Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Misty & Marley Return from School

Misty and Marley are home now, but their education has just begun. Mine too.

Kathleen and Erin concluded that Misty is not tuned in enough to the human. She is easily distracted and scared by noises and things happening around her, but does not look to the human for guidance and reassurance.

There was a lot of activity at the ranch and Misty would become agitated whenever she heard voices or machinery or strange sounds outside. She would even get disturbed by the popping and crackling sounds metal buildings make as the temperature changes or the wind blows.

This spooky behavior and lack of attention to her leader (the human) is something that needs to be fixed on the ground before anyone gets in the saddle.

For a couple of days Kathleen and Erin did a variety of exercises to get Misty's attention focused more on the human, whether the human was moving about freely or giving instructions from the lead rope.

On the last day of school, they did more ground work with Misty over and around ground poles; sometimes isolating instructions to Misty's individual feet until she became very light and responsive.

It made a big difference.

Near the end of Misty's last lesson, we heard voices outside the arena, followed by miscellaneous banging and clanging, and then the sound of a 4-wheeler engine starting. Previously, Misty would have become flighty, but this time she remained calm and focused on her handler.

Do you know how horses will often lick their lips after receiving a release during a "pressure/release" training session, indicating they "got it"? Misty went beyond lip licking to a kind of yawn that included working her jaw back and forth. She also did this several times during our 2-day horsemanship clinic, after we completed our exercises and she was given a minute to relax and ponder.

Perhaps this is a combination of stress relief and a great big "I GOT IT!" going on in her mind. I find it very interesting.

We have some homework to do now, until our next lessons begin. I will continue the ground work exercises with both Misty and Marley. I purchased some landscaping logs to use as ground poles.

Marley has an additional assignment to do some longeing on a hillside. He's very heavy on the forehand and needs practice getting his hind end under him while going down hill. Erin discovered he is very uncoordinated when she rode him down a hill and is concerned that he could fall easily. Being a therapy horse for so long, Marley didn't get his mind or his muscles challenged very much. I'm hoping to take Marley on an organized trail ride soon and this particular trail has some steep switchbacks that we must travel down. We did a little hill work this afternoon and he was a bit cranky about it. We'll do more.


  1. It sounds like Misty is really coming along learning how to listen to her handlers and not being quite as spooky.
    Marley will certainly benefit from hill work. They all do.
    Have fun on the trail ride.

  2. I've been working with "poles" too, only mine are just either long wooden round posts or long planks of wood. Every once in a while I leave a horse in the round pen for a few minutes only to return to find my poles have been eaten. They are so rotted that the horses can eat them like hay. I don't know why horses aren't concerned about getting slivers in their gums. You have my sympathies regarding all the work you must do to get past the spooking. I know it well.

  3. I really find it interesting to read about the schooling, OnceUpon - thanks for sharing!
    In general, I belive that western riding include more work on ground. I find it very interesting to expand my "tool kit" with some new tools that might come in handy.
    I have had some spooks too, but I haven't though of using exercises like the ones you descibed. Interesting!

    Taking Marley on trail rides sounds like a good idea.
    Some of those pony smart horses that invent things to entertain themselves are just bored. When you put them to work and set borders they get happy. I think Marley and you will both have a lot of fun!
    Looking forward to hear what happens :-)

  4. I love your blog!! When I was younger, I had a pony who was heavy on her forehand. She would canter so far forward and stumble. It was scary! We worked on lifting her with elementary dressage. It really did wonders.

  5. I'm enjoying your schooling sessions too

  6. Thanks everyone. I appreciate your comments. Haven't been around much the last week due to busy family events. Hopefully Misty will get to her muse before Monday is over.

  7. I am happy to find out that I am not the only one 'playing games' with a Percheron. A few weeks back, that's what I read on the Percheronnetwork forum when I mentioned parelli's and Buchanan's...
    Yes, when they 'got it', they have a lot of jaw activity and also, pay attention to this, blink their eyes.
    Why don't you have the Horsewhisperer on your favourite movies ? Any specific reason ?