another surprise…another lesson…

sometimes when horses are rescued it’s walk up to them in a pen..put on a halter/lead them away to a better life..but sometimes when horses are rescued and time is of the essence and the horses are loose or in a big field maybe the fastest way to catch them is rope them…depending on the handler of the rope the outcome can vary…in this instance the experience was not the greatest…so part of working with these four is building their trust…letting them know fast movements don’t always end badly…not all ropes mean trouble…that sometimes people just move quickly..or sneeze ..or trip..or ?.. .one of the trust building exercises is putting on flymasks…most horses learn a flymask is a nice thing..keep the flys out of their eyes …but the first experience with one can be scary..a predator putting something over your eyes , attaching it, leaving it there..they can see thru them and usually adjust quickly but getting one on the first time is a good time to be careful..you never know when a horse will strike up with a front foot as an instinctive reaction to the situation..
so in working with these four it’s Sampson first..i’ve had one on him before..take it to him..hold it up..he puts his head down..”put it on”..fasten it..he walks off politely..assuming Bella would be the next best candidate since she always wants to try everything …same thing…lowers her head…flymask goes over one ear but gets stuck on the other …once in awhile a horse will leave in that situation or toss it off…she waits…trys to help me by repositioning her head… mask goes on and is fastened under her chin…
                                   
now it’s Jade…the definite leader…alpha mare…the quiet one that we thought was timid has shown over time to be a quiet but very much in charge leader/ protector…Jade won’t take the flymask…wanders off when I get close…getting a halter/lead rope will try a different method…she stands for the haltering … now being able to keep her there offer her the flymask…she says no by moving her head away…sometimes offering it from the front or toward the horse is scary so will try another way…letting her sniff it… gently touching it to her shoulder…she accepts…she stands… laying it over her back she stands…moving it up her neck over her mane behind her ears…she accepts…she stands…”no” would be leaning away…trying to leave…as the flymask is sitting behind her ears she lowers her head…”put it on.”..she’s had one before I guess…she offers again…put it on over my ears…so I do…she accepts… stands…no nerves…calm…fastening it under her chin I undo the halter … slide it out under the flymask..she wanders away… now it’s Sally…the most green of the bunch…the most aloof…since it’s Sunday with the family here she’s already been caught up for her lesson… has her halter/lead rope on..taking the flymask to Sally she’s nervous..shallow breathing..ready to leave..standing beside her I close and open the velcro straps slowly so she hears the noise..sometimes it is the noise of the velcro that is scary..so standing there closing and opening over and over having the Velcro make it’s noise until she relaxes i move to the next step..scrunch it up in my hand making it smaller..not so scary..she stands..let her sniff it..touch her shoulder..she stands..in thinking she’s nervous am guessing the best way is over the neck like Jade..and find out am thinking wrong..she accepts it on her back..and up her neck..but over the ears is a definite” no”..said by i’ll leave..said by a stiffening of her body …ready to leave before I can blink…ok…remove it…plan b…holding it up in front of her let her sniff again…gently touching it to her nose she stands and slowly lowers her nose..”ok”… putting it over her nose..she stands..she lowers her nose ever so slightly again…my signal to move it up more on the bridge of her nose …she stands..she’s been watching the other horses …here she teaches me how closely they watch..as I’m holding the flymask up over the bridge of her nose …only her eyes showing she slowly tips one ear down and toward me..”put it on”..gently putting it over her ear and now having one eye covered by the mask with one eye showing I know if you’ve done this very much it’s a time where she could change her mind.. realize she thought she could do it but can’t… spin away…bolt with lead rope dragging … maybe me too… the scary thing on one ear…flinging her head til it falls off…am ready for that but hoping that’s not what happens…it’s not…to my surprise she gently tilts her head the other direction and down slightly…”now this ear”…and I do…wanting to breathe a sigh of relief but knowing I have yet to fasten it i go to the next/last step…fasten the Velcro…having pulled it apart those many times earlier to help her know the sound if it makes sound here… she stands…quietly sighs..and I thank her for the lesson of how much and how closely she watches what is happening to the others.. and as I reach up and pull her forelock out over the mask am taught another lesson on how closely they watch…Jade who was standing nearby seeming to doze walks up to me…stands very close and lowers her head…am not sure what she wants…then I see it…her forelock is under her mask…she wants it lifted out over the mask too…
      
