Saturday, November 29, 2008

Link Oct18-Nov23

October 18
Link's ringworm, which was fairly severe upon purchase of him, is finally obsolete! He still has a couple of traces on his head and ears but otherwise all his hair is grown back and the only sign on his body that shows he had it is areas of dry skin (clearing up too as we speak). The isolation and small pen that was necessary to prevent his ringworm from spreading to other horses is literally driving him insane with frustration. He is feeling and moving much better though now that he has been adjusted by the chiropractor (she came out mid-Sept then again the beginning of Oct). Turns out his pelvis was knocked right out, which pushed his shoulders out and of course his back was out of alignment as well. He just felt "off" when I was riding him, his stride was choppy and too short, especially given his conformation, which tells of a smooth, long-strided horse. Also (due to his pelvis), he was often reluctant to go down hills and was particularly ouchy on gravel (since his adjustment he is much more comfortable on gravel). The chiro also showed me where you could actually visibly see he was out - his knees were not aligned and when she had his hands on his pelvis you could actually see it was uneven. Afterwards his stride was just SO much more fluid - longer and smoother! He just moved right out and you could see how much better he felt! Now he bolts around his pen and plays rather than simply pacing and digging holes. He is still quite "body sore" though so I have been giving him massages with blue lotion (a warming lotion) in his sore spots (over his pelvis and back) to try to work out some of that soreness. We figure that his being so out of alignment is what caused him to run so poorly this year, especially after watching his movement both before and after the alignment (the difference is like night and day!). He would come out of his races perfectly sound, hardly even breathing and not even sweating because he had not even tried. He would be fit as anything and had all the ability to win...he just would not run, instead choosing to surf in the middle or end of the pack. We could not figure out why he did not want to run (especially when he LOVES the track!!) but obviously it seems he was in too much pain to run his best. I've been riding him thus far just to get him exercised since turning him loose in the arena is insufficient, but it's pretty touch-and-go right now, as he is pretty prone to meltdowns. Excited though to get on with his PNH "training" and to have him feeling really well! It is possible we will even let him run a race or two next year, but if we do go ahead with it, it will be done our way ie. the natural way.

November 13
I have worked with Link in 3 ground sessions (Nov 8, 11, 13) and 3 under-saddle sessions (8, 12,13). First session I worked with both Sonny and Link on the ground; I had one horse loose in the arena while I worked with the other. The first session Link got a pretty good grasp on 5 of the 7 games; I never go through the last two until I am sure the horse understands the first 5. He was definitely quite reactive at first, but I was impressed at how intelligent he is!! He is likely one of the most challenging horses I have worked with so far just because he is very set with those frantic patterns - whenever he feels over-challenged he braces ie. freezes, then explodes (either rears or runs). I do definitely have to be quick to act with him but also quiet and slow in my phases of asking, to allow him time to think. Gradually (even just over these last three sessions) I am definitely seeing an improvement in that area though - he is slowly learning to think rather than react and his thresholds are slowly decreasing.

Ground work
We still have quite a bit of Friendly Game to do as he still has trouble keeping his feet still for even 10s.
The Porcupine Game is good - he is very sensitive, but obviously could use some perfection. Under-saddle he does not yet understand the leg aid cues so progressing in the Porcupine Game will aid this as well.
His Driving Game is excellent for hiding the hind (he's a little too reactive at times, but he is doing what I ask, so I am just really focusing on my body language to let him know I'm not trying to eat his butt, but rather chase it around lol), but his front still needs a little work. This is where he tends to freeze up, throw his head in the air, and stand frozen before going up up up. I had to really take a step back, stand more in front of him (usually I stand just out from the shoulder), and slow down my phases. A couple of times he instantly moved off when I half-asked him (I was focusing on something else and just wanted his shoulder out of my space a bit). I definitely need to be very quiet with my body language at times with this horse! He backs nicely out of my space - now...this was a huge issue for him on the track and so has been here of course. He was very pushy and if you ever asked him to back out of your space he'd either ignore your request or (if you got "louder" ie. waving your arms or such), he'd freeze - head raised, eyes wide. Progress is relatively slow just because it's hard to de-rail him of this track he's on, but he's getting there.
The Yo-Yo Game with this horse took a little first he would simply brace against the pressure and stand or even walk into it (when I was at my last phase!). I wasn't sure quite what to do at first because it seemed we weren't getting anywhere but finally I used a little Driving Game as well while still yo-yo'ing him back, and he backed up. Our yo-yo is still quite rough, but he has at least got the idea now. Coming in wasn't a problem though, which was great!! He walked right in and placed his head on my chest during our last session - when a horse does this I find it's a huge step. In doing this they end up hiding their eyes and placing trust in me; most of all though I just notice a huge before and after change in the horse, where afterwards the horse is working more in partnership. He wasn't quite there though, but about 90 percent, which is definitely awesome :)
Our Circling Game is definitely getting there and doing well, Link understood the game within a try or two and is now moving out on Phase 1 when I point out the direction I'd like him to go in. Sometimes he is a little reactive and chooses the wrong direction but for the most part, when I give him the time he needs (ie. slow phases), he thinks and responds accurately. He tried coming in a few times at first but once he understood he was to stay circling until I said otherwise, he circled at a quiet jog until I asked him to hide his hind. This horse used to kick out when he was frustrated or even out of domination, so I really focused on getting that hind out of my space whenever I needed...which has helped our Circling Game when I ask him to hide that hind!
Sideways Game...I only asked this game of Link during the third ground session, when I felt he was capable of accurately interpreting and responding to my body language. I asked him to move sideways using the wall and he did well, but I'm not so sure he quite fully understood my request.
I actually did ask Link to play the Squeeze Game our third session as well - I didn't feel he was ready (respect-wise) to ask him to go in between me and the wall and plus I wanted to see his form over a jump, so I asked him to go over some barrels. At first he trotted around to the barrels then abruptly halted, head up, body tense, eyes wide and looking at me with an expression of "are you crazy?!!". He was quite bracy and when he felt too pressured he'd race off in the opposite direction. His avoidance of pressure through rearing has decreased and is now simply right-brain running, which is definitely a step forward. After a few tries though (I was very careful to keep my body language very quiet) he popped over the barrels as if they were going to grab his belly on his way over lol. A couple more tries in either direction though and he was popping over them with a little hesitation, but willingly :) He jumped so smoothly though and with a lot of ease; he was over-jumping a bit in height but quite a bit in length, which was neat to see. His form was nice, though I was more concentrating on him than his form, but his knees were quite neat and it looked (out of the corner of my eye as I was concentrating on everything else lol) like he was nicely rounded. I think I'm going to need to put him over something a little more challenging though to really see his form :)
His ground work is really coming along nicely but he's still quite challenging. He's also still having trouble interpreting and applying (read: thinking versus reacting) what I ask via body language, but he'll get there; I just have to be very clear!!

