Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tally

She ran the perimeter of the round pen, oblivious to the empty milk jugs strung from the saddle horn.

I asked for a whoa and I got a tidy little slide in response. When I brought her to the middle she rested her nose in the palm of my hand. Her eyes had a playful sparkle, my new game was fun I guess, it sure wasn't setting off a flight or fight response.

"Well this isn't making much of a difference," I said.

Brittney, the teenage stall help at the stable, leaned against the fence rail. "I wonder why she doesn't bolt with you? She'd crash through the fence if anybody else tried that."

"I can't figure it out," I said, "maybe it's energy, or the time I put in, I just don't know."

I was on a campaign of desensitizing Tally. It went against the grain of my own training philosophies, but so far, my theories were about useless, at least when it came to Tally and her owner, Tim. It was time to try somebody else's approach.

So far, it just wasn't happening. Tally didn't care about tarps, standing on platforms, crossing bridges or having to walk through strings of plastic flags. I could wrap us both in a shower curtain and juggle rolls  of crepe paper, it was just another day of stupid stuff to do.

However, if I was on her back, stayed loose, and let somebody approach us with a bucket, or a piece of paper,she would blast off in a dead run. Once I settled in my seat, and took a strong hold on the bit, she would stop. I never got more than two strides out of her.

If I was ready, and held her between a strong leg and hand, I couldn't get her to even try. She would just stand there while the "stranger" handed me the horse killing object.

"Let's go out to the arena," I said. Brittney followed along behind. Tally hated having people behind her, so I kept my mouth shut and plenty of slack in the lead, waiting for her to react. She rolled her eyes and got up on her tip-toes, but that was it.

I had deliberately left the cinch loose, and drug on the horn and the cantle while I hoisted myself up. The saddle slipped, Tally sidled off and I stepped off, leaving the saddle hanging cock-eyed. Tally stood quiet while I readjusted the saddle and tightened her back up.

"At least you fixed that part," Brittney said.

"It shouldn't have needed fixing."

When I mounted again, I hauled on her back some more, hoisted myself up with my weight all over the place and flopped around on her back, giving Tally my best imitation of a bass landed in the bottom of a rowboat.

She danced around, snorted, braced her feet and let me find my stirrups. Her reaction was completely logical and she didn't take a dangerous step. I leaned back and patted her. I leaned forward and hugged her neck. I yanked the saddle back and forth. Nothing.

"She's doing great," Britnney said. She looked up at me with that awkward, hero-worshiping shine only a teenager gives. I knew she'd be broadcasting Tally's phenomenal progress all over the barn. I really wished it was the truth.

The thing is, I hadn't touched Tally's crazy. I couldn't bring it out.

I gave up for the day and went to loping circles. Tally chugged along, her tail swinging, snorting with every perfect, measured stride. Ten to the left, ten to the right, a few straight lines and a rest to air up.  Man, she was fun to ride. Level and powerful, she felt like she would go forever.

I ran a few stops, and she laid down some nice tracks. Her spins were coming along nicely. I could feel the potential for great ones, if I was better at training them, she'd be smoking.

Tim drove by, flashed me a nervous smile and headed to the parking lot. He had been back in the saddle for a week. He only rode after I worked her and wouldn't leave the arena, but at least he was riding again.

He rode smart, she went along great, I had never been so bummed in my life. I stood next to them while he aired her up. They were the picture of a solid horse and rider pair.

"I don't know what to do Tim. I can't reconstruct what set's her off. Unless I get your confidence and skills up to dealing with her, I don't feel like you'll ever be safe."

"She's been so good though." He rubbed her neck and smiled. I really think we're getting over our problems. I can saddle her and do ground work with her and she's perfect. I want to keep trying. Our reining is getting so solid. I was wondering, could we come with you to Amarillo?"

There was a nice little AQHA show in Amarillo every February. It was fun, not to big, just competitive enough to get the blood running and a nice way to pick up some early points.

"You mean, show her?" My blood pressure shot up about twenty points.

"You said a trip would be good for her. Maybe you could ride her first, and if she was OK, then I'll try."

"If I veto the whole thing and she doesn't show at all, are you okay with that?" Maybe Tim wasn't so crazy. A week on the road might be just the ticket.

"Of course."

"All righty then, Amarillo it is."



15 comments:

FlyingOnTime said...

