My past methods of starting youngsters have been off the table with Stella, so I'm feeling my way slowly and carefully. I have been doing things with her that I never would have considered before, but hey, they seem to be working!
After two sessions of Brian and I each mounting Stella from both sides while the other held her, and leading Brian around a bit just once, I was eager to continue her under-saddle work. But Brian hasn't made himself available again, so what to do? One evening I decided to proceed by myself. After she'd had pasture turn-out and a good romp (like the episodes below, for instance),
I tied her up in her stall which I considered the safest set-up; tall, solid walls on two sides and a solid post above to tie to.
|This shot of her tied in that spot was taken back in January|
Then I groomed her thoroughly and tacked her up. (Another progress note: Stella now stands without panic while I swing the saddle with attached girth over her back.) I positioned the mounting block beside her and stood on top, which I'd done by myself with her on a lead line outside. Then I slowly and carefully put my foot in the stirrup, lifted the other leg over, and settled in the saddle, prepared (helmet on, of course) for panic but breathing deeply to let her know it was okay. And it was! I talked to her and stroked her and fed her a treat from the saddle (which she crunched up, something she won't do if she's really tense or scared). Then I carefully got off, took the mounting block to the off-side, and did it all again.
I was stoked by how well that went, did it again another day, and plan to do it more. That got me thinking about using the same set-up to maybe, just maybe, ease Stella into being ground-driven, one of my favorite youngster training steps but a no-go with my goosy girl. So I tied her up in the same place again, attached a lounge line to her halter, stepped out to her side and then behind her, laying the line along her side. Since then I've progressed to attaching two lounge lines to her halter and stepping behind her with one on either side of her, wiggling and swinging them. All that 'activity' along her sides and behind her still makes her nervous, but she's learning that it's not going to 'get' her.
Thinking about other obstacles to ground-driving, I thought of bridling. She wears one just fine, but going from wearing a bit and bridle to understanding communication through it is a big step. An idea came to mind which I implemented yesterday. I lunged her with a line connected to her halter, as usual, and a second line running through the near bit ring, over her poll and down to the outside bit ring. This way I could apply a little pressure to the bit when asking for a downward transition by voice but not have to. Again, it seemed to work very well, and she got surprisingly tired with a little bit of work. Even though it was warm, I think the mental effort in figuring it all out contributed to the sweat.
Lastly, a little quirk of hers that I finally captured this week: