Alex's busy clinic schedule kept her on the road until November and we usually park our truck and trailer for the winter by October 31 so we keep them out of the salty roads.  And I don't like pulling horses in dicey road conditions which are a very good possibility in November.  As luck would have it, one of her clinics at the end of October had to cancel and she said I could come the last week (weekdays being better for me than weekends).  I scrambled to get ready and how lucky I was- Hurricane Sandy blew in the following week right after we got back home!  I would not have been able to go otherwise.  

Alex had said it was fine to bring Kizzy along to keep Percy company in the trailer and in the new surroundings.  This was a blessing because Kizzy is such a good little traveling companion- loads well, travels well, doesn't take up much room or feed and is usually good at keeping Percy in line even though she's half his size.  I had blanketed him through the fall which I don't usually do but I wanted to try to minimize his coat since I knew he'd get hot in the trailer.  He did get sweaty right off but luckily it was a sunny and mild day so I didn't have to worry about him getting a chill in the breeze.  They traveled well and even though I missed one turn which added 30 minutes to the trip, I arrived before dark.  

Alex was waiting for us and closed the gates on the drive behind as I drove in so that we were completely enclosed by fence- very reassuring to know that if a horse gets away, he can't get to a road or disappear into the distance!  I parked right next to the arena door so we unloaded and slipped them right into the arena:

First off, it's a beautiful facility.  I had heard Alex explain how the arena was open on one side with a lovely view but it's one of those things you have to see to believe.  Autumn is my favorite time of year so that made it even more impressive for me- to look out over the brilliant countryside and watch the geese starting to head south.  Percy was also fascinated by the view, but very concerned about what kind of cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers or lions and tigers and bears might approach from that direction.  He stayed very close to his Kizzy.  We hung hay nets and set out water buckets.  The arena was to be their "stall" for our stay.  The footing is deep shavings on top of stay mat (stone dust, jock sand....different locales have different names for it).  Alex knew exactly how many bags of shavings it had taken...I think it was 108 but I'm not sure!  It was definitely the penthouse suite of pony accommodations.  

That first evening it was a full time job to try to get Percy to settle down.  His hyper vigilance did not allow him to relax. I was amazed to see him herding Kizzy around and pushing her this way and that since she doesn't usually tolerate it...but he used his teeth to insist.  Alex suggested we set up a round pen for her so that she could get a break.  On her recommendation, we set it up in the middle of the arena- nowhere for anyone to get trapped and he could be on any side of her he wanted.  It was large enough that he couldn't reach her if she was in the middle but she wasn't far away nor out of sight.  

Once she was settled in, Percy set up sentry duty at the wall.  He seemed to be settling in so Alex and I had some dinner in the tack room with Ann (of Ann and Panda fame) and her husband.  I heard some noise once or twice and went out to check and reassure him.  After dinner, we settled back in to watch the last presidential debate in her enormous but as yet unfurnished office.   In the photo to the left, you can see the barn end of the arena.  In the corner on the ground floor is the tack room (behind the wall).  To the right is the sliding door which leads to a short aisle to the barn.  Right in the center is the landing of the stairs going up...more on that later!  Under the landing is a wonderful little storage area for cones and mats and other toys!  Behind the wall further to the right is the wash stall and then the bathroom and then the feed room.  You can see the wonderful balcony area which over looks the arena all the way across- plenty big enough for observation, small Tai Chi practice or meals in warmer weather.  Alex's office is upstairs on the left- you can see the sliding glass door if you look closely.  This is where I slept the second two nights and where we watched the debate in folding chairs.  Her office floor is Alex original.  She took leftover pieces of lumber and patchworked it all together!  The right side upstairs is hayloft.  

Two-thirds of the way through the debate, we heard thundering hooves so I went back down to try to reassure him again.  All I can guess is that the encroaching dark made him more uneasy because he couldn't see into the distance as well.  As a result he increased his speed of sentry duty up and down along the open side.  He hadn't eaten much hay (another reason to separate him from Kizzy as she would eat hay until she popped and I wanted to keep hay in front of him) and would repeatedly break a sweat from anxiety.  By this time he was uninterested in me and I was a bit lost as to how to get his mind back. Finally I began playing targeting games with Kizzy and that brought him over.  As long as I kept targeting and playing with he and Kizzy, he slowly relaxed a little.  This was the theme until 2 AM!  Once he was relaxed, I could leave for a bit but he would slowly creep back up to full on anxious so I'd return and play some more until he calmed again.  Initially I tolerated walking and trotting back and forth but would step in if he began cantering.  As the evening wore on, he stopped escalating that far and I would step in when he began trotting.  Click for targeting, click for head lowering, click for any easy little thing.  

You can see from the photo above that there are shavings bags lined up along the wall and that's where I'd sit and watch.  As the hours wore on, I sagged into lying there but got cold so I hauled some wool coolers out of the trailer to wrap up in.  Once I got tired enough to keel over on the shavings bags, I wasn't sure I wanted to be lying IN the arena with him so I got my air mattress from the trailer and set it up on the landing, along with sleeping bag and all the blankets I could find.  It was cold! This was now my view of P and the arena although I took this the next day in the daylight.  

From here, I was able to lie under all my warm covers and if P got too active, I could by now call him over and do several fist targets right through these bars without even sitting up.  He would then stay close for a while, wander off and come back when I called him.  Each time he stayed calm longer and longer.  Then I began asking for head lowering from there and he would stay with his head down right next to me.  At one point, I started scritching his cheek.  After a minute or so he leaned forward so that I was scratching behind his ears, then leaned forward a little more so I was scritching his neck.  Then he took a tiny step forward so I was scritching a little further back.  He proceeded ever so slowly so that he got a head to tail scratching and I never moved- my hand stayed right there between the same two bars and I drifted off to sleep.  

I'm off to the dentist- more tomorrow!