June 15, 2008
Mysti decided to show her tail today and refused to be caught in the pasture, so she got to go the night without dinner while King munched away on his own feed. Serves her right! Maybe she’ll reconsider next time she thinks it’s a good idea to evade capture…
June 16, 2008
It seems that yesterday’s lack of dinner was just enough inspiration to convince Mysti that it’s really better to be a good girl and get down to business than to behave like a little brat and miss her nummy dinner! Sometimes having a food-motivated horse is SO useful…
Mysti progressed through her sacking out quite quickly today because she’s finally decided that she’s probably not going to die any time soon. Once David was satisfied with her ability to stand still and ignore the movement of each object, he decided that it would be quite appropriate to introduce Mysti to the tack he would be using while working her.
I have saddled and bridled Mysti countless times over the years, so she stood like a saint while David gently settled a thick fleece work pad onto her back and followed up with an older western saddle that he likes to use to get horses used to being tacked up. He quickly found that she was more than happy to accept the feel of a girth around her belly without so much as a single flick of her ear. Ditto her good manners toward the bit and bridle. (Granted, she hasn’t quite gotten to the point of bending her head down and opening her mouth to take the bit like Comanche often did…)
Alas, Mysti apparently does not appreciate the feel of western stirrups clanking around her elbows, as she made quite apparent from the get-go. She made about two laps on the longe at the trot before she decided that she’d had about enough of those stirrups bumping along at her elbows and set off in a series of bronco-style bucks that set her off crow-hopping like an idiot. Talk about going directly from angel to demon in the blink of an eye! I was immediately grateful that I had much shorter legs than the six-foot-something David Caldwell and that I had always longed Mysti in an English saddle with the stirrups run up the leathers so that I never had to experience the joys of her sudden “bitchitude.”
Of course, as with all things, Mysti quickly decided that there was really nothing all that terrible to fuss over anymore and put away the drama queen act almost as quickly as she’d whipped it out. With a snort and a shake of her head, Miss Priss – a nickname I often use just after Mysti’s had a brat moment – settled back down as if nothing had ever happened and went trotting about just as merrily as she pleased. David and I caught each other’s eyes, smiled, and shook her head as if to dismiss her actions; really, we were agreeing that she was a dork and that she could just get over herself and get on with life because throwing a hissy fit wasn’t about to get her anywhere. She apparently realized that because she went around on the longe for a good fifteen minutes without mucking about any further.
Once Mysti was satisfactorily working with her topline level and her undivided attention was focused on David’s every command, she was allowed to stop and join me by the bucket-o’-training-goodies. As always, Mysti lowered her head to press her muzzle against my chest while I leaned forward to press a kiss to the little star just between her eyes and played with her forelock. Neither of us was paying any attention to David until he produced some thirty feet of black nylon rope and signaled for me to move safely out of the way while he ran up his stirrups and ran each end of the line through them and to Mysti’s snaffle. Oh, goodie! Ground driving 101!
Yeah… to say that Mysti wasn’t nearly as thrilled as I was about ground driving is pretty much the biggest understatement I’ve made in a really, really long time. She was willing to humor us by showing off her amazing flexion skills with David at the reins, but wasn’t very keen at all on the idea of moving around with David standing behind her. I could almost see the question mark appear over her head as she peered around her sides to give him a most quizzical – and quite comical – expression.
No amount of kissing, clucking, or flicking of the long lines was going to convince Mysti that she should really just move forward and stop planting her feet in a completely mulish show of stubbornness (no offense to mules, of course!) After making it quite clear that she had absolutely no intention of moving forward, David had to reason with Mysti using a little bit of reverse psychology in the most literal of ways. When your horse gets “stuck,” moving in the exact opposite direction you’d like to be going in is apparently the way to go? Yeah, I dunno. Don’t ask me. All I know is that it always seems to work.
Much of the next half hour was spent working through or waiting out several more little episodes of mule-like behavior until, finally, Mysti submitted to the bit enough to navigate the little arena in both directions at the walk and trot, turning and backing up as necessary.