           Sally…it’s on!                           Sally forelock adjusted             Jade…mine too please
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Sampson gets the message

just fed in the a.m…horses eating hay..moving the piles around slowly on the ground with their noses..finding the best parts to eat first..it’s a quiet time..a mesmerizing time..serene..am going about the rest of the chores ..filling duck waterers..feeding chickens..cat following behind when there’s a loud jerk me out of my day-dream state “bang!” at one of the big steel gates that lead to the arena.. Sally, Jade, Bella and Sampson are being fed out there today and turning i see Sampson at the gate..Mr. high withered gentleman is not so gentlemanly at the moment..”bang!” again..sounding like someone taking a sludge hammar to the gate he kicks it with a blast of a forward striking front foot..a kick that can bow out a fence..break wires on no’climb horse fencing..dent the Delmar panels on the gate..he stands impatiently demanding his pellets..his extra daily nutrition that saved him from wasting away but besides adding much needed weight seems to be waking up a dormant personality.. the last few days he’s trotting with barely a trace of his trademark limp and even loping some..running with the girls..something we weren’t sure would ever happen..so maybe with his new found muscle tone he doesn’t know his own strength and maybe he’s getting my attention best he knows how..either way having learned if this isn’t nipped in the bud there’ll be dented bent broken pieces of fence everywhere not to mention a rude animal weighing a thousand pounds that demands not asks..and worst case scenario kicks and gets a foot caught in something..everyone handles this differently like parents raising children with different techniques but an old ranch hand taught me something that will be my first try..when Sampson kicked he wanted my attention and was asking..but asking for pellets..i calmly walk to get a halter when my instinct really is to yell and send him away from the gate while tabulating the potential damage cost in my head..halter in hand i walk over to him..open the gate..”oh you want to be tied up..happy to oblige”..i halter him up calmly turning him and walking him to the big branched mesquite tree out by the edge of the arena..already he’s hesitant..this isn’t what i was asking for he seems to say..he walks to the tree and tying him there in the shade..in a spot where he can see everything going on..
                    
i walk away ..go finish my chores..he’s in plain sight his reaction easily monitored..he stands perfectly still..the expression on his face speaks volumes..this isn’t what i wanted..so chores done and him being a perfect gentleman standing quietly in the shade I walk out and untie the lead rope.. had he been pawing or having a tantrum i would wait but he is good..reward good behavior not bad..end on a good note..taking the halter off..stepping back and observing his next move..he calmly walks to the gate area but this time stands away from the gate..standing patiently..no kicking the fence..i go put the halter away giving him the chance to be demanding.. he stands politely..he got it..for now anyway..
                                                         
does it work all the time..depends on the horse..what works for one might not work for another..but it appears this did..and hopefully will stick.so as he is learning how to get my attention i am learning how to get his..and as he is learning how to tell me i am learning how to tell him.. our confirmation of his getting the lesson came later..Deb and Kelly came out to spend the day with the horses..they were being introduced to round pen work..as we took Jade in the big green HW paneled round pen out back and moved her off our body placement..asking for turns and stops..asking her to hook up..come in..using her horse language to establish our role in her life then removing her to another area.. bringing in Bella..working her the same then putting her with Jade.. then Sally..as Sally is moving around perfectly and willingly Mr Sampson walks slowly up a few feet from the round pen gate..he’s been standing watching everything..he moves forward slightly as if to say..i would like to try”..his next move is confirmation for me..he ever so gently taps his foot on a large piece of wood laying at his feet near the metal gate to the round pen..asking nicely..not demanding..not yelling with his foot..a subtle quiet “tap..tap”  barely noticeable.. to let us know he would like to try..and to let him know that is the way to ask we move Sally to the area with Jade and Bella and let him in..and with his injured leg healing..his confidence building..he moves beautifully when asked..turns on a dime..understanding requests..once again..personal best for every horse and handler..Deb and Kelly experiencing ground work..moving horses off their body position..communicating without words..and every horse hooking up..  the icing on the cake..Sampson..showing us he got the message..
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the sand dummy

Feb 26…three months now for the four rescues and another great weekend visit with their family..three are wearing flymasks..two have been ridden..all have gained weight and sport coats that look like velvet and have an ever so slight tinge of red when the sun shines just right on them..

the goal in visits is to have a personal best for each handler and each horse each time..not demanding that result but to head that way.. to trend that way..stepping it up gently each visit to not scare horse or handler..today it’s the sand dummy..a sand dummy made from an old pair of jeans with twine from the hay bales tied around the bottom of each leg..with the leg bottom closed the jeans can be filled with sand for heavy weight or hay for light weight..the legs become round when filled and hang down on the sides of the horse..

