Sophie’s Training the Fifth Day

DSCF9628 wc 800DSCF9633 wc 800As we commenced our circle dance, Sophie, frantic to get out, demonstrated a new level of wildness. This is a problem. As we are working out the training Sophie should be paying more and more attention to me, not concentrating on getting out.  This all comes of me not keeping up-to-date with the sturdiness of my round pen.

A human smells like a predator to a horse. This presents a problem for the horse in discerning the human’s intention. Each horse is a unique individual with a personality and intelligence of its own. Some horses have a more difficult time deciding whether the human is a member of the herd or a predator with an ultimate purpose to kill them and eat them. Sophie is one of these horses who has had a difficult time discerning my intentions for good or ill.

While I could saddle her and get on her, she never joined up with me so far as I could see. She was alert for treachery. When she escaped it seemed to reinforce her fear, probably only because she found an escape and after that kept looking for another escape thinking it safer than to wait and see.

Today more than once she bashed herself against the fence hoping to escape by pure force. Thankfully nothing broke. However, when she bashed herself against the rails next to the gate, the gate popped open and out she ran, but this time not out into the big fields but in the smaller riding arena. It took me a few minutes to catch her again. On our way back to the round pen, she was difficult. She moved rudely into my space, making it plenty obvious that she was not convinced that I’m the leader.

I could not allow this rude, dangerous behaviour of her getting into my space.  With lead line in one hand and the lungeing whip in the other, I waved it around in an attempt to push her out of my space. She took off hoping for escape, but this time I had the lead rope in my hand. I braced myself and gripped the rope tighter. She hit the end of the rope just as she was bursting into a gallop. This forced her to turn abruptly to her left. She ran again, this time the rope on her right side. Again she hit the end of the rope and turned abruptly 180° to the right. One more time she ran, but now she did not attempt to run away, rather she ran around me. We worked with the rope for a while longer but she did not test it again or push hard against it. She was light from then on.

When we went back into the round pen she was transformed. She wanted to stay with me, following me wherever I went yet respectful of my space. Somehow or other she had joined up with me. She was a changed horse.

I led her down the driveway, mounted her and rode her back to the round pen. She was calm, respectful and more responsive to my reins and my legs than I’d experienced before with her. This was a milestone day for Sophie.DSCF9753(1) db800

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Sophie Day Four

left to right Dawn Treader/ Kiwi/Sophie

left to right
Dawn Treader/Kiwi/Sophie

Sophie was afraid of the saddle as I walked toward her saddle in hand, so we commenced our circle dance once again. As she circled around me in the round pen she persisted in seeking for a means of escape. The goal here is for her to focus on me and not on possibilities of getting away. Usually, the horse and I  arrive at an understanding in our first session. I’m starting to think that because of that escape we still haven’t had that joined up. I wonder how long that remembrance of her escape will remain with her. In the long run paying attention to me will be easier for her. Her life depends upon it because she cannot have much of a life if she does not learn to work with human beings.

After she received the saddle I long reined for a few minutes. Long reining is like driving a horse while it’s pulling a buggy, only there is no buggy, just me walking behind the horse guiding her with 30 feet of rope attached to both sides of the bridle. Today I used a bosal, which is a braided, rawhide leather band loosely surrounding her nose and hung in place by a bridle. In my estimation, it is less severe than a snaffle bit and more severe than a halter. In this case, severe doesn’t mean necessarily more painful. It means I don’t have to pull so hard. Since a bosal doesn’t go in the mouth there is no worry about damaging or building calluses on the precious bars of the horse’s mouth as the steel bits can if the filly happens to have a tantrum and consequently it fight with the steel bit.  She was heavy, but not as heavy as she was in a halter, and irritated but never out of control or absolutely rebellious.

After long reining I took off the saddle and led her down the driveway. I mounted and rode back home. We halted and turned often attempting to get her to understand my cues. She did well. When we got back to the training pen I was even able to open and close the wooden gate from her back.

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Sophie’s Third Day

DSCF9672 db800With no halter or any kind of restraint, Sophie stood calmly for the blanket and saddle. To reward her for her lack of fear, I refrained from the round pen exercises. I put the saddle and blanket on and off a couple of times. She stood patiently.

I took the saddle off and jumped on bareback. She stood patiently. I used the rope halter for a bridle and lead rope for reins. She reluctantly and awkwardly turned both ways as I pulled first right and then left from her back with the lead rope. She does not understand that the halter is meant to communicate. She is still turning her head by brute force rather than responding to a gentle touch. She moves heavily and shows a certain amount of resentment, which has not turned into total rebellion.

I led her down our 200-yard driveway to the County Road. On the County Road, I mounted. I asked her to move toward home. Finally and reluctantly she started after I had turned her both ways several times. First, she walked awkwardly but gradually she forgot herself and started walking normally.

At one point on the driveway, she burst into a run. I opted to jump off immediately rather than race down the driveway with no control. I managed to land on my feet and hold on to the lead rope. She spun around and faced me. I remounted and rode her the rest of the way home with no incident.

