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Nippy McNipperson

Jax and me last week.

Jax has suddenly developed a new hobby – nipping. I know where it’s coming from, and it’s actually good and bad. He and his pasturemate Harley play constantly, which in the horse world, involves a good deal of nipping.

As Jax has bonded more and more with me, he’s started being more affectionate, soliciting scratches and rubs, calling to me when he sees me, etc. And now that’s started to include some playing – and nipping.

Today’s milestone was that I was actually able to pick out his front feet (his behavior with this improved dramatically as a result of his positive hoof trim experience). We also went for a walk down by the road, and he handled a pickup loudly towing a big scary pontoon boat with only a little spook. Pretty cool. But he also tried to eat my watch, and to nip at my hand a couple of times. Mouthed the lead rope, too, and grabbed my shirt once.

The good side of this is that he’s actually feeling comfortable enough to be naughty, and is trying to play with me. The downside is that nipping is, well, nipping, and unacceptable. We had a few “Don’t bite Mommy” discussions tonight. We also worked on opening his mouth for me (without biting), and checked out the big scary orange wheelbarrow. All in all a good day, but I’ve put the barn on notice that Nippy McNipperson needs to be dealt with.

Funny pic from yesterday. After all the toys I’ve gotten the little guy, what does he choose to play with? The old collapsible traffic cones at the barn:

Just like a human kid.

He’s starting, believe it or not, to look a little less like a yak, and a little more like one cute little gelding:

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Well, second, actually, but he wasn’t conscious for the first. That one also came with his gelding, so I’m pretty glad he doesn’t remember it.

I was prepared with twitch and Ace (a tranquilizer) in order to make things as smooth as possible, but amazingly, it turned out that we didn’t need either. The credit for that goes to a great farrier, an amazing little gelding, and a friend – Diane, another boarder at the farm.

We started out in the aisle, but Mr. Jax wasn’t real happy with that idea. Laura, the farrier, suggested we move into the stall to continue. He was still a little freaked out and rammy, not aggressive at all but trying to get away. Laura took him at that point, telling me that for right now, she’d just get him used to her, and then would call me back in. She walked Jax around the stall, just getting him used to her and paying attention to her. Amazingly, she did his front feet with little trouble.

Laura trims a front hoof.
Jax is staring at me the whole time as if to say,
“MOM! She’s touching me!”

This is the first time I’ve used Laura as a farrier. Diane recommended her. Diane’s horse is an OTTB who can be a little skitchy come shoeing time, and I’ve seen how good Laura is with her. No complaints about my usual farrier, but I’ve heard from multiple sources that he isn’t always the most patient with horses who aren’t well-behaved. Dakota is a piece of cake. Jax is young, inexperienced, and uncomfortable with the process. Not one to take chances, I went with the recommendation to use Laura, since she has a lot of experience with young and challenging horses. In addition, I found out that day, she has also worked with some BLM horses. Boy am I glad I chose her.

MOM! She’s STILL touching me!

Some of the work I’ve done with Jax is channelling his energy when he gets fearful. He tended, initially, to want to bolt, so I would just steer him in a circle around me. This way, he gets to move, but he doesn’t get to bolt off or get loose. Now, he just runs himself in a little circle when he gets nervous. I think he wore a little circular path in the stall.

Laura just kept at it, bringing him back to where she wanted him, keeping his attention on her, and refocusing him when he decided to tour the stall. He still got his feet trimmed, so he learned he wasn’t going to get out of it, but he wasn’t getting ‘punished’ for being scared:

Diane held him while Laura did the back feet. The reason I did this is that Diane has more experience with young horses, knows how Laura works, and because I was anxious and didn’t want to make Jax more nervous. Horses can, and do, pick up on our anxiety, and it can make things a lot worse. I stayed outside the stall to document the event.

Great thing about my super little gelding is that not once did he get mean. He did a couple of little kicks with one of his back feet – what Laura called “a little F.U.” but nothing that was even near connecting with anyone. Once straight back, and once as if he was shaking something off his foot. This little guy doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.

After he was done, Diane’s mare came in.  Laura took care of her right outside Jax’s stall, so he could observe.  He was very interested at first, and kept looking at the mare with these wide eyes “RUN!  They’re gonna touch your feet!”  Finally, he calmed down, lost interest, and headed over to his hay bag.

I was so impressed with Laura that I had her take care of Dakota too, and have decided to continue to use her.  All in all, a very exciting day, and another great success with Jax. He really is incredible.

I think I have about 75 pictures of Jax grazing. It takes up a LOT of his time… 🙂

“Wait – was that the donkey again?”

Dakota spots me in her field and heads over.

I sat down on an overturned bucket. She leaned way in as if to ask, “What are you doing down there?” What a beautiful eye she has.

A few minutes of scratches and head rubs, and it’s back to the grass.