                                                            

in a way mimicing legs touching the horses sides.. legs can be moved back and forth..pulled out away from the horse and set back down..the “rider” can be moved forward near the withers or back near the hindquarters..a different experience for the horse.. something that can be done with the person standing beside the horse..if these horses were just new here we would not try it..with two unknowns..new horses and new people it would not be safe..but having watched these four daily for three months..having moved them daily and haltered them and brushed them and having learned how willing the family is to go slowly it’s a good time to try.. the process will be letting the horse smell the sand dummy..check it out..then standing at the shoulder to hopefully not get kicked should the horse strike up with a front leg gently hold the sand dummy against the horses’ shoulder..if the horse moves or leans away be cautious it may take some time..if it stands or leans in that’s usually ok..sometimes though a stand with no reaction can be the calm before the storm..before the bolt.. so when it’s ok to  touch the shoulder the next step is move the dummy around a little on the shoulder..a cowboy friend once said.. “if they can’t stand the touch..they usually can’t take the movement..one thing at a time..the slower you go the faster you get there..present it in a way they understand”.. so when touch is accepted..and movement is accepted it’s hold one leg at the bottom and set it near the withers..all this time the lead rope is in hand just in case the horse decides to leave.. always having everyone stand on the same side of the horse leaving an open area..an open door if the horse needs to move away or jump away or blast away..when the leg is accepted at the withers it’s gently slid over the other side..always having a firm grip on the jeans..if the horse decides to leave the scary thing will stay with you..not stay with them like a predator on their back..so Jade and Bella are first as they have been ridden that should indicate they’ll be ok with it..key word is “should”..Bella is very curious about the jeans..sniffing them on the ground..moving them around with her front foot..we pick up the jeans let her sniff..touch the shoulder..movement of the jeans..she stands..ok..up and over..awesome like we sort of thought..she walks around..even walking around by herself showing off her skills..

..so sliding it off it’s Jade..she isn’t as curious but very willing..like we thought..when it’s on she offers to walk..i’m ok..

                                     

on to the two unknowns..Sampson and Sally..since Sampson is older and always so willing and helpful am assuming he has had riders..maybe even bareback riders..and we all know can happen when assuming..following the same procedure the sand dummy is introduced to Sampson..his eyes show he’s not sure..not blinking.. but body willing..it appears he’s fine when it’s on his back..but he’s not sure what to do..he offers to take a step..it’s like he’s experimenting..good we’ve found something new for him..he walks and stops..balancing his “rider”..the first weight we’ve seen on him..and he appears proud..standing full on all fours..his injured leg has healed and this may help him mentally to trust it..reassure him his leg is better..it’s his personal best today..so taking a few steps and stopping..letting him process..letting it go well..he does great..
                                            
removing the jeans it’s on to Sally..mustang Sally..the one that continually surprises everyone as she avoids being caught for the lessons but when finally getting a lead rope attached to her halter she’s very willing..so same procedure..at the shoulder..touch..she leans away..bring the jeans back away from her..pressure / release..she leans in..let’s try again..so touch..it’s ok..movement..ok..gently up and over..ok..we offer her to walk a few steps..ok..then off for a walk..she walks all over..up and down hills..quietly with her little “rider”..quietly and interesting how she’s learning to balance her rider..legs spread wide at first..figuring it out..personal best for Sally..
                                                      
actually two personal bests for her..at the end of the work..the end of the day Sally gets a hug.. a long hug from her proud friend..Sally’s fitting in.. she’s learning more about people..

                                       

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in the herd…

it’s coming up on three months here..the four rescues have explored, relaxed, revealed their personalities, settled in..settled in physically and mentally..when first here they were “two fences” apart from horses living here..over the years having watched many ways of introducing horses and being in no hurry have settled on “two fences” at first whenever possible..the new ones in an area where the others can see them but not visit over one fence..especially when it’s two established herds..even very small “herds”..each has their leader and meshing the two can be tricky..with two fences usually they adjust and settle and go about their own business ..after awhile will move the horses so only one fence is between..sometimes there can be fighting or rough housing with the fence taking the brunt of the introductions.. so two fences at first and after a few weeks the one fence..there was some horse-play  over the fence and some interaction but not as much..during the last two months an occasional ranch horse would be put in with the rescues..one that appeared the least interested..or one that appeared to have made friends over the fence..one of the ranch herd in with the rescues so the rescues would be more secure..not a rescue in with the ranch herd to be totally out numbered and possibly picked on, kicked or bitten..over the weeks the mini-donkeys were added and removed..older geldings were added and removed.. a mare was added and removed..so little by little the horses showed their compatibility levels..when the day came to integrate the herds the majority blended uneventfully..
  