The first session under-saddle (western) Link did well, though he was a bit reactive. He was a bit resistant bending his nose to my leg to the right but was very soft to the left, so we did a bit of work there. He hasn't quite transferred our ground work Porcupine to under-saddle leg aids yet but that will come with additional work :) He was extremely light to my hand in the rope (PNH) hackamore though, moving off with the slightest pressure. We did about 15min under-saddle with some 20m circles at the trot, surrounded by other horses who were warming up to work cattle in a bit (he did well with all the horses!), to stretch him out before ending for the day.
The second session under-saddle (english) we did not do any ground work (not the norm): we did 15min in the arena, couple minutes at just a walk and the rest at a trot. He is quite short-strided in front (tension!) and really needs to learn to stretch out a lot so we did a lot of trotting to stretch him out physically. Afterwards I took him out and we hit the hayfield for some trot, canter, and a run ;P
Our last session together we did our ground work first before doing some under-saddle (english). He is much softer now when I ask him for lateral flexion, to bend his nose to my knee, but he's still a little unsure of moving his hind and front because he doesn't yet understand the leg aids. I have to be careful when he does not yet understand that I don't push him past his threshold, else he freezes before blowing; I had to back off a couple of times and just re-ask until he got it but he seemed to stay in an alright state of mind, mostly LB. Afterwards we worked on the cloverleaf pattern at the walk to start further teaching him leg aids and carrying that respect under-saddle (ie. by him continuing until I ask otherwise). Again he was extremely soft to my hands, but he did not quite pick up the leg aids. Part of it too is that he feels he should do something so he starts to react by moving his feet forward faster, rather than thinking his way through what I was asking and therefore picking up what the leg aids mean. We trotted a bit at the end so that he could stretch out and he was much softer than usual! He was quite calm and picked up the trot instantly when I used my legs but did not rush around the arena. Coming around towards the barrels (I'd left them out) he was quite calm so I asked him to trot past them, which he did, calmly. After turning him and allowing him to check out the barrels once more (ie. put his nose on them), I asked for the trot again and sent him over the barrels under-saddle! We only did it once and in the one direction, but he went over with little hesitation (I felt a slight hitch in his stride, but nothing else) and extremely smoothly!!! I was pretty proud of him, as earlier when he had been faced with the barrels he had blown up, yet later he had enough trust in my leadership that he was even willing to let me guide him over them! His jump felt wonderful as well, very smooth, very controlled, very easy and fluid :)

