Wednesday, July 25, 2012

bags-on-sticks and other miracles

Using the skill set I acquired from the trainer on Monday, I decided to give Merlin a try again today (after a well-earned day of rest to let it sink in for both of us). I decided to follow Dave's method to the letter, and started by tying a plastic bag to the end of a carriage whip and setting it by the farmhouse front door.

With my trusty Bag-On-a-Stick I went upstairs to my office/tack room and brought down my english tack, changed into a pair of favorite Kerrits tights, and set up everything I would need to work with Merlin, from fly spray to helmet, on the grass where I tack him up. Once the setting was locked and loaded with gear and space, I went to get my stubborn pony.

With just a lead rope and halter I did the same ground work Dave showed me, to best of my ability. I made sure that when I moved in a direction, Merlin was moving out of my way and then squaring up to show me both eyes and relaxing before we moved forward with any more motion. If he rested a rear hoof or sighed, I walked up and pet him. If he acted up I waited until he slowed down and relaxed again. Twenty minutes of this and he wasn't blowing or sweating, but watching me. Just learning that when I step around to the right, he best step to the left and keep his front facing me, those big hindquarters safely tucked away.

Happy with our ground training, I started grooming. I am not a fast groom, nor a fast tacker-upper. I check feet and clear the frog of any mud or stones. I brush legs, belly, back, rump, neck and mane. I rubbed his forehead Amy Flemming Style. I then saddled him up, tightened the girth, put on his bridle and walked him to the mounting block (AKA Lehigh Valley Farms milk crate) and hopped on him.

I instantly thought of my riding instructors Hollie and Andrea from Riding Right. In Hollie's book, the very first lesson is "Have a plan before you get on." My plan was this: to have a short, pleasant, ride with Merlin on a quiet country road. To go up the hill a short distance, just to the neighbors driveway (about 100 yards), and then stop him, turn him around, get him past my own driveway and down the mountain a quarter mile or so. Just enough to communicate and enjoy the summer sun and the feeling of being with him. Then stop, turn home, and before I get home turn him back towards the road and have him walk a bit before dismounting a good ways from my driveway (so he doesn't assume driveway = done work). If you can follow that, then you either have horses or aren't giving yourself enough credit for critical thinking skills.

So that was my plan. A short ride where we do all the things we have been struggling with and then end facing away from the farm and dismounting when I please, not him. But first I had to get him out of the driveway. Soon as I got on he started heading towards Jasper, so I did what Dave told me to do, Take his feet out from under him and turned him in a tight circle and gave him a piece of heel when we were facing the road.

He fussed for about 45 seconds and we were out of the driveway! I think I actually Yee Hawed!

We followed the ride plan perfectly. We rode uphill, turned around and then went past the farm a quarter mile or so. I bet we could have gone farther but I wanted this lesson to be all about him getting rewarded for doing as I ask. He did everything I asked, and was a perfect gentleman. I walked him the short way home, took off his tack, and sent him back into the paddock with Jasper and a cookie.

This is such great progress folks. A horse I couldn't even get to leave my yard took me out on a pleasant stroll. And I did it all without needing a trainer or a friend around for support, so I feel brave. Time to celebrate with some lemonade and then some archery in a kilt!


Anonymous Janet Gordon said...

Congratulations Jenna: that's boosted your confidence - it's so nice to accomplish that without any support. It's amazing what turning in tight circles and then a quick application of strong aids will do! Keep up the good work! And keep him on his toes!

July 25, 2012 at 1:59 PM  
Blogger Tealah said...

What, you mean Trainer Dave doesn't have a fancy name for the bag-on-a-stick? Not Friendship Flag or Wonder Whip? ;) The man who trained my gelding eight years ago was like that - he did a lot of things that I have since recognized in the training styles of various "natural horsemanship" trainers, but he wasn't interested in fancy marketable do-dads, just getting the work done right. Though his was feed-sack-on-a-stick, lol.

July 25, 2012 at 2:32 PM  
Blogger LeaningDuckFarm said...

I highly recommend the documentary "Buck" which shows the use of that very type of training tool. Here is the IMDB link to the movie info:

July 25, 2012 at 3:28 PM  
Blogger said...

Animal training is a lesson in being patient. I have dogs, and have to remember this on a regular basis!

July 25, 2012 at 3:33 PM  
Blogger greendria said...

AWESOME! You had a good plan and then it worked out. What great reinforcement for both of you

July 25, 2012 at 3:38 PM  
Anonymous Susan P. said...