one or two known instigators were left in another pasture to let the majority calmly graze with their “over the fence” friends who now moseyed around side by side all day ..moseyed around..but with one thing very very clear..Jade was extremely protective of Sampson..she stayed by his side and if felt the need to protect moved herself between him and a curious new friend..does she see him as a mate?..or is it because he is still catching up to the rest as far as mobility?..only she can say..
   
the telling event would be eating together..as the sun started to set and the herd wandered slowly to the barn to wait for piles of bermuda hay to be placed along the fence line..have noticed with the ranch herd there is less jockeying for position if the hay is in a line along the fence vs away from the fence out in the middle area..and always putting out more piles than there are horses to assure no one will end up without something to eat makes feeding time more serene..as they stand and wait something interesting occurs..all but three ranch horses walk to another area to eat..to stand and ask to be fed by another fence..an older gelding and two mares stay and eat with the rescues..
     
their first dinner with other horses..and I wonder..did the ranch herd decide to go easy on them?..did the ranch herd decide they might get better or more hay in the other area?.. did some not want to eat with the newbies?..who knows..just find it interesting how they problem solve….how it is in their world..how they teach me..and how they continue to find new things to teach me..
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Sally again…

Feb 15..it’s late in the evening..about ten..am out checking horses..checking gates..tucking everyone in so to speak..a shepherd with her sheep..my equine sheep..it’s very dark in the country..a coal black sky dotted with tiny twinkling stars..it’s cold..heavy jacket hood up cold..and still..no breeze..when pulling the heavy green steel gate closer to the gate post to latch with the heavy chain ..a routine that keeps horses closer to the house during the night there’s a noise behind me..i recognize the noise..it’s a horse foot tap against the base of the no-climb horse fence..a soft tapjust once..not really even a tap..more of a brush the foot gently at the base of the no-climb..not startling me but surprising me somewhat as there wasn’t anyone there a minute ago..such a quiet tap..by a quiet horse that came up almost ghost like with not a hoof sound on the hardpan dirt area..it’s a polite request..hello please..like someone standing behind you making a slight cough to get attention..in turning around it’s barely possible to make out a silhouette in the dark..it’s Sally..mustang Sally..
                                                                         
she’s asking something..hello please..we need something..is it her first request for the four..her first time to be the spokes-person..the spokes-horse..or did she just want something on her own..and it comes to me.. the answer..they’re in the arena..they usually sleep in the big area under the eucalyptus trees ..right by the hay squeezes..the three squeezes of 64 bales ..now twelve foot tall stacks of hay that block any wind ..the sleep area that has years of soft compost type bedding beneath the huge branches that will keep her dry if it rains..and lastly but foremost the place she can reach under the corral panels and sneak a bite of bermuda during the night..ok Sal..at times like this my response is to answer the request..she has asked to stay out by herself before..asked to have the blanket on again..and now asked to go up to her sleep area..and have everyone go with her..she is understanding that i understand..and will answer.. not to spoil but to continue opening communication between us..between her and humans..to encourage more communication…polite communication..for her to understand to not bang or bend or destroy a fence as some will do….but to politely ask..and it appears she understands..for tonight anyway..so off we go..heading toward the gate from the arena to the sleep area..about eighty feet from here..Sally walking slowly behind me..not making a sound..we reach the gate..unhooking the chain and swinging the gate in toward the arena Sally stands back..she waits for the others to walk thru..Sampson first..followed by Bella..and Jade.walking single file to the sleep area..not running as they did when first here..one at a time ..nose to tail..learning patience..learning taking turns..learning manners.. 
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Feb 12 building trust

irrigation came this week..on the ranch flood irrigation means hundreds of gallons of water travel down a two mile concrete ditch from the water district pump entering the acreage thru round ports..twelve inch holes in the ditch that allow life giving water to pour over dry ground like a river  making it’s way to back pastures thru shallow old dry rocky stream beds ..it’s back in the standing water in the pasture and mesquite park that this weekend’s trust building exercise met the 4 rescue horses..standing water has yet to soak in the ground and mesquite trees are starting to take their drinks..
                     
