Starting Belle

From Walt:

Hey Doug! Thanks for helping me start Belle, our Suffolk mare, at the last Winter Workshop at our farm. Since then I have been working with her every day. Basically, I used your DVD Starting Colts as a guide to what exercises to do and added a few things of my own. I would watch part of the DVD and then go out and do it. One thing I noticed about you ‘moves’ in the round pen is that you have a really fast reaction time; where did you get that reflex speed?!!

3/2/09 You worked with Belle about 1.5 hrs. As I recall, she was defiant and you spent most of the time establishing yourself as the leader by pushing her away. You worked on keeping her attention focused on you. By the end of the session, she would turn her head to follow you and eventually turned a few steps to follow you. You called it good and then we left her in the round pen for several hours to ‘think about it.” I thought your idea of leaving her alone in the round pen to process what just happened was a great idea and hadn’t occurred to me before, but, as I thought about it, when your done with a session, if you leave the horse by itself and later come back as the leader to lead the animal back to the herd group; this act is a strong reinforcement of the lesson we are trying to impart.

3/3/09 I had Belle in the round pen. I did some basic lead rope exercises until she demonstrated that she wasn’t completely with me, so I pushed her away with the plastic bag on a stick (PBOS), until she licked and chewed. She was only bending her head in a little, and not dropping her head much, however by the end of the session she would turn to face me as I walked (with pressure off) to her left and a little to the right from the opposite side of the round pen.

3/4/09 I pushed her hard away from me with the PBOS to get more signs of submission than the day before. I was able to get lots of licking, chewing, and her head would bend in from the rail to me some. She would turn to follow me both directions from a distance and at her head, but I would loose her if I walked out straight, so I would continue walking but make an arc to pick her back up. Then I roped her out with rope, burlap bag, plastic baggie, and a plastic bag on a stick. I rubbed these items all over her and with the bag on the stick waved it in the air all around her. She accepted all of this readily and stood quietly.

3/5/09 I pushed her away and she early on licked and chewed. I hung out with her, brushed her out, roped her out and then tried to get her to follow me. She would follow me in arcs but not straight ahead, however she definitely had her attention on me. I had to do something elsewhere on the farm so I left her in the pen for a while. When I returned she readily followed me around both directions and straight ahead for a few steps. If I got out to far ahead I just arced around to pick her back up. Called it good for the day. This is when I discovered that leaving the horse alone to process things adds a reinforcing dimension to the lesson of who is the leader, as I mentioned above.

3/7/09 I laid a big piece of plastic down in the round pen. She was a little hesitant about it initially, but picked me up and followed me around readily without a lead rope. (I guess I should mention that when I say follow, I mean without a halter or lead rope in all cases unless otherwise stated.) I initially could not get her to walk across the plastic but by arcing and having her turn in circles I worked her closer to the plastic, eventually getting her front feet on it. I would stop and praise her, then continue. Eventually, I got her to walk over the plastic sheet several times. Then I worked with her feet during which she stood readily for.

3/8/09 worked her with the plastic sheet still on the ground in the round pen. From the beginning she followed me readily all directions and over the plastic. Kris, my wife, came along which was a distraction to the horse, and I will need to work with her further on that. After Kris left, she readily came back with her attention on me so I elected to not make an issue of the distraction and continue with some positive work. The horse was back following and standing with me real well. I laid the harness and collar in the round pen and had the horse follow me near, around, and away from the harness which I accomplished like I did when I introduced her to the plastic sheet—in turns and arcs. I put the collar on her, which she readily accepted.

Then I moved the collar about on her shoulders and removed it. I repeated this several times and she stood well. Then I put the collar on and had her follow me about the round pen, over the plastic sheet doing turns and stops. Then I did the same maneuvers with the harness. I approached her with the harness, shook it and backed off.

Next, I touched her side, legs and neck with the harness, and then backed away. She accepted this test well. Next I put the harness over her back and removed several times. Finally I harnessed her with the collar and had her stand. I was real careful to get the harness on her securely so it could not fall part ways off and create a negative experience. After I had her stand for a while, I tried to get her to follow me about the pen. Initially, she didn’t want to move because she didn’t fully understand what was on her back, so I gently drover her with the PBOS. After she figured it out she followed me around the pen no problem. I left her with the harness on for about 30 minutes and removed.

Called it good for the day.