March 31, 2010

A long week away...

I have been out of town for almost a week, so Rose got to have that time off and do what she does best, eat grass. I spent most of Tuesday anxiously looking at the clock waiting for five-o'clock to arrive so that I could head out to the barn. Regardless that I was exhausted, sleep deprived, and suffering from jet-lag I managed to steer the car straight and arrive in one piece. Rose gave me the cutest reception when I pulled into the barn gate. Delighted to see my familiar little red car she proudly trotted around with a large stick hanging from her mouth, did a little joyous rear, and proceeded to canter alongside the car as I drove down the long drive. It felt good to be home, and to see her alive and well.

Suddenly I was not so tired, and was relieved that the rain took a break from the day's constant downpour long enough so that I could hose her off with some warm water and clean her up. Rose was covered in mud from head to toe. It ran all the way up her legs and somehow managed to even get under her turnout. I tied her to the hitching post and set to work to transform her from mud-ball and back into my shiny black horse. I say black, because over the past week her neck and rump have finally fully shed out all of her brown winter coat. There is only slight evidence of her trace clip running along her barrel now. Soon I'll be able to have her pose for some new photos, fully tacked up, looking like a grown-up horse! Unfortunately, like most of my trips to the barn these days, she had a couple new scratches. On her face this time. It looks to me like she must have scratched herself on the muzzle trying to eat grass from under the fence. I swear I have never met a more accident prone horse, and I'm hoping this is just a temporary spring time baby thing. With any luck she'll still be in one piece when I get to the barn this evening!

March 22, 2010

The Haul-in

Today it rained. However, all was not lost! A good friend of mine had arranged with her barn owner for me to haul-in Rose. This was to be a day of firsts. Rose's first trip in the new trailer, A's first time hauling live cargo, Rose's first time at a different barn and in an indoor arena. Although we had success loading her a couple weekends ago, I still planed on the worst case scenario and allowed an hour for loading. With A's help at the rear, twitch handle in hand, I took up her head. One, two, three taps and she picked up her front foot and walked on. 30-seconds. Dang, that left 59.5 more minutes to fill. After a few more seconds of delightful head scratching we decided to just use the opportunity to practice loading more. So we backed slowly off the trailer, gave her lots of praise and repeated.

After the third load, we just decided to head down the road and show up a little early. Upon arriving at the barn, I didn't know what to expect, but again planned for the worst. She was pretty darn good about it. She was a little hot and very curious as to where we were, and I'm sure somewhere in her brain she delightfully realized that she was not at the vet! Once we walked her down the isle of boarder horses, she realized she was not alone and immediately calmed and settled right in. I had groomed her at home, as we only had a 10-minute drive, so we went straight into the arena to let her get acquainted with it. She was mildly curious about the space, but overall was very comfortable. I hadn't formed a firm plan of what to do at the barn, as the trip itself was the training lesson of the day, so I free lunged her a bit. It was so satisfying to watch her trot and canter around an arena without fear of her sliding in the mud. She too seemed to delight in the sure footing as she effortlessly floated around the arena. After her little warm up we set up a jump shoot with a tiny ex. At first she hadn't a clue as to what we wanted her to do, but she figured it out in the end and got a lot of praise for it. Afterward, she passed up on the opportunity to roll in a delicious arena* and then got to hang out in an empty stall for a half hour before walking straight onto the trailer* and returning home to her anxious pasture mate! An extremely satisfying day.

*I still have yet to ever see her roll...
**no twitch handle required!

March 21, 2010

Sweat...what's that?

Spring arrived in Oregon this week and Friday's weather was unusually warm, so I decided to head out to the barn and have me some Rose time. Friday is usually one of our days off. I get to unwind from my work week and she gets to be a carefree baby, but the spring weather had me buzzing and the barn seemed like the best way to unwind. Since she's been doing so well on the longe line, I decided to free longe her with her saddle on for the first time. There was one buck, one fart, one crow hop, and then she got down to business and did great! As usual, she tried to get her way, got denied, and then gave up and did what was asked of her. After we were done and I un-tacked the little lady she was sweaty and even a bit foamy! After a rinse off I developed a grand plan to give her a bath the next day. It was a rewarding end to an otherwise stressful and long work week.