I asked Kathy to take the below picture of evidence of my first driveway ride on Sophie.

Sophie's First Ride

Sophie’s First Ride

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Training Sophia Day 2

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Sophie and I were getting harassed by flies of all makes and sizes. Suddenly there seemed to be a calm in the storm of bugs. I looked around; the sudden lack of bugs seemed uncanny.  A sentinel of mini-helicopters had been sent to protect us. Actually, there were 10 or 15 dragonflies hovering around us. They only looked like helicopters. I wondered if I could recruit them for my needs at will. Well, maybe not. But perhaps (Lord willing) I can help Sophie become someone’s willing partner.

True confessions: I neglected to tell you everything about day one with Sophie.

My round pen is getting a little bit dilapidated. It’s old. Some of the wood is rotten, so temporarily I patched it. I was hoping it would look substantial enough to a horse. And in general, it worked, especially with horses that have been in the round pen frequently. I didn’t think about how new recruits tend to look for a way out on their first experience in the pen. I never had a horse escape unless a gate blew open, which has only happened a couple of times.

There was a hole in this dilapidated fence. It was only a little more than about 3′ x 3′ and it was over a rail about 2 1/2 feet above the ground. I’ve never noticed it as a possible escape route. But one of the times past that hole Sophie leaped over the bottom rail and through the hole neat as neat, clean through, she never even touched a rail. She ran out to join her friends in the bigger pasture.

I didn’t want to leave her out too long so I did a quick repair and caught her again. We went through the rest of the training with the results I described yesterday.
When we commenced our second day of training I could see that she was on the lookout for weakness in the fence and sure enough within 5 minutes she hit the same spot that was freshly but insufficiently repaired. She broke it all to pieces. I dropped everything else and went into the woods with chainsaw in hand and did some logging and cutting, and pulled in some ash and aspen poles.

I didn’t get back to Sophie until about 8:00 PM, and then she was really looking for escape holes. She didn’t find any. And so we continued our second day of training. I think she was wilder in the pen then I have seen before, frantic to find a way out. Finally, she settled down to trotting and acting like a regular horse. She received the saddle a couple of times from both sides. Then I took off the saddle and jumped on. I had a rope halter and a lead rope attached to the halter on both ends. Of course, she knows nothing about cues or what the pulling on her nose is supposed to mean.

After standing for a couple of minutes, as I was trying to loosen her up from the ground where she stood awkwardly resolute, she burst straight ahead toward the fence where she had escaped earlier in the day and then stopped again. With lots of coaxing, she was finally able to turn both ways and move forward a little.


So ended the second day of training.

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Sophie’s First Day of Training

August 17, 2013

August 17, 2013

July 26, 2016

July 26, 2016

Dancer was 20 years old when she gave birth to Sophie on August 17, 2013. During the later term of pregnancy, Dancer suffered with a horse disease called the heaves. A vet told me it’s a kind of horse asthma. She had suffered with it a little bit before the pregnancy but the pregnancy seemed to add more labor to the breathing. I thought she was going to die. She lost a lot of weight and I felt the foal might die even if Dancer lived. The foal and Dancer lived but they were both very thin by the time she delivered. However, the new filly was vigorous and healthy in all other respects. Dancer breathed normally after the birth, gained weight and went back to her normal health.

Sophie has tended to be on the thin side. She gained weight when the green grass came this spring but lost it again as the flies multiplied. Now that Sophie is almost 3 I decided to start her training. I may have started a little sooner but for Sophie’s small size relative to her family lines. I don’t think she is even 14 hands yet. I hope she gains weight but if she stays small in height that will be just fine with me.

Today was the first day of training. In the pasture, she comes up to me to be petted or scratched. I halter broke her when she was only two months. That’s pretty much the extent of her training. When I put her in the round pen today I walked up to her with a saddle blanket to put on her back and she fled, just like every other horse who has not been introduced to the saddle. I encouraged her to trot on. After about 10 min. she was getting pretty sweaty when she began to show submission by licking and chewing. I was adding stress by asking her to turn often. Sometimes I stop my movements and take a passive stance, including not looking at the horse anymore, which I did with Sophie. This passive body language takes the pressure off and the horse will stop running. When she stopped I attempted to lay the saddle blanket across her back but she commenced trotting again and I encouraged her flight.

Finally, she allowed me to put the blanket on. I did this several times from both sides. Then I tried the saddle. I placed it on her back and she continued to stand still. I tightened the cinch. I asked her to move forward. She took a few steps but did not, like almost every other horse, go off in a panic running and bucking. I turned her from the ground with the mecati’ (lead rope attached to the bosal). She was heavy but handled this without fear or panic. I took the saddle off. I repeated the saddling; she responded the same way. I jumped on her back but did not throw a leg over. She responded to all this with no worry or negative response.

Her calm response to the saddle was very unusual.

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