I've been reading and enjoying your blog for quite a while. This post was especially interesting to me, as I'm a city dweller who spends a lot of time thinking about and trying to spend time with animals. I was finally able to get my first dog, a Golden Retriever, 10 years ago. He turned out to be a very dominant animal, who challenged me to learn how a canine views the world and how to solve the problems of working with another species. Merlin sounds like he's teaching you the same things from an equine perspective. I'm also working on my riding, so your posts about him are always fascinating! Besides that, you are a talented and insightful writer. Thanks for sharing your life and work with us office bound nature lovers!

July 25, 2012 at 3:58 PM  
Anonymous Susan P. said...

I've been reading and enjoying your blog for quite a while, but wanted to thank you for the insightful remarks on training Merlin. I was able to get my first dog, a Golden Retriever, 10 years ago. He turned out to be a dominant animal who taught me a great deal about the canine view of the world and how to gain a dog's cooperation and trust. I'm working on my riding, too, so your posts on Merlin are really helpful. Besides all of that, I enjoy your writing!

July 25, 2012 at 4:03 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

I'd love to have seen you turn that guy around and push him forward. Job well done!

July 25, 2012 at 4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Atta girl! Atta boy, for that matter, too! When I read all the things you were planning to do, I thought uh,oh, you've planned too much in one session, he won't do all that - but he did, you did! I'm a big fan of the turning in tight circles thing - did a lot of it way back when with a headstrong pony of my own...

July 25, 2012 at 4:33 PM  
Anonymous Linda in Mississippi said...

Great work, Jenna!!! It will get better everyday. Merlin is really a beautiful horse.

July 25, 2012 at 4:36 PM  
Blogger Karen Rickers said...

Brava! The mention of Amy Fleming reminded me of the book, "Shy Boy" by Monty Roberts. He's the guy who gentles mustangs in less than a day, and his techniques make up much of what Amy's character does on the show. A good read.

July 25, 2012 at 4:40 PM  
Anonymous Barbara said...

Ditto what LeaningDuckFrarm said . . . the Buck movie is excellent. He's a fun guy too.

July 25, 2012 at 4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great from all angles and I too highly recommend Buck (the movie). The guy is all.heart soul and horse/pony. Jenna your spirit is gorgeously large onward for sure.

July 25, 2012 at 5:37 PM  
Blogger Rosie said...

Bravo Jenna Well done!

July 25, 2012 at 7:03 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Wonderful, wonderful, WONDERFUL! You're doing great! I love reading about your times with Merlin. Of course, you're giving me the fever! LOL!

July 25, 2012 at 8:50 PM  
Anonymous cowgirl said...

YAY!!! Way to be strong! (and stronger-willed than the Merlin)

carry on

July 25, 2012 at 9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good for you, Jenna!

Watching Buck is great, but there is more to "moving the feet" than just getting them to move away from a whip (not that there is anything wrong with that, either). My trainer has taught me the points on the horse that correspond with different actions (come closer, move away, move the shoulder, move the hindquarters), and how to position my body so I am not inadvertently speaking horse and telling the horse one thing with my body while telling it another with my voice and will. It's a pretty complex language!

July 25, 2012 at 10:24 PM  
Blogger SHJeffers said...

That is great! A strong foundation is what you're building. I like the image of 'taking his feet out from underneath him'. Sounds like it shifts the balance of 'power' back to you as the rider and puts him back as the horse. (In a good way.) Very effective!

July 25, 2012 at 10:31 PM  
Blogger Kelsie said...

Hooray for you AND Merlin, Jenna! Also, Kerrits makes my most favorite riding tights in the world. Even though I don't have access to a horse right now, I wear my Kerrits for yoga because they're so dang comfy. :)

July 26, 2012 at 12:06 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Good for you! Another option for the "driveway does not equal more work" and so you don't have to walk him home if you don't want ... and for a little more variety - find a place to work him in your yard. So that when you come back from a ride down the road/trail you do a little yard work with trotting in figure eights or working on giving to the bit etc and then walk him to the end of the drive - or even out a bit to the street and then get off.

Very proud and happy for you.

July 26, 2012 at 10:21 AM  
Blogger Brenda said...

wonderful. I too have often used the turning in circles thing for my buddy/barn sour mare. She was trained at Riding Right and knows what she should do, just checks me out every so often to see if I REALLY mean that we should take the trail vs. going back home. I use a Bitless Bridle and she responds very nicely to that, better than with a bit in fact. Enjoy your day and if we are real lucky maybe we'll get more rain.

July 26, 2012 at 1:44 PM  
Blogger Pit Stop Farm said...

FYI - I loved the reference to Lehigh Valley Farms...since that's my neck of the woods. :-)

July 26, 2012 at 5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good plan. Glad it worked.

July 26, 2012 at 9:20 PM  
Blogger Lindy and Paul said...

Congratulations and good job!!!!

July 26, 2012 at 10:44 PM  

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