Yesterday, I had a day off before going back to work for another four days. (I work an odd schedule. I work four, ten hour shifts per week which means that some weeks I will work 6 days in a row and other weeks I will have four days off in a row.) Anyway. I was planning on taking Rocky out, doing some groundwork and then hopping on for a quick ride.
When I went out to get him, he had his nose buried in hay. He greeted me, then went back to eating with the apparent hope that I would allow him to finish his meal. As I went to move him off the hay, Ella walked over to say hello. Her eyes were bright and she seemed to say, "You came here for me, right?"
My plan was to start working with her next Tuesday, when I have several days off in a row and the lessons would have a better chance of sticking with her. Rocky's absorption in food and Ella's eagerness for human contact changed my mind, and I slipped Rocky's rope halter over her head. It was a little big, but I tied it off so it sat correctly on her face. She came with me without hesitation, until we got to the gate. Then she seemed a little unsure of herself, and needed guidance to know that she should turn around outside of the gate so I could close it.
I took her to the round pen, and Ella made soft snorty sounds as we walked. Her tendency was to want to crowd me, warning me that if she were to get scared she would likely try to climb into my lap. I urged her gently into her own space. I let her go in the round pen for a few minutes on her own. She snorted, bucked, and moved around the space, spooking herself at the same place three times in a row. Her yearling antics were fun to watch. She tested the fence, nibbled at stray grass that poked up around the pen's posts through the snow, trotted with high steps before throwing a buck and running across the pen, only to stop and smell the ground again.
Once she seemed to accept the boundaries of the space, and lost some of her wide eyed look, I entered the pen. My plan is to start slow and basic, keeping the lessons simple.
We started with Ella moving in the direction I point, and to continue moving that direction unless I specified otherwise. She spent a lot of her time looking out of the round pen, but within a few minutes she was starting to get the idea. I began by pointing to the right, waiting a few seconds, then clicking while pointing, waiting a few seconds, and finally snapping the lunge whip against the ground. The first five times or so that I asked for her to move out, she ignored my pointing and vocal commands completely.
After that, she started to turn her head so the outside of her eye could see me. It was beginning to occur to Ella that this two legged thing was not going to leave her to her own devices, and was instead insisting that she move in a specific direction. I did not make any effort to control the speed she moved at, only the direction her feet were moving. Sometimes she scooted off because I ended up snapping the whip directly behind her butt before she would go. Other times she slid off at a walk after the first sound of the whip from the center of the round pen.
Ella liked to stop to smell a pile of manure on one side of the pen, and then stare out of the pen at her pasture just across the barn yard. On the opposite side from her pasture, she would cut across the round pen and consider coming in to me. I directed her feet to keep going when she would get stuck somewhere, and only asked that she stay at least the lunge whip length away from me when she cut across the pen.
After she followed my direction based on only my point-and-click, I invited her to come in to me by turning around and walking away from her. She immediately came off the fence, smelled the ground and then went to stare off at her pasture mates- who, by the way, were all staring back at her. I let her breathe for a minute, then went back to asking her to go to the right.
She responded better, still needing the occasional sound of the whip to motivate her but starting to figure out that she has two chances to go before the whip would come out. Ella walked off after I pointed, and I invited her again to come to me. This time, she came halfway across the round pen to me and stopped, watching me. She let me approach her and I rubbed her neck on both sides, praising her for listening so well. Her skin was warm under her thick winter coat, almost to the point of getting sweaty. Her breathing was harder than usual, blowing in hot streams on my hands.
For her, she had gotten a lot of exercise. She had played around in the pen before I asked anything of her, and then had walked, trotted, and occasionally cantered of her own volition but in the direction I wanted. As a now-former pasture puff, her time in the round pen with me was hard work.
I stopped rubbing her neck, took a few steps away from her, and crooked my finger while clicking. She didn't know what I meant but, being the friendly filly she is, took the invitation and walked up to me again. I clipped the lead rope back to her halter, and that was the end of her round penning session.
I walked her through the barn, which she blew at uneasily. I stopped and let her stand to look around several times. Her eyes were wide but she followed me with minor hesitation. Ella was then brought to a tie ring, where I let her stand tied for about half an hour. I got Rocky and fiddled around with him while keeping an eye on Ella to make sure she didn't hurt herself or loosen her lead rope too much.
She pawed at the ground, whinnied to nearby horses, and once pawed with such a big step that she put her foot over the bottom tape of the arena that she was tied next to. She reared, scooted back a step and was free of the arena tape. Ella stood blowing with her head up, waiting for someone to do something. When she discovered she was unhurt, still tied, and that no one was coming to "save" her, she looked distinctly disappointed.
I caught her cocking a hind leg in relaxation a few times, but as soon as she saw me coming to release her she began to paw again. Ella earned her freedom from the tie post out of luck, as the stallion on the property needed to be brought in and I was asked to move her. She walked nicely back to the pasture, but made the mistake of whinnying at her pasture mates on the way. I had her back up a few steps, taking it slow so she could decipher what I was looking for her to do.
Overall, her first day went very well. She seems interested in learning, and is much calmer about the process than she should be considering her lack of handling. Here's hoping the rest of her training continues as successfully as her first day! I'm curious to see how much she remembers when I take her out on Tuesday.