Charlie has had a few big achievements this week!
We started off on Monday morning and I gave Charlie a full trim on both front feet. She stood almost perfectly for the most part. A couple of times she tried half heartedly to pull away but I managed to hold her, but that was definitely out of impatience rather than anxiety or malice. She wasn’t overly impressed about me dragging her foot forward, I was a little close to her head for her liking, so a quick rasp on the front and we were done. She did so well I wanted to reward her so I let her out of the round yard and she had the rest of the day off.
Tuesday I tackled the back feet, and she was even better than I thought. We had been having some problems on her offside back, but a session in the roundyard a few days prior seems to have sorted her out. We had both back feet trimmed in under 10 minutes, and she was way happier me dragging forward on the back feet because I didn’t have to be so close to her head. I used my knee as a hoof stand, in the future I’ll introduce using a proper one.
Since Charlie had her feet done she was moving a lot better (one front foot was very long) so it was definitely time to go for a proper walk around the place. I saddled up one of the other ponies and lead Charlie to the end of the driveway. We sat there for a little while and let some big log trucks go by. She was alert and looking at them, but not scared. We went a few km down a quiet single lane bitumen road. She’s got an amazing fast walk, and was looking around at all the sounds and animals and everything, nothing was a worry. A couple of cars went past slowly and she had a look but wasn’t worried. Then came along an old 4WD with a stock cage on the back. She was quite worried by it and jumped around and hit the end of the rope and fronted up to me which was brilliant. About 10 minutes later we passed the same 4WD again and she had a good look at it but was fine. Then we crossed the highway again, passed the sheep yards where there were lambs being marked, a few gates to go through, and then trotted home in the rain; Charlie was perfect.
I just feel like Charlie is a lot more comfortable with me and has worked out our little daily routine; rug on and off, feed, pooper scooping, haltering etc. This morning I was poo scooping the round yard and she was following me around, getting close on her terms. She parked herself on top of a poo and I walked over to get it, and she stood there relaxed while I scooped it out from under her. A week ago there’s no way Charlie would’ve let me come near her with the poo rake. Up until this point it’s been a real struggle to get a halter anywhere near her. Every morning I’ve put her in a race and put it on that way. I’ve been able to take it off in the big yard, but she’s always uncomfortable to have my hands near her head. I tried once before to halter her with hobbles on in the big yard, but even with the hobbles, there was no way known she was going to let me do it, and I didn’t want to encourage her jumping away from me. So this morning, on a whim, (after her display of comfort with me and the poo rake) I decided to give it another go. So, with the hobbles on, Charlie let me put the halter on. I was so happy and excited I could barely get the knot done up! As a reward, I let her out into the paddock for a graze, so hopefully she will associate letting me put the halter on with a reward.
Today I picked up my McDowell’s Herbal trainers pack from the post office, and I’ll start giving that to her ASAP. I’m looking forward to seeing some improvements with her anxiety, and helping her become more comfortable.
We’ve also just finished fixing my horse float, so hopefully try some float training next week!
Week 5…this has been a week of consolidation again for Charlie, and a few big steps as well. I let her out of the round yard for the first time on Tuesday. I was expecting her to hit the gate a hundred mile an hour and take off into the paddock never to be seen again. She was actually really nervous, and took a good 20 minutes of coaxing to come out. Even when she realised she was out she was still really respectful of the halter, and followed me perfectly for a quick lap of the paddock and I showed her where the water trough was. Then I led her to the other horses and left her be, she was super excited to be out, eating fresh green grass and roll in something that wasn’t sand!
Monday I put a rug on her for the first time as well, which was a little scary at first but she was very accepting. I used hobbles the first few times so she got used to the flapping action and me having to be close to her doing straps etc. It’s only Thursday today, and already I can put the rug on without the hobbles (not easily, but within 5 minutes) and off straight away. Once Charlie figures out what’s happening, she settles and lets me do it, it’s usually the first couple of minutes she’s trying to figure what I’m doing, then it’s ok, very rarely does she carry on even though I know she knows what I’m trying to do.
Tarps are also okay to walk over, it only took a few minutes until she would try and put a foot on. Then she did the hilarious high step over it the first couple of times, and then the third time she walked over it nicely, she’s still hesitant of it, but will do it when I ask. It’s funny, she prefers to play with the tarp in the yard than the ball (which she’s scared of!)
On Wednesday morning I saddled up one of the other ponies and took Charlie for a walk down the driveway (800m), past the sheds and farm machinery which Charlie had a good look at but didn’t think were that scary at all. We stopped for some good green grass in a few places which I think the ponies were very appreciative about. She led really well from the other horse, and at one time a bird flew out of the grass and scared her, she pulled back and hit the end of the rope, I was expecting her to pull the rope out of my hand and keep going, but she hit the end and stopped and fronted up to me, which is what we’ve been training for on the yards, so I was pretty stoked she followed her training outside of the round yard.
