As I watch Bonnie go from scared to confident I’ve been thinking about her feelings. Natural horsemanship programs talk a lot about how the horse feels about what we are doing. Are they engaged, connected and responsive or do they feel like we are doing things TO them? That is the question I ask myself every time I DO anything with Bonnie.

Don’t get me wrong. There are times I just have to do something to her so we can get something done. For instance if we are walking and she starts to have a little temper tantrum about the walking, then I will show her that her temper tantrum takes more energy than the walking. If you were watching this exchange I’m sure it would look like I’m doing something to her and not with her. And I know that she feels that way sometimes, but when she finds neutral again she immediately calms, finds relaxation, licks and chews and will even trot out and lead us down the road.

However there are many more times that I can help her through an issue by listening to how she is feeling and then waiting. Every single time I wait she will calm down and I can continue on. That did not happen at first! She gave me very few green lights. I started to get frustrated and knew that wasn’t going to help either one of us so I contacted my favorite Parelli Instructor and in so doing found out that we had actually moved forward by leaps and bounds! It’s funny how things can look so different when you are standing in the middle of it all. Obviously she had made changes and so had I… I just couldn’t see them until I made a video!

Today I gave the girls a bath. This was Bonnie’s second bath with me. Her first bath was all drama, running around in circles, snorting and striking at the water, spreading her legs wide and trying to leap away, sometimes leaping on ME! I would wait and give her time to think, but as soon as the water came near again she was on the move! That day I did not get frustrated and just took my time, but didn’t feel that we made any head way by the end. She did not get on board with my idea at all! Today everything was different! She stood quietly… not always calmly but she was actively searching for that calm feeling. She did not try to run away, she did not walk on me, she did not leap around. She. was. awesome. I swear I nearly burst with pride for her! She let me spray and spray her, I sprayed her legs, her belly, her girly area, her back, her butt, high up on her neck by her face and her chest. Everything. She took it all in stride.

As I was bathing her I was thinking about how I’m sure she has had other baths in her life, before me. But the difference between those baths and the two she has had with me is that I was thinking about her feelings the whole time. I was trying to help her find peace and calmness within the bath. I was rewarding every try and every time she was calm. When you go about these simple tasks with that in mind it’s amazing how the horse will change and how much faster you can get through these simple tasks!! It’s so much easier to help a horse find calmness than to argue with them every time you need to give them a bath. Or spray them with fly spray. By the way. She stands perfectly every time I spray her with fly spray. I can spray her legs, her belly, her back, her neck… every where!!

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I had to put this one in! I love Sky’s face!!! She is always putting her nose up by my cheek so I can kiss it. Adorable.

All four ponies have been so dirty. They are all itchy and were in need of a bath! So I hooked my hose up to the washing machine water so I would have warm water and lined them all up.

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Everyone was so patient waiting for their turn. Sky was the best about it all. I also clipped up her mane as it was heavy and thick. I thinned it for her and then bathed her. She likes to be pretty.

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On the left is Sky’s before Crypto Aero feed photo taken on May 23rd. On the right is Sky today, 52 days after I started her on it!

Then I bathed Bonnie. She did great! She had her moments, but was a really good girl. She’s been having some issues so I have her on an oiling regiment. After her bath I oiled her up. She smelled so good.

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On the left is Bonnie’s before Crypto Aero feed photo. This is the photo I saw when I knew I had to bring her home! On the right is her after 43 days on the feed.

Next up was Zorro. It was his first bath. He was awesome! He was curious and a little gentleman about the whole thing.

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Photo on the left is Zorro before the Crypto Aero and the photo on the right is after 52 days of being on the feed!

Last up was Captain Planet! He is a good boy too. He wasn’t sure at first and then settled right down when the water spraying him was warm and not cold. I’m telling you, they appreciate the extra effort and I think they are cleaner when warm water is used!

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Photo on the left is Captain Planet before starting the Crypto Aero feed, the photo on the right is after 52 days on the feed!

The ponies are all looking so great on the Crypto Aero feed! I’m thrilled with it. It’s so easy, no mixing this and that for one pony and a different set of supplements for another. They all have access to loose white salt, fresh water and forage 24/7.

The girls have started walking with me in the mornings. I walk my dog about 4-6 miles a day. The girls are just starting so I’ve shorted my walk to about 2-2 1/2 miles. We’ll work up to 4-6 miles plus trotting poles! Then I’ll restart Sky in cart. Once she is driving again we can do miles and miles of trotting and Bonnie can tag along behind the cart and get exercise as well.

The boys run around all the time. Zorro is very active and pushes Captain into playing. They are so much fun to watch and get lots of exercise too!