Saturday morning brought more sunny skies and 70 degree weather! It immediately became a morning of spring cleaning and wardrobe swapping at the house. Luckily these annual chores went quickly and by mid-day I was off to the barn to work with Rose. We went through our usual routine of tacking up, with the addition of the longeing cavison this time, and headed to the small pasture. Although not a round pen, it is at least a manageable size and I've found that works fairly well for our longeing exercises. I started her off the longe line to allow her to get any bucks out, but to my delight there weren't any. So onto the line she went, walk, trot, canter, and halt in both directions. She was nice and calm and not bothered by the saddle at all.

She worked hard (for a whole 15-20 minutes...I'm trying to keep our longe sessions short to not put too much stress on her young joints too soon) and was ready for a refreshing bath, although she didn't know it yet. I've only bathed her once before, shortly after bringing her home 6-months ago, so I was not too sure how easy this was going to be, especially without help. Fear not though, after a few moments of becoming reacquainted with water on her body she started to enjoy the bath and even played with the water nozzle and kept trying to lap up the water for a drink mid-spray. She was a gem and stood nice and quiet for the sponge and the sweat scraper. Afterward she got a nice big treat of hand-grazing on the lawn. It was such a relaxing and enjoyable day it was hard to go home, but I had friends heading to the house and dinner to prep, plus I had Sunday to look forward to!

March 16, 2010

She's Black-Bay Rabicano!

Rose has been shedding like crazy and seems to have lost the majority of her winter "fluff" and her trace-clip from last fall is at long last fading as her new summer coat is growing in. I noticed a couple weeks ago that as her new coat is growing in so are a lot of randomly dispersed white hairs. Most noticeable at her flanks and dock, there is ticking all over her body. Barrel, chest, neck, elbows and even a bit on her face. I was dumbfounded. My little mare is out of a homozygous black stallion, and a dark bay mare, thus ruling out graying...although I thought to my self perhaps it is possible? She does have gray's in her pedigree, Gotthard on her sire's side and Percheron (assuming gray) on her dam's. I've never heard of a gray horse that wasn't directly out of gray parents though. I asked a couple friends what they thought, and my assumptions about grays seemed to be everyone's same assumption.

Off the cuff, one friend did throw roaning in to the mix as a possibility. Can horses begin to roan at age 2.5? Knowing nothing about roans I decided to get my research cap on and look into. Nope. Roans are born roan. So that couldn't be it. Back to the drawing board and Google. After a quick search for "white ticking" I came across a slew of information about a color modifier common in Thoroughbred's called rabicano. From all the description, that seemed to match what was going on with Rose. Now for the brilliant part, it occurred to me that I could simply ask the nice gal I bought her from if she'd had white ticking in her coat before? Sometimes a quick email is a far easier route to solving a mystery than all the Google searches on the planet. BINGO! Sure enough she is rabicano and has always had some white ticking in her summer coat. The question is how much more pronounced will it become as she ages? Only time will tell.

After more research on the rabicano modifier, I got a good understanding of what it was and where it originated from and decided to look back into Gatsby's lineage to see if there was a link there. Unfortunately, her dam Piper is paperless, so there is no way of knowing for sure what her lineage brings to the table. Back to Gatsby though. I recalled that he was part thoroughbred (TB), so I started tracing those lines back, but found nothing conclusive. I randomly decided to just look at his Hanoverian lineage...I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it.  Birdcatcher! Back in the 19th century one of Gatby's Hanoverian ancestors Alsbad (1890) was out of a TB sire named Adeptus (1880) that descended from the Stockwell (1849) line of the famous stallion Birdcatcher (1833). Rabicano markings are often referred to as Birdcatcher ticks in TB's due to his proliferate ability to pass this trait onto his offspring. Now that I was knew what I was looking for, I poked around in the lineage some more and found that many of Gatsby's ancestors were line bred to Adeptus. So in addition to that initial Hanoverian line link that I found, Adeptus pops up in several other lines as well, which might explain why centuries later Rose is strongly exhibiting her rabicano markings. This was one exciting find! Not only does my little filly seem to have inherited some speed from Seattle Slew, she inherits a rare color modifier from Birdcatcher as well. I promise to upload better photos of her coat once she's fully shed out.

March 11, 2010

All Tacked Up!