Apparently, Mysti is really starting to understand that throwing temper tantrums like a small child in a grocery store will get her absolutely nowhere. Might as well just do as she’s asked. June 17, 2008
I was fairly unsurprised to find that Mysti was still feeling a little resentful after her adventure with the ground driving and submitting to the bit when I got to David’s house today and she was considering evasion once more. Of course, a little “mommy magic” quickly changed her mind (with the help of nummy horse treats, of course) and she decided that being caught wouldn’t be too terrible if it meant treats now and dinner after her lesson.
Mysti was an angel for tacking up today and had absolutely nothing negative to say about her western attire (good thing, too – that mare is destined to be an all-around horse, she just doesn’t know it yet!) She is still a little sticky about being bridled, but that’s mostly because she dislikes the taste of the bit. With practice, I can tell she’ll get better because she’s already showing some improvement.
David spent a great deal of time going over the previous sacking out lessons with Mysti and, to everyone’s great pleasure, it appears as if she’s finally starting to get over her aversion to the feel of the longe line around her hindquarters. She stood a little stiffly for the beginnings of the sacking out with her “butt-rope,” but quickly lowered her head and began licking and chewing as if to signal that she’d finally decided that she probably wasn’t going to be eaten any time soon. As soon as Mysti was fully relaxed about the rope around her body, David carefully swung it around her legs and across the saddle several times, mimicking the feel of split reins or a lariat against her neck and sides.
After several minutes of sacking and a great deal of flapping and patting, David lead Mysti into the center of the arena and practiced simply kicking a muck bucket around her sides as if he was moving a mounting block into position. Once he had the bucket close enough, David kicked and patted at the plastic until Mysti was utterly unmoved by the hollow sounds it made and would stand for him to step up and down several times. Lifting his arms high over his head, David waved his hands at Mysti, sweeping them in a long arc over her body and generally “flailing” until she was no longer alarmed by the sight of him doing all sorts of crazy things above her. Satisfied, he stepped down and moved to the other side to repeat.
Each time David switches sides, it becomes readily apparent that Mysti’s right side is a bit “worse” than her left in nearly every situation. She is more easily alarmed by scary things approaching her from the right and takes a bit longer to reason through the situation enough to figure out that she is in absolutely no danger. Some people might find this a little alarming considering the fact that both of Mysti’s eyes are in perfectly good working order (as my vet will readily attest), but I’m not very surprised. Because of the physical placement of their eyes, horses perceive things quite differently than carnivorous or omnivorous creatures and, therefore, must be taught using a method that appeals to both sides of the brain. David is also very well aware of this and, as such, teaches everything from both sides of the horse, even mounting.
Mysti’s lesson continued with David reassuming his position atop the overturned muck bucket and flapping the fenders of his saddle against Mysti’s sides, often releasing the stirrups to allow them to smack against her shoulder, ribs, and flank. The horn and cantle in hand, David rocked the saddle back and forth, pressing hard on Mysti’s back to simulate the motion created when a rider hoists his or her body into the tack. Much to David’s satisfaction, Mysti was quite willing to accept the movement of the saddle without much of a fuss, probably thanks to my own work with her in that area. In fact, he deemed her quiet enough to slide his foot into the stirrup from both sides, leaning the majority of his weight across her body while keeping one foot flamingo-perched on the bucket. Ever curious, Mysti turned to nuzzle at his baseball cap and left it at that. June 18, 2008
In the interest of keeping things interesting, David and Mysti went back to their lessons on ground driving today. For only her second time, Mysti was a great deal more accepting of the lines and David’s careful direction at the “reins” than she had been on the first go-‘round. In fact, I’d say she was about as good as anyone could have possibly hoped for, leaving all of her mulish behavior behind in exchange for a softer, more willing acceptance of the bit.
After a few minutes’ warm up in the arena, David drove Mysti out of the little enclosure to take a long stroll around the pasture. Mysti was first sent out in the ground lines in a longe-line configuration and asked to circle David until she was quite focused on his instruction at the walk and trot in both directions. Once she was listening and had her mind more on work than the temptation of green grass, David steered Mysti up the hill and out of sight for a few minutes while I stood patiently at the arena gate with King and Shelly, David’s girlfriend. Soon, Mysti and David came back into view with Mysti walking along quite dutifully as she was guided through a stand of trees and around the pond in the middle of the pasture as if she’d been at it for ages.
