Sunday, July 10, 2011

Backing Percy

Wow- I can't believe it's been 2 months since I last posted. One kind reader even emailed me to check in! Summer is so busy. I've been posting little things to my Facebook page so if anyone is on Facebook, you can find me at my Bookends Farm page.
The most exciting recent news is that Percy has been sat upon. It was highly UNeventful. Just as training should be! Last fall I had leaned on him and patted him all over from atop a mounting block with lots of clicks and treats for keeping all four feet still as I did so. We practiced Alexandra Kurland's mounting block lessons- having him line himself up at the mounting block. I also put an old saddle on him so he could feel that a little bit. With saddle on, I let him loose in the round pen to see if he wanted to try to buck it off but all he did was go to grazing. This Spring we revisited all these same lessons with no further problems. He was so comfortable with the saddle that I entrusted my dear old Stubben Siegfried to him. He looked very handsome in it! We walked about the paddock with it and I let the stirrups dangle and bump him in the sides. He remained totally focused on me and halted with my voice commands.
When I backed both Ande and Rumer, I did it bareback. I felt I could more easily "emergency dismount" if necessary. But I found that MY balance is so much better in a saddle that they were more comfortable and balanced with a saddle. Plus, Percy is not skinny but he does have withers that the ponies don't! Thirdly- he's bigger! I could sit down onto the ponies but even using the muck bucket, I had to go up to get on Percy. So I opted to try this one in a saddle.
I wrote into a list serve asking if anyone else has trouble with these horses trying to get on the mounting block with the rider and yes, I found I am not alone. They have learned about standing on a mat and plastic, etc. Once they find you are clicking them for coming closer to the block, they jump to the conclusion that you'd like them up there with you and they are more than happy to oblige. This has resulted in me going ass-over-teakettle backwards off the block on more than one occasion. I was relieved to know others have had the problem and have dealt with it in g
ood woman even posted pics of her horse with front feet on the top step of the block and back feet on the bottom step! I admired her training innovation but didn't want to go that route. Instead I did a lot of review of having him step away from a touch on the shoulder. He is very good at that and so going back and forth from approaching the block to stepping away enabled me to prevent him from stepping too far into me. Without the saddle I would simply touch both hands to his back when he was in the right spot and then click and treat. With the saddle I would grab pommel and cantle and just wiggle the saddle a bit as Alex does, then click and treat.
As much as Percy likes to be correct, when he figures out what I want, he thinks that bigger, faster and more must be better. It didn't take long for him to start hustling to the overturned muck bucket. I learned from another poster to alternate the calm, quiet behaviors with the new ones to counteract such over-enthusiasm. We would approach the block and if he got quick, I'd calmly
stop him and we'd work on head down before proceeding. I have to be careful not to use head down as a punishment or a test, but rather with the true intent of helping him relax. Sometimes we'd have to do it between steps in lining up as well but it did result in a much quieter mounting block process.
My final decision was to back him in a halter and lead, rather than a bridle, and to do it with no one holding him. He can be enough of a live wire that I did not want to rely on "equipment" or someone else to control him. I wanted him calm, quiet and happy enough with the proceedings that he would offer to stand. I needed to be SO confident in him that I did not feel I needed anything more. So for a couple days, we lined up to the block in halter, rope and saddle and I'd just play with weight in the stirrup and leaning over. He was so nonchalant about it that it was
really tempting to climb aboard! I always wear a safety vest in addition to helmet when I ride the youngsters so I also made sure he saw me in that getup and heard the velcro of the vest.
Finally the big day arrived when my husband volunteered to be close enough to take a couple pictures and Percy was just as happy as could be with the whole thing. I was bursting with happiness.
That was three weeks ago and I haven't done it again since. My goal was not to get on and "break him" in short time. It was to show him- look, this is something else weird we can do, then go back to the old games and some day soon I'll get on again and maybe take a few steps. In the meantime we are working on Pony Pilates to strengthen his back so he is better able to carry me when we do more riding.