Desensitization

Yesterday I took Natty and Chance back to the indoor arena. I let them get the initial excitement worked out by running around and bucking wildly until they calmed down and came back to me. On the very first buck, Natty nailed Chance with a big old kick. I was afraid he would be really injured, but I think she got him on the meatiest part of his big old butt, luckily. He isn’t limping and I couldn’t find any swelling or sensitive areas, so I guess he’s ok. Scary moment for me though! Anyway, they really stretched their legs and enjoyed running and playing for awhile, and then they came back to me. I was standing outside the arena for safety, but Natty came right up to the wall in front of me for petting and reassurance. I practiced with her on voice commands and listening to me for awhile by asking her to trot and jogging with her outside the fence. She did really well – a few times she broke into a canter, and then I slowed to a walk and asked her to trot again, and she figured it out really quickly. We did several laps at a trot. She’s wonderful about staying right with me – almost as if I’m the other half of her driving team or something. Then, since I’m out of shape and can’t jog long, I started doing things that might make noise or scare her. I opened and closed all the doors – everything in the barn is metal, so there are metal sliding stall doors that make a metallic clank when they close and latch, and then there are some metal doors that swing open on the grain room and bathroom, and there is another really large sliding metal door on the blanket room. I opened all these, let her look inside, and closed them again. Then I went into the grooming area and swung and rattled the cross-ties and went into the washrack and sprayed the hose (the only scary thing in all of it). As she was walking around with me from place to place, she was hanging her head over the wall to check out other stuff – she looked over the stools set outside the arena (I climbed up on one so I was standing high above her), the saddle stand across from the cross-ties, the trashcan, the muck buckets, the wires that help hold the gates up, etc. She also sniffs around in the footing when I bring her in – I think she’s checking to see who else has been there (and also she rolls in the arena which is a no-no but oh well). Oh, and she looked over the mounting block really carefully from all sides this time. When it was time to go back outside, I took her out a different gate that we haven’t used before. Chance didn’t follow right away, so we had to turn around and go back to the gate for him – and let me tell you Natty barely made the turn in the aisle! This is a big horse who is not very flexible! But we finally got turned around, Chance saw the way out, we turned yet again, and then we walked across the barn in front of the cross-ties, blanket room, grain room, bathroom, washrack, and exited on the far side. Natty was actually really curious about all this – she stopped and looked into the cross-ties, but then she picked up a rag that was sitting on a stool and scared herself with the waving rag (that kept waving after she dropped it since it had a long way to fall) and then she was more ready to go out and not wanting to examine anything else too closely. I think it’s really good for her to check out all this stuff while it’s calm and quiet – there were only 2 horses inside yesterday, so she was able to really look around without being distracted by the strangers. I’m thrilled to see how well she responds to me even when she’s loose in the big scary arena and I’m outside it. Oh, and Chance just tags along like a little champ and isn’t bothered by anything!

On the grooming front, Natty has been really good this week. I’ve been putting flyspray on her every day – she is totally fine when I wipe it on her face with the sponge and doesn’t try to pull away at all, and when I spray her body she sometimes dances to the side on the first spray but after that stands really still for the rest (although her whole body is tense so I can tell she’d really like to just take off). I was also able to brush her some this week – shoulder, back, and sides. She danced around a little until she backed herself into a corner, and then she held still. I just brushed a tiny bit more once she was behaving and then rewarded her and let her go. Ending on a positive note is much more important than having a cleaner horse! I was also able to use the hoofpick on one front hoof this week, which I don’t normally do. She is making so much progress now that Chance is older!

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