Saturday, April 28, 2012

MT Day 4: Prairie's Turn...

This time down at the Oregon Horse Center I sort of knew what to expect from Princess P... I didn't know how much she would have improved, but at least I knew that she was going to enjoy the obstacles and I was going to enjoy working with her on them.

Prairie was a bit more of a mystery.  Partially because if there ever were an Arena Baby, she is it, and the only time I've hauled her someplace new was to change barns.  So there was the mystery of how she does in a portable stall surrounded by 100 other screaming horses.  How she'd do without any turnout for a few days and the million dollar question of what would she think of all the weird random crap I was going to ask her to walk over.

My first few posts answered most of those questions but, much like Pia, Saturday Prairie got to go for a gallop in the field as well as spend some serious time with the obstacles that evening.

So here goes:

Same thing as P, nice morning, cool, calm, and lazy - Prairie seems pretty ok with the "atmosphere" of the grounds. I can tell that no turnout makes her a bit more looky, but really, I don't know too many horses who you can lock in a (new) stall for 3 days, then take out into a big meadow and walk around calmly on... So P2 gets some serious points for that.

I could tell that Prairie was out of her comfort zone in the field, but if I had to label her reaction, it would probably be "concerned" more than "panicked" or "explosive."  her eyeball just looked a bit, well - concerned, as though she really didn't know where her nice, neat arena went.

"wh-where are the fences!? and where is my dragged footing!??"
So. adorable.

Anyway, Much like P1, P2 also got her turn to gallop through the grass.  I was going to do it myself, but then I thought "self - you have a perfectly good Cowboy Man here and there's no need to jostle your confidence or push your boundaries."

P2's concern quickly gave way to *shoving* her mouth full of grass...
So, (without shame) I slid off the mare and handed the reins to Cowboy Man to let 'er rip.  Knowing that when P2 gets unbalanced in the canter she becomes a drama-llama to the extreme (which in turn freaks me out), I figured I'd let CM have that ride since he doesn't seem to care about silly things like panicked horses, or a total lack of control.

As predicted, as soon as P2 accelerated past the quiet, contained working canter we've been playing with her brain sounded the alarm that something (her hind end) was chasing her and omg-we-have-to-go-now

Not exactly the most graceful thing to see in slow motion, but interesting nonetheless.  She has a powerhouse of a hind end.. I can't wait to see what she can do with it when it's actually up underneath her...

Cowboy Man's approach was very different from mine.  Mine is to count on the mare hitting our new favorite bit when she drama-llamas, thereby containing the outburst and keeping her under control and on my aids. (this makes sense to me, also, it feels safe).

On the other hand, CM figures that she has to lean to use her body such that when she is alarmed, she doesn't shoot her head straight up and string out like a freight train.  So, instead of shutting her "spook" (if that's the right word) down, he slowly "surfs" her into big looping turns and allows her to bring her own nose down for balance and slow herself.  This means he keeps the lightest of contact (shudder) which leaves P2 without her safe, secure "box." 

Yet another example of how I enjoy CM's process but know I would never (ever ever) have the instinct to do that myself.  After a few more runs the panic left P2's face/neck, but I could still  tell she really isn't thrilled about being totally responsible for her own body.  I'm working on addressing this (in our own way) by exploring some long lining and free jumping at home (since I don't trust myself to not interfere with her galloping out in a field...)

It was nice to see that P2 was willing to return to grazing almost immediately after each run.  Cowboy Man has tuned me into that little signal - since most horses won't eat (even when surrounded by tasty grass) if they are totally nervous, anxious, scared or otherwise concerned about what's going on.  A good example of this is that early on, P1 would be reluctant to graze on trail rides, choosing instead to be obsessed with what the other horses in our group were doing, or what was lurking in the woods, or (god forbid) doing her neck twisty thing in protest of everything.   At this point it's rare if Pia isn't willing to accept a long rein and graze in between trot sets/gallops/whatever.

Seeing P2 quickly return to grazing between her gallops was a good indication that as scare as her fast moving legs are, her brain comes back to earth quickly and consistently. (good mare)

Having finished our gallop rides and slow-mo filming, P2 got a nice break and pile of hay while we played with Pia.  Their newly formed obsession made me think that P2 would be pacing, calling and pawing constantly with Pia gone, but when I came back to her stall I found this:

not exactly a ball of nerves...
This mare is so cool.  I mean, she's dorky sometimes, but the more we worked with her over the weekend, the more I'm thinking that Prairie isn't so much "ditsy" as I've previously accused her of, she just hasn't had a lot asked of her in terms of brain power.

This became even more apparent as I swapped mares and took P2 back to the obstacles for an extended school.

