And PLEASE don't think that I think that I am a "trainer." I am not. I just know what I want my horses to do, so I like to start them at the beginning to see if they can do those things. My list of "can you do this?" is actually pretty small. I always ask them if they can ...
- lead quietly without crowding me or running me over
- walk through the stall gate without crowding me or charging past me
- stand tied without fussing - both in the cross ties and at the trailer
- stand patiently for grooming (including the application of fly spray and grooming products) and clipping/mane pulling
- stand respectfully for the vet and farrier
- load in the trailer with no questions asked
- lower their head politely for the halter and bridle
- stand quietly while being bridled and saddled
- work on the lunge line without trying to jerk me off my feet
- accept the side reins without flipping over
- stand next to the mounting block without moving so that I can mount easily
So far, Izzy has mastered most everything on the list. He's maybe not the most patient six-year old on the planet, but he does stand for everything that I ask of him. It might involve a lot of head flinging and rattling of the cross ties, but I prefer the self-entertainment thing to pulling back or pawing a hole.
He pulled a shoe the other day which meant I had to get the farrier (not the WGF, unfortunately) out to tack it back on. Since it was just one shoe, I opted to just stand with him rather than tying him up. Unless you had known that two months ago he had to be tranquilized to get four shoes on, you would have assumed he was a veteran at having shoes nailed on. He was a compete and total rock star!
So where does that leave us? Well, trailer loading isn't exactly where I'd like it to be as I feel that using a butt rope is still necessary. I keep my trailer parked in a way that means I can't just walk him up to it and load. If I want to work on loading, I have to pull it around to the front of the barn which isn't impossible, but it does mean that I can't do it every afternoon.
Over the next month or so, Izzy will get a little trailer loading boot camp. He gets in as long as I have the butt rope (aka lunge line) looped around his hind end, but that doesn't meet my expectations. I like my horses to self-load or at least walk up and get in with no discussion. We just need a few more sessions to get to that point. A blog post is coming on that issue.
The next issue is bridling and saddling quietly. I bridled and saddled him in December, but he didn't want to lower his head for the bridle. He lowers his head for the halter and reins now, but I haven't worked on the bridling since Christmas. That's something that I plan to do soon. I am using a surcingle for lunging, so I know he doesn't object to the girth.
I am doing a daily lunge (walk, trot, and canter) with the side reins and a halter, all of which he is taking to very well. I need to do it with the bit though before I feel as though I can cross that off my list of can you.
He spent the first few days flipping his head and flighting the feeling, but now, he gets that he's just fighting with himself and is getting steadier and steadier with the reins. Just this week I shortened them by two inches. We'll work there for a few days until I feel as though he is accepting that amount of "contact." Soon, I'll swap out the halter for a birdie with a snaffle bit and see how he goes.
I am not really working on establishing any kind of frame, I just want him to feel a steady contact so that he can find the sweet spot for himself. Flinging his head and jerking the reins will not get him any release. That's all I want him to see and feel.
After his lunge work, which usually only lasts ten or fifteen minutes, I get on and off of him. I don't even take the surcingle off, but I do unclip the side reins; I just climb on over the thing. And when I hop on, I don't do it very quietly, I give a solid jump and swing my leg over. I make sure I hit his rump with my leg and thump his sides with my feet. I slide down both sides only to get on again and off again. (I wear a helmet, gloves, and boots in case you were wondering.)
He stands rock solid. He nibbles at my toes and does carrot stretches from the "saddle." I swing the lead rope in front of face over and over and make sure that I touch every part of his head, neck, back, rump, and belly with my whole body. Just the other day I started asking him to walk in a circle in the arena with me on him with just the halter to guide him; I've since started clipping a pair of reins to the halter. He doesn't quite get what I want, but I love that he's willing to move forward without bolting and tensing up.
I haven't quite decided if I will still send him to the cowboy trainer later this spring (the farrier who tacked on the shoe) or if I will ride him myself. Walking in a halter is a whole lot different than cantering a green bean. I am no in any hurry though, so I'll let Izzy decide where we go.