Friday 29 December 2017

Project Magpie

Kachina is relatively easy for me to handle. She'll paw when tied, she's a bit girthy, she'll sometimes try and walk off while bridling, and she is particular about what I can do with her feet, all of which are ongoing projects, but I can do a lot with her, including but not limited to:

- walk up to her anywhere and anytime
- have her stand still for me to throw the lead rope over her neck and she puts her head down for me to halter her
- touch her all over, including girth area, face, ears, mouth, etc., either loose or in halter
- have her stand either loose or tied for me put on and take off blankets
- have her lead politely from both sides at walk, trot, halt and back up
- on the ground have her move forwards, backwards, hip over or shoulder over on command
- lunge around me in both directions at all gaits, either in just halter or full tack
- follow me at liberty 
- respect my bubble, even when her herdmates are around
- pick up all 4 feet for simple cleaning (she sometimes draws the line at thrush treatments or whacking off ice balls)
- I can tack her up, she won't necessarily be motionless but we can get the job done and she's not dangerous (i.e. she pins her ears when I tighten girth and I sometimes need to circle her around a few times to get her to stand for bridling) 
- ride (which is obviously a big category in itself)
- load her into trailer day or night by myself 

Some of the above are things that I've never had a problem with (like catching), and some have taken a lot of focused practice (like leading). Overall though, on a day to day basis it seems to me like Kachina is a basically trained horse who knows how to be handled by humans. Except, that's not actually true, because she knows how to be handled by me. Other humans are a different story.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to regular readers because I've talked about her possibly abusive history here, and her problems being caught in the giant pasture by other people here and here, but the issue is bigger than I first thought and we officially have a hard to catch problem with other people. Last week as I was driving out of town it started raining. The rain wasn't in the forecast and so Kachina wasn't dressed accordingly. I messaged my BO and asked if she would mind putting on her rainsheet for me. Blanketing isn't a service usually provided by my barn but this was a one-time special circumstance thing. BO agreed and I continued on my travels, confident that Kachina would be taken care of. Unfortunately, I got a message later from BO saying that she couldn't catch Kachina, even in the relatively small pen.

Our crazy weather in December, in case you were wondering how we got rain last week.
Please note circled values (a Difference of 48C/86F in 2 weeks)
This is why blanketing here is a nightmare

It didn't rain much so the horse was ultimately fine without her sheet but it was a bit of a wakeup call for me. If Kachina can't be caught by a competent horse-woman in a confined area, then what happens if Kachina ever needs veterinary attention when I am out of town or otherwise unavailable? What happens if something happens to me and Kachina needs a new person? Being hard to catch in a giant pasture is one thing, having the same thing happen in a pen makes it a totally different scale of problem in my books. Hence Project Magpie, a new focus to teach Kachina to be approached and handled by other people (Magpie is one of Kachina's nicknames due to her colouring and the fact that I saw the biggest flock of magpies in my life on the day I bought her, also I think equating this project with a cunning and cautious wild animal is appropriate). I don't necessarily need Kachina to walk up to any and every stranger, but I need her to be catchable by at least someone else. 

Step 1: Tell friendly other boarders at the barn that they are welcome to go up to Kachina and pet her and feed her treats if they want - Complete, this conversation happened a few weeks ago, these people really wanted to share horsey love but were being respectful of not wanting to touch other horses without permission from their owners, I haven't seen them much since so I'm not sure how much this is happening. 

Step 2: Recruit my SO to come out to the barn for a series of visits to interact with Kachina in pen - In progress. 

Visit #1 with SO consisted of him feeding treats over the fence and then approaching Kachina by himself (with nothing in hand) after I had finished working with her (I was standing outside gate and talking to her). She didn't walk away but she did flinch when he went to pet her neck, and her body language showed that she was on-edge. We will slowly progress to him trying to catch her while I am out of view. 

I will see how SO does with her before I decide on Step 3. Maybe it will go well and I can just repeat Step 2 with a few other people. Maybe I will need to send Kachina for some offsite training or find a different boarding situation for her where she gets handled more. I will also have to see whether she will lead politely etc. for other people once they do catch her. Project Magpie is going to be a big goal for 2018 as I think it's necessary for Kachina to become a solid citizen.


  1. Project Magpie sounds like a good idea. K is really smart - she will catch on.

  2. Good plans! We have some of these issues with Eugene. He actually only likes my husband and everyone else is held in high suspicion. Even I can have a hard time catching him and blanketing him sometimes. My husband has to be present for all vet/farrier/etc work. It definitely worries me if he weren't around and Eugene needed some sort of treatment.
    I hope your project magpie works.

    1. I'll keep you posted, also please let me know if you find any good techniques for Eugene that might work for Kachina. It is worrying when you don't know what might happen in an emergency

  3. That is an interesting problem. I've never really worked with abused or feral animals so I'm not sure how I would approach it. It sounds like you've got some good first steps planned. I hope project magpie goes well!