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22.6.13: Major breakthrough with Alegria PDF Print E-mail

22.6.13: Allegria's breakthrough!




A change of scenery




Over the summer, the Sorraia Mustangs are coming up to the stables in pairs and small groups for some more intensive handling, and to get them used to the idea of the stables. In the case of illness, injury or even foaling problems, we may have to bring them inside at some point, so we want to make sure they are comfortable with the domestic environment, even it if isn't their usual home.


Levada and Baika were the first two, and Baika's is now much easier to catch and handle. She'll be going back into the group as soon as the vet has come to do her teeth and microchip her. He tried last week, but she wouldn't stand still for the sedation - so now we're practicing pretending to stick needles in her!


Levada is already back in the group and has been replaced in the stables by Alegria. Initially, Tocara came with her, but as Alegria settled down very quickly, Tocara went back to the group after a couple of days, and Alegria and Baika are in neighbouring "stables". When I say "stables", they are not a "stable" in the usual sense. Alegria is in a section of the open stabling that is roped off - so she has plenty of room to move around, and Baika is in an area roughly equivalent to 3 or 4 regular "boxes", with a further outside "paddock".


Allegria's new attitude


Alegria had shown a much better attitude in the few days before the move, but since being in the stables, she's like a new horse.


She came up to the stables on Wednesday - Claudia had already switched them over before I arrived - so, with no inclination to ride or do anything outside in 35°C of heat, I set to work on Alegria in the cool of the open stable. Although I could approach and stroke her much more easily, she was still very wary about the rope, so I just kept looping it over her shoulders. The first few times she skittered away, but as there isn't as much room as in the round pen, she couldn't run quite as wildly, and although it fell off a couple of times, I just kept putting it back, and eventually she chose a "safety corner" next to Baika and went and stood there. This is where corners can be quite handy: because of the shape of the area it was relatively easy to direct her attention back into the "comfort corner" if she started to leave.


I stood there with her and stroked her to make it a comfortable place, and found I could stroke all along her back, over her neck and her face without her reacting, and I could run the rope backwards and forwards along her sides.


This was the first stage, just getting her comfortable with the rope around her neck and being stroked all over. After a while I could even stroke under her belly and down her legs - areas that had been completely "no go" before.


Then I picked up the ends of the rope, so there was a loop around her neck and stroked her neck.  I was cautiously optimistic. Se seemed very settled, but we have got this far before, albeit not so quickly, and the deal breaker was always when I ask her to give to the pressure of the rope and step towards me.


Lo and behold, after a few "lean against the rope" attempts, she got the idea and stepped towards me.


It took a little while for her to get the idea of "following a feel" on the rope. Every time until now, although I could move her head to look at me, she bolted if I asked for a step with her feet.


Going step for step we went for our first "walk" - about 2 meters around the corner - you can see how far we went from the small pile of droppings! It took a good 5 minutes, but it was calm and considered - so a major success!


Once she understood "following the feel" to the side, it didn't take long to convert that into forwards movement.


Emboldened by our adventure of getting around the corner, we tried some more steps forwards, and were soon going for a "long walk" all around the stable!


I stroked and rubbed her all over - then the icing on the cake - she even picked up her left fore for me!


This is really a HUGE step for Alegria. Leading is one thing, allowing her ability to escape to be compromised in this way is quite another. This shows a real turnaround in her attitude towards me.


Yesterday I repeated the process, and even managed to put a regular rope halter on her, and get a few steps on the halter. Today, I'm hoping to be able to put a rope on the halter and start on proper leading!


This is such an exciting time. After 6 months of 3 steps forwards and 2 steps back, and many days when I wondered whether I was missing something completely, or was going about it all the wrong way, we finally seem to be "getting through".


Other lessons


Something else that has become very clear in the last few weeks in particular is that the Sorraia Mustangs don't generalise their experience with one person to other people in the way that domestic horses usually do. While Levada and Baika were in the stables, they were turned out in the grass field one day. I went to get them in, and caught Baika with no trouble at all - but spent over an hour trying to get Levada. Initially, I had just been putting the rope around her neck, when a fly went up my nose and I sneezed. She startled and ran - and that was it. I couldn't get near her again. Then Sabine, who has handled Levada since she arrived, tried - she caught Levada with no problem at all, but couldn't get near Baika. Although this can happen with domestic horses, it seems to be much stronger in the Sorraia Mustangs who seem to treat each new person as a whole new scenario every time. We've seen quite a few examples of this pattern now, and we will have to be careful to make sure that each person who will be handling them starts from a "square 1" position. I expect that, as in domestic horses, as patterns are repeated over and over they will generalise more and more - so the overall behaviour will be similar to domestic horses, but it will take a bit longer. However, both Levada and Alegria have shown me that they see things their own way - so I keep an open mind!



Many thanks to Claudia for the photos!


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