Every day this week I’ve been trying to get into a routine, first thing in the morning put the halter on, take her rug off, pick her feet up (which she’s getting better at every day, the front feet I can clean out with a hoof pick), lead her out of the yard, do a few laps, and then leave her with the ponies to have a pick and a roll. In the afternoons, catch her (I’ve been leaving the halter on with a long lead rope) so this is just a matter of her letting me get close enough to grab the lead rope. Leading her to the yards, giving her a feed with me holding the bucket, putting her rug on, picking up her feet again, and then taking her halter off. Yesterday (Wednesday) Charlie actually saw me coming and came over to me when it was time for bed, so I was pretty pleased about that.
I know it doesn’t sound like much, but only 2 weeks ago I could barely touch this horse, she’s come along so far, so I’m pretty proud of her, and looking forward to what next week brings.
This week we focused on taking the halter on and off, repeatedly, so she got used to me being near her head. She’s still pretty difficult to get the halter on, and when she carries on and is trying to evade the nose piece, I rub her cheek and ears while she’s distracted. It’s the only time I can touch that high on her face! When I do manage to get the halter on, she just kind of accepts it now (like “oh dangit, oh well ok…”) instead of shooting backwards and getting upset.
Charlie is now really accepting of the hobbles, especially in the big yard. When I get the strap out and crouch down near her front feet, she relaxes and stands patiently while I put them on. This is really helpful for putting the halter on and off, bagging down with a saddle cloth, practicing girthing, and putting the bareback saddle on and off. Obviously the first time I put them on she reacted as any horse would, but now knows that she can’t move much with them on and stands patiently while I do whatever I’m trying to do.
She’s also leading really well and is so sensitive to any pressure and my body movements. She comes when I walk away, stops when I stop, and moves back when I step towards her. I jumped on one of the other ponies here, and although she was hesitant of me being above her eye she led really well from the other horse. After this I made time to sit on the top rail so she got used to me being above her, which will make things a lot easier, especially for a flighty horse, when it comes time to trying to jump on.
I mentioned before that I’d had the bareback saddle on, she was really accepting of this, didn’t care at all about the girth (although we had practiced previously with a saddle cloth, girth and rope). Even when free lunging at the trot, Charlie has absolutely NO buck, even with the stirrup irons flapping around near her shoulders. It’s really good, I can put the saddle on very easily with the hobbles on, and even without them it’s still not a great drama.
A big breakthrough this week was getting Charlie to lunge both ways on the rope. Because she is so flighty, when I was training her to lead, she would try to get away on me and a few times I had to pull her around quite strongly and get her to face up. It’s good that she does this now, so when she gets a fright, or in a tizz about something she comes to me instead of trying to run away. It’s not so good when you’re trying to lunge her on a rope because all she wants to do is face up. It took a couple of days, a lot of circles, a few choice swear words, but she finally worked it out. She lunges better on the left lead, but we’re getting there more and more every day with the right.
Today I picked up all 4 feet, which was really good. I’ve been itching to give her a trim, she’s very long on one front foot, so this is a good stepping stone. I picked up every foot twice, and as soon as she picked it up, I put it down for her. She licked her lips every time after and was super accepting. The last foot I did was her off-front and after I put it down the first time, I went to pick it up again and she had it cocked, ready to go.
For a while there it felt like it was one step forward, five steps back, but now I think we’re really making some progress. I’m hoping next week I can get her comfortable with taking the halter on and off, and hopefully let her out of the roundyard for some grass and a walk around the property.
I was away for the weekend and Charlie regressed a little, it took a couple of hours to get her back to where she was the Friday before.
Armed with a new brush and a $2 bottle of conditioner, I attacked the birds nest and dreads in her tail. Charlie wasn’t too sure about the conditioner at first, but then decided she didn’t mind smelling like apples.
Last week Charlie would reluctantly eat out of a bucket while I sat on the ground and held it, but she would make a song and dance out of it, snorting and pawing trying to get me to put the bucket down and leave her to eat in peace. This week she decided that me holding the bucket on the ground wasn’t so scary and would come straight over and reluctantly let me graze my fingers over her nose while she ate. Today we went one step further and she accepted me holding the bucket standing at eye level, although she’s still very cautious and keeping a close eye on me.
Another thing we worked on this week is walking in and out of yards calmly, and not seeing a gate and flying through it. Just lots of repetition and as little pressure as possible so she works out for herself that nothing good or bad is going to happen when she goes through gateways.