One lap around was plenty enough for Mysti, who was quite the angel save a moment’s hesitation at a rather close patch of trees. David suggested that it would be good to repeat the whole process tomorrow, incorporating the trot and a good deal of backing through and around obstacles. June 19, 2008
Just as David had said, Mysti was to be taken out and ground driven in the pasture once more. By now, the entire warm-up and sacking out routine has become almost entirely uneventful, taking only a few minutes where it had once been the subject of an entire series of lessons. Hooray for desensitization! As soon as she was suited up and ready to go, I caught King and lead him into the arena while David and Mysti slipped past me to head out into the pasture.
Armed with my camera, I hung out with King and snapped a series of shots meant to explain to Mom what I meant by ground driving, as she clearly had no clue what in the world I had been talking about for the past couple of days. Besides, I need pictorial documentation to add some pizzazz to my ramblings, eh? Why not let the pictures do the talking?
Okay, so maybe this bag really isn't all that scary after all...
I'm always such a good girl on the longe!
Okay... I'll do it... but I still want to hang on the bit, damn it!
Oh, I like this! We're going on an adventure!
June 20, 2008
Mysti did so well yesterday that she got to explore the world outside her safe little pasture today. After all, there is no way that her entire life is going to be spent cooped up in the safety of an arena or a familiar pasture, what with my aspirations for the show ring and trail riding in all sorts of fun places and all that jazz.
Just as I expected, Mysti was a little less comfortable as David and I lead her out of her enclosure into the back yard and right beside an All-Terrain Vehicle and above-ground swimming pool within the first thirty seconds of walking out the gate. Snorting and blowing, my little mare curled her neck and pranced, though somehow managed to avoid any resort to her habit of spinning in a tight circle any time she feels insecure. I, for one, was rather impressed and more than willing to accept a little nervousness since she was so willing to get down to business the moment David assumed his position at the reins.
The plan was to circle the rather large pond just outside the pasture. The notion seems simple enough until you add in the presence of guinea fowl, barking dogs, ducks, and a number of other obstacles that would be trying of almost any horse. We would make one lap around and go from there.
Much to my surprise, Mysti showed no interest in any of the animals as they passed; I can probably attribute that to the fact that she’s seen them all before from the safety of her pasture. I certainly can’t say the same for the concrete slab that covers the feeder drain into the pond. The moment Mysti caught sight of that big white patch standing in the middle of all that nice, green grass, she threw on the brakes and tried everything she possibly could to maneuver her way around it. David’s insistence was pushing Mysti toward frustration, so I readily volunteered to stand in the middle of the slab and sweet talk to my mare until she realized that the ground was safe. Within seconds, Mysti’s feet became “unstuck” and she cautiously meandered her way down the gentle slope to join me on the concrete slab and follow right across with her nose pressed into the small of my back as if I was her only lifeline across the white abyss.
Save the encounter with the concrete monster, most of the trek around the pond was very quiet, even after a small flock of ducks took flight from the grass and flew overhead to land with a great splash at the center of the pond. That is… until Mysti was asked to get into the pond itself. She was quite willing to prance down to the water’s edge and take a sip, but had absolutely no interest in getting her feet wet no matter how much anyone tried to convince her that she should. Hindquarters quivering, she stood with her forelegs less than an inch from the water, hocks deep beneath her belly, and refused to move an inch save a crab-crawl sideways and the occasional backward step.
After a moment’s contemplation, Mysti decided that she had taken entirely enough of the pond and wheeled, twisting herself up in the driving lines in such a way that she gained just enough leverage to pull away from David’s powerful grip (after kicking out at him – I could have killed her!) Rather than allow himself to get upset or frustrated, David simply shook his head and set out after Mysti, who had stopped the moment she caught sight of King, her lover-boy, hanging his head over the fence and calling to her.
Once she was back in hand, David drove Mysti back to the scene of her temper at a brisk trot and immediately made her get back to work until she submitted by lowering her head and offering a sigh of resignation. Never once was he rough with her for misbehavior; rather, David simply insisted that my mare get right back to business and work beyond her temper and any uncomfortable feelings she might have. As soon as she was willing to behave like a decent mare and go around without any backtalk, Mysti was allowed to be finished for the day.