Ice Days

 I understand now how a parent must feel when the kids have a snow day from school. The herd has had a long string of 'ice days' - the fields have been treacherous with ice and the horses have wisely chosen to stay in the yard and shed. Luckily it's a huge shed so they can move around and I've been keeping them separated into two groups so that they all have shed space without scrapping. 
Jake is the court jester. He's the one who annoys the heck out of all of them but I think he's the one who has kept them all entertained too. He absolutely adores the old pony, who, at 33 years of age, seems to have no trouble maintaining his respect. I find this very interesting because she is the lowest in the pecking order of the herd and she couldn't raise a leg to kick if she tried, but somehow, young Jake just knows his limits with her. He'll often hang out with her at the far end of the field when they can get out there.
I like to watch how Blue does it: how does she earn his respect? How can I imitate her efforts? We used to have a QH gelding named Manny and I'd watch him for the same reason - he was the most unlikely leader, very quiet and scared of his own shadow, and yet he was the boss. How did he do it? I learned so much from him. He left a huge void when he died in the spring of 2010.
Getting back to young Jake, I've had to get creative to enjoy his company but stay safe. There's nothing he'd like to do more than use me as a play toy. He comes up and nips my sleeve or steals my toque and if I don't protect my space he will throw his shoulder at me in challenge. And yet I don't want to send him away, I have to teach him to be around me but be nice! When he latches on to my clothing I put my finger in his mouth and pry myself loose, then block him from grabbing again while quietly patting him on the withers. Sometimes he won't settle down, which is when I hide behind one of the other horses so that they take the brunt of his sense of humour. I don't want to discourage his company, I just want him to understand that I'm not a soccer ball. I work hard to block him rather than have to punish him.
As for his training, he's learning to follow me through the barn, which doesn't sound like much unless you have seen our barn. It's an old bank barn full of sheep pens and all of the horses have had to lead through the 2' wide sheep aisles, past the chicken coop, to circumnavigate the ice in the yard. He follows me respectfully and will go anywhere I lead. I bring him in, tie him up, pick up his feet, and for the past few days I've been putting him out with Holly as a change of scenery. Tonight I had him in a stall for a while by himself and brought Cody in on the cross ties so that he stayed calm. I've just been changing up the scenery as much as possible, introducing a bit of stress so that he can learn how to handle it. 
Meanwhile Jake's trying out different ideas on me too. He sometimes lays his ears back and swishes his tail while he's eating, but he's learning that it's okay for me to stand beside him while he eats and that he doesn't have to defend his dinner from me like he does from his Uncle Cody. He's imitating what he sees the others do and I am very alert to this so that I can discourage the bad and encourage the good the minute I see it surface.



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