The Post of Don Sam Incognito

Not much to report on the training scene right now as we wait for the corral to clear of packed ice and snow melt. Sam and Mattie are responding to the clicker training, but I’m not sure I’ve been trained well enough to make it stick at this point. When I click the clicker, Sam arches his neck down, knowing that a treat will follow. But he’s so smart and has been able to push people around for so long, that he eventually tries to get around me to get the treat without the work.

I spent some time on You Tube the other night watching videos of Andalusians doing high school tricks and movements. These were Mexican Andalusians, mostly, broad-backed, high strung, athletic. I watched the passage and piaffe to see what the riders did with their aids and whips. Some of the riders weren’t trying to be subtle, so I could see how they shifted their weight at each step and even cued the horses’ shoulders during the Spanish Walk. One horse crouched down in piaffe to launch into cabriole, leaping up and kicking his hind legs straight behind him.

I watched horses at liberty and under saddle; some were Spanish, some French, some German. Many of them did tricks, as well, bowing, lying down with the rider then getting up again. None of this is usual dressage arena fare, but it gave me some ideas of how Sam may have been trained at one point and why he’s so excitable about being asked to work.

Today, I decided to get back to working with them, despite the moonscape quality of the corral. Both horses are a bit too fat right now, in spite of my care in how much hay they get at each feeding. I’ve decided that the hay–from two different growers–has two different levels of sugar content. I’m feeding mostly from one side of the hay barn now, trying to empty out that bay so I can clean under the pallets and fill it up again with the first cutting of summer. But they’re doing too well on it, and now we need to cut back a bit and step up the exercise a bit.

Which brings me to today. Monday, I was in the corral with Sam trying to scrape some of the manure layer off the packed snow/ice layer. It was a lovely warm afternoon, and Sam wanted to play gelding games with me. I wanted him to be a cuddly horse, one that I could lean against, forehead to forehead, as I had once done with my childhood horse, Bambi. Sam is a trickster, and I knew better, but I was off my guard, and busy with the rake and shovel. He came over and put his face near mine and swung it toward me as I moved, catching me on the mouth. I got a split lip and more determination to follow through with the clicker work. I’ve gotten too casual with it.

Today, I had him on a lead rope, standing in the middle of the corral. I had the clicker and gave the command, “Stand” and clicked and treated only when he stood still with his head straight in front of him and not at my pocket or near my face. He tried backing up–no treat. He tried holding his head sideways the way I taught him to at the command, “Wait”–no treat. Eventually he got it, though it’s still a pose for him.

I managed to get piles of white hair out of his winter coat using the shedding blade and got him to stand untied while I picked his feet–even the hind, which he likes to feint cow-kick when I go to pick them up. After we did this, I tacked him up in longe gear: a nylon surcingle, cavesson, a longeing headstall and bit, sidereins. We’ve gotten a bit stuck in our longeing, something he used to do like a champ. Now he just wants to circle his hindquarters around to face me. I know I’ve done something to give him this idea, but don’t know what.

Instead of longeing, and in spite of being all tacked up, I just walked him around the corral with my hand on his neck, companionable, but maintaining the space between us. When we did this, he seemed relaxed and interested. When I tried backing off and moving him forward with the longe whip, he got the old doubtful look in his eye. So, I put the whip away and walked with him, but a little farther away, marking the space with a pointed finger rather than the longe whip. At one point he was far enough out on the line that he began to trot. He wouldn’t do this to the other side, but I decided that, given the ice and muck in the corral–not good conditions for going faster than a walk–that this was good enough. I ended the session by scratching him on the withers and down the groove in his back over his spine. He stool high headed, twisting his upper lip in pleasure. I don’t remember him liking to be scratched so much, but maybe he’s only now trusting me enough to let me find the spot. He was pretty shut down three years ago when he first came to us.

Then I worked with Mattie on “Ears up” and groomed her and worked with her at liberty–a trust exercise for her and for me. She didn’t trot, but walked well away from me at the pointing of the driving whip. Mattie is less of a puzzle to me because I know what she doesn’t know and she’s very clear–sometimes threateningly so–when she’s confused or worried about what I’m asking. Then I back off a little and try again in another way. In spite of this, she really does trust me and will let me lean against her and will rest her head on me in a way Sam won’t.

Lots of preliminary work, still, before the corral is in good enough shape to ride, but all in all, a good day with horses.

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One Response to “The Post of Don Sam Incognito”

  1. Glow Says:

    Lucky, lucky, lucky horses. So lucky to be so beloved and so much care taken.

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