The holidays and cold weather put off any further training with Rose, aside from our basic ground work exercises. Looking back on the time-line, I am wondering just what was it that we did from mid-December through January? Regardless, the sun started coming out at long last in February, and the days started to become a bit longer and more manageable. So, one nice relaxing day at the barn on Feb. 3rd (see original blog post here) I decided to put a bridle on Rose. It couldn't have gone better that first day. The next day I decided to do it again. This time she met me with a bit of resistance about taking the bit, but I won in the end. The third day, she decided to pull out all of the stops and stick her head completely up in the air beyond my reach. It is not often that I feel short, as I'm above average height, but when a 16.0h warmblood impersonates a giraffe, I feel about 4' tall. After a few more futile attempts at keeping her head down I employed the help of a very tall friend and in a matter of minutes she was able to get Rose to take the bit again. This time we repeated it over and over again until she no longer resisted at all. Since that day Rose has not once evaded the bridle.

Since bridling went relatively seamless, with no explosions, I decided to start putting a saddle on her. As we only do hunters and jumpers at our sweet little barn, there are no western saddles laying about to start her in. However, we were able to find a rather low end saddle that would not be missed were it to be rolled on, etc. So grabbing that handy saddle, a little 44" fleece girth, and a Navajo pad I slowly tacked her up. She just sniffed the saddle, watched me work, and thought about eating the grass that was beginning to once again grow outside of the barn doors. Calmly, I walked her down the isle and outside the barn doors and watched to see her reaction. Nothing. I lead her around a bit, working on our ground work, and then rewarded her with some hand grazing while she continued to wear her saddle. Once again, this couldn't have gone easier. A few days later the weather was nice enough to turn her out with the saddle on. I was armed with my camera this time, ready to snap an exciting photo of her kicking out or bucking. Nothing. I got the lovely photo you see above of her looking rather bored with the whole experience.

Since the initial bridling and saddling I continue to tack her up after every grooming session, regardless of any ground work that day or not. She is hand-walking from the bit beautifully, and I have abandoned the halter and lead rope that I initially placed the bridle over. I hope to begin longeing her in her tack soon, once I feel comfortable enough with her longeing abilities.

March 10, 2010

Back to that trailering issue...

From day one, we knew that Rose hadn't been taught to load. This was an issue that was non-negotiable with me. A horse that doesn't load isn't much more useful than a spork. It can kind of work when you need it, but you can't depend on it to get the job done. In addition, she had to actually go to the vet's facility to have her wolf teeth removed. This would require her to trailer.

A good friend of mine was kind enough to offer me his trailer for a few months to practice with her on loading. The first time we got her on took about 45 minutes. We had to place her front hoof on the trailer, and then coax her in the rest of the way with treats and praise. After that I left her on the trailer with the door open for nearly an hour and then backed her off. We repeated this once a day over the course of a week or so and then throughout the month, with varying results. Our fastest time was 6 minutes, and then the longest was about 45 minutes. I knew that this would still need to improve, and that treats needed to be eliminated from the loading procedure, but at this point I just wanted her to feel comfortable and have happy associations with being inside the trailer, and at the very least I could plan on 45 minutes to load her for her big trip to the vet. Things were looking pretty good.
Click here to read the original blog post.

December - Time to visit the Vet
The big trip to the vet was planned for the morning of December 9th. As it turned out, Portland was in the middle of an unusual cold spell. That morning's temperature was about 9ºF when I arrived early at the barn, so I was definitely hoping that she would load quickly. We got Rose ready and went through our now familiar routine of loading her, still with treats. A good hour later our fingers and toes were completely frozen. We were overjoyed when she finally got on and we could warm up our numb appendages. Although relieved that she did get on the trailer, I was fed up with the length of time it took, and decided that after that day the treat coaxing would come to an end, and it was time for some tough love. For now though, she got on the trailer and was off to the vet for her dental work. The wolf tooth extraction, power-tool float, and baby cap removal process was quite amazing to watch and I wish I had taken photos to share. Never having seen wolf teeth in a horse's mouth before, I was amazed by how tiny and needly they were!

