The last two days have been All About Abe – much to George’s disgruntlement.
Friday afternoon was the date scheduled for Lynn to come round and help me back him, so Friday morning started with long reining practice:
He was great with the long-reins, so I undressed him and let him graze in the yard for a while. After an hour or two off, we did some in-hand work at the mounting block. He often has trouble understanding exactly where I want him to stand, so I tried a new training tactic – I put my hand on the exact spot on his back which I want right by me when it’s time to mount, then reinforced that feeling for him with loads of clicks and treats. When I moved my hand off again, I stopped clicking and treating, just let my hand rest on his wither. He thought about it a bit, juggled himself back and for a little and then worked out exactly where to stand so my hand slid to that exact spot on his back – and bingo, the treat dispenser was ON! He now has it nailed completely!
He had another couple of hours off after that, and then a final session in-hand with the saddle, making sure he could transfer the feel of my hand on his bare back to the same hand on top of the pad, which he could, and doing a few final flops over his back, hand-feeding him from that position so he had to turn his head right round to reach and could see where I was. He was completely chilled about all that, so away he went to graze on the lawn with the bunnies again.
Finally, at 3pm, Lynn arrived, I caught Abe up again and we did a last little test of the hang-over-his-back, which was fine, before I scrambled (ungracefully) into the saddle (in my defence, it’s been a long time, I’ve never sat on that saddle on a horse before, I didn’t want to leap on him and make him jump and there’s no stirrups!)
He put his head up a little and slanted his ears back, but only in a mildly ‘what the heck is she doing now?’ kind of way, and waited politely for treats. He got them, of course, and lots of pats and praise! He waited while I got myself rather better arranged in the saddle, then Lynn walked him a few steps. We stopped to give him more pats, praise and treats, and so progressed in little sections around the yard before I dismounted and that was that – I’d rather have 5 good minutes than an hour of mediocre from a young horse and he was brilliant!
Today started with another very short ride – but alone, this time. He was an absolute gem and after spending a minute fussing around the mounting block, he suddenly decided he had the perfect spot and turned into a lovely statue while I mounted (slightly less ungracefully, this time!) and arranged ourselves, then I asked him to walk on. He looked slightly mulish and didn’t move. I asked again. Eventually he decided he did know what it meant and wasn’t going to be offended about me squeezing his ribs with my legs, and we were off… slowly. He’s still learning how to balance himself under me so straight lines tend to meander and corners need to be taken wide and slow, but he answers voice and rein aids well and is starting to connect the dots between ‘walk on’ and ‘leg squeeze’, which is very good on only his second ride. We walked up to the gate, turned a few very eccentric nowhere-near-circles and then walked back to the feed room, where I got off and gave him tons of praise and treats! For some reason my phone turned itself off before we got moving forward, but at least the whole performance around the mounting block has been captured for posterity! Talk about fussy Arabs…
This afternoon I tried him with something completely different – the first steps towards becoming a driving horse! Normally this is the horse learning how to drag a tyre or a plank around, and I happened to have an old tyre knocking about, so I lashed it up with some baler twine (breaks easily, just in case!) and the wooden trace spreader I made for George’s great-great-grandmother when she was learning to pull a plank, then brought Abe in after his dinner and walked him up and down and round the yard while I hauled the tyre along after me by the attached traces. He was a little worried at first – ‘this thing is stalking us, have you noticed?’ – but decided after a while that it was probably ok if I was ok, and he’d just keep me between it and him anyway. I tied him up and put his harness on, then we went and did some more of the same, with me pulling the tyre along behind us while he walked. He was completely happy about straight lines by then, though rather leery of it catching up on corners, so I buckled the traces to his collar and coaxed him gently forward one step. He’s never had to push his chest against a weight like that and after one step he stopped, concerned. Tons of praise and encouragement later, he took another step…. and another…. and towed the tyre all the way up the yard. I took the traces off there, hauled the tyre down to the bottom again and we did it again, then I took his harness off, told him what a star he is and turned him out again.
We’ll have another little ride to the gate and back tomorrow, and then drag the tyre again the day after. If I can do one or the other each day, he should make rapid strides in both disciplines – but I will keep our sessions short and end on high notes, make sure he enjoys lavish praise and loads of treats all the way.
In other news, Hannibal is now wandering the yard alone, because Lucy is clamped to her eggs in the barn. Yarrow the ferret is now eating meat – as I discovered when I picked her up this morning and she licked me, then tried to eat my hand! I gave her a piece of chicken, which she engulfed happily, then Ivy discovered I’d meep-napped her baby and carried Yarrow firmly back to the nest! She and Holly are both taking their fresh meat to their nests and putting it by the kits, which is excellent.
Nightshade’s kits are right live-wires – if I open the nest box door too wide they race around and risk falling out, and one attacked me this morning, stamped on my fingers! They have their eyes wide open and are regular miniature bunnies now, at nearly 3 weeks old.
Chicks and ducklings are all fine.