Big milestone with Jax today. I was outside talking with one of the other boarders, when Jax apparently heard my voice (he was out of sight down the hill in the field), whinnied, and came up to where I was. Walked straight to me and tilted his head for some scratching in his itchy spots! Best of all, when he wandered off, I called him and he came back! Later, I headed out to where he was, and he let me approach without moving away at all, multiple times, and seemed happy to graze while I hung out with him, petting him, talking to him, and tending to the itchy spots. Yay!

Really hot the last couple of days, and Jax is still shaggy, so cooling him off has been in order. Yesterday it was the sponge and bucket. Today our friend Diane helped out. And yet again, little Jax didn’t fail to impress. He was a little skitchy – some dancing around, some bolting around me in circles, but once the hose reached his chest and neck, you could see the little light bulb go off – “AAAAAAAAAHHHHH…”And then he discovered it was fun to stick his face in the spray. Goofball.

Got him hosed down almost everywhere, and then we hung out for a little while outside. He gets more affectionate every day; sought out head rubs and scratches today.

Jax after his hose-down. Handsome, isn’t he?                (Thanks, Auntie Di!)

Well, That Hurt

Today’s lessons were Intro to Jolly Ball Mega #3, and Roadtrip #2. All was going swimmingly to begin with. He started playing with the Jolly Ball a little; pulling at the cover with his teeth, pushing with his nose, and so on. After ten or fifteen minutes of that, we went for a walk.

    The barn has a double driveway; my plan was to walk down it, across, and up the other side. We only got halfway down the driveway last time; he was starting to get a little squirrely and whale-eyed, so we stopped and I let him eat a little grass before heading back. In training terms, I like to always keep him “sub-threshhold” when we’re working on things like this. Once he reacts, my energy has to be devoted to calming him, and he’s less likely to learn.

      Today, we headed down the entirety of the driveway with no nervousness whatsoever. In fact, he let out a couple of happy sighs and nuzzled me from time to time. Awesome. Then we headed the short distance along the road to the other driveway. He was doing so well that I decided to head down the road a little more. There’s a nice ten foot wide (or so) strip of lawn that runs alongside the pasture fence for a while down the road, and I thought we’d get a little more road work done. He doesn’t react to cars in the barn area, so I thought it was time to see if we could do a little work away from the barn. The road the barn is on is quiet, with only the occasional car (most of whom slow down near the farms), so it works well for this purpose.

        Enter the minis. Across the street from the farm, the neighbor has two minis, a Shetland, and a donkey. The two minis both have grazing muzzles on (they’re a little round). The little bay mini, spotting Jax, came tearing around the corner, shoving her head through the fence and whinnying to say hello.

          Apparently, to Jax, it looked like Hannibal Lechter in miniature horse form was coming through the fence to eat his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti (ffthfffthffthffthffthp).

            So much for sub-threshhold. And so, as the mini was running around in celebratory circles, bucking and jumping, Jax decided that the solution lay in going through me. Why he chose that direction, I’m not sure, but he did. I think he may have been trying to turn me around and head me back towards the barn (HOLY CRAP MOM – WE GOTTA GET OUTTA HERE!). I pushed him back to a respectful distance, and he settled a bit, nostrils flaring for a minute or two. Just as he was about to go back to eating grass, the other three showed up, and Anthony (the donkey) let loose with a lovely blast of inimitable donkey sounds.

              (THAT’S IT – WE’RE OUTTA HERE!!!) Jax went around me a couple of times, and then once again tried to either herd me back towards the barn, or go through me. Not really sure which. Anyway, I succeeded in pushing him back and turning him in a circle, but that “pop” I heard and felt was my thumb.

                Taking a quick inventory, I decided it wasn’t broken, so I calmed Jax and after about half a minute we started up the driveway for a short distance, where he could watch the minis and the donkey a little further from the road. He tried to shove me back towards the barn a couple more times (SERIOUSLY, MOM – THAT DUDE’S WEIRD), and then gave up. He went back to eating grass soon as it was determined that the mini was not, in fact, a cannibal, and Anthony the donkey was not a weanling-eating alien.

                  The trip back up to the barn was uneventful except for the growing pain in my thumb, and Jax was settled back in his stall. Picked up his feet well tonight with no kicky behavior, took some treats, and we called it a night.

                    And here I sit, ice on my most likely sprained thumb. Oh, well, no big. All in all, it actually went pretty well, Even spooked, he wasn’t completely out of control and calmed fairly quickly. He reacted well to my voice and touch, and the only casualty was my thumb.

                      Freaky small horse critters – 1. Thumb – 0.

                      O.M.G.

                      Started the day with vaccines today. By and large, no problem.  Jax was more concerned about the fly spray.

                      Dakota was a bit fussier. Not naughty; just has been a little needle-shy since all the injections during our breeding attempts last year. And HATES the Strangles vaccine, which goes up her nose. Good news is, just like last year, she blew it all over me, so looks like I won’t get Strangles either.

                      AND…Jax took treats! Woohoo! Finally found one he likes. Broke it into small pieces (we’ve been adding little bits to his food to get him used to the taste), and today he took a few from my hand.

                      We’ve also been getting used to the Jolly Mega Ball. Not afraid of it at all; just not sure what to do with it.

                      Who’s Teaching Who?

