Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Game

On a sunny, windy day, I trudged out to the pasture in muck boots, rope halter in hand. Robin graciously hung out in the airlock and watched as I picked my way to Sham in the far corner of the pasture. He was nibbling at the first real grass blades coming up.

As I hoped, he picked his head up and walked right to me. I remained relaxed and let him sniff my hands and jacket. After a few moments I stepped toward his withers just a bit to scratch his neck. Success. Then I reached for the withers and he stepped away. I stood up and stared.

And thus the game began. I did my best to slowly stay within 10 feet of him and stared right at him until he turned to face me. Then I would release the pressure. If his eyes drifted somewhere else, I applied more pressure. He didn't like it, but he wasn't totally bothered by it either. What bothered him was my persistence. I never let him rest. If he moved, I followed and stared. He only received release when he would come up to me.

He figured the rules out rather quickly (he is a very smart horse) and obliged me by coming up and getting a few pets. In the beginning he didn't hang out too long. He'd investigate for as long as he felt necessary, then he'd wander away. I simply stared and followed. A few times he got agitated enough to run around somewhat vigorously and even do some rolling. I kept the pressure on. He kept coming to me. Eventually we got in some nice rounds of big pets and lots of praise, but no treats. Not yet.

After one such round I offered him the rope halter. I had unclipped the lead rope and draped it around my shoulder. I thought this might be easier for me to work with and less of a threat to Sham. It was. He let me slide the halter over his nose with no trouble and even lowered his head a bit so I could tie it on.

And then he walked off again. No big deal, I thought, I had scored the first point. So I followed and stared as he wandered around and eventually settled at the round bale. This caused me my first problem. The bales are big, difficult to move around, and there are always other horses there. And Sham was not uncomfortable enough with my staring to not eat. He didn't like it, but he kept eating. So my first thought was to get him off the bales, and I think I started doing this a bit too aggressively. I could move him, but he would usually present his backside to me. I didn't feel comfortable with that. It was supposed to be me making him uncomfortable, not the other way around.

Robin could see how this was playing out from her chilly place at the fence. She suggested that when he is on the bale I approach his head/neck in a very non-threatening, head down manner. This worked much better. I could get him to move, but he was not physically threatened by me.

So the game continued. Partially on the bale, and partially off the bale. Eventually I got him to stay in the open area, and I felt much better about this. I initially thought the open space would be the hardest, but I came to take comfort when we were isolated. I could be much more effective, and he was much more uncomfortable. He wandered over to a salt lick, perhaps thinking it was as safe as a bale.

Not quite. I could casually walk up to him, pet his neck, pet his withers. When he pulled away, I stared. When he came back, I smiled and relaxed and looked down. When he went for the salt lick again Robin suggested I try to clip the rope on. I took hold of the halter, gently pulled his head up, and clipped it on. As I led him to the gate I could tell he was exhausted. Not physically exhausted, but mentally exhausted.

As a reward I worked to keep things easy. We stood in the airlock and gave him pets and some grain. He was a little pully and fidgety, but I would disengage his hindquarters and then he would stand facing me. After just a few minutes of this I put him back in the pasture. He was still a tad fidgety, but I got him to stand and he was very quiet as I took off his halter.

At that point relief must have swelled through all 15.3 hands of him. He took off in a gallop, charged past one round bale, and then leaped over another pile of hay that was at least 2.5 feet tall and equally as round. He cleared it by more than a foot and continued to blow off some steam in the pasture by running some very tight circles. It was fun to watch.

Since I was able to halter him, and then later on clip the lead rope to the halter, I consider the score to be Brian 2, Sham 0. Of course, the game took a full 70 minutes. I hope the next one is shorter.

No comments:

Post a Comment