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.

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