After her appointment was over, our vet loaded her back onto our little trailer. Even loopy from her sedatives she was being bull headed about getting on the trailer, and our vet went to work to show her who was boss. In a matter of 15 minutes she gave up and he got her to load. I had a brief discussion with the vet about how I can move past our current stage in the loading process and start getting her to willingly walk on. I made a mental note of his suggestions and decided to wait until I could borrow or buy a larger trailer to start working with her again. I was a bit worried that some of her reluctance was due to the small size of the trailer, and her ever growing warmblood body. After all, a square peg just doesn't fit in a round hole, no matter how many carrots or head bumpers are involved!

As I mentioned last weekend, we bought a trailer! After pulling it into the barn on Sunday morning, I just couldn't wait to try and load Rose on it. I was armed with the suggestions from our vet, and now a bigger trailer. Would she or wouldn't she see the light and walk on? With a few awesome helpers, no treats, and a wood twitch handle we were able to get her to decide that stepping on the trailer was a far easier thing to do and more enjoyable place to be than getting annoyingly spanked by the twitch outside the trailer. That first time took about 15 minutes, and was the first time we've gotten her on entirely on her own steam! We didn't have to place her foot or coax her in any manner. Once she was on she got a reward of a hay bag in the front slant and a couple scratches. Then we backed her off and did it two more times. The second time required a bit of convincing still, but only about 5 minutes at the most and she walked on. The third time, she decided we meant business and didn't even put up a fight, just loaded right up!

This was what I was hoping to see, and this is pretty typical pattern when it comes to training Rose. She tests us a bit to see if we are really going to follow through, and then she just does it and doesn't try to test us again. Overall, I couldn't be happier about how well she did and how well her nice big trailer fits her. I'm going to keep practice loading her and I will introduce her to the slant divider this month. So stay tuned for updates!

Does she body clip?

Now that I was finally able to bathe Rose, I decided it was a good idea to see if she would clip. Fully prepared for it to go badly, I set out to take it nice and slow and one day at a time. My thoughts were that if she didn't clip now I would have this winter to teach her, so that next year, once she was started and needed a winter clip I wouldn't have to deal with it then.

I pulled out my big beautiful variable-speed Oster ClipMaster clippers, lubed them up, found a helper, and prepared for the worst. I let Rose sniff the clippers, I switched them on, I rubbed the vibrating handle all over her body, and then tentatively began to clip her tummy. Rose stood quietly in the cross ties, apparently enjoying the mini massage. I was in shock, and quickly went about finishing up a trace clip. She was good about her body, muzzle, and feet, but her bridle path and ears were not on the menu for the day. However, I couldn't be happier about how it went. After all, we had the winter to continue working on the ears and bridle path, but at the very least I knew the rest would never be an issue. What a good girl!

March 8, 2010

Leading & settling In for the long winter...and now a bit of longeing

Although sweet, Rose had no understanding of personal space. Next to tying, teaching her about the human "bubble" and how to lead were high on my list. After about a week of leading her in the arena at the walk, trot, and halt, she was responding well to voice commands, but still running into my space. Referring to my now well stocked training library, I decided to tryout Clinton Andersen's "hula hoop" technique.

Once again, I was able to find what I needed, a training stick, at Gallops Saddlery. Well, the "hula hoop" worked brilliantly! I discovered that Rose is not a fan of annoying tapping, especially if it escalates, and is quickly motivated to focus. After only one session I finally had her entire focus on me, and not the fence, or the dog, or another horse, or the light breeze. I had her backing out of my space and standing quiet with her full attention. We repeated this lesson for about a week, and soon I had her walking in circles around me, out of my space and then stopping on cue and turning to face me. All outside of my human bubble! This technique I knew would help a lot once I started longeing her, but that was going to have to wait until spring. Unfortunately the heavens were about to open up and the rainy season in Portland was about to commence. The poor weather, lack of winter footing, and the fact that I had a licensing exam to study for meant that, aside from leading exercises, clipper introduction, and trailer loading, Rose would get a bit of a break over the winter to settle in and grow some more.

It is now March, and the rainy season is finally coming to a slow end. In the past two weeks, the footing has dried up well enough to safely walk and trot, so I decided it was about time that I started formally training Rose to longe. Our first day longeing was more of a meeting of the minds than anything recognizable as longing. Not having a round pen poses certain challenges in teaching her how to move away from my pressure, that being the longe whip, but we are making due with our various fenced pastures. Luckily though, she is smart and once she figures something out, she is far happier to repeat the correct behavior (the easy solution) than stubbornly stick to the wrong (hard solution). Regardless of all of the different and exciting methods she tried to foil me and the longe line with she did not succeed, and we ended that first lesson with a nice calm walk circle in the direction of my choice.

