Monday, December 29, 2008

Summer 2008: Playtime!

So as we continued to work at getting Bucky going under saddle, we can't help but notice - this horse has an amazing play-drive. He plays with *everything*! He has the usual likit's and jolly balls that he plays with on a daily basis, along with anything else moveable in his paddock. It is not unusual to have to hunt for his feed pan (in Lady's paddock) and his jolly ball (in the hay field) on any give day. He will also play with tarps, kiddie pools, blankets, grain bags - anything left in his paddock.

We also bought him a large "yoga" ball to herd / play with. I was hopeful this would give us a good foundation for cattle work someday. He certainly liked it, he also destroys them frequently so can't be left unsupervised with a large ball. You can see video of him playing with his ball at these links (its pretty amazing): bucky playing ball one and two.

May 2008: Bucky's Big Adventure . . .

So with Heidi's blessing I decided to take Bucky to a Jon Ensign "colt starting" clinic in Guilford, VT. Laurie Bayer (of Starfish Farm) and I made plans to load Bucky onto her trailer early in the morning to make sure we would get to the clinic in time. Although Laurie had graciously trailered Bucky home for us the previous summer, neither of us knew how he would trailer. I practiced walking Bucky through all the scary places I could think of in our yard, over and under tarps and sheets, building his confidence. The big morning arrived, and after having my share of trailer-shy showhorses growing up I think I was more nervous than Bucky. But he loaded like a pro - stopped, looked inside and then walked right on.

At the clinic Bucky was a star, we had worked on most of the groundwork already and he was great. Being a very sensitive horse though and a little "forgetful" at times, it helped to desensitize him again all over to the flag and ropes. Sometimes I start to think, "Bucky we've done this 10 zillion times, aren't you over it?" I asked Jon about this and he said, "You just have to keep doing it." I once told Sonny I thought it took about 27 times to get Bucky used to something and he laughed. Sometimes when he sees me headed to the barn with one of our training aids (flag, hula hoop, tarp, etc) he'll ask me what # time it is.

Wow, a real cowboy! Jon and Bucky, look how attentive he is!

Bucky really struggled with the plastic bag near his legs, but we continue to work at that. He was great for saddling and even basic riding in the roundpen. He learned to "bump the fence" easily and will siddle right up to it for desensization exercises and mounting. Its a great exercise because you can get the horse used to scary stuff (tossing a rope for example) at riding height without getting thrown off.

Bucky stayed at Heidi's overnight and was very well behaved, but we missed him at home! (Well Sonny and I did, maybe not Lady Byrd). Bucky had a great first-time-away-from-home experience thanks to a great group of horse people. And for me it was a great experience and showed me that Bucky actually has lots of potential as a riding horse.

Spring 2008: Getting serious . . .

As Bucky started to shed out his winter coat, I realized we actually has a real horse under that cute little rescue-pony. He really filled out and started looking very stock / Quarter-Horse like. He also grew about 2" and gained 75# since his arrival. We continued our groundwork and started lunging and introduced (scary scary!): the Western saddle.

I spent a few weeks just saddling and un-saddling him until he stopped snorting. Then I put him on the lunge line, and he lived up to his name, bucking and carrying on. So we went back to saddling, walking a few steps and un-saddling, keeping it positive. One of the most important things I learned (and am still learning!) from Heidi is to reward good behavior with release of pressure. Even the *smallest* try. For example: in getting Bucky to walk over a tarp, I would apply gentle pressure on his halter to ask him to walk forward, as soon as he *thinks* about walking forward and lifts a foot in the right direction - instant release of halter pressure. He hasn't walked on to the tarp, but he was doing the right thing. It is amazing how quickly Bucky picked up on things when taught this way. And in no time, without any fuss he was walking over the tarp.

Bucky on the lunge with the scary western saddle. He really had to think about this - look at his ears!

I should mention that we checked Bucky's back and saddle-fit to make sure it was not causing him pain. It just took him quite a while to get over this big, noisy, creaking contraption on his back. So his progress continued and eventually I got on his back - this time in a Western saddle! The second time on him, he had a very minor bucking fit, then I decided to get off after he quit bucking and he decided to help me off - ouch! I would have been fine had the saddle horn not caught the inside of my thigh on the way off.

So with all our progress I asked Heidi, "Do you think people would laugh at me if I took him a clinic?". She laughed and said no, so plans were made for Bucky'sbig adventure!

Fall / winter 2007: Training Bucky. . .

I took the task of training Bucky very seriously. In all of my dealings with horses at work, some of the saddest cases to me are young, well bred, beautiful horses with no manners or training. With so many horses in need of homes, you know that these ones will someday be in jeopardy. While their current owner may not care about thier lack of training (or the safety of anyone working on the horse), horses change hands A LOT and an untrained horse quickly will loose value and end up at auction or worse. So I was determined that Bucky would be well trained.