November 21
I have played with Link twice since my last report - the 18th and the 21st. The 18th we rode in the arena with three other riders so of course some of his concentration was stolen; I had to work hard to keep him focused! He did really well though with the added distractions though he had a bit of difficulty not breaking into a run under-saddle (english) whenever he heard someone's pounding hooves!
Friday we had the arena to ourselves so I sent Link (on the ground) over some barrels - which he jumped with beautiful form and little effort - and we played with a tarp! I wasn't sure how he would react to the tarp but we did not play with it until we had gotten through all our 7 games. He is slowly becoming better and better at the games and in the mean time is teaching me so much more!! The entire time though he spent trying to look at the tarp (in a curious way, not in a reactive way), even trying to step on it when we were circling nearby. So eventually I sent him over the tarp as well - the first time over he got a little "stuck" with his hind feet. He had all 4 feet on the tarp and then walked off with his front, but seemed reluctant to have his hind feet moving on the tarp. I noticed this "wall" when trailering him as well - he walks his front in no problem, but has issues with those hinds, like he's fearful of something snapping at his hinds and so freezes. After the first attempt though there was no hesitation and he walked all over the tarp. So next step I rubbed his shoulder with it a bit but he seemed so calm and curious and non-reactive that I bit the bullet and threw the entire tarp over his body...then took a good step back to wait for an explosion lol. I wasn't sure what he would think of the tarp; being left-brained he tends to think before reacting, but he can be quite reactive at times too. At first he just looked back at it and checked it out as it lay over him (it was over his neck and back, hanging down to the ground on either side and over his hind down to the ground as well). I asked him to walk a few steps and although he was a little tense and tentative at first (especially to have the tarp drag behind him), he quickly relaxed. He did not appreciate the tarp around his ears though so I worked with him, approaching and retreating, until he no longer raised his head when it passed over his ears and then dragged the whole thing over his head a couple of times. His ears were previously a huge problem area for him - at the track it was difficult to clip his bridle path because he did not want anything touching or near his ears. As I've worked with him though, establishing trust and respect, the ear issue has just dissolved on its own. Obviously though more challenging situations still cause him to be a little defensive of his ears so we'll just keep working on it! His feet were another problem area but after only a couple of sessions I have been picking up all 4 feet on one side and having him lift and hold them quietly no problem. Now just to transfer that to a He now lowers his head easily and quickly so that his nose touches dirt when I apply rope pressure to his pole, and he's teaching me where to ask properly for him to move his front over for the Porcupine Game. He has gotten quite sensitive with the phases however when I asked him to move his front off he would usually just walk off; usually I ask by placing pressure on the side of the nose and just behind the elbow. Well Link has taught me to use the hollow between his jaw and neck (at the side and bottom of his jaw and neck) and behind the elbow to get him to move. His Driving Game too is improving to where I now rarely have to use my stick (as an extension of my arm) and I can just use body language to ask him to move away (and he even keeps his head down for the most part rather than raising it sky-high!). I also asked him to circle at the canter and while he was not quite balanced he was able to balance enough to canter. Under-saddle his Porcupine Game is starting to come together to the point where he is moving off my leg - not completely yet, but he is getting the idea to the point where he is now not always bracing and running off when I apply leg pressure. He is extremely soft to my hand as well; I now hardly ever encounter braciness when I ask him to bend and then even when I ask him to move his hind. It has been really obvious with him to see the braciness slowly dissolve under-saddle as it dissolves during our groundwork as well, which has been really neat! He was quite high-energy though so I found it hard to keep him relaxed enough to do patterns at the walk but we worked on it some. Eventually I simply allowed him to move out and gallop a bit in the arena in either direction to burn off some steam. Afterwards he was a little more focused (particularly after some bending and disengaging after the running) so we did some figure-eights at a jog to try and soften him a little more and lose some of that braciness when we increase the speed. He is quite smooth to ride at the jog but still quite short-strided out front so we still have some work in that area (relaxation) as well (all in due time). Yesterday was the first time ever that he stood quietly to be saddled! At the track it was always a challenge to tack him up, you would always be rushing to do it, as he would fidget to no end and stand "bouncing" in place. Him and I eventually developed a system lol. I would leave him alone and not yell or get after him when he fidgeted or bounced; he would be free to bounce away and even move around while I brushed and bridled. It was sort of a give-take situation, so when I allowed him to do as he pleased while I started the initial tacking up, he would just (on his own) stand quietly for me to throw the saddle and pad on. Then he'd maybe throw in a bounce or two as a reached for the girth. Once I was ready to do up the girth I'd tap him gently a couple of times on the belly and he'd freeze his bouncing for a moment, I'd do up the girth, then step back, and he'd continue his bouncing. Eventually it got to where when he felt the girth brush against his belly he'd stop for me. I allowed him to bounce and he allowed me to tack him up lol; until we had our little system in place I would usually end up re-adjusting that saddle at least a half-dozen times! Still though the ultimate would be to have him relaxed enough not to fidget at all. Here I have him tied to tack up but so far no bouncing (I love the bouncing as it is so unique to him lol, but it also signifies he is stressed and anxious, which I do not want) though he does usually fidget and move about. Yesterday however he simply stood quiet and even stood quiet for me to get on!! This horse has a major problem standing still for any length of time (at the track we used to call him the "gerbil on crack" and I swear he is ADHD lol) so for him to stand quiet during both those times, and then also later at times under-saddle when I'd asked him to halt, was huge! I rode him western as well this last time and think I will continue to do so for awhile yet. I feel under the western saddle that my aids are a little clearer for him so riding him western, I think, will enable us to progress faster for now. Once we have a foundation down we'll get back into the english saddle :)

November 23
I went out to work with Link the evening of the 22nd to find a number of trailers parked out front of the indoor arena! Turns out cattle sorting/roping is Saturday evenings however they were mostly done by the time I arrived so I went ahead and brought Link in. His pasture is located next to the cattle pen however seeing the steers outside in their pen and seeing them racing around the arena being herded by horses is another thing entirely, yet Link handled it as if he were a pro. He watched the cattle and working horses alertly but calmly as the riders swung ropes and dropped calves and as they chased calves right past where he was tied.

Ground work
Did I ever mention my dislike of spectators? Lol. There were roughly half a dozen riders still hanging around by the time Link and I started up and although I doubt none were really watching I was still slightly nervous nonetheless and obviously Link picked up on this a bit. He did great though, standing mostly quietly for the Friendly Game as I swung the carrot stick about. He's still a little leery of this whole "carrot stick" thing so I make sure for now that I continue playing the Friendly Game with it each time. Our Porcupine (phase 2), Yo-Yo (now phase 3 or so usually, though our draw-in tends to be slightly slow as he takes a moment or two to read me and see if he is really allowed in lol), and Circle Games were uneventful. Sideways Game he is slowly picking up and losing some of his braciness and Squeeze Game went well over a barrel and between the barrel and wall! I also played some "rope games" with him where I entangle his legs (one at a time) in rope and ask him to release to the pressure and also where I wrap his body in the rope (one turn) and ask him to release and thus untangle himself so he is back to facing me (full complete turn as he follows the pressure). I have played these games a few times now and though he is still slightly reactive with his right hind he otherwise responds and releases to pressure almost instantly. I find these games, when incorporated appropriately, really further teach the horse to think rather than react, which Link is learning to do plenty of (think, that is)!

