Ace @ the SAFE Clinic

This striking 12 year old paint gelding was a bucking stock stallion for all of his life until a couple of days ago. He is now on the road to recovery and trust as he learns that not all humans are bad!

Ace @ the SAFE Clinic

Postby Juliane on Mon Jul 31, 2006 9:58 pm

DAY 1

On Saturday, I took Ace to the groundwork clinic hosted by SAFE. I was really quite nervous about taking Ace, as he'd really only been leading under halter for a short while, perhaps a month or less. And, I'd only trailered him once during that time.

Yet, here I was, ready to haul him to a strange environment, with unknown horses and lots of hustle and bustle of people running back and forth. Yikes! What was I thinking? In perspective, I really had nothing to worry about! Ace loaded like a champ, though his personal bubble was quite large as he quivered and shook while I tied him inside.

Once we arrived at the facility, I unloaded him and let him take in his surroundings! He was calm though alert through it all. I brushed him down and then took him inside the arena.

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One of the trainers, Rick, suggested we let all of the horses loose so that they could run together. My jaw dropped. There was no way I could imagine letting Ace loose with these other horses. Not that I thought he'd do anything to them, but I was sure I wouldn't be able to catch him again. I can barely walk up to him and take hold of his halter at home, under perfect conditions. Yet, here I was expected to be able to approach him in a herd environment? *gulp*

I explained Ace's history and my fears to Rick. Rick took Ace's lead rope and spent a couple minutes with him. He was able to assess Ace's fears quickly, though still wanted him out with the herd.

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Though, instead of removing Ace's halter like the rest of the horses, he left it on and just removed his lead rope. He sent him off and Ace quickly left us to join the other horses.

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Rick moved the entire herd around until the horses were working as a group, in a herd environment, rather than the individuals they learn to be in modern times. It was neat to see Ace at the front of the pack - as this is how I see him in my mind, as the wild pasture stud that he was during his previous life.

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After working with the horses until they were a unit, Rick asked each of us to go out and 'catch' our horses. I walked out there, fully hoping to catch Ace. He was having none of that :(

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Once all of the other horses were caught, Rick helped by herding Ace into the round pen that was set up in the arena. Once inside, he spent the next hour and a half trying to approach Ace and be able to grasp his halter. Ace was pretty nervous at this point and not willing to be caught. He kept moving off anytime Rick got close to him. In the end, Rick decided it was best to rope Ace.

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Once he'd roped Ace, he was easily able to approach and pet Ace. From there, he removed his halter and set him free again. He continued working on catching and releasing, hoping he wouldn't have to use the rope. However, he did have to use it one more time before he was able to halter Ace.

When his halter was finally on, Rick handed Ace to me with the specific instructions to let anyone and everyone come up and pet Ace. My assignment was to encourage Ace to relax in this new environment. At that point, Ace's whole body would stiffen, his head would go up and the whites of his eyes would show the minute someone looked at him or approached.

So, we worked on desensitizing him to people, in general - starting with me :)

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I started handing Ace off to anyone who would hold him :P Here he is with Matt, Sarah's husband.

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For the rest of the day, I stood with Ace, in the busiest section of the arena. People passed us by, approached and petted Ace, while horses were in the round pen being worked, saddled and ridden. It was great to have Ace start to relax in this environment (though after 8 hours of it, how could he not relax?). I also liked that he was taking in all that was happening to the other horses, even the first time saddlings - and realizing that it wasn't hurting any of the horses!

Just as it was time to wrap up the first day, Dorothy came over on horse back and sidled up next to Ace. He really wasn't very happy with this other horse being in his "bubble" but he tolerated it. After a short while, I handed his lead rope to Dorothy as she tried coaxing him close enough for a pet. He quickly came out of relax mode and into alert mode again.

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However, he did finally end up getting close enough for Dorothy to touch him, though he never relaxed. What a day for this poor guy!

