Okay so I'm using this weekend to play catch up. I am really trying to write down almost everything important that happens, if for nobody else than my own benefit of remembering. Tuesday (day 5) wasn't all that eventful. She wanted to play, but didn't want to be caught, so we played at liberty, and ended the session upon haltering. The only other significant thing was that we decided to move her from the big barn to the smaller one where my minis are, trading her old stall with my other big horse Mesa. The horses in the big barn get blanketed by other people at night, and she is nervous about it, so I wanted to make sure it gets done the natural way every time. Also, there are way more people in the big barn, and she doesn't appreciate too much prodding. And to get outside the horses have to walk under carwash type flaps, so she would run outside and then not come in all day. However, my super confident LBE 21 year old mare Mesa loves people, anyone can blanket her, and she had no problem with the flaps at all.
I wrote the following Wednesday night as soon as I got home after an awesome play session, so it's pretty vivid:
I just got back from the barn. Xena was amazing! Our relationship is growing! Tonight we had a LOT of “Hmmm, how interesting!” moments, and I believe I’m understanding her better with each one. So in keeping with our week long program of put your nose on something to build confidence, I first let her loose in the arena to roll and then went in to play with her. This time caught me pretty quickly. I went to go hang my bag of stuff up, and she followed me there. She stayed stuck to my side as I went to the fence to get her halter. She put her nose on the halter, since it was hanging on the fence. It was like she was saying “I found it! Now put it on me!” So I did. I grabbed it, and went to go stand at her withers and wait for her to sniff it, when she backed up with me and sniffed it before I even got there. I’ll take that as a yes.
So we went for a quick mosey around the arena, and she started offering the game all by herself. The fence? This wall? The bucket? We went around for a few minutes; sometimes she got a bit unconfident and lost the plot, mostly good. She does this funny head bobbing thing when she’s trying to figure out what she’s supposed to do. She holds her head below her withers, and bobs it up and down, like when horses first see water and they are trying to get a better look at it. Hmm how interesting. I retreat when she does this, and just let her think. I asked her to go forward to the gate, she did the head bobbing thing, so I stopped and stood there. She kept doing it every few seconds until finally she shook her head and walked forward, and landed her nose on the gate. We went to the other side because she was interested in the dog agility things we have set up over there. She sniffed a few of the poles, and then someone pulled in to the parking lot which made her pretty right brained. She had her head up, staring at the doorway. So I thought… It’s okay to be scared, but you still have to listen to me. So I asked her to put her nose on one of the toys. There was a lot of “Yeah but... there’s something over there!” going on, plus she didn’t want the unknown scary thing behind her. I was passively persistent until she finally sniffed one of them. Butt scratches. Left brain is back. She just stands there. Person leaves, perfect timing!! So after she very confidently puts her nose on a plug outlet on the wall, we turn the lights out and leave. I’m mildly surprised she didn’t freak out when the lights went out, she did last time and we weren't even inside.
It’s 21 degrees out, and my hands are numb, so I suggest we go stand by the heat lamp. It’s in the crossties/grooming area, so I send her in, she sniffs a few things, goes back out, paces a bit, and checks it out again. She won’t stay in there, I’m not going to make her, and honestly my hands are too cold to really do anything about what she does anyway lol! So I let her kind of mosey around the barn. She puts her nose on everything! The blanket, the saddle pad, this fence, that railing, this bucket, that brush, this rope, that paper, the cat. I let her investigate each and every blanket while I was warming my hands up. She calmed down so we did a little more work on standing in the grooming area. Then she started walking very pointedly towards the arena. I can feel my hands enough to hold the lead rope, so I go with her. I figure she’s planning on looking at the trash cans by the grain room. We go right past them, and she leads me all by herself in to the pitch black arena!!!!! “This is where we play, why were we outside? It’s more fun in here.” AWWW!!! Sweetheart! I follow her for a while, which feels kind of strange since I can barely see her, but I have to leave soon so I just play a bit of squeeze game with the arena gate. Never thought I’d be sending her between a gate and a wall into the dark, let alone after only having her for 5 days.
Then I have to lead her over to the new barn, which means going through a narrow people doorway since the big barn door is closed, over to the side that she’s never been on, and past some trailers. I let her eat some of the hay that’s piled up in the corner first. It’s a bit of a squeeze between 2 walls… she has to step in to the squeeze to reach the hay. I walk away and she picks her head right up to follow me. I don’t expect her to go through the doorway but she surprises me by going right through it! Then she got right brain on the other side, so I stood there with her until she put her head down and started eating a potted plant. :P Try to go forward a bit, right brain, snort, prance. I retreat to the plant, but this is no longer within our thresh hold. Hmmm how interesting! That makes me think that this is probably one of the HUGE contributing factors to why she is so unpredictable on trail. You can’t go too far too fast with her, or her confidence goes backwards. We go back in the barn, over to the hay. She crept through the squeeze, took a bite, but was too emotional to stay there. Also a big one! I sat on a bale until she felt okay to eat quietly, then we tried again.
I decided that this time, I need to focus her on something. Something else clicks: every other time we’ve had problems in new places is because I was trying to micromanage her emotions, and get her attention, and ask her to either stand still or let her go all over the place and hope she’ll stop eventually. So we go back out the door. I wait until it’s her idea to move forward. When she does, I focus on directing her towards a snow pile in front of us. I do that and she had a GREAT time playing with the snow pile!! She was nudging it, biting it, pawing it. “What the heck is this white stuff??” I lead her away to take her into the new barn, but she had a better idea. Leading ME over to the trailers!!! I take that, anything involving her and a trailer can’t be a wrong answer. She didn’t want to quit playing, but I had to put her up.
Send her in to the new stall, she bursts right back out. In again, stays for a second, out. I let her keep going until she got the confidence to stay, which only took 6 sends this time. You know, I kind of love seeing this cute face in my little barn. I can’t wait to come see her tomorrow.