This time Link did not stand quite so quietly to be saddled or mounted however as I mentioned earlier I was slightly tense myself so I think that all that happened was that my tension transferred to him. Under-saddle we initially did our three-part maneuver (lateral flexion ie. neck bent and nose to my knee, turn on the hind and turn on the forehand), which is beginning to smooth out: the lateral flexion now comes with no braciness whatsoever at the halt or walk though some at the trot (when he is a little right-brained) and a lot of braciness still at the canter. His turn on the forehand comes more readily now and his turn on the hind is improving, particularly when I remember to keep my hand and leg soft! I find I really have to be clear with my body language in the saddle to keep my communication to him clear ie. I have to really sit up and move my body else he is confused. His Porcupine I think has transferred under-saddle however I think the same thing that was initially occurring in our Driving Game is occurring under-saddle with our Porcupine (ie. leg aids): I rip through my phases too quickly and so he reacts to the pressure rather than thinking. At times he responds to phase 1 of a leg aid, where I turn my body in the saddle but do not apply lower-leg and heel pressure, but at other times he braces and runs forward when I go through my phases. I think he understands the basic gist of the Porcupine under-saddle however I think when I increase my phases too quickly he becomes confused and slightly right-brained when he feels so much leg pressure; it throws him past his threshold and he stops thinking. With his uber sensitivity to my hand on the (PNH hackamore) rein (I really only have to lift the rein with two fingers for him to respond instantly), it only makes sense that he'd have the same level of sensitivity and response to my leg! So much to keep in mind while I play; Link requires so much savvy and is teaching me so much! Otherwise though we did plenty of circles, figure-eights, and serpentines to increase the flexion and work on transferring that Porcupine. I find too that Link tends to try to anticipate what I am about to ask: for example, when we're circling or doing figure-eights he'll move before I actually ask him to, so therefore we did a lot of straight-line work ie. moving from one point of the arena and stopping at an exact location somewhere else in the arena. This also helped our Porcupine under-saddle a bit as it increased responsiveness to the forward cue. Link was a little frustrated with this game, as he really wanted to anticipate our next maneuver rather than stop at a certain point on the wall of the arena but he started to calm down and relax near the end. We did a bit of Sideways under-saddle as well but need to work slowly on this as he is still not quite clear on his Porcupine and therefore gets a little frustrated with what I am trying to ask with the Sideways Game under-saddle. I tried to progress Link a little too quickly with poll flexion though as he is not quite yet familiar with responding to the rein cues for back-up yet; as a result he becomes a little frustrated as he is confused with which I am asking for (ie. back-up or poll flexion). Poll flexion does not come easily to him either as he is used to running with his head up and out; therefore when I ask for poll flexion his first and foremost reaction is to brace. The first time I asked for back-up he responded on phase 2 or so however now he braces instead and does not respond until my last phase of asking (holding increased rein pressure). So his last session I tried to clear up my communication by instead asking for a break at the poll with my hands quite low, down just ahead of my knees, which seemed to really clear things up for him. In addition, we also worked a bit on the back-up with prolonged asking phases and he started to respond once again to the lower phases, this time also with a lowered head and slight break at the poll. For now then our mission under-saddle (or one of many lol) is to focus on back-up rather than poll flexion and to work on the poll flexion from the ground first, where my aids can be clearer and therefore more-easily differentiated from the back-up cues.

7 Games & Equipment

The 7 games I use are the foundation of Parelli Natural Horsemanship; they are (in order):

The Friendly Game - desensitization to various objects: teaches the horse to rely upon your leadership as to what is necessary to and what is not necessary to spook at; establishes trust between horse and human.
The Porcupine Game - applying physical pressure to various points in increasing phases: teaches the horse to move off of pressure.
The Driving Game - "driving" the horse out of your personal space: establishes respect and continues to teach them how to interpret your body language.
The Yo-Yo Game - teaches the horse to move off of pressure rather than to brace against it; also teaches the horse to read your body language to move off or come in according to your body. Lastly, installs confidence in the horse.
The Circle Game - the horse circles 2-4 laps; teaches the horse responsibility to continue the task it is given until asked otherwise and also further teaches it to read body language.
The Sideways Game - the horse is asked to move sideways according to your body language: "the better a horse goes backwards and sideways the better it does everything else!"
The Squeeze Game - the horse "squeezes" through spaces in claustrophobic situations ie. trailers, jumps, etc; teaches the horse to rely upon your leadership.

All 7 are games that horses play with one another. The first three are the building blocks for the rest of the games, while the other four games are extensions upon the first three and build upon them. The games themselves develop a partnership between horse and rider based upon trust and respect through love, language, and leadership. They establish a means of communication both horse and human can understand - they teach the horse it's own language in "human" words so that both partners can communicate effectively. Personally, they are the foundation for everything I do with any horse. The games are the first thing I teach any horse: I establish an effective means of communication and the commencement of a partnership then extend from it both on the ground and under-saddle.

Journal of Formiss

Missy summer 2008

The following is a sort of journal entailing my journey working with "Missy". Formiss, or "Missy", is a palomino 2004 Dutch Warmblood x Quarter Horse mare by the late Holland-imported Dutch Warmblood stallion Formaat and out of the QH mare Blue Jay's Queen. I received this mare mid-July but did not commence work on her until August. She was halter-broke but otherwise untouched. For those familiar with the Parelli Natural Horsemanship "horsenalities", Missy is a Left-Brain Introvert (like her half-brother Koolaid) but with right-brain tendencies due to past handling.

Day 0 August 12
I walked the fenceline with Missy in her new home before turning her loose with the other horses. Koolaid has beautiful movement, but this mare left both my mom and I speechless. This is the first time either of us have been able to really see this mare move out. We both stood in awe as she seemed to float above the ground. At the trot, her hooves would hesitate in the air for an eighth of a second before coming down and when they did come down, it seemed as if she simply "walked on air". When she began cantering to show off for her new friends, I had to snap my mom's jaw shut and remind her she was supposed to be taking pictures (so hopefully we caught some good ones!). Lol. Later we actually moved her to a smaller pen that was a little more suitable for our work and to Missy's safety.

Day 1 August 13
We worked in the arena alongside two other horses. She whipped through her 7 games with ease, even braving the gap below one of the doors (hey, never know when it might reach out and grap ya!) to play the Squeeze game with me. She would tend to get right-brained at times during the Circle Game, but as I remained relaxed and simply kept repeating my directions in a quiet manner, she was transferring over to the logical (left) side of her brain regularly.

