In which Fiddle's behavior changes, and I share some training stories

 This blog has always been a recording-place where I can keep track of (among other things) ongoing training issues, setbacks and triumphs.  Not a brag-sheet as much as a progress report.

Through the progress report process, though, I am able to see more clearly how much progress has been made in the never-ending process of training.   Since Fiddle was such a reprobate at the beginning of our relationship, her progress is the most amazing to note!

Here's something, for example, that has become completely routine:
Fee didn't come to me with any trail-building experience.  I started slowly with her, gradually adding different Implements of Destruction onto her saddle, gradually teaching her the skills she needs to be a good trail-building horse:  

  • tolerate all types of weird tools strapped to saddle and stuffed into pack bags
  • allow me to mount/dismount on either side in tight quarters on iffy terrain
  • carry flapping evil flagging ribbons clipped to mane and tack 
  • allow other horses in the workgroup to approach or leave without fussing (we've improved but are still working on this one)
  • stand quietly tied to a tree (or rock or whatever) while people hack branches, pitch rocks, run chainsaws, and do all kinds of other loud strange work
  • approach a tree (or rock or whatever) directed mainly by my seat and legs
  • sidle over next to strange objects, hold still while I swing the machete or lift the loppers
  • stand steady when I drop tree branches and brambles all over myself and my horse, and 
  • move briskly without fussing to the next obstacle when we're done.

That's a pretty complex set of skills!  We don't practice them much at home anymore, either.  I think the last time I lopped branches from Fiddle or Hana's back was preparing for this ride in June 2010.  But here's the benefit of slow, steady teaching:  it stays learned.

Fee's acceptance of the expectations are a huge change from her original behavior under saddle in 2007; at that time, her first response to any request was "HELL, NO."  She didn't even bother to know what the request was before she began her refusal.  And yet, now she does so much for us with her ears forward and her eye soft.  

It's been a long road.

Here's something else that's new this year:
 That isn't ME she's licking.  That's Sue Griffin, whom Fiddle sees for 2 or 3 days each year at this ride.  And yes, she is licking Sue's hand.

That's been another long road:  when she first went to camp 4 years ago, Fee would try to drive people away from her pen with nasty ears and flying feet.  We didn't allow this, of course, and assigned assertive people to "invade her space" and if she pinned the ears to get in the pen with her and roundpen her!

Nasty ears = work.    This is a recurring theme for Fiddle.

This year we upped the ante.

This year if she pinned her ears, people would come closer and if her ears softened even a little (which they inevitably did--she has learned the part about bad ears and work), the people would give her a carrot!  They would ask her for her tricks, especially "look away", which requires her feet to be holding still and her face pointed away and her ears to be soft.  As soon as she complied, a carrot was the reward.  I went through 5 pounds of carrots in a week, but it was worth it:  by the end of the week, she was begging people to come near her pen so she could have more carrots.

The "nasty ears = work" is a constant when Fiddle is with people.  When she does it to other people or horses under saddle, I make her collect her gait or move backwards or do some other task she doesn't particularly like.  When her ears stay soft, very often the other riders will hand over a cookie.

Obviously, I couldn't do that on a 50 mile ride.  But it happens so often in training now that she is doing much less "ugly face" during competitions--and for the second  event in a row she has not even attempted to kick another competitor. *

Check this out:
 This is a picture of Fiddle getting hugged by Ryan.  Fee loves Ryan, but she doesn't love Ryan's horse Ditto.  Still, we rewarded her so much during a day of trail work that by mid-afternoon, she would sidle over to Ryan's horse as we were walking or trotting down the road and she would ask for a hug.

That's a big change on the order of swapping the North Pole for the South Pole, and it's taken a ton of work to get there.  I'm still cheering.

While I'm mentioning Ditto, let me show off the skill she learned in camp:

Ditto had never been hobbled before her days in camp, and her method of movement is unorthodox.  It does seem to work for her, though.

Fiddle's hobble-movement technique is a little more normal, although it looks all kinds of crazy:
front feet hobbled together
pick them up
use those abdominal muscles to balance

...and oh, look:  food!
lather, rinse, repeat.

I posted a video of Fiddle on her hobbles on YouTube last summer.  You can see it HERE if you like.

Now, for Fiddle's most amazing progress report:

Fiddle HATES dogs.  She always has.  I have seen her run across a 4-acre field just for the opportunity to stomp a dog flat. Two years ago, she kicked two teeth out of a dog's mouth when Emmie got too close.  Coyotes take the lo-o-o-o-ong way around our pasture just to stay away from her.

Under tack, however, I insist that she behave politely when dogs are present.  And at camp, I had two events to prove that she gets a big way!

The first event happened when we were out marking trail by ourselves.  Annette had  run out of pain meds, so she took a shortcut back to camp.  Fiddle and I continued on to finish marking a stretch of trail which took us near the campsites of people we did not know.  Without warning, two big boxer dogs came roaring at us, snarling, barking and teeth bared.  One of them made a grab at Fiddle's left front leg...

...and she picked up her leg and moved it out of the dog's reach.

She didn't kick the dog.  She didn't bite it.  She didn't rear or buck or charge at this bad dog--who clearly deserved to be stomped.  She didn't even try to run away.  She stood there CALMLY while the (expletive deleted) young man shouted (expletives deleted) and retrieved his (expletive deleted) dogs.

And then we walked away.**

The second incident was at the finish line vetcheck:
This Monica's photo of Jillian's dog Bella.

Bella is sweet and friendly, and doesn't seem to grok Fee's dislike of dogs.  Bella played by herself with the stick right beside Fiddle during the entire trot out and vetcheck.  Fee ignored Bella completely!

No snarking, no pawing, just good behavior.


*  Remember The Dude from the 2010 ride?  Fee had motive and opportunity to kick The Dude into next week during the ride this year, because he careened down a narrow trail right into her red-flagged kicking range.  I shouted for him to keep back, and Fee swished her tail and her butt to warn the other horse off, but he kept coming...and we made it to a wide spot in the trail and my horse pulled into it and let the other horse pass WITHOUT even trying to kick.  Hell, I could've kicked them at that range--they were more than crowding.  Fee might have done the universe a favor by kicking some sense into the Dude, but my good horse has learned good behavior.  Good girl.  (I guess).

**  The same dogs attacked a horse on ride day (the horse wasn't in their camp, she was on our trail on the far side of a sizable creek) while the rider was on the ground.  The horse got scared and ran.  She still hasn't been found.  I'm a little sorry that Fee didn't stomp them when she had the chance.

Maybe I need to have a "safety switch off" command?  "Coconut rum, Fiddle!"  = "WHAM!"

Something to consider.


  1. What a wonderful mare she's turning into! Pretty soon you're gonna have to quit calling her The Dragon. Tame Dragon, maybe!

  2. I probably shouldn't have watched that hobbling video here at work, they already think I'm kinda crazy and here I am sitting laughing out loud to myself :) Loved it!

    Is that Sue Griffin, Thoroughbred breeder???

  3. She is such a good girl and you have done such fantastic things with her. I am proud of you both.

  4. I find myself very, very disappointed Fee was so obedient around the Dude.

    I absolutely love hearing how far Fee-Fi-Fo-Fiddle has come, even if I have to read back in your blog archives (oh, darn) to truly understand.

  5. I agree with Becky!~ Would have loved to see him fly through the air! If you figure out a training technique for the doggy off/on - let me know! Butch heard some of the "stories" of your Dragon lady at the track & was so impressed with the Miles you've come with her!


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