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Tonight Bonnie and I had a lovely play session. It was short and sweet, just the way we like them!

I focused on staying very calm and centered in my body first and foremost. I’ve noticed that Bonnie really doesn’t like to be touched so I figured the Friendly Game was a good place to start. If my hand offends her, I thought I would start with the stick and give her a little more room. She responded beautifully to this! Her ears were forward most of the time and she was really thinking and responding. Most importantly she was not REACTING!! I was so thrilled.

We moved onto playing with the bridge. Bless her, she thought I wanted her to jump it, so I kept it positive and didn’t reward for the jump, but kept smiling and using my “bridge” word which is “Good.” I decided to get her to look at the bridge a bit and placed a bunch of carrots there. I also wanted to work on getting her to see me pointing and begin to understand that when I point something is going to happen and it’s always good. Finally with lots of encouragement she began to understand that there were carrots ON the bridge and all she had to do was eat them. It was fascinating how long it took her to understand this! Sky understood immediately and ate many of the carrots. So funny! Once Bonnie started to look for my pointing finger she started to crunch up the carrots quickly. When she had this we walked away from the bridge and went to jump a log a few times.

I started to introduce her to the driving game and with a bit of encouragement she was starting to understand my intention of moving away from the pressure versus when I was playing the friendly game and she could just hang out. This pony is SMART.

When we went back to the bridge, she tried to jump it once and then I saw the light bulb come on and she put a foot on it instead! Whoot Whoot!! I asked her to get off the bridge and then to come back up and in a short time she offered BOTH front feet all by herself. JACKPOT! She got a handful of cookies for that.

We walked away from the bridge and I took off her halter. She politely turned her head for a couple of carrots. I put the halter and stick on the ground and went to move the bridge as I noticed there was a lot of grass growing under it, Bonnie was standing with the halter and stick and string, just investigating them. She nibbled on the stick some and nudged the halter around. She walked on all of it with her front feet and then finally came to see what I was doing with the bridge. Talk about a happy ending!!! I love when my horse stays with my and the equipment instead of hurrying away at the end of a session.

Smart smart Bonnie!

Today was worming day. I don’t like to worm very often, but both Captain Planet and Zorro have been vigorously rubbing their butts on the fences. They have permanent “blue butt” from the fence grease staining their bums. I am going to give baths today or tomorrow as well, but started with worming.

My main goal (besides getting the wormer INTO the ponies) was to walk away without having hurt any feelings or made anyone mad.

I waited until they were done with their feed. They each have their own feed area since they all eat at different speeds. Captain Planet thinks all the feed should be his as does Sky, so it’s just easier on everyone if they have their space.

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I went in with a halter and the wormer and one at a time, went down the line and wormed them! Captain Planet wasn’t too excited for me to put the wormer in his mouth, but he didn’t do much to avoid it. I just waited for him to settle and then slipped it into the corner of his mouth. He just stood there and allowed it so I squeezed some into him and then spent some time rubbing his forehead. He was calm when I took his halter off and stood to watch me worm Zorro.

Zorro didn’t want the plastic wormer to touch his mouth at first, but then when he found it didn’t hurt him, he put it into his mouth all by himself! So funny! I just squeezed the wormer in and he was calm as could be. He didn’t toss his head or anything. I scratched his itchy spots and let him go to move onto Bonnie.

Bonnie was a different story as expected. She needs tons and tons of friendly game to be confident with everything. So I went nice and slow, did lots of calm breathing and gave her lots of time to think. I would rub the wormer tube on her muzzle and when she could be quiet and not pull away or try to dodge it, I would remove the tube and wait for her to think about it. Then I moved onto putting my finger into her mouth, which she did NOT like at first, but quickly settled and let me just lay my finger in the corner of her mouth. Once she could handle that then I put the wormer tube in there and just let it sit there. She had figured out the answer was to be quiet so I removed the tube and let her process. Next I put the tube in her mouth and squeezed the wormer in! She made yucky faces, but didn’t pull away or even leave me when I took her halter off. I spent some time just standing by her and letting her process and think things over. She doesn’t love touching so I didn’t think that was the time to try to pet or scratch her itchies. When I went in to worm Sky, Bonnie stayed right by the fence and didn’t leave.

As I was working with Sky and the wormer tube I realized that I had forgotten to close the gate out to the pasture and the boys had gone back out to eat. Oops! Bonnie continued to stay by the fence and watch me with Sky. Sky has been wormed lots of times in her life and she played around with me a bit, but quickly settled down so I could slide the tube into the corner of her mouth. She took the wormer no problem and then I sat and scratched and scratched her tummy which is always itchy. She thoroughly enjoyed that!