Day 2 August 15
She is reacting (right-brained) FAR less now and is instead learning to think (left-brained), particularly in the Circle game (where she is asked to circle around me) as well as in the Friendly game (an exercise which involves my tossing ropes and such over and around her). I have also found that once I broke that initial trust barrier with her, she has allowed me in 100 percent. When I first brought her home, she was so head-shy if you so much as THOUGHT about touching her ears, she'd freeze, head held high, eyes wide in panic. Day two she actually ENJOYS me scratching and rubbing them! Rub her throat and that little mare is in your pocket. Lol. It is only her 3rd time going through the games (only her 2nd time going through all 7 though) and already she almost has them down to a T. She is already up to Level 2 on the ground. Kudos to such a bright mare! Today we were the sole inhabitants of the arena so we worked through all our games - 3 times each side each game. She has learned to read my body language well and so does her games with ease and near-perfection. She was pretty relaxed and since yesterday I desensitized her to my bouncing at her shoulder and kind of hanging off her side (one leg gripping her loin, the other dangling in the air as I gripped her mane and neck - yea, kinda awkward, almost monkeyish, looking lol), I decided she was ready to take it one step further and actually get up onto her back. I took it easy and made sure she was relaxed and calm with each step. First I simply hung myself over her back, like a sack of potatoes. Each side, several times per side, rubbing her neck and chatting away to her all the while. I waited until she was lowering her head and licking her lips before boosting both legs up and lying my entire body along her back, my feet dangling together off her hind. Few times each side, wait until she is relaxed...finally I sat up. She seemed slightly surprised and cranked her golden head around, nosing my feet on each side as if to ask how it had gotten there and what in the heck it was doing hanging there! Hey, and what role did this bucket here on the ground play in all this? Maybe if I chew on She spooked once: she was a bit startled when my leg brushed her side as she moved forward and so started zagging with increasing anxiousness - she just was not used to my movement and weight up there, which is obviously to be expected. I quickly swung off to collect her on the ground but she relaxed instantly, so I hopped back up and we continued with no more issues. She is pretty trusting in a leader and while she may (at this stage) spook at something, once she realizes what it is, she no longer questions the object ever. Easy desensitization! Within 10 minutes this mare was walking quietly, completely at ease, on a loose rein. She quickly learned to stay on the rail and respond to my legs (she is getting pretty light in her Porcupine - an exercise in which she learns to move off of pressure - on the ground as well, so she simply transferred our ground work into the work on her back). She flexes beautifully (with fingertip touch) both laterally as well as at the poll!! She also does easy turns on the hind, though I did not ask on purpose; I was simply asking, on a direct rein, for a turn and she responded instantly and lightly with an easy pivot on the hind! I am absolutely shocked at this mare :)

Day 3 August 15
Missy is progressively picking up that my carrots stick (a 5' or so rigid fibreglass stick with a 6' string on the end) is simply an extension of my arm and that I am not going to beat her over the head with it (I know, shocking, you would think that is what I carry a big stick for, to beat people and animals, right? lol). It is going to take some time though before she fully trusts me or my stick (she's almost there, she trusts so much but has the odd moment when she's unsure and reverts to being reactive). Our Friendly Game (desensitizing to different movements, objects, etc) was pretty good, she can read me well and is learning to rely upon my consistency (that I am not out to hurt her) and to trust me that when I say things are alright, they really are. Her Porcupine Game (moving away from finger pressure) is improving even more as well - most of the time she is at Phase 2 (touching her skin, light pressure) or even 1 (just brushing her coat hair and she moves), which is awesome, especially in 3 days! Her Driving Game (I "drive" her out of my space using body language) is awesome and consists of near-perfect pivots on the hind and fore. She even backed up today on Phase 2 (wiggling my wrist) of the Yo-Yo Game (I "yo-yo" her backwards and then comb the rope and ask her to come back in to me)!! Her Circling Game (the goal is for her to circle until I ask her to stop, 2-4 laps) is doing well but clock-wise she tends to get reactive and explode sideways to evade pressure. It took awhile to work through some of the kinks on that side today but eventually I had her do two laps without an issue so we ended our ground games there for the day. I also used the Circling game today to get her through the barn door. She was a bit suspicious so I just ended up asking her to touch the door etc with her nose (which she did almost without hesitation!). I guess it ended up being a bit of the Squeeze Game as well but she eventually followed me in pretty quickly. Anyways, afterwards I hopped up and had her walking along the rail (bareback with a halter). Everything was going pretty well (a couple of explosions during which she'd tense and dart out from beneath me, but once she realized what was going on she was quick to calm down) and then Buddies walked in. I heard their feet walking through the barn several seconds before Missy realized what was going on and wanted to see how she'd react (I think she heard them too but didn't quite know what to do). Well she tensed then shot out from beneath me. I went with the flow and leaped off, landing on my feet (no point trying to sit her and just getting her even more agitated). As soon as she realized everything was alright (I spent a second or two calming her down) she relaxed, I remounted, and we continued. All in all she did very well :)

Day 4 August 16
Our games went REALLY well today, she picks up real fast! She now picks up all four feet without much resistance (she's still learning to balance herself a bit) and allows me to bang on them as a farrier would during shoeing. Our Circle Game was the only game that has really posed any issues (just minor though - she still tries to explode sideways when trotting clockwise) and it took hardly any time today for Missy to relax and get the game down to perfection! I am sure we'll still have some ironing to do but she made huge progress today in relaxing and thinking rather than reacting so today we also did the Sideways Game (yesterday we skipped it as she had made so much progress at the time I did not want to push it - the game: I ask her to move sideways using body language) and the Squeeze Game (I ask her to move through small spaces etc) - she did real well with both! Actually when I pulled her out of the paddock at first she did not want to walk past a vac truck and through the narrow space into the barn (there was also other stuff lying around, as an oil change was being done on the machinery). At first when I tried to lead her in she stopped, tensed, and started backing up. She is the type of horse (like many though) that you cannot push - you push her and she will panic and fight (that fight or flight instinct kicking in). So I move to drive her and she moves up a bit but stops and wants to react. So I walk in first and kind of (by accident) yo-yo her in and she starts following me without hesitation!! See, you learn new things each day!! Lol. It was just a matter of me communicating more effectively; once I started yo-yo'ing she walked right in past all the machinery (a HUGE step for her in her placing trust in me!). I just never thought that I could apply our games so quickly, but she catches on almost instantaneously; it seems anything I teach her is then applicable to real-life situations. Today we also played the Circle Game with my english saddle and pad on the floor of the arena. At first she was a little suspicious but pretty soon she was circling with her full attention on me (rather than the equipment on the ground), her body bent in a nice arc along the circle. So we went through the saddling process (rubbing the saddle pads over her body until she was comfortable, getting her comfortable with the saddle on either side, playing the Circle Game with the saddle cinched up, then with the stirrup leathers flapping, etc) and she let me mount up. She did EXTREMELY well today: we worked on flexion (laterally and at the poll), patterns (particularly the cloverleaf), and the trot! The trot scared her a bit at first (just carrying that weight and having extra movement from above) but she was pretty quick to relax and trust. I picked up my western saddle so tomorrow we'll work on more trot and such under western (multi-discipline for her, more secure seat for me in the event she jumps or ducks). No bucks, though there have been several occasions I felt she may have been ready to (simply out of fear) and so I had to back down the pressure real fast and allow her a moment to process things and think. Once I allow her that moment, she is always great to try again, which is awesome (she is a thinking horse and returns to left-brain - logical thinking - rather quickly). I am having to be ultra careful to ensure that I keep her occupied and progressing, but that I am never pushing her. If she does buck then I have pushed her further than she was ready, so I am trying to walk that thin line. She is still getting used to people moving around the barn but is doing well and progressing real quick!!!

