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  • Writer's pictureKathy Troxler

The New Girl in School- or- Start as You Mean to Go On!

This is Jamaica! Well that's not her registered name but that's what everyone at the barn calls her and it was stuck to her when we arrived in NY in 2009.

Jamaica is the oldest baby out of E Ses, one of the super stars of Mike's lesson program. E Ses has four babies...Jamaica, Fiona, Zenith and Solomon. Solomon, the youngest has been a lesson horse since the age of 4, Zenith became Monica Acee's side kick in 2012, and Fiona joined up with Martha this past weekend. So guess what? It's Jamaica's turn. I thought it would be interesting to follow her progress because up til now, she's only been haltered and handled for vet and farrier days and she's (holy S@#!) 9 years old! No wonder she's wondering what's going on. While she's been on a trailer at some point, she didn't need to get on one today to "start school". She's got a nice big pen with a huge run in shed, free choice grass hay and a group of pals...Verdi (he came in today too), Rufio, Kat and Harmony.

Today's goal was bring her in to see if a) she knew how to tie and b) she how she behaved for basic grooming. But like most horses, she quickly let us know where we actually needed to start her education.

It began with the lead into the barn. A distance of 40 yards which took 15 minutes to do properly. The pictures that follow are a good example of taking the time to do something the right way, which is not always the most convenient way. Jamaica was understanably concerned about leaving her herd and about all this weird stuff she had to go by (including the horse trailer). And we understood her concerns. But rather than roll with the plan of "she'll learn to lead by this stuff as she gets used to it", Mike used it as Lessons One and Two. One being "cluck means go" (she was really pretty good at that) and Two being "stay in your own space"...that was really what he worked on today.

After one attempt at evasion, she was really pretty great about having the halter put on.

Hmmm, a bit excited to be leaving her group, but basically nicely mannered.

But then, she thinks, maybe this is not such a great idea after all! A herd is sort of like a gang and there's safety in numbers! She's not sure about going without back up!

Here, Mike is allowing her some time to compose herself. She's giving it her best shot and not making any huge errors (like running around him, pulling back screaming for her buddies), so he's "dwelling".

This is where you first see her thoughts about "scary stuff". Each horse will have their own "inclination". Sometimes I'll call it their "base line". Horses (like people) are a blend of reacting and thinking. In the case of horses, reacting is their first instinct. Reacting quickly to a perceived threat is what keeps them alive in their natural environment. The horses that "ran first and fastest" survived to breed on...and that's the animal we work with today. That hardwiring is still who they are.

I like the picture above because you can see Jamaica really trying to react to input coming from both sides. Her right ear is on the trailer, but that left ear is beginning to take input from Mike, but just a little. And while she's agreed to put her front end in the "danger zone" of the trailer, she's reserving the right to keep her soft underbelly further away. She has not yet given Mike the final say in what is a threat and what is not. But this is VERY acceptable behavior AT THIS STAGE because she has not commited the super huge mistake of actually coming into Mike's space!

I wasn't able to get a great picture of Mike using his "glove stick" to move her hip into the desired position, but you can sort of see it here. Note, he is not making this a visual cue...this is definitely a "tactile" cue, one that is felt rather than heard or seen. This lays the foundation for our cue from the saddle. Horses will vary on how easily they get the idea to move away from this pressure. Some need a "swat", some need more of a "nudge" and some need a "poke. In any case, you use whatever pressure is needed to get the desired response! No more and no less! It is just as important that you reward for the tiniest move toward the desired spot. Don't wait to reward when they've moved exactly where you want them...reward for the FIRST attempt to get the right answer.

So, above, Jamaica is in lovely position with Mike. Notice that Mike has given her plenty of lead...and he's, once again...simply standing there letting her "soak in" the lesson...she obeyed his command to get in close to something she was wary of...and nothing bad happened's all good! There will be scratches and petting now too!

Here, Mike is using the handle end to "push" her over. You can see by her face that Jamaica is already paying very close attention, because she's already figured out that for certain things she does, she gets a reward. She liked the scratching and she's figured that this really isn't that hard. Mind you, not all of them are this "non dramatic". But the other 3 E Ses babies are "base line brave" so we suspected that Jamaica might be as well.

The picture above is great because it does show that even though Jamaica STILL thinks the trailer is creepy, her handler has told her to stay she's going to suck it up and do just that.

Here she's "cheating" just a little..thinking that maybe just a little step to the left would be okay, but Mike's move with his arm and the slight turn of his shoulders towards her is telling her not to do that....

And, ta dah! She's got herself in the right spot again!

So, she gets that shoulder rub again...which she's thinking feels pretty good right now!

Ear studies! Above...focused on trailer, not on Mike yet...

Now...focused on Mike!! Looks like he's giving her the "go foward cluck"!

Now...Really focused on Mike...because " want me to not only stand close to the creepy trailer, but walk next to it too"?

And a gorgeous walk forward for her level of training! Just a tiny, tiny bit of lean towards Mike's space, but a super star attempt for her!

Of course, now, we've got the open back end of the trailer and the scary black ramp...OMG! But, to her credit...her feet are in her space and not Mikes!

Going in the trailer was not on today's lesson plan, but it's here...we're here and Jamaica has asked the question of Mike..."what the heck is all this about"'s see what happens. Keep in mind that at this point, you can send your "schedule" right off the rails. If you don't have the hour that this might take to finish, you shouldn't start. But the morning is young yet, so here goes!

This is where we find out that Jamaica's "base line" is "brave and forward"! Even when really wary of the trailer (and she's probably been on before...just years ago!) she crept right on. You can see that Mike is being really tactful with the amount of pressure on the lead because we haven't covered the 'come forward off of pressure lesson" yet and you DON'T want to have that lesson at the trailer! Her backing out skills weren't great, so we did that a few times.

My favorite picture of the day! We call this look "wide eyed and puckered"...

And finally, down the aisleway to the tie up area for that grooming we promised her! This picture actually does show Mike using the stick to correct her body...she's not too sure she likes all the door fans!

And another nice example of how quickly this one "get's it"!

Next up for Jamaica....."To Tie or Not To Tie...a Very Important Question"!

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