                      I am continually amazed by my little gelding.  To understand why, you really have to look at things in context.  Two months ago, the little guy was basically wild, and was virtually unhandled.  Who knows what happened to get the entire herd transported to the auction, but I’m sure it wasn’t your usual walk-the-horses-onto-the-trailer type situation.  And then the auction.  Scared horses, lights, sounds, and people.  Weaned in the auction pen.

                      Then another trailer ride (albeit with a rescue this time), another strange place, strange horses, new people.  And a month after that, another trailer ride, another new place, and more strangers.

                      And through it all, he has never once offered to do anything mean-spirited.  He’s been nervous, hesitant, confused, but always trying to do what’s asked of him.  In the two weeks since I brought Jax home, here’s what he’s accomplished:

                      • Has rather seamlessly adjusted to his new home, getting along spectacularly with Sparky and Harley, his pasturemates.  They are teaching him a great deal, and he is following Harley around every chance he gets.  Sort of like a Big Sister / Big Brother program for horses.

                      Jax and Harley, his new “big brother”

                      • Automatically moves himself out of my space most of the time.  Backs up on verbal cue, touch to the chest, and hand gesture.  (To be fair, he learned to back up at Gerda’s.  I just fine-tuned).
                      •  Picks up all four feet (most of the time).  Front feet for 3-5 solid seconds, back feet a little less but is getting a little less antsy when he does so.
                      • Leads, from both sides, reliably and calmly.  Turns when I turn, stops when I stop, with no issues 80-90% of the time.  (Again, Barbara at Gerda’s Animal Aid did the initial work here – I fine-tuned).
                      • Has started to learn to longe.  I’ve done some work with him on the end of  a long lead rope.  Just walk on, whoa, walk on.  Stop, switch direction, walk on, whoa, and so on.  But he’s caught on well.
                      • Stands for you to put his halter on with very little fussing.  Since a few days after his arrival here, he’s been turned out without a halter.
                      • Stands for me to groom him, including mane and tail.
                      • Stood for an EyeD scan today, almost without incident (he kept turning his head to see the rep when she was trying to do a straight-on head shot).  Showed absolutely no fear of the camera.  A couple of sniffs and he couldn’t have cared less.
                      • Has checked out barrels, mounting blocks, cones, jolly balls, a cat, a goat, 2 dogs, tractors, wheelbarrows, cars, and a heapload of other horses calmly and curiously.  Has listened to chainsaws, car horns, far-off rifle shots, and other strange sounds.  Most spooks have been brief and in place.

                      Jax checks out Dakota’s mounting block. It’s huge. It’s a four-step industrial thing my husband bought me as a gift.

                      A cone and a barrel – neither of which, we discovered, eat weanlings.

                      •  Learned to wear a fly mask.  And, judging by the fact that it wasn’t on his stall door yesterday, learned to take it off.
                      • As of today, stood to be sprayed for detangler and fly spray.
                      • As of yesterday, discovered a treat he liked.  Jax and Harley, his new “big brother”
                      • Has started to trust me.  Rubs his head on me, tilts his head and neck for scratches, and looks to me for cues when he’s nervous.  Has begun to be curious and even a little friendly with strangers.  Has come up to check out a couple of visitors, and even decided to interact with my husband today.  He seems a little more shy of men than women.

                      The last one takes a little bit of management.  He’s so darned cute that everyone wants to pet him.  Fortunately for me, the barn is filled with decent people who don’t push it with him. But some of my n9n-horsey friends and relatives who have visited need to be coached on how to interact with him.

                      Dakota loves everyone, and so they’re used to her standing and seeking attention, looking for treats, ducking her head for scratches.  Jax doesn’t do that as a rule.  He’s just starting to do that stuff on occasion with me and the people he sees every day.

                      But I’m learning too.  I’m continually discovering who this little guy is.  From his favorite scratchy spots, to the way he stops and considers things carefully from time to time, to his expressions, it’s a really neat experience to start figuring him out.  I have to switch approaches sometimes to teach him things.  I have to control my frustrations when we’re working.  I have to continually adjust my plan for the day to see where he’s at.  If it becomes clear that we’re not going to get to a certain point, I have to set a new goal, so that we’re always ending on a success when we end a session.

                      Jax is very intuitive; if you’re frustrated or unsure, he reacts to it.  I have to make sure that I am calm and confident.   I can’t let myself bring in the bad mood of the day when I get in the stall or ring with him.  I have to just be with him, be focused on what I’m doing.  It’s been an enlightening experience.  A couple of times, I’ve been surprised at what’s been rattling around in the back of my head during a session with him – discovering it only when I’ve been trying to figure out why things weren’t clicking.

                      He’s a real thinker, too.  More than once, I’ve adjusted a lesson to set the goal lower, ended on a good note, and come in the next day to find that the thing we struggled to make any progress with yesterday is a piece of cake today.  He thinks about things.

                      He’s honing my patience, and my ability to relax and just be.  As much as I may be teaching my little gelding, he’s teaching me, too.

                      Life is good.