I figured this was going to be a perfect indicator of how the boys felt about being wormed. I was going to have to catch them in the 10 acre pasture! I walked out and approached Zorro. He turned his head to me and let me slip the halter on, no problem! I took him back into the dry lot and then went back out for Captain. He turned and faced me, then walked straight up to me and put his head in the halter. I would say that was a successful interaction!!

Afterwards, when I was cleaning the dry lot, Bonnie was hanging out by me and the wheelbarrow. When I offered to scratch her chest, which she likes sometimes, she soaked it all up happily! Whoot whoot!! I would say the worming went over just fine.

Success!

And after, they all laid down in the manure pile for their morning nap….

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When I got Bonnie she was due for a hoof trim. I could tell by her feet that she had been living on soft ground. We have hard, rocky, sandy and dry ground here. If I didn’t trim her as soon as possible I was risking her soundness.

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So even though she had only been here two days as was still very skeptical of everything I was doing, I opted to trim her. I set it up for success as much as I could and she handled it very well.

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I believe she is innately a RBI (Right Brain Introvert). She wants to please me and tries her best. If she is worried she will spook, then freeze. If I wait for her she will come out of it on her own. If I push her she will blow up and become extroverted. She is highly reactive right now so my first responsibility is to prove to her that I am a person she can trust 100% of the time. As I build her confidence in me she will become more responsive and less reactive. The ultimate goal!

So I choose to move slowly but deliberately. I give her lots of time to think about the things we are doing. I wait for the lick and chew before I move forward in our sessions and the time between the scary moment and the lick and chew is getting shorter and shorter.

She came to me a “hard-to-catch” mare and now is one of the first to greet me. (It’s difficult to beat Zorro… he RUNS to me every time he sees me!)

Today when I trimmed her she was much more confident on her left side and very unconfident and spooky on her right. Most horses are and I’ve noticed this in our other sessions so I just worked more calmly and gave her more think time on the right side. We ended our session with a few carrot pieces and some nice grazing time. (And a little photo shoot!)

So onto the collages!

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As you can see above I was able to get even more toe off. I am very happy about this because the length of toe before was pulling her heel forward and putting pressure on her tendons. I have  LONG way to go still but we are getting there!

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Her toe on this side is very thick and bumpy. I’m not sure what is going on… maybe an abscess? An old abscess? I’m not sure but I’ll be watching that spot very closely. She will stand with her hind feet stretched out behind her often, so I’m interested to see if she stands more square after today’s trim as I was able to back her toes up quite a bit!

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I am very happy with her fronts. I got all the toe off that I wanted and she is standing much better.

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You can see that she needs to grow out that old bumpy, lumpy hoof. It was trying to flare out and pull away from her white line, so I’m so happy that I got her when I did!!

I love this little mare and can’t wait to see what we can accomplish once our partnership is set up. I will take the time it takes so we can have a long happy career together! One that we can BOTH enjoy!

We have making so much progress in our sessions! Today Sky, the little mama, did so great on our ground drive. She does very well as long as we are moving, but when we stop, she melts down into a temper tantrum. Today she was digging and digging and digging and when that didn’t work she started rearing! Once we worked out that little tantrum, I just had her move her feet whenever she wanted to. When she would start to slow down and look to me, I would have her move a little bit more, just to test our connection, then I would bring her in. Then off we would walk. She falls apart emotionally when we turn towards home, but is great when we are leaving. As soon as we turn towards home she is whinnying and calling for her baby and trying to drag me or run me over or muscle me in the direction she wants to go, which funnily enough is sometimes not the way to get home! I just keep her feet moving and do lots of pattern interrupt until she can connect again. Her connection time is getting better and longer. We do not go very far from home right now because she is not ready. We are just right outside the property on the public road for now, but we will get there.

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Captain Planet has improved by leaps and bounds. He leaves the farm without any calling for Sky or Zorro and doesn’t even look back as we go down the road. We play point-to-point to encourage him to put his head down. I have also taught him the head down cue so when I need him to relax I’ll ask him to put his head down. He will immediately blow out, lick and chew and reconnect when I do this. He is doing so awesome. We take lots of sit-down-eat-grass-breaks to reward him. He doesn’t like to be touched or petted, so scratches are not a reward.

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Zorro can hardly wait for his turn. When I get back to the dry lot he is waiting at the gate,  he stands quietly while I get a halter and walk in to get him. Today he actually put his nose in the halter all by himself. I LOVE this colt!  I spent some time brushing him and then we wandered all around the farm yard, checking out the horse trailer, the hay stack and seeing what Billy was up to. Sky will call a little bit but Zorro doesn’t even glance that way. I let him lead us around today and we just checked out lots of things that he hasn’t wanted to even look at before. He’s so brave and confident. And handsome.

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Captain Planet is an interesting little guy. He has had some really good days and some days that make me say, “How interesting!”

I’m determined to figure out what makes him tick. I truly believe he is innately a RBI. But he has moments of feeling left brained and then becomes a little bit dominant. Sometimes when he starts to think about being dominant he will switch to RBE because I don’t think he is very confident. In fact I would say he is very unconfident.

Between the baby– Zorro–and Captain, Zorro is mostly the boss of the pen. I love to watch how that works. When Sky is let in with the two boys in the evenings she immediately takes over the pen and they do everything she says or thinks. But during the day, Zorro is the boss. It cracks me up because Zorro is only a yearling and Captain is 9! Clearly in the horse world, age does not make one more brave or more confident.

Today I decided it was time to really start with Captain’s training. I’ve been waiting for Billy to go to his new home so he doesn’t have to watch me playing with the ponies, but Captain really needs some help with his confidence! Feed time can get interesting with him because he is so skittish. He races around and around instead of just calmly eating his feed while I play a little friendly game with him. So I calmly follow him around while he is dashing here and there acting like a wild animal. It’s so interesting because when he finally gives in, he is totally fine with me gently rubbing his face and scratching under his mane. He just doesn’t like to give in to that at first. Zorro calmly stands and eats his morning feed while Captain is running around like a mad man. Even if I have to run a little bit to keep Captain from getting to the feed while he is feeling crazy, Zorro will just stand quietly.

(side note: Billy DID stand and watch us this morning. Sigh… Then he went back to his breakfast.)

So, I started with the friendly game with the stick and string. I walked away from Captain and just gently slapped the ground back and forth in front of me. Captain bounced around at the end of the rope like a ping pong ball. He would dash in front of me and then leap behind me. It was almost like reeling in a fish. I just kept walking and calmly slapping the ground until he stopped moving his feet. Then I immediately stopped and just stood, breathing. At this time Zorro came over to help. I started slapping the ground again and Captain began bouncing around. Zorro didn’t care about the string slapping the ground at all so, Captain stopped bouncing and started to follow! I immediately stopped and stood calmly, breathing.

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I started the process again and Captain thought about running, looked at Zorro and changed his mind. Zorro was chewing on the lead rope and once in a while chewing on ME but was not bothered by the stick and string. I figured I would play friendly with him as well and started to lay the string along his back and neck, letting it slip down his face and tossing it around his legs. He stayed completely left brained and didn’t mind at all. When I would scratch him with the end of the stick he enjoyed it. Captain watched all of this so when I started to lay the string on him he stood still for it. His head was high and his face was tight. He did not relax and lower his head for a long long time. I got really good at rhythm and relaxation for myself and Zorro! Finally I got a tiny bit of head lower and he licked and chewed so I immediately stopped and we just stood quietly.

I did some more friendly game with the stick and string until Captain could lick and chew a bit more. Then I decided it was time to start the “head down cue” so Captain can start feeling more left brained more of the time with a little support from me. I tapped the stick just in front of his withers, on his neck, and supported by applying a little downward pressure with the lead rope to help him lower his head. He has gotten so much better at that! When I first brought him home he would not lower his head for any reason other than carrots. So I started to feed him all the little carrot pieces down at ground level to encourage head down. Then I added the porcupine game with the halter and lead rope until he understood and lost some of his opposition reflex. He has TONS of oppositions reflex. It’s been so interesting!!

He started to really understand the head down cue so I began giving him little handfuls of alfalfa hay pellets each time he lowered his head. At the end he was able to stand quietly with his poll below his withers, breathing and licking and chewing! When I took off his halter he was super relaxed and happy. Finally!!

I took the pressure off of Captain by mixing up the play session and including Zorro. That was huge for Captain. I equate it to when Pat Parelli is playing with a reactive horse that needs a break, he will turn to the audience and spend some time just talking. He is actually still playing the friendly game with the horse at the end of the rope, it just LOOKS like he isn’t doing anything. To the horse turning the pressure off is HUGE. I included the cats in our games today too which gave Captain a break in between friendly game sessions.

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I plan to do this for 7 days in a row and see how Captain improves. I’ve noticed that by session 3 many horses will regress and become reactive again. I’m interested to see if he will do this as well! Does this happen to you?

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Clearly having Zorro there to be totally confident and calm really helped Captain calm down. Thank goodness Zorro, the calm one, is the dominant one here! I can see how watching Captain be reactive could make Zorro feel crazy too if he wasn’t the one in charge.