I came to look at a training post and... yay! Another Tally story!
Now that equine mind meld is gone... can we still ask training questions? Should I email, Or post a comment on a new post?

mugwump said...

Yes, ask away....

smazourek said...

Please let this have worked out well, I'm rooting for that little mare!

Whywudyabreedit said...

When I was learning to train dogs I was told that the dog can have 3 different types of confidence; confidence in themselves, confidence in the work, and/or confidence in the handler.

Seems like Tally had confidence in you.

Whywudyabreedit said...

I always liked that simplification of types of confidence, it always made sense to me.

MichelleL said...

Wellll....there is a 50/50 chance that everything went just fine and Tim/Tally placed in the money...

And no I am not feverish...thanks for asking...

Love your style Mugs.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mugs! What a great way to start another cold, icy day. I had my crabbypants on before I found this. You helped turn my day around and it's only 6:30 a.m. Amy in Ohio

mugwump said...

Whywudyabreedit - you just hit the very core of how I train. I want the horse to have confidence in me. Not fear, not automatic responses, but a willingness to look to me for answers, and then believe me. I didn't even know it back then, and I am still absorbing and learning from the pitfalls of my approach.

SB Zenith said...

Love tally, followed her story from the beginning and been stalking your blog for a few years now. Love it. You give me new things to think about with every post

Heather said...

I like this train of thought on confidence. I have a green Azteca mare that I got for myself last year. I got her back from the trainer (Yes, I did take lessons on her while she was at the trainer.), got about a month of riding her and discovered she was pregnant. So then she was off for 8 months doing the mommy thing.

Now I'm getting her back in work. She's an interesting horse - super smart and super wary. Not spooky, but wary. So I've been working with her a lot on the ground to get her to trust me and look to me for answers when she gets worried. I want her to draw her confidence from me so that she will let me do most of her worrying for her.

At some level, I thought maybe I was over-anthropomorphizing the problem and maybe getting a little too "warm and fuzzy" over it, but it seems to be working. Now, reading the comments here, it seems like maybe I'm not so far off the mark after all.

Whywudyabreedit said...

Heather, I used to train guide dogs, so I was ultimately training animals for other people.

Early on it helps for the animal to have confidence in the handler, however the ones that can learn to have confidence in the work, and in themselves do better when transferred to others.

As the dogs I trained could handle more and more challenge, I would put more and more responsibility on them to get themselves out of trouble without help from me. I would get to the point where I would be a bit difficult to work with and for, but my dogs learned how to get themselves out of trouble instead of looking to me. The better they got the more of a spaz I became. My dogs tended to do pretty well in class when matched with a new blind handler.

Dogs that received a lot of help and support from their handler throughout training had a tough time adjusting in class when they no longer had a handler with the ability to help them out of tough spots.

I am still struggling with how to apply this approach to working with my horses, but I think I am getting closer. I want my horses to be a pleasure for others to work with in case anything ever happens to me. I feel that this gives them the best possible chance at success with a new person.

This may sound strange, but my goal is to have most other people seem a little more pleasant and easy to work for than I am.

But I do think that you are on the right track to start out developing her confidence in you, I would just be careful, over time, not to make her too dependent on you for her sake.

mugwump said...

Oh, Whywudya...you are zeroing in on my next post...

Heather said...

Whywudyabreedit,

Thanks for the advice - I think you are spot on. I want J-Lo (My mare - yeah, she has a big booty.) to look to me for confidence while she's young and green. I'm hoping that, as she experiences things she'll gain confidence in herself and she won't be as dependent on me as time goes on. I see it as a process. Looking to me for courage is just part 1. We'll see how it evolves.

Eventually, I want anyone to be able to ride her and, in fact, others are riding her some. But right now its all about her and me.

So far, so good....

Heather said...

Whywudyabreedit,

Thanks for the advice - I think you are spot on. I want J-Lo (My mare - yeah, she has a big booty.) to look to me for confidence while she's young and green. I'm hoping that, as she experiences things she'll gain confidence in herself and she won't be as dependent on me as time goes on. I see it as a process. Looking to me for courage is just part 1. We'll see how it evolves.

Eventually, I want anyone to be able to ride her and, in fact, others are riding her some. But right now its all about her and me.

So far, so good....

Whywudyabreedit said...

Heather,

Best of luck with her. She sounds like she will be a lot of fun to work with! There is nothing so satisfying as working with an animal, developing a partnership, and seeing them progress.

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