The basics were easy, he had a great foundation from Gina at Spring Hill and was eager to learn. We did daily grooming, picking up hooves and haltering with no problems. He was very quiet to ride bareback with a rope halter and knew to turn his head to pressure and halt (sometimes!). It took some time to get him used to a saddle though and he much preferred the english saddle, so silly as it looked thats what we started him in.

Bucky Sept 2007, his face says it all . . . he's just tolerating this nonsense!

I decided at this point that to give Bucky a good education we needed professional help . . . so I called Heidi Potter from Maple Ridge Stables. She helped us through some natural horsemanship exercises to develop a working relationship from the safety of the ground. Bucky learned to walk, halt, reverse and trot in a circle and on the lead responding to lightest of requests. (Like a deep sigh to prepare for halt). He was a great student and loved the time we spent together, he learned to come to be haltered and lower his head. He would point an ear back and look at me to await his next cue. We also worked on touching him all over, and finding the softest cue required to get the desired response.

That's a happier pony! Bucky coming right over to start the day's lesson.

It was also about this time Bucky started getting really fresh, all his good care and nutrition caught up with him and he discovered, "Hey I'm a 3 year old!". We ended up having to seperate the paddock so that he would stop harrassing Miss Lady Byrd (our 30 yr. old Morab). Although he was intended to be her companion, he was really making her miserable. They had stalls side by side and still touch noses over the fence, but she was fed up with him chasing her through the snow.

Lady Byrd says, "Seriously, kid?!" Shortly after this Bucky got his own paddock.

Summer 2007: Bucky arrives home . . .

Bucky arrived and fit in well with our little backyard herd. "Flash" who we had borrowed to keep our old mare company went home and we were left with a 30 year old Morab and Bucky, our 3 year old mutt pony. Bucky got a makeover when he arrived. His parrot mouth was quite severe and required multiple floatings to get him chewing hay normally, he got a bath and deworming as well.

This is Bucky his first week home, definitely not the poster child for good confirmation.

I started thinking . . . hmm will he grow? Will his back even out? Will he ever be big enough to ride? What had we gotten ourselves in to? With low expectations I resolved to train him the best I could so whatever he grew into he could be a useful horse for someone.

His teeth also continued to be a concern, after consulting with a few of my veterinary colleagues, I decided to try reducing the upper incisors and regularly removing the upper premolar hooks to see if we could get a better occlusion. I won't bore you with the details, but you can see Bucky's dental photos on the VT NH Vet Clinic website. It worked well and although he'll never have a pefect smile, after a few floatings Bucky was chewing normally and gaining weight!

So now to continue his training, I had lots of horse experience and had even started a few horses under saddle, but had no formal training in training.

I don't know who looks more worried, me or Bucky . . . who's training who here?

Summer 2007: How we met Bucky . . .

After we finished building our modest barn, we needed an equine companion for our retired Morab mare, and a friend suggested Spring Hill Rescue in Clarendon, VT. With an older trained mare in mind we set out to visit Gina and her horses in July 2007. As soon as Gina met us she said, "You're little, you should check out Bucky . . ."

I have always had a soft spot for buckskins and had been looking for one, but was trying to keep an open mind and get a sensible, trained, older horse in need of a home, instead of selecting a new horse based on appearance or color.

As soon as we met Bucky, we were knew all sensibility was out the window. . .

This is Bucky the first day we met him, following close behind us as we toured the rescue and met the horses.

So we went home to talk and think about it, we had also met a perfectly sensible older Appendix QH mare and then there was Bucky. He was too little and too young and too green . . . but he had stolen our hearts. We went back on August 5 (my birthday) to finalize his paperwork and he was delivered to us the next day.

This is me at the rescue the sitting on Bucky for the first time, he was calm and well mannered.

Gina and her daughter did an amazing job of starting him with groundwork and under saddle so it was no big deal to sit on his back. His willing and calm temperment convinced me that we had made the right choice and he would be a great training partner.

We learned more of Bucky's story from Gina, this is from the Summer 2007 SHHR newsletter:

"It's been fairly busy so far this year. We got a sweet little buckskin colt in around the first of the year. He was emaciated with severe edema (swelling) in all four legs, infested with lice, had a fuzzy matted coat and his front teeth had a gap and stuck out. Being a buckskin and having bucked teeth, guess what name he fell into? Bucky! With good nutrition and lots of love Bucky pulled through the winter and is now up to his natural weight. In fact he is completely off grain and gets free choice hay and grazes like all of the other healthy horses. This spring we had him gelded and wouldn't you know he just lost his buck teeth and two straight adult teeth have come in:-) Bucky shed his ragged mattes and he now sports a beautiful rich shiny golden coat...truly a diamond in the rough. Bucky is about 3 yrs old and I think he'll mature to around 14.2 hh. I've started him on a driving harness and under saddle—what a wonderful student he's been. He'll be great for a small adult and children when he's had more training."

This is a photo of Bucky that Gina showed us from when he first arrived at the rescue, poor little buckskin!