For one thing, she remembered all of our discussions about not crowding me and rating my movement.  Arms down mean "walk with me, come forward."  Arms up - "stop, or maybe slow down if they only go up for a second."

For another, without Pia in the ring with her, Prairie was sniffing everything and very forward to each obstacle.  Anything she didn't understand she just shoved her big nose all over until she was comfortable walking in/on/over it.   The only thing that took a few tries was the water, which by this point of the weekend is a putrid, stinking puddle of manure and nastiness.  Not exactly a welcoming clear mountain stream... (to be fair I wouldn't put my feet in it..)

The only other challenge was asking P2 to really control her body and it's momentum.  For example, when stepping up on a bank (which she was perfectly willing to do). It took a lot of deliberate work to get her to realize she could pause herself halfway up, or halfway down (up was easier than down).
All the way up was cake.  she's pretty sure she's *supposed* to be on a pedestal..
Then we figured out how to pause going up (and get cookies)
The (very challenging) pause on the way down.  (it's a lot of mare to brake)
I spent a long time on this trick because I wanted to get to the point of not needing any nose/poll pressure for P2 to start and stop.  The stop with nose pressure was easy, but the big-picture goal is to have her focusing on my body language and stopping herself not leaning/bracing/relying on me to do that for her (however lightly).

After that, the rest of the "baby" course was cake.  She marched up to ditches, sniffed them, and walked through, she marched over bridges, sticks, tarps, you name it.  I was pretty impressed.  Here's a quick clip of some of the baby obstacles strung together.  I'm impressed at how relaxed she is and how engaged she is with what's around her....
(ps - we aren't going to win any showmanship classes, but considering what an aloof moose she can be, this if pretty damn good).
(pps - I was also pretty sure that at some point I was going to walk backwards off one of these bridges...)

After that we headed to the "big kid" ring and tackled bigger banks, the car wash, the water and the other bridges.  It took about 30 minutes before P2 noticed the totally-terrible-completely-horrifying-beyond-freaky DONKEY that had been added to the course.

Admittedly, it's a creepy looking wooden cutout.  But I'm pretty sure that it's not the malicious villain that Prairie made it out to be.  What really cracked me up is that we were walking over the wobbly suspension bridge when she caught sight of it, FREAKED, then proceeded to water ski me around the arena eventually busting loose and escaping to a "safe" distance hiding behind the car wash.

When I collected the mare, we approached the totally-terrible-completely-horrifying-beyond-freaky DONKEY and she made peace with it.  (I know she made peace with it because after sniffing and licking she started eating it.  You don't eat things that scare you, you just don't.)
Creepy, but not exactly out for world domination...
Assuming we were now ok with the totally-terrible-completely-horrifying-beyond-freaky DONKEY I retried the wobbly suspension bridge with a similar reaction, though this time, instead of breaking loose the mare "escaped" via the high bridge (with no railings) and craggy rocks on either side.  I managed to hang on and ski (skijor?) along behind her with visions of snapping legs flooding my brain...

So, we sniffed the totally-terrible-completely-horrifying-beyond-freaky DONKEY again. Licked it, then started chewing its nose, so once again I spun the mare and went for the bridge.  Here's a video of our third attempt where the mare bravely faced her fears.
(seriously though, how she's scared of the donkey but thinks a crazy wiggling bridge is ok, is beyond me...)

There are two videos of this same attempt (the first escape and the second skijor...) which I might have to post later.  P2's early horror at the donkey is really quite spectacular...

After we mastered the donkey we played with the car wash, log pile and other ditches.  For being such a big, long mare I'm impressed with how well she handles her toes.  The big logs piles in particular.  I would have guessed she would whack and stumble her way through those...

All in all, I'm impressed with P2.  I feel like with some consistent ground work, and a deliberate effort to not only trot around the sandbox, she is going to be a confident, forward girl - and those ditsy spooks will continue to diminish...

What a love.


  1. She looks great!! I'm impressed.

    That said, I really, really want to see at least video one of the donkey encounters. ;-)

  2. I can't get over how awesome all those obstacles are... it would be great to have something like to take my mare through. Prairie handled them all like a champ, even if she was terrified of the donkey. It looks pretty creepy to me too!

  3. Well done! She really looks like she's thinking things through. A lovely, lovely mare.

    Ditto on the donkey encounter video please. ;)

  4. Prairie is so cute!!!!! I love how much reach she has even when she's being an inverted drama llama. I just love her movement.

    Awwww I love the picture of you sitting with her in the stall. So cute!

    I WANT that donkey cutout!!!! Too cool! LOL! I'm glad she finally made peace with it. :D And yes I want to see the video of the donkey freak out lol. She is so gorgeous when she has her hyper alert face on! Who am I kidding, she's always gorgeous.


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