The next day I prepared to repeat the whole process again, but that was not to be the case! Apparently she learned her lesson and to my shock and awe longed like she knew what she was doing (of course we had a few less than perfect moments, but for the most part I was ecstatic about her progress). That second day she was walking, trotting, halting, changing direction, and coming in on cue. It was a very satisfying moment, and I have been enjoying longeing her whenever the footing and weather have allowed for the past two weeks. She continues to get better and more consistent, and I look forward to the day where I no longer feel that wearing a helmet is a necessity.

March 7, 2010

Yesterday we took a break from training...

and bought a trailer! It was a tough decision to take the uncharacteristically sunny and warm (65 degrees) Saturday off from working with Rose and go trailer shopping, but it had to be done. The trailer I've borrowed from a good friend over the winter has become too small/short for Rose's ever growing and uphill warmblood  frame. After chocking our pennies away over the winter, educating ourselves on the various brands by visiting every trailer dealership we passed by, I finally found a promising Craigslist advertisement for an oversize 2-horse slant trailer outside of Spokane, WA. For those of you who are not from the Northwest, the town was a 6-7hour drive from Portland. Yes, it is a long drive, especially when you turn around and drive home the same day, but if the trailer panned out to be all it was said to be, it would be worth it. As such, I was completely ready to turn around and drive home empty-handed. However, the seller was very upfront about everything with the trailer, it met and succeeded all of my requirements for what we needed, and the price was right. As it panned out the risk was worth it and we ended up pulling into our driveway last night about 830pm with a shiny new-to-us trailer. All in all, a great day!

March 5, 2010

18" mane no more...

Once I got Rose to bathe, I decided to tackle her 18" long filly mane. Never having owned a horse with a full mane, I took a moment to appreciate her long flowing locks, complete with the blond tips from when she was a foal (all of my western pleasure friends are now going to cringe) and then I decided that it abruptly had to go! The hunter/jumper in me can't stand a mane that is beyond an acceptably pulled 4" length. Since I knew that she'd never had her mane pulled, I didn't want to traumatize her by going straight to my pulling comb. I also couldn't bare to take scissors to those thick locks either. What was one to do? I went to one of our local tack shop, Glisan Street Saddlery, in search of a thinning comb but found something even better. The Solo Comb! This little diddy has a built in cutting blade that comes down when you pull the trigger. It won't thin the mane, but I figured that could wait, I just wanted it to be the right length for now and not look abruptly cut. So I tied up Rose to the hitching post, and went about it. She was completely fine about the Solo Comb and stood quiet for the 20 minutes or so that it took me to finish the job, and she had no issues with her head and ears being messed with. The result was fully acceptable, although to the discerning eye it was clearly not pulled. She now looked like a growing 2-year old, and less like the baby that walked off the trailer only a week or so earlier.

Since our first experience with the solo comb, I have actually pulled her mane twice. The first time took course periodically over a couple of weeks. She took it in stride, and last week I was able to put her in the cross ties and pull her entire mane in one setting. It is now a perfect thickness for flat braids, and I look forward to running her through a set of those in the not so distant future.

March 4, 2010

Vet Visit & Shots...

The whole experience with Rose's hind end opened my eyes to just what a task may lay before me. I suddenly realized that I needed to go beyond relying on my imagination and the advice of friends. It was time to do some research. I scoured Amazon and Powell's for training books. I started out with a John Lyon's book on bringing up baby, and then quickly added to my arsenal of books, ranging from Clinton Anderson to Parelli and others. I haven't found one specific method to be the perfect one, but they have been a great guide and starting point.

I knew that Rose was due for a float, so after about two weeks settling in at our barn I decided to have our vet come out and give Rose an overall health and dental exam and administer her vaccinations.* After the first visit with Rick, I knew that needed to know be prepared for whether or not she would be good for our vet and stand for her shots. I delved into my training books and the internet and I came across a method for desensitizing her to shots, if she wasn't already good about them. She'd either have an issue with the shots and we'd work through it or she's already be fine about them. At this point, I'd learned to expect the worst case scenario, and be happy with any better results.

