Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ah, winter...

I really try not to complain because I live here by choice and I despise excessively hot summers, but winter can be troublesome at times. Yesterday we had a mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain. As a result, when I went to the barn this morning, the big sliding door was frozen shut for the second time this winter. The rain or melting snow runs off the roof and having nowhere to go because of all the snow, it heads for the open area of the barn door. Then when it gets cold at night, it freezes up and the door doesn't move.

At times like these, I'm very thankful for the dutch door to Mariah's stall on the back of the barn so I can get in and out to at least feed and turn out before attacking the ice around the sliding door with a pick axe. However, it does mean that Mariah has to be the first one out and that everyone else has to go through her stall and paddock to be turned out. A slight change in routine like that inspires a higher level of energy from everyone. Add a bright, sunny, cold, gusty morning and we had three very excited equines chasing each other around Mariah's paddock. My plan had been to get them all out there, and then take Percy and Rumer one at a time around to their paddock. Before I could do that, however, Rumer either got cornered or thought she was going to be, and went through the electric gate, destroying it in the process. Off she bounded. Since I don't use those paddocks in the winter, I take all the gates down to save them from the stress of winter snow and ice so she was able to keep going through on to the next paddocks. There she stopped, realizing that it was hard work up to her belly in snow that had a layer of ice on top. The ice was strong enough that the mid size (50 lb) dogs could run easily on top, but I could not. Beneath was powder so that Rumer and I both sunk in well over our knees. And so she stayed there. I quickly grabbed a flake of second cut and threw it to Mariah. She dropped her head to eat as if she was tied by a chain.

Which left Percy who was imitating a cross between an Arabian stallion and Totilas. His tail was straight up over his back (I honestly was amazed he could get it that high) and he trotted and cantered around, snapping his knees up to his chest with wonderfully elevated gaits.
This is where the clicker training came in (you were wondering if I was going to get to that or not, weren't you?). He trotted over to the gate Rumer had blown through and stopped. I honestly don't know why he stopped but I had a fraction of a second to change his mind. I was standing at the other gate and I stuck out my fist as a target and made the kiss sound that I use to call them to me. One ear flicked to me but he stayed where he was. Two more times I repeated this and finally he dropped his head a bit and turned to come to me. Phew. I had no halter and honestly didn't want one in those conditions. Where I was standing, the snow had come off the roof and was closer to hip deep, except where the rainwater had frozen along the edge which was slick ice and I had a electric fence gate in my hand. I didn't need a rope attaching me to a passaging 2 year old as well. Instead, I targeted him through the gateway and shut it quickly behind him. I wished I had some peppermints for that but all I could offer was hay stretcher pellets. Had it been a training situation, I learned as in my previous post, I would have spent some time with him as a reward but I really needed to deal with Rumer so he had his buddy back and could calm down.

Rumer had decided that the best way back to the barn was to dig her way back.
By bounding out there, she hadn't left a good trail to return by, and she'd also made a big loop in her enthusiasm, rather than taking the most direct route. She did not like that crust on top. Pawing forcefully, she'd made it about 3 feet. I got her halter from the barn and fought my way out to her. Though it doesn't often show due to her clicker training upbringing, Rumer is p-o-n-y and can be stubborn when she wants to be. After putting her halter on, I turned to lead her back to the barn and she said no way. She didn't like that ice digging into her chest and shoulders with each step. I recognized the look in her eye and stuck out my fist for a target. She stretched out with her neck and managed to reach it. Click/treat. I took one step and stuck my fist out again. This time she couldn't reach it without moving but she didn't want to move. She studied the snow in front of her and then carefully lifted a front leg and put it back down in my footprint. Click/treat. And that's the way we made it back to the barn. Had I been pulling on her, she wouldn't have been able to choose her footing and she would have planted her feet and not moved. Up to my thighs in snow myself, there was no way I was going to chase her through it. She had to decide she wanted to follow me and be able to do it in a way she was comfortable.

I was very glad with both of the young ones that I had been able to use targeting to get them where I needed them to go. Walking in deep snow is similar to walking in the same depth of water- it doesn't make one light on one's feet. I needed quiet, sensible, thinking young horses on a day and in a situation which didn't lend itself to quiet sensibility. Thankfully, the tool box was full of useful tools.