Day 5 August 17
Really picking up on those ground games, though we are still struggling a bit with our Circle Game (exploding sideways still while going clockwise). Today was Day 1 under the western saddle and we re-started the desensitization process with the western saddle as if she had never seen a saddle before. The size of the western saddle caught her eye a bit (as well as a foam pad I use), but she quickly relaxed. She instantly allowed me up and we practiced patterns at both the walk and trot. She was slightly nervous at times in the trot and so her pace was rather quick due to her tension, but for her first time, she did awesome!! She also flexes very nicely both laterally and at the poll and is responding well to pressure (PNH rope hackamore and leg pressure).

Day 6 August 18
Missy is doing extremely well: she is on Phase 2 (feather-light pressure) on most of her ground exercises and was very relaxed at the trot under-saddle (western) today. We also got in a half lap of canter each direction! She is extremely light to both rein and leg aids, even quickly picking up turns on the forehand and hindquarter. Her back-up is extremely soft: she flexes at the poll as she backs up to a light touch. We also sorted out our former miscommunication woes at the Circle Game, which is now going real well. Our issues were sorted out when I figured out she needed me to communicate clearer to her by simply taking a step backwards so that I was behind her shoulder line. Once I was behind that line it allowed her to move forward, which enabled her to eventually no longer feel "pressured" away from me and out sideways. All in all, she is doing very well - we even stirred up some dust today in the arena cantering at the Circle Game (ground) and doing serpentines at the trot (under-saddle) the length of the arena.

Day 7 August 19
Today the arena was a little busy: two other boarders working in the arena and plenty of spectators so lots of distractions ;) A little step back as far as respect: our Porcupine and Driving Games were a little rough (Missy was a little annoyed I felt I should be leader - she wanted to take charge and visit everyone lol) but most was sorted out over time by the end of the session and our Circle Game was awesome! I thought we might go through the "I don't respect you" phase, as Missy is identical personality-wise to Koolaid, her half-brother ;P Oh well, lol. Otherwise all went well! She did well under-saddle at w/t/c (walk/trot/canter) and was performing beautiful turns on the forehand and hindquarter today at Phase 1! She was pretty tense under-saddle at the trot though and so the speed of her trot reflected her tension - it is just going to take time for her to become accustomed to strangers marching around. Now just to continue advancing her, work on gaining that respect to a higher level, and getting her accustomed to strangers :)

Day 8 August 21
Today we went through our ground work pretty quickly, focusing primarily on our Driving Game to establish stronger respect. Our under-saddle was a little rough today, as she kept running through my leg aids. Going into a corner off the wall, she'd bend nicely to my hand, but would simply move sideways, ignoring my leg pressure. She also bit me today in response to my ignoring her requests for me to do up her cinch in slower phases...independent mare puts ignorant human in her place lol. Otherwise though all went well, though I think I've got some respect to earn and some more Porcupine Game to play.

Day 9 August 22
Our ground games were alright, though Missy is starting to creep in on her Circling Game. She also seems to be quite po'd when I ask for her respect during the Driving Game. Our under-saddle work was also rough, as she continued to run through my leg aids (respect!). We finally ended on a half-good note where she was bending nicely and collecting herself soft and supple on smaller circles, though we were both pretty tired and sweated up by that time (lots of hard work at the trot!).

Day 10 August 23
We worked on all our ground work today, though we really concentrated on the Driving Game (earning that respect). I also incorporated some of the Driving Game into our Porcupine Game, as Missy was intent on ignoring my "porcupines". Her Friendly Game is awesome, her Yo-Yo Game is almost down to Phase 1, and her Circling Game was PERFECT! No more explosions (though she still tends to lug in, but more respect will correct this and in the mean time I simply drive her out) and she even cantered a lap in either direction (which, for such a HUGE powerhouse on such a small circle, requires a great deal of balance!). Her ground exercises are also becoming more and more applicable in "real-life" situations (almost ready for trailer-loading). Under-saddle, she was pulling the same "I have no idea what you are talking about, and while we're on the subject of ME, I think I'll go over here". So I hopped off and we did some Driving Game. After earning a little more respect, I handled the issue from under-saddle: every time she decided to trot, bent, in the direction she wanted, I would ask her to move her hind end around, which effectively straightened her out so that she was facing the right direction (ie. if we were cornering to the right - cutting the arena in half, on a 20 meter circle - trotting clockwise she'd bend to the right but lead with her shoulder and move her body to the left; so I started applying my leg to her right hind, which would drive it around towards the left, which would face her to the right...where she was supposed to be!). This sort of po'd her some (apparently she does not like her plans thwarted lol), but it (combined with some work on respect under-saddle) worked. The respect under-saddle involved having her be responsible for herself - responding with a "yes ma'am, how far, how fast?". Whenever I asked her to pick up the pace or to maintain a pace she'd dropped, I increased my assertiveness (ie. increasing my "asking" phases more immediately). I also had her trot and canter (responsibly ie. with minimal direction on my part) to and from various letters in the arena (ie. different arena points), moving out exactly when I asked her to, and halting on the exact point I asked. Next, I got her working on some patterns: we worked on serpentines and on achieving soft, supple, small circles, then expanding those circles to larger sizes (half the arena, which is where we were having our troubles because she'd want to skip off to the opposite side of the arena, to the gate). By the end, she was responding AWESOME to my leg, was soft and supple, and was trotting more engaged. She also cantered a lap nicely in either direction, even balancing nicely at the small ends of the arena. Lastly, she also pivots nicely (and softly!) for turns on her hind and fore. This horse is so incredibly smart - as hard as it might be to believe, it is hard to stay ahead of her (and obviously, at times, I DO fall behind lol)! She is definitely keeping me on her toes, which is challenging, but she is doing so well :)