In the smaller yard I managed to get a rope around Charlie’s neck (with a carabiner for quick release of pressure) and we practiced leading. She was really good in the smaller yard, but again, leading her out into the bigger yard, she would see that gateway and fly through it. Unfortunately she got away from me a couple times, so I got a little smarter and bowlined another rope together to make it longer, so if she got away from me it wasn’t really a win for her. I’m not going to pretend she’s leading perfectly, we’re still going step by step, but she’s responding to pressure and release, which is brilliant.
Today (Thursday) we kicked a massive goal and finally got a halter on her. She’s got such a strong flight instinct, and absolutely hates me being anywhere near her head, so it’s such a massive achievement. Charlie is so clever, she almost immediately associated the pressure from the halter with the pressure from leading her with the rope around her neck and was leading just as well within a couple of minutes of having the halter on.
All week in the big yard I could confidently walk up to her and put a hand on her rump, and she would tolerate it. But only for a couple of pats, 5 seconds, max, and only on the rump. I think the halter has given her a new confidence. After a couple of hours of having the halter on, I could walk up to her both sides in the big yard and pat from rump to shoulder and chest, and all 4 legs. The upper neck area is still a bit of a taboo area, and after her letting me pat where she hasn’t before, I didn’t push the friendship, but that’s the goal for next week.
This week has been a week of consolidation for Charlie. In the small yard she’s happy with scratches from her shoulder to her rump, under her tummy and all four legs, and even picked up one back foot. I’ve brushed all of these places with a brush too, including her mane and tail (got some good knots out of her tail too! Just need a bottle of cheap conditioner and we’ll be right!) Occasionally I can scratch up her neck and get a cheeky hand on her cheek before she pulls away.
This morning (Thursday) we had a bit of a breakthrough in the big yard, when I asked her to go into the smaller yard she turned her flank to me and chewed her lips (which is her “tell” in the smaller yard that it’s ok to approach and giver her a scratch.) So I walked right up and gave her a good scratching all over. Up until that point (in the big yard) I had only been able to get a hand on her sporadically, and only for a second. Today she was comfortable with me walking up to her, give her a scratch, and walking away again multiple times without pulling away.
Charlie has now discovered chaff and molasses, and she loves it! I’ve been trying to get her to eat out of the bucket while I hold it, but no luck yet.
Another exciting time this week was when I was sitting in the smaller yard with her, making phone calls, she came over and snuffled my boots, knees and hand, and when she was standing near me I put my hand out, and when she would normally look away disinterested, she pressed her nose into my hand. It was only for a second, but it definitely counts as a win in my book!
Also this week I bagged her down with a saddle cloth, and practised flapping it around and placing it on and off her back. She’s 100% comfortable with this; at this rate she will be saddle broke before I get a halter on her!
We picked up VBA Charlotte (Charlie) on Saturday afternoon, she loaded easily into the stock trailer, quickly worked out how to balance around corners, and contentedly turned her bum to the wind and munched on hay the two hours home to Dunkeld, VIC.
She unloaded easily into the round yard, settled in quickly, and immediately began looking for food.
I’ve worked with her every day for between 2-5 hours a day in small sessions.
At first Charlie didn’t want to know me at all, and I could only get as close as 60cm away before she would turn tail and start doing hot laps around the round yard. With some left over panels I made a smaller yard and chased her in there. I spent a lot of time just hanging out and letting her get comfortable with my presence.
It wasn’t until day 2 (Monday) I managed to get my first touch. She was super uncomfortable at first, and then began to relax into it, but very conscious of my feet placement and presence.
We have progressed slowly every day, today (Thursday) she’s happy to be scratched from rump to shoulder, and will tolerate being scratched up on the neck until almost her jaw. It was a big milestone today, I was scratching her neck and I felt her lean into my touch. In the smaller yard she can be approached on both sides and touched (except her head) and in the big yard I’ve managed to get a hand on sometimes, only on her terms; she’s still very cautious and nervous. Although a couple of times now when I’ve been sitting on the ground ignoring her (treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen) she has come over and snuffled the back of my jacket, and touched her nose on my boots.
I think Charlie enjoys our sessions, she started off hating the smaller yard (especially with me in it) but now when I’m walking over from the house she walks over to the gate and waits to be let into the smaller yard, ready for work. She now walks in and out calmly at the smallest gesture.
She will free lunge both directions, and turns into me when changing directions. Charlie is also ok with the whip, ropes and doesn’t mind a brush on the rump.
Charlie has been here for almost a week and her personality is starting to come out, she’s a very cheeky girl and loves to wait until I’ve filled up her water bucket and then tip it over, and likes chewing on the dressage whip.
It’s been baby steps, but that’s ok. I was expecting to at least have a halter on by the end of the first week, but taking the time now and earning her trust will be more of a reward later when I need her to trust me 100%
You can follow Charlie’s journey on her Facebook page fb.me/VBACharlotte2020