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We ended the first day of the clinic and I took Ace home. I quickly fed him and put him away without much fuss as I was sure he was "peopled" out. Little did he know what was in store for him on Day 2!
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Postby rodeo51 on Mon Jul 31, 2006 10:14 pm

Julianne, I thought Ace did really well that first day at the clnic. He was taking it all in and dealing well with all the people coming up to him and petting him. I really enjoyed petting him and watching him take eveyting in. He is a smart boy and you should be proud of him. :D
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Postby Juliane on Mon Jul 31, 2006 11:50 pm

DAY 2

The second day of the clinic was much easier and harder for Ace. He was much more relaxed when we unloaded at the facility, and seemed to automatically understand that he wasn't going to be hurt by the people who approached him. He still tensed, but not like he had before. The day started off with much of the same from the day before. He was handed off from person to person. In this picture you can see that he is practically plodding along behind Sarah. Usually he's very alert, speculating on each upcoming step he's about to make.

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Soon, he found himself in the round pen with Rick again. This time, Rick approached Ace with ease.

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After a few moments of reassurance, Rick removed Ace's halter and sent him off.

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Within a few strides, Rick released the pressure from Ace and Ace quickly 'faced up' with Rick. It was awesome to see Ace looking at Rick with both eyes, not just from one as he tends to do.

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Rick worked on approaching Ace, petting him, and being able to put his halter on. Within 20 minutes, Rick was able to halter Ace, though Ace was VERY wary and nervous. I, however, was in awe. The only time I have been able to get a halter on Ace has been the one time that I used the panel gate to squeeze him against the wall, or when I have worked with putting a halter on OVER the one he had on. This was a huge step for both Ace and I!

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Once he was haltered, Ace was handed off to me again. I stood there, holding Ace and Patience together, as we watched all of the other horses being worked and trained.

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While we sat down for our lunch break, leaving all the horses tied, except for Ace - who was left to roam in the round pen, we discussed how to move forward with Ace. Dorothy, who had yet to work with Ace, felt that perhaps we were being too timid with Ace. She commented that she felt he was going off to his "safe place" when pushed, and that we needed to push harder. She felt that she wanted to work with him once our lunch break was over.

She ended up spending the next 3 hours working with Ace and had the biggest breakthrough with him yet. While she stated that she was going to be more aggressive with him, she was actually much gentler and softer. Or, perhaps it was her demeanor. She was very no-nonsense about her requests, which were also very quick and concise, but she was generous with her praises. I also think that Ace tends to be at ease more with women rather than men, perhaps due to his past (being a bucking stock around all the cowboys).

When Dorothy first approached Ace in the round pen, he was very apprehensive of this new unfamiliar person.

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Once she was finally able to approach him, her first goal was to switch his halter from mine to hers. However, he was on full alert and very jumpy. Just as she had one untied and was about to tie the other, he lurched back and free of her hold.

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From this point, Dorothy concentrated on doing ALOT of advance and retreat, making sure Ace was 'faced up' with her. One of the biggest things that I learned from this session with Ace was that he needs to look at his handler with BOTH eyes, not just one or the other. Each time he looked away from her, she would get his attention again with the advance/retreat method.

In these two pictures, you can see that Ace is only looking at Dorothy with one eye - this is what he does when he "tunes his handler out", or retreats to his "safe place". This behavior was making our actions that much scarier for him - because while he accepted our actions with one eye (or side of the brain), he'd get scared when the other eye (side of the brain) saw us. Does that make sense?

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It took a while, but she was finally able to approach and get his halter on - though he didn't make it easy on her!

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Dorothy's next step was to desensitize Ace to touch - both human and equipment. She started by touching him all over, including his sides as she asked him to yield his hindquarters. He's much better about his left side than his right. He's very stiff on his right side and doesn't like anyone to be there at all. Something for us to work on! Dorothy also worked with tossing a rope over Ace's back. He was pretty unhappy about this, but after a while figured out that it was more work to keep running from it than to just stand and tolerate it.