Day 11 August 24
Our ground exercises today went well, though I had to once more incorporate a bit of Driving Game into our Porcupine Game to increase her level of respect towards pressure. Our Yo-Yo Game is at Phase 1 (wiggle my finger), though she is almost down to Phase 0 (glare at her and she backs up). I was pretty assertive with our Driving Game today as well. Her Sideways, Squeeze, and Circle Games all went off without a hitch. Today we saddled up english (still the PNH rope hackamore though) and worked on her being soft and supple. She did awesome! She was very responsive to my leg and hand and was also very responsible for herself today; we even got a lap of canter in either direction! Her turns on the forehand and hind are also awesome. I finally caught up lol so now she's going to have to re-outsmart me to re-challenge me hehe.

Day 12 August 25
Both ground and under-saddle went well today! Down to Phase 1 on most of our ground games and we had great response to leg aids (turn on the hind, fore, circles, serpentines, sidepass) under saddle. Afterwards I tried her out with the bridle for 10min or so: she was not too keen on pressure being applied to the bit and so was a bit stiff at times but we ended on a good note where she was relaxed a few times on and off. Just a short side note: after our last few sessions I've been applying the bit and bridle during tack-down and our grooming at the end of the day so that she could get used to it; yesterday was the first day she seemed completely at-ease with the bit and bridle so I felt today would be a good day to start using it under-saddle. All in all, a great day! I pushed her a bit when she was tied later though; I was trying to spray her mane (even though I knew we needed to work on the friendly game with spray bottles) and thought I could get away with a couple of quick, light sprays... well Missy definitely thought otherwise lol and blew up. I happened to be in the way and...well I do not remember too much after that, except that I would STRONGLY suggest that no one EVER check out the Urgent Care Clinic here in Airdrie. I would particularly avoid a certain RN named Dena (as well as some of the other nurses). After a concussion I am now pretty close to normal. Mistake on my part!

Day 13 August 29
I went out to see Missy today; I took her into the arena and did some ground work, as I am still recovering and not quite ready for under-saddle work. She was a bit reactive at times but was almost back to her old self by the end.

Day 14 August 30
Today Missy's ground exercises were slightly reactive at times, but I felt she was left-brained enough by the end to work with her under saddle. Under saddle we just did light work at the walk and trot (due to my concussion, not due to her). She was awesome, even with strangers around in the barn! She was very responsive and worked very well :)

August 31
Moved Missy and Sonny (our 2004 OTTB gelding) to their new boarding home! Missy, whom we have had troubles loading due to her past inexperience and poor past experiences, walked right in after me without hesitation!! Last we loaded her, we actually had to run her in to the trailer, loose. I've put so much time into developing a partnership with her based on leadership, respect, and trust, that she was able to blindly follow my leadership...and it is certainly paying off.

Day 15 September 6
Missy was slightly reactive today but after a few moments of play she was very calm (despite the new surroundings, people, and animals). I brought her into the arena (two others working in it) and she worked like a dream!! She ignored the strangers watching her, the horses and people in the arena, and two German Shepherds running about, nevermind the new surroundings! She was a bit spooky of the new arena but did as she was asked with little hesitation and with much willingness (and with absolutely NO explosions!!). She was pretty calm and even relaxed after a few laps of the ring and was working very nicely at the trot. She was also extremely responsive to my hands and legs. She has never been placed in such a challenging situation yet she handled it like a pro - so proud! Unfortunately though she was a little sore due to a stone bruise, so we called it quits for the day.

October 18
She is going well though my time with her has been rather limited as of late. Her flat work is going great though and she is working nicely under-saddle; we're working on a lot of lateral work and circles to keep her supple.

November 25
I have not worked with Missy since the beginning of this month, as she is to return "home" to Kamlooops, BC sometime this month. I would have loved to have put some more work into her but am so caught up right now in work and the other horses that she is simply enjoying her time playing with her buddies out in the field. Overall though she had well over two months of work put on her and was doing fabulous by the end - looking forward to seeing her next spring when she returns for a "brush up" and to be sold.

Current Equine Partners

Koolaid summer 2008, 8 years old

Silver summer 2008, 13 years old

Sonny summer 2008, 4 years old

Link off the track fall 2008

Link at the track 2008, 4 years old

Link's Secret a.k.a. Link
2004 dark bay Thoroughbred gelding. I met Link on the track in 2007 when he was a 3yo running for $25,000. The 2008 season however he ran poorly and therefore dropped to bottoms. He would run in amongst the pack making no bid whatsoever for the lead and return to the barn - after a race(!!) - with not a drop of sweat and hardly breathing above normal. His owner was looking to run him in Lethbridge (a B-track where we send all our poorly-running horses), however I made an offer on him. This horse, a part of my string of horses to groom at the track, was one of my favourites for his boisterous and mischievous personality despite the challenges he also presented (ie. he always had to be heavily sedated to have his feet trimmed and shod on the track). We purchased Link August 2008 and brought him home September 2nd 2008. After a lengthy bout of ringworm where he was forced to live in isolation while he mended, Link is finally his healthy, mischievous self. Turns out too that the likely reason he had refused to run was that he was in too much pain to do so with his pelvis severely misaligned. He is feeling great now though and I have started "re-training" him in Parelli Natural Horsemanship with the ultimate goal of using him as a jumper or eventer. We may choose to race him next year in a couple of races, however only if we find it can be done naturally. Link is your classic classic Left-Brain Extrovert though he has right-brain tendencies at times yet. I absolutely love working with this horse though he is certainly challenging my savvy and teaching me so much more!! I love his extrovert personality with the boldness and fearlessness of the thinking left-brain'er!!

Devil's Little Dipper a.k.a. Sonny
2004 chestnut Thoroughbred gelding. I also met Sonny at the track in 2007 and though he was in my string of horses I had not really taken much notice of him at the time. At the end of the season though his trainer called me up and told me he was being auctioned off if I was interested. I contacted his owners to hear that they could no longer afford to feed a poorly-running horse and that, although they had raised him since a foal, they were to auction him off September 15 and he would likely end up in the meat pen. If we wanted him, we had to pick him up before the designated auction date. Sonny is so completely quiet, from the track life, that I felt he would make the perfect match for my mom. I convinced her to come out and see him and although he was no longer the sleek-looking racehorse I had left on the track, my mom fell in love with the thin-ish, ragged-looking gelding charging around his pasture. Since then she has been working with him a bit however I have been primarily teaching him PNH as well. He is a GREAT little horse who collects himself easily and readily and is very soft and supple. He is a little bit of a mischievous colt still but overall he is fairly honest. I absolutely love his short short back and all that power he's got tucked up in that hind! He's got a great deal of talent that I look forward to bringing out :) Sonny is definitely a Right-Brain Extrovert.

Silver Bonanza Bar a.k.a. Silver
1995 grey Quarter Horse (3/4) x Arabian gelding who is out of our Quarter Horse (1/2) x Arabian mare Lady. His running Quarter Horse lines provide him with his love of the wind in his mane!! Silver was originally bred and raised to be my dad's ranch horse however when we moved off the ranch and I needed a new horse to move up on, he became it! I was 12 at the time and he was 4 so we had Russel Dreger, a local trainer, put a couple months on the un-started Silver. However he was unable to finish full training when Silver injured himself pawing at a fence so we took him home and I tended his injured fetlock daily...and a bond grew. He is my cow-pony, my been-there-done-that horse who is also my highest level horse (level 3+) whom I can ride at full liberty! He is also an Right-Brain Extrovert and is so highly sensitive I have to be careful how I even shift my weight on his back (particularly when bareback) lol. Silver has worked cattle (his personal favourite), jumped, done a little dressage and gymkhana, and has taken me through 4H and Pony Club. He has also patiently suffered through my learning over the years as I learned how to communicate more effectively with him and become a greater leader for him. I would love to get into some team penning and reining with him however it's all about finding the time!!

Formaat's Kool Renegade a.k.a. Koolaid
2000 grey Dutch Warmblood (1/2) x Quarter Horse (1/4) x Arabian gelding, out of our Quarab mare Lady and the late Holland-import stallion Formaat. At the time of Koolaid's birth we had leased Lady back to her original owner for breeding purposes as we had hit upon some hard financial times. Lady was eventually bred to the Dutch Warmblood Formaat in the attempts of producing a filly to carry on her line, however a colt was born. Koolaid was born out on the range; when the owners found the foal was a colt, they offered him to us for sale and we consented. I worked with Koolaid from that first day forward, teaching him all his basics. Right from a foal though he was the picture of a little rebellion; he once injured himself and required 13 stitches at the vet. Drugged up with both the vet and I holding him against the wall he struggled and fought us to no end lol. Koolaid is a Left-Brain Introvert and so starting him under-saddle as a 3yo was challenging. He refused to work under-saddle and would sull up if forced in any way/shape/form. If he so much as spotted a crop or spurs he would refuse to move forward and would even buck if pushed. His fastest pace was a walk - a jog if you were really lucky, and if he decided at any time that he did not feel like working, he would simply sull up and stand. This horse deserves all the credit for forcing me to really check out other methods (though I had been immersed in various methods such as John Lyons throughout my life and had always been open to other methods), which led me to the Parelli Natural Horsemanship. I watched Pat working his stallion Casper in amongst mares, at full liberty at times, and imagined where Koolaid and I could be one day. Seeing that demo that weekend completely and dramatically changed my view of working with horses!! Well Koolaid turned out not to be as candid at trying these new "games". In fact, he downright despised what he viewed as my attempts at unsurping him from his little throne and set out to put me back in my "place". He trapped me against stalls when I had him tied for grooming, trapped between a decision of which was worse: slashing teeth and striking front feet or cocked-and-ready-to-pound hind hooves. He carried his ears in a permanent scowl, pinned against his head, and challenged my authority at every chance possible. He reared and struck out with his front legs whenever the mood struck him and he dove in during the Circle Game to tag me with either teeth or hooves. Slowly though his attitude of spite turned to one of respect and partnership...those ears previously laid flat against his skull started to prick forward more and more often. It was an upward battle, but it was worth it!! Koolaid really taught me perseverance (ie. continuing to go out and work with a horse I hated lol), patience, and assertiveness without aggressiveness. Today he is the picture of willingness and partnership; just looking for the time to increase our levels further! He still occasionally tests my leadership but after a little Driving Game to re-establish my authority he is great, particularly if I am playing with him on a regular basis. Under-saddle he is soft and supple and collects nicely! We have worked on a bit of dressage over the past couple of years as well as jumping; the jumping he seems to love, often trying to drag me over jumps in the jumping ring lol. He has a lot of scope too, particularly for being such a small (15.3hh) horse - he easily clears 5' oxers at the Circle Game and so far I have tested him at 4' oxers under-saddle, which he clears with ease :)