Thursday, October 2, 2014


Otto has made it into his second week of being at Acer Farm. I hope he is happy here. We had to make some changes to his living arrangements this week. I had to move him to a different corral on the property.  I had planned to leave him in his "quarantine corral"  for another couple of weeks but some things warranted the change due to some safety concerns. The first incident was due to one set of neighbors. Their property is a little ways away and basically just across the pasture where his quarantine corral was. They often have parties that include a lot of yelling, drinking and  bonfires. This past weekend they decided to liven things up a bit and let off fireworks beginning at about midnight and lasting until 2 am. Surprisingly, Otto  handled it all pretty well but I didn’t get much sleep worrying he would get scared and try to go over, through or under the panels, never to be seen again or be found mangled up in the fence panels.. we mustn't forget, he is part TB!! 

The other consideration was the weather.  We went from day time high's of 80's to 50's and 60's with wind and rain. The quarantine corral doesn’t have shelter, other than a couple of trees. Let face it, he has a Missouri coat. Not exactly thick (but it is growing because I check every day...:) Since it takes a tremendous amount of calories for a horse to keep warm, especially without an adequate coat,  and considering he is on the thin side, I thought him having access to shelter would be best. At least he can stay out of the wind and rain and minimize any additional calorie burning. Atleast that was my logical thinking.

He took right to his new corral and the barn in no time.  He can also see the other horses but can’t get within reach of them.  Should he come down with some illness from his trip, I think he is still far enough away that the risk is minimal. They don't share water or feed at all.  The other geldings are also also older, have had a number of years of exposure and vaccinations and all have healthy immune systems. Under the circumstances, I kinda had to hedge my bets.  An added benefit of moving him closer is that it will help him acclimate to his new herd. He seemed so lonely all by himself and paced the fence line alot.

Now that the other geldings could get a good look at him, things were pretty interesting to watch.
The other geldings looked on ,  nickered, went around to the other side of the barn to try to get a better look,  but then lost interest within an hour and went back to their hay piles. Otto went back and forth between hiding in the barn playing a game of "you can't see me" and peeking around the corner to get a closer look himself.

Brego was the one caveat to all that.. ofcourse... He spent the first day  and a half charging the double fence line. Otto ignored him. He didn’t seem to have a clue what all of Brego’s posturing and carrying on meant.

Brego would charge the fence, ears pinned and looking like a mad dragon. Otto would just stand there staring at him.  Brego would stop at the fence, stare at him with pinned ears and bob his head up and down and paw.   If he could breathe fire, he would have . If the other horses got within 100 feet of the fenceline to see what all the fuss was about, Brego would drive them off, and then turn around and charge the fence line  at Otto again. Otto would just look at him. This went on for about 24 hours.  I had nightmares the first night that I would awake that next morning to find Otto a bloody heap in the corral should Brego be successful in busting through two fences , in his  attempt to try to kill this intruder to his herd. Brego has always been dominant but dominant in a fierce way. His mother was always dominant as well but she was subtle. Nothing subtle about Brego.

Apparently, since Brego couldn't get access to Otto, I guess he took his frustration out on JB who I thought Brego was actually getting pretty friendly with. Apparently not.  JB now has a large chunk of missing hide on his right rib cage. Poor guy. We woke the next morning to find that in their scramble, they managed to bust the fence and fling open the gate. The gate was wide open all night. I thought we would find we had 4 missing horses . That is a sinking feeling, to wake to find a gate open , in the dark of the morning. Lucky for us, they decided to stay home, thankfully.

All four gelding were in the north pasture waiting for breakfast. I am not sure what happened with JB and Brego but can probably guess. Most likely, Brego did his classic  move where he likes to corner the other horse so as to reduce any chance of the horse getting away from him and then proceed to throttle the snot out of the other horse. Such a nice boy....

On a good note,  Brego has stopped charging the fence towards Otto so apparently, he feels better about things now that he beat poor JB up. ???? JB is fine, other than  a little sore in a couple spots. There is a reason we don't put hind shoes on Brego. 