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Then, it was time to teach Ace to lead by a front foot. The first time I saw Rick and Dorothy teaching a horse to do this, I was completely perplexed. Why in the world would you need to teach a horse to lead by a hoof? Well, in reality, what it teaches them is to give to the pressure around their hoof, instead of pulling back. Similar to what might happen if a horse got their hoof caught in a fence. Hmmm.... Makes sense. Both Rick and Dorothy believed this would help prevent a horse from getting a serious wire cut injury - much like both Ace and B already have on their front hooves.

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Then, Dorothy proceeded to desensitize Ace to a flag. Ironically, Ace wasn't too terribly scared of it. He was more scared of her, than the flag.

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Next, it was time to work on getting Ace to learn to pick up his hind feet. I have been able to have my farrier, Dan, come out and help me get Ace's front feet trimmed, but his hinds are also in severe need of being trimmed. Dorothy believed that they have never been trimmed before and have just worn down by the rocky environment in eastern Washington. So, in getting him used to the idea of picking up his hind feet, she looped a lariat around each hind foot and started applying pressure. He was not so happy about this at first, and it took longer than I thought, but he did finally submit and start picking up his hind feet. Time to call the farrier!!!

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Now it was time to move on to working with the saddle pad. Dorothy was easily able to set it on his back without too much fuss. Once on his back, she looped the rope around his girth and put pressure on it. He wasn't too happy about it, but since I've done this same exercise with him, he didn't freak out either.

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Finally, it was time for the saddle! It didn't take much for Dorothy to be able to set it on his back, though he immediately spooked at the jingling noise of the girth's buckles and jumped sideways, causing the saddle to go flying.

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Starting again, she set it on his back and was able to get the girth hooked, though not tightly. He almost immediately exploded at the pressure and took off bucking with all of his might.

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He finally came to a stop and stood there, waiting for Dorothy's next move. She approached him, petted him, and then removed the saddle. She walked him around a bit, then saddled him again. She proceeded to do this a few more times, each time he got better - and only bucked one other time! She turned him loose (removed his halter!) and asked him to move out with the saddle on. He was excellent - no buck and went right to work!

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She asked him to halt, then was easily able to walk right up to him and reassure him. Quite a change from the beginning of his session with her, eh?

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Now, it was MY turn! After putting Ace's halter back on (with no fuss, mind you!) she told me to come in and saddle him up. Handing the lead rope to me, she exited the round pen.

Ace stood completely still as I set the saddle pad on his back. When I picked up the saddle and turned towards him, he turned his head to look at me in curiousity. What a change! Previously, he would have turned away from me, in an effort to tune me out!

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I lifted the saddle up high and set it on his back gently. He never moved a muscle! Wow!

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He continued to stand quietly and solidly as I hooked up the girth and started tightening it. I increased the tightness as slowly as I could, all the while reassuring him.

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Once I felt it was on tight enough that it wouldn't fall off, I secured the latch and asked Ace to move out. He never offered to buck and quickly started around the round pen.

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I didn't ask him to work alot, just enough to know the saddle didn't bother him. I couldn't contain myself much longer and just had to tell him how proud I was of him. He seemed pretty ok with how close I was - his head wasn't as high as normal, trying to get away from me! :P

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The End!
Feel the Spirit, Keep on Riding!
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Postby Juliane on Mon Jul 31, 2006 11:59 pm

HOMEWORK

The groundwork clnic was a complete success and far surprassed even my wildest dreams! I can't believe the obvious change in Ace. Even this morning, when I went to feed, he was the first to greet me at the gate. Typically, he stands back, waiting until I have set out everyone's rations before moving in. It's almost as though his new found confidence has not only affected me, but him as well, in our day to day occurrances and interactions! What an amazing guy!

We left the clnic with some things to work on:

1) Haltering and unhaltering - I left the halter on him while he is in the pasture - just because I am a chicken! :P What if I can't catch him in the pasture? I just want to make sure I can approach him in the round pen and halter/unhalter him without any issues, before setting him free in the pasture, halter-less.

2) Saddling - I need to practice saddling him. Both Rick and Dorothy felt it would even be very good for Ace if I could get an old, broken down saddle and use that. They suggested saddling him in the morning, and leaving it on all day long, then unsaddling at night. So, I'm on the look out for a cheap, old, heavy cowboy saddle. Let me know if you have one! :)

3) Eyes - It is pertinant that we don't fall back into the one-eyed-monster thing again. I need to maintain our current level of trust, where he is allowing me to approach head-on, and is looking at me with both eyes. :)

Those are the main things, though going over any and all of the exercises that Rick and Dorothy did with Ace this past weekend would be excellent for both Ace and I. I can't believe the amount of drive, understanding and level of communication I now seem to have with Ace. I am SO excited about Ace and really do have a good feeling about his future as a possible saddle horse! (Though I have accepted it may not be nearly as soon as I'd hoped!)

LOL!
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Postby RockinCircleC on Tue Aug 01, 2006 12:36 am

Sounds like you got some nice changes with the help of Rick and Dorothy! And coming home with new projects is always good! If this is your first clinic, I fear you have started down the path of no return... :wink: Welcome to my world! It only gets better and more overwhelming from here on out!

We are gonna have some fun this weekend!
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No horse will ever teach you as much as your first horse.
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Postby Rhea on Tue Aug 01, 2006 6:02 am

Juliane,reading this was so gratifying. He is a smart and beautiful horse. I have faith in you and know Ace is going to continue to blossom. There may be steps back but never fear, just keep trusting yourself.
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Postby cat_67 on Tue Aug 01, 2006 9:46 am

It was educational just reading that! I always feel just from looking at his pictures and video and reading your reports that this is a horse who wants attention, he's just scared at the same time from his past experiences. I really think he's going to be a total love bug once he accepts that no one is ever going to be mean to him again. He's not quite convinced yet, but he is definitely getting there!
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Postby AgilityGal on Tue Aug 01, 2006 3:44 pm

This is the most suprising post yet! Absolutely incredible. I think maybe this guy's got a future. He is just sooooo beautiful. What a shift of consciousness for him. This is such good news!
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Postby ptownevt on Tue Aug 01, 2006 5:22 pm

I am so very happy for Ace. He has come so far. But through it all, even when he's scared, the pictures have shown a very kind eye. He wants to trust and to love and be loved. I was so sad for what he lost being taken away from his mares and gelded so late, but it looks like these were blessings in disguise because life has so much more to offer him now.
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Postby ronyn on Tue Aug 01, 2006 5:45 pm

It is so good to see this sweet horse learning that all people are not bad. I had some thoughts that came to me when I was reading this post I would like to share. As far as ace being more fearful of people coming up on his right side it came to me that when they have the buckers in the shute they usually mount up on that side and gear them up, poke at them etc. That could be some of his extra fear that way. Also when their time is up in the arena they are caught up by people on horseback and headed toward the exit. He probably had some flashbacks on that. As for not being afraid of the flag, well plenty of those are flying around at most rodeoes and he's probably had plenty of trailer rides. Maybe really observing what happens at rodeos for buckers would help you identify what sorts of things would freak him out and what he would need to be helped to get to know won't hurt him. Don't know if that would help but it might be worth a try. Thanks for all the work you do for these horses Juliane. I like that you are always open to learn and explore your own weakness and strengths. it shows alot of character on your part. Keep up the good work!
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AMAZING!!!!

Postby seahorse on Wed Aug 02, 2006 10:12 am

I am so happy for you and Ace. this seems like an incredibly useful clinic! I am so amazed at the progress from when you and I were leaning over your round pen wondering if he would ever let you touch him let alone saddle and do drill!!! That being said he is one heck of an athlete! Those pics of him bucking were pretty amazing!
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Postby barrelgurl on Thu Aug 03, 2006 11:53 am

It was so nice to read this. Ace did so awesome at the Clinic, it was wonderful to watch him. He made some excellent progress!!!
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