After a week off, I decided it was time to start working with Firecracker again. Rain, snow, and an aborted foal, then more rain had me thinking a short break was in order. The past two days, however, I've been out in the paddock with her again, first reaching out with my long branch, then switching to the lariat, followed by trying to move inside her personal bubble.
She appears to have no problem coming into my bubble while I'm carrying hay through the paddock. Rather than open the sliding window and tossing it in, I've been carrying her feed past her, then standing at the manger allowing her to come into my space for something she knows will be positive. She's gotten to the point of coming up and grabbing hay right out of my arms as I walk through. Not greedy, not aggressive, and not fearful. She politely walks up and will stand their eating as I move by.
I find this very promising. Sunny would snatch and run. Quiet Storm would pin her ears back and grab in an aggressive manner, and Jet becomes a greedy pig. All three had those mannerisms from the very beginning, so Firecracker is a breath of fresh air in this sense.
The past couple of days I've been back out in the paddock, working with both my long branch and my lariat. The lariat is old and stiff; there's a loop at the end, of course, which normally would be used to rope a calf or steer or even a horse. With my lariat, however, that loop isn't big enough to drop over anyone's head. I've got it small and tight, so it resembles more of a knot than a loop. This suits my purpose as combined with the stiffness of the rope I can reach out and it becomes an extension of my hand, much like a pole or stick, only it gives a bit more when it touches the horse.
Of course, even a stiff lariat can only reach so far without gravity taking over. Standing five feet away from a horse means you've got to toss the rope and have it land on the horse's back if you're going to make contact. That's what I've been doing with Firecracker; tossing that knotted end onto her back and letting it slip off her side in hopes it feels like a light pet with finger tips. She tends to tense up, but if I've already done the ground work with the branch, she's usually at the point mentally where she's decided it's easier to stand. And because she's comfortable enough to come into my space for food, I'm willing to pressure her when it's my turn to come into her space.
Yesterday while working with the lariat, I began to shorten the space between the tight, knotted loop and my hand. I stepped in a few inches, drew up the rope a few more inches, and watched her eye to see what she was thinking. A couple of weeks ago she would be visibly shaking over something like this. Now, she was tense, her muscles were tight, but she wasn't going anywhere and she wasn't trembling.
My hand worked it's way to the end of the rope while my feet tried their best to inch just close enough to allow my hand contact. And there it was. My fingers were touching. Not the light glance off the side like had happened a couple weeks ago. This time they were putting pressure on her withers, rubbing, scratching, moving up and down the neckline and down onto the shoulder. Firecracker wasn't too sure what to do at this point. There was that look of pleasure over being rubbed under her mane, along with the instinctive fear that said she was in a dangerous position.
The lead rope was loose; I wasn't controlling her head. She could either back up or step forward. Before she could come to her senses and do that, I backed away. I asked her to take a couple of steps towards me, which she did (although slowly), and I approached her to touch her again, this time with no lariat. She stepped back to her corner, but again let me reach out and rub on her.
I walked away at that point, moving the panels back into place so that Jet could be brought back into her paddock (she'd been out in the pasture during our rain free afternoon.) For good measure, however, I went back a third time to Firecracker. It'd only been three minutes, but she had stepped out of that mind frame of allowing me access. I shortened the lead so she didn't have much space while circling me, and one more time I was able to get close and scratch. Before she could become uncomfortable enough to leave, I stepped away. Darling had just walked out after getting off the bus, so I sent her for the alfalfa pellets and she stood holding them while Firecracker munched and slobbered away.
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