The daily routine is pretty established now with Otto, He gets his grain/beet pulp  morning , noon and evening along with as much hay as he wants. We go for daily walks, spend a few minutes hand grazing, work on ground work, walk thru and around the obstacle course, walk the fence lines, and get familiar with the property. The leading is getting better.  He still likes to shoulder into me but we are making progress.  His favorite trick is to stop and start backing up if he doesn’t like something. At this time, I am not making a huge deal out of his backing up. I just send him forward again quietly.

He doesn’t know yet he can trust me to keep him safe, so I am trying to establish that. So far, I have him walking over our  bridge obstacle, through and around various barrels, over ground poles , a tarp, etc.  In typical fashion like a lot of colts , he doesn't particularly like to go through a narrow opening between two objects. I have a large stump in the arena that I use for a mounting block and it sits about 4 feet from the fence of the arena. I worked on sending him forward through that 4 foot space in both directions. In time, this same lesson of sending him forward on his own will translate to many other things (like trailer loading) and give him the confidence he can walk through various tight spaces, like on a trail , between trees. He has pretty much already figured out the trailer loading and willingly jumps in now. 

I am starting to figure out some of his quirks and as he gets more comfortable, he is becoming more willing to challenge me but that is ok. We work through it and it will only help to establish our relationship. In case your curious, here are a few of the things we are working on :

1. Back up:
I have started teaching him to back up with a shake or wiggle of the rope while I stand in front of him, along with a cue word “back”. I also work on just backing as I stand at his shoulder and we back up together. It’s more about teaching him to follow my cues and pay attention to me. My goal is always for my horses to be “mentally”  with me. Then the physical part comes easy.  Eventually I will build on this from the ground and ask him to back over ground rails, or back in a circle , both directions. These are all great little exercise’s to work through to get him to start thinking through things while keeping things low key. It also begins to prepare him for when I do get in the saddle and ask for him to back.

2. Personal Space
Otto really likes to be in the person’s space. Some horse owners like that I guess. I don’t. It's a safety thing. Horses are big, and he is going to most likely hit 16 hands. (lets hope he stops there).  Ever try holding a horse that is in the halter, while brushing them or trying to put a saddle on and they are dancing around like a fool or blocking you with their  head or shoulder so you have to keep stepping around them??  It’s a lot nicer to have them stand quietly while I do what I need to do. They have to be comfortable standing there and letting me move from side to side , front to back. In order to begin teaching that, I have started to work on how to  ground tie. I am not actually tying him to anything. Imagine that he has an invisible box around him that he has to stay within while I move around, in or out of that box .  I start first by making sure he understand what a flag is, and teach him it is not something to fear. In Otto's case, that happened pretty quickly. My flag is a low budget  homemade version ; an old dressage whip with plastic bags taped to it that have been cut into strips. You laugh but it works! I have also used strips of tarp material instead of bags. It works equally well.  I stand about 4-5 feet away from him while he is on the lead. Initially I start with standing in front of him.  I use a rope halter with about a 12-14 foot lead rope. I let the lead rope hang straight down from his halter to the ground  and I am holding the end of the lead rope . He has to stand there (tied to the ground). I can move about  to either side, as far as my lead rope allows. The idea is that I can come in and out of his space but he can only come into my space when I ask him to with the lead rope. If he steps into me  without my asking, I use the flag (after I have already introduced it several times and he is comfortable with the idea of moving away from pressure) waving back and forth in front of him at knee level but so he can see it easily. I combine the flag cue with a wiggling the lead rope back and forth, along with me walking into him from the front in order to get him to back up to where he stepped away from. Eventually, my goal is that all I have to do is lean into his space and a light bump on the lead rope and he will step back. If he tries to leave to one side or the other, I can use the flag as an extension of my arm to block him and get him back to where I need him to be standing. It's a process but they all seem to catch on pretty quick. 

