Tuesday, January 25, 2011

training trash

Last night as I squeezed the last drop of vodka out of the plastic, recyclable, and soon to be multitasking, bottle into the stainless shaker, I remarked “oh boy, another horse training tool.” That, perhaps, would not have been everyone’s thought as they prepare a martini, but it was for me as I am just beginning the long road with another young horse, towards its getting to be a useful citizen. To that end I use any, and everything, to desensitize the beast before I step into the stirrup for a first ride, and that definitely includes, but is not limited to, plastic vodka bottles.

The approach is to systematically introduce all sorts of potentially scary stuff to the horse and have it react, find no real danger, and then learn to quickly shrug off stimuli without hysterics, i.e., not run away, buck, kick, rear etc. Some folks might regard my tools as trash, but I call them training materials. When I start new youngsters to all of this, my barn is cluttered with plastic vodka bottles, some filled with water and some with pebbles in them, plastic sacks, towels, feed bags, whatever will make noise, flap unexpectedly, and startle the horse when it moves.

These items are hung off of the surcingle with hay ropes, and they hang passively until moved. When the horse moves off, and these things do their job, either by visual or aural stimulation combined with these things physically bumping the horse, it learns, gradually, that if it stops, then these scary things also stop. This is a critical lesson for the fright and flight mentality that horses are inherent to, and this can potentially save a dangerous situation later on when under saddle. So I collect all sorts of trash and use it creatively to this end. The fact that the vodka requires being consumed before the bottle can become a useful item for the barn, demands a diligence to a worthy cause.

With the leaving of two of my herd last week, to new owners’ homes far away, the barn has quieted in its feeding routine, and yesterday I actually enjoyed this new gap in my responsibilities, and found time to work the two older mares and the young filly, Cistine. It was a nice soft day in January, and a skim of clouds kept the light a bit hazy with no shadows, and let in just enough sunshine to warm it to a fairly comfortable temperature. As I rode the horses in the dressage arena, the dog pack all laid motionless in the brown grass in front of the barn, inanimate basking lumps of fur.

Mark had chuckled at my comment the other day that I am now down to, an almost all time low number, in the herd, to only seven horses. In the past years of my breeding, training, and running this farm the herd size has usually ranged from 9 to 12 horses at a time here, keeping me quite busy. This amount of work was fine a few decades and a few injuries ago, but both have left me with a whole lot less enthusiasm for keeping the pace up. Right now I feel the release from a lot of it and it does feel like a lighter load, even at the herd’s number being seven of them still.

Rain moved into the area last night and was falling steadily this morning when I woke. Getting the motivation to get out of bed was a bit hard, but I could smell the coffee in the kitchen and finally I roused to see what the day would bring. I had been waiting on such a rainy day to attack something in the house as I had been feeling the need to purge this overstuffed house, and that included my closet, the pantry, the attic, and the whole place in general. There was just too much stuff, everywhere. Undecided where to begin, I opened the door to the pantry to get something and the entire stash of tea bags and boxes all fell out onto the floor, and so there it was, my first victim, the pantry.

My pantry is a large set of cabinets with many deep shelves, which tend over time, like a decade or two, to hide things in its deep recesses. Things migrate too, from their designated area, leading me to believe that I am actually out of said item, and I buy another to replace it. The things that are hiding tend to stay there for many years without notice, until I finally can’t stand not knowing what is in there past the first few inches of viewable canned goods. I began at the bottom shelf on the left, pulling everything out and I began to take back my pantry.

After it was all said and done, tidy and well organized again, I drew several conclusions. First there is no amount of pantry space that will remain empty for long. There is a phenomenon just like with coat hangers, that sets certain items to replicating. I will not ever, ever, need to buy any more Progressive bread crumbs, Old Bay seasoning, Lipton tea bags, Worcestershire sauce, and no more bags of dried beans. My supply is well loaded there. The second conclusion was that on my next life I will build a walk in pantry with shallower shelves so that I can see what the heck is in there.

It was nice to get an idea of the inventory again tho, and it felt good to see such organization again. The garbage can was full of food items from the last century, and the stuff that I knew I was never going to use or eat, like the starter mix for some weird soup that was in there, that I have no idea where it came from, and the fusion/raspberry sauce that made my nose gag when I smelled it. The better news was a few items actually made it to the training trash status, and no doubt will come in quite handy in barn world.

The rain has gone for a while and the humidity is turning the afternoon into a soft gray fog. Red Shoulder hawks are screaming outside in the swamp area below the house and my dog pack is giving a good impression of being tired and sleepy critters, all laying around my chair here. I know that in a few minutes, however, when I get up and make the slightest move towards my barn shoes, they will instantly, once again, spring to full life and begin the barking and howling that begins our ritual walk to the barn for afternoon feeding.

And, ready, set, here goes…tomorrow the closet gets it.

below is another of my poor bewildered horses going thru training trash 101:

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