The Rubberband & Syringe test:
I took a medium size syringe (no needle on the end) and placed a rubber band on the tip. Then, placing the syringe on her neck as if I were to give her a shot, I pulled back the rubber band (envisioning one of my brothers on the other end as a target) and let 'er rip.
Rose stood perfectly still!
I did it again. No reaction. I proceeded to move all over her body, where she might ever need a shot. No reaction still. I carefully moved to her hind end, ready for her to kick-out. No reaction. Shock and then a HUGE sigh of relief! At least this appeared to not be an issue. A couple days later, the vet came and went. She took her shots like a pro and I was told that she was in good form and health, he saw no issues with her other than the fact that she was overdue for a float and needed her wolf teeth removed.

*I decided not to do a vet check when I bought her, due to her young age, lack of having done anything in her life, and the sales price. I know a lot of you out there say that one should still do a vet check on even a free horse, but I felt comfortable with the amateur flex test we did that day and her overall apparent health.

March 2, 2010

Hup, hup, hup!

Once I became comfortable tying Rose, everything else was less of a drama. I was able to give her a real bath with the hose, and start grooming her. She quickly became accustomed to and enjoyed getting brushed, on the front half of her body. It became blatantly clear that she did not trust anyone going near her hind end. I immediately recognized that we might have a serious problem.

Unsure of how to tackle the problem, I kept working with her until she was comfortable with brushes on her rump and hind legs. Anytime I got near those hind feet though, she would send out an almighty kick-out (at this point it crossed my mind that perhaps wearing a helmet to groom her would be an advisable thing to do*) Regardless, our farrier was scheduled to come out and shoe my barn mate's gelding in a couple days. I was told that Rose "stood for the farrier" and although I hadn't managed to get my hands safely on her back feet I hoped that he would have the magic touch or training suggestions. I have simply never had any experience with a horse that wouldn't let you near it's feet, and as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I've worked with green broke babies but have never bred or started a horse. I had no idea how to tackle this issue.

Our farrier, Rick Pickar is a magician with the horses, but even a magician needs a well trained assistant. He was able to trim her front feet that day, but even he wasn't getting near her hind end. I was desperate to fix this problem before it became worse and Rick suggested I try the "old rope trick". I'm a visual learner, and learn by doing or seeing. So, after a brief description of the technique from Rick I quickly searched the internet and found some you tube videos on the subject. This basic training technique is brilliant in its simplicity. Fundamentally it uses the basic concept of any horse training, negative reinforcement. That is applying pressure with the reward of release.

The Old Rope Trick
With rose standing still and her lead rope in my left hand, with my right hand I looped a second cotton lead rope around the back of her rear pastern. Gently, I applied upward pressure and said hup (to associate a verbal cue) to ask her to lift the foot. Once she give in the slightest, I rewarded her by releasing the pressure (making sure that I never abruptly dropped the foot on the ground). If she tried to kick out, I hung onto that lead rope with all my might until she stopped, then I would release the pressure. Then I repeated the same thing over and over again, on both sides, asking for more each time and immediately rewarding once she progressed further. We did this for about a week, and then I added my hand to the mix. Once she picked up her feet with my hand cue I stopped using the lead rope all together. It was all so simple and so affective.

On a Saturday afternoon, three weeks after his first visit and on one of the last lingering sunny dry days of late October, Rick met me at the barn prepared for a fight. To my great relief, he was shocked and extremely appreciative of all the hard work I put on her and what a transition Rose had made. While I held her, she stood perfectly quiet for him while he trimmed all four feet without one single attempt at kicking-out. It was one of the most rewarding moments I have had with Rose, and although she has a long way to go, I new at that moment I had found a special horse that was going to take me a long way.

*A note about the helmet thing: I've come to the habit of wearing a helmet anytime I try something new with Rose, to the amusement of my fellow barn rats. I recognize that the sight of me working my horse on the ground whilst wearing a helmet might be reminiscent of a six year old in a lead line class, but I figure self preservation comes first and I'm not getting any younger theses days. After-all, no one ever got hurt because they wore a helmet, but quite the opposite.


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