3. Walk with Me and Yes I can touch your shoulder:
Otto hates when we are walking along  with me at the shoulder. He really doesn't like it when I try to touch or lightly pat the shoulder as we are walking along. The only way to get through this is to just do it, walk, pat lightly, rub.. walk , pat lightly , rub....he is ok with the rubbing, just doesn't like the patting so we build on it.. rub rub. pat. Rub , rub , pat.... This seems like a small thing but when I go to ride him later on and have things touching him like saddle bags, or sponges hanging off him , or whatever, he needs to be comfortable with things bouncing and bumping along on him. Or going along on the trail, and something brushes his side as we pass through brush. I will do the same process for his his hindquarters and down along where my leg would be. All of it prepares him for when he is  saddled down the road . 

4. Gates and Electric Fences:
He has it figured out that the electric fence is nothing to mess with. This is good because our entire perimeter property fence is 3 strand electric. We have gates that go out to the pasture  that consist of  two wires that are electrified with handles on them.  Otto doesn’t like to get near anything resembling electric but since we do have gates,  he has to learn that when humans have him in halter, we have this magic ability to go through these gates without getting zapped.
He was pretty skeptical  at first . It required baby steps to get him ok with it. We started out  just getting as close to it as he was willing to and being able to stand there. His comfort zone was about 5 feet away from the gate. We would stand there and I would pet him and encourage him. When he relaxed a bit and seemed comfortable,  I would take a step closer to it and ask him to also take a step. He would take a step with me and then we would wait there. He would sniff and snort a bit  but he stayed there with me so I would pet him.  It went like that until I got close enough to touch the handle.  At first, I would just put my hand up towards the handle ever so briefly. He would take a step back, I would ask him forward , pet him, and wait. Try again,  only do  less this time. Move hand toward handle, and then take it back to my side before he could take a step back.  Eventually the step back became just a shift back . The key was timing here. I had to get my hand back away or off of the handle before he would get ready to leave. We built on that until eventually I could get a hold of the handle without him wanting to flee and I would pet him. The final piece was undoing the handle, which made noise that he wasn’t fond of,  and re attaching the handle  while he stood there with me. Same process, a little at a time, reward, ask again.  All in all it took about a half an hour and I was able to walk him up to the wire gate, undo it, walk through, turn around,  and reattach and Otto was able to stay there with me.

5. Foot Handling:
I won't go into a long description here but we are just making it a habit of picking up the feet once or twice a day. The hind feet are an issue so I require a second set of hands in order to work on it. He does not want his hind right touched at all because of the old injury so I do my best to pick up the foot without touching the sore area. He still argues about it. I will just keep at it.
** the injury seems to be staying the same , no major changes to it but he does continually catch it with the other hoof when he runs, which causes a big reaction from him. Obviously it hurts when he bangs into it. He is very gangly when he runs right now which is part of the problem.I am almost positive that is exactly how he injured it in the first place. In time, he will get stronger and hopefully grow out of this. I may have to put on bell boots or something to keep him protected once he is turned out full time . 

I think we are off to a good start and we figure out a little more about each other every day.  He is such a blank slate and sometimes I forget it's not Maggie or JB on the end of the lead rope. On one hand its nice , on the other, it's an adjustment and a shifting of how I approach things. I always have to be prepared for things to go a little south , or to help him figure something out that is new. When your handling horses that have years and years and miles and miles, its easy to become complacent.  You kind of take things for granted.  I haven’t had a youngster for a number of years. So little things that I haven't really given much thought to are now things I have think about, like walking through a gate, or walking by something scary and new. How is he going to respond? How am I going to keep him safe as well as myself? Maggie had her issues but she was never a spooky horse. I would like to attribute that to her groundwork but being a Morgan probably helped alot. I hope I can make Otto just as confident.

We have many adventures ahead I am sure. My goal is that by the time I saddle him, he will have been exposed to most everything so once I am in the saddle, he already has the confidence to deal with multiple situations. That will make the first few months of being in the saddle so much easier.

Thanks for reading!

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