having built trust with the horses in leading, handling and various basic horse skills a question now is how do they feel about water..not a bath or being sprayed but walking thru it..there are many opinions on horses depth perception..how they see things and many questions on it also..it appears it’s very different than ours..a shadow or wet area or water may be danger in the wild..instinct says flee..leave..run..it could be quicksand or unstable ground or very deep crevice..some horses follow you easily across these areas and some horses have to be reassured..the goal here is to see who is who..to see if any have resistance to the task..starting with the stream bed where the water came in..which in now just damp and dark the horses are led to it..Bella has proven to be a “water dog” since yesterday when the water came she was the only one that went out .. walked around in the middle of it..walked and explored and nibbled little tufts of grass that poked out of the water..the other three stayed on dry land and watched her..
                                                                                                                                                                                       
so today it’s start with Bella..she walks up to the dark damp stream bed and stops..lowers her head..sniffs..tests it with her nose and raises her head and walks across..Jade..Sally and Sampson watch..Sampson is next as he is usually a willing guy..he follows Bella’s lead..checks it out ..lowers his head..sniffs..puts a foot out to touch and reassured it will hold him walks across..Jade does the same and Sally is last as the youngest and least handled..i put a long lunge line on her and we stand on the other side and gently coax her..toward us..the long line protects the person coaxing in case she jumps it instead of walking across..sometimes a horse will look .. lean back on it’s haunches and leap across instead of walking and it’s a guess where they will land..but we didn’t need the line..Sally has been watching and follows the rest..test run went well..off to the standing water in the pasture and mesquite park.
leading all four to the water’s edge it’s the same procedure on their part..sniff..touch with a hoof and hesitantly follow into the shallow water and soft ground..Bella and Sally are interested and curious..Sampson and Jade the blacks are less interested..Bella the paint and mustang Sally keep sniffing and following .. Jade and Sampson ask to leave..we let go of their lead ropes they wander to dry ground to graze and wait for everyone to come back..
                                
wading around every once in awhile the horses paw at the water with a front hoof..splashing and pawing..sending water everywhere..horse people that have been around horses and water know it means they might roll..might lay down and roll in the water..when leading them it’s not so bad but when riding thru water better get em moving..horse people know too when swimming with horses don’t get in front of them..they might try climb up on you to get to higher ground..some get behind to hold their tails and let them pull you around in deep water..something to remember too..
not all horses can swim..
but no worries here it’s only inches of water..
                     inches of fun..inches of trust..the pictures tell the rest.
       .          
                                      water046.jpg image by agreenstories           
  
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Feb 5 reflecting on change

Feb 5  quite the change with these beautiful animals..from being scared..not knowing how this new home would work out..what these new people would bring..from being four hesitant..depressed..extremely dependent on each other animals to now exploring everywhere from their sleep area to the large arena and the mesquite park in back with the many tall trees with their large branches providing cool shady spots and the desert broom bushes four feet tall they can walk thru to itch spots they can’t reach..a cool serene place to snooze or wander..to hide.. and the round pen filled with deep sand and even the chicken coop back in front to look for left over chicken scratch..now seeming confident and playful .. bright eyed and independent..Sampson from horribly limping..all his ribs showing to jumping and trotting .. well fed..now  a“foodie”..always very aware of where the food is and when food time is..Bella from hanging back in the background not sure to being the most playful with other horses over the fence..a bug now..an instigator..Jade from fearful with non-trusting eyes and protective of the others to the most emotionally sensitive..the most communication daily.. wanting interaction with people and then there’s Sally..Sally the green Mustang..the young one..from “had to have the halter with her little rope hanging down to catch her” to the old too small halter replaced .. no rope hanging down..
So once again this weekend the family came to play with the horses and play they did..the family too has come from barely handling horses to looking like pros..
                                                           
                                              
learning the little tricks and tips that horse handlers learn..learning horse language..horse psychology so to speak..the communication that is always ongoing in the herd..and the difference of working in the herd with loose horses..learning how to move and direct them..to see what they are going to do before they do it..learning the nuances of body language..read my ears..eyes..tail..stance..read what one is getting ready to say or do to another and learning  how they will reply..learning personalities..like your kids or family..who’s going to react to what and who’s going to start something or referee or smooth over..and family they are..just speaking a different language
www.annegreenstories.com following the progress of the 4 rescue horses..
 
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