Thursday, March 26, 2009

Of coyotes and dogs

Today I had to jet off back to my EMT practicum and so only had time to work with the little yellow mare Chicka. I felt pretty bad for pulling the little Dee out of her pasture, as when I got out there today she was actually munching on some hay...she stood quietly for me while I worriedly and somewhat annoyedly (make new word up today: check) watched Aly (my dog) disappear to the size of a small black dot as she chased after a coyote (she actually nearly caught him too!), then also as I fiddled with the halter and finally got it on her head. No more halting and refusing to walk forward, either! Now she calmly follows behind without my applying any pressure to the lead.

We started out today with trotting the figure-8 and weave patterns, which she performed beautifully with minimal direction and only minor mistakes. We did some traveling circle, transitions and changes in direction - the latter being a little rough but successful all the same (practise makes perfect). Next we moved on to the games; her porcupine was pretty dull but we spiced it up with some driving game and brought it to some lighter phases. The rest of her games were done on the 22' as well and were pretty much your norm for the day. She was, as usual, very quiet to saddle up and mount up. Our 3-part maneuver was pretty clean until she spotted - from the corner of her eye - a white pickup truck drive past the open door. I don't think she actually got a good look at it, so just seeing the movement and hearing an unfamiliar noise had her distracted and wary of that end of the arena for nearly the entire session. As time passed she became quieter though and after getting a good look at the truck as it drove past in the opposite direction later, she was almost back to her normal self. Liiiitle jumpy but otherwise pretty much LB. We of course did the figure-8 pattern (trot and walk), at which she performed brilliantly - very soft on both sides. Next we tackled some walk along the rail just focusing on sticking to the rail, some trot, some small circles on the rail (alright), and lastly, some canter on the rail! She was pretty soft on the left rein and was very relaxed during her laps. Since she was still a little leery of the open-door-end-of-the-arena, she tended to cut corners there a little at first (I even was "lucky" - hehe - enough to experience some true cutting-horse-action as she cut the corner and also a barrel I had set up with the figure-8 pattern...her idea not mine haha) but after a lap she was moving into the corners fairly deep for me. The right rein is still not her strong side so we ended up doing about 4 laps in that direction - I wanted to wait to transition her down until she was relaxed and was not cutting corners. She also had the tendency to go extremely deep into one of the far corners and almost hit the wall today, despite by attempts to draw her down the long side of the arena (rather than straight...into the wall, lol)...I have full confidence that as she relaxes on the right rein at the canter though she'll balance herself better and be more responsive to my requests. So we'll keep at 'er!

She was going so well that I thought we'd venture a bit outside...after all I would like to get her out on the trails a number of times before she goes home. She's still a young horse and needs all the experience she can get. I wasn't sure if she was ready yet though, so at first we just stuck to the outdoor arena. There the ground was pretty hard so we mostly walked (few trot steps, but that was it, I did not want to stress her legs on that hard ground or risk her slipping and falling). There was also a lot of deep snow at either end of the arena, but especially at the far end - horse-knee deep; she never batted an eye when I asked her to go through it multiple times, all the while carrying me. She of course was interested in her surroundings and so was looking around curiously, but was 99 percent LB the entire time and was 99 percent focused entirely on what I was asking! The Dee would bend when I asked her to, change direction, do figure-8's, circle...whatever I asked, without qualm (and all within sight of other distractions, such as horses). Finally, I opened the arena gate off her back and we ventured outside and explored a bit of the yard together. Again she was very curious but calm and very responsive, even in new areas we had not yet explored together even on foot. I was not sure how she would be today and was a little leery of riding her outside in a rope hackamore (the Parelli one), but she blew me away. My rule is always: if I can't ride a horse in a hackamore (and preferably bridleless, but 30 or 60 days with a horse does not allow for all that much liberty work!), I have no business riding that horse in a bit. On the other hand, safety first, so if I can't ride that horse in a hackamore, I need to get off (and maybe stick to the arena first to build a stronger foundation). Buuut that is also why I proceeded with the outdoor arena first, as opposed to the fields nearby :) Even when she spooked at the truck in the arena, she still remained responsive and allowed me to bend her to a stop; afterwards she was tense but she remained pretty responsive and was not explosively reactive in the least. Her remaining responsive despite being afraid gave me confidence that outside the arena I could still maintain control. So next shot we'll do some outdoor ring riding again before perhaps (depending on the session) tackling some field riding! Wooohaa!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lessons of the human variety

March 25

Well today was supposed to be lesson day but student numero uno (a family member) backed out so it was just a friend and I, the friend with Link and me working with Sonny. The quick run-down:

The dark kid went well today, he tested his limits a bit with buddy but with the one-on-one session, my friend got a pretty high level of respect from him at all his 7 games (buddy even had him squeezing over a set of barrels!!) with the 22' line. I sent the two on the patterns before we returned to the games for the circling game and it's accompanying patterns. They started with the figure-8 at the trot (flawless) before moving on to the weave at the trot. Link missed a few cones initially but buddy kept trying with him until he got the weave at the trot. He's (buddy, that is) starting to learn to read Link better now too so that he's able to stop him and have him disengage when he's starting to get right-brained. Next they tackled the circling game, during which Link only went RB once; my friend immediately disengaged him and re-tried. For the most part, Link was very left-brained - the two got in both walk and trot as well as direction changes and even some traveling circle. A very productive session that challenged both horse and human and caused both to learn and grow.

His 7 games went alright (he squeezed pretty nicely over the barrels as well after some initial hesitation) but he was much too RB during the circling game to work on anything - I could not even get him to disengage his hindquarters for me. He was in complete flight mode and as such, completely ignorant of anything I was attempting to tell him from the sidelines. His figure-8 was impossible so we did not even attempt the weave! An all-round black day for the kid, despite my repeated attempts to encourage him to relax through friendly game, rest breaks, rubs, etc. I think another day I could have done better with him too (perhaps approached it from another angle?), but I just was not into it today and so instead just turned him out again to be with his buddies. Maybe next time I'll be more into working through his challenges and hopefully next time he's not in such flight mode the entire time! Fingers crossed.

Today Chicka was pretty good to catch! She trotted up in my direction, stopped, whinnied (still not sure who the whinny was aimed at, no other horses had showed up or were in that particular line of sight...), then walked off. As I approached, she walked up towards me again before stopping, walking a few steps off, then stopping again and allowing me to approach. I rubbed her a moment and set about untangling the halter in front of her before even attempting to halter her without her so much as flicking an ear away or shifting her weight. She seemed content to be with me and even a little happy maybe...which is great!!! Our sessions are continuing to pay off :)

Started off the little Dee with the patterns, actually, the figure-8 being the first. She performed it flawlessly and completely LB and so we moved on to the weave...which she also did very well at. She was much more relaxed this time through and did it well at the trot. We did some transitions on the circling game (little rough but were good in the end), some changes in direction (good, though some additional sessions will help us maintain a trot throughout the direction change), some traveling circle (finally kept her down to the trot rather than cantering - she did very well in the end!) and just some general circling. She was pretty keen again to canter on the circling game and while I think it was a result of her needing to move her feet in flight pattern, she remained pretty LB for the most part, which was also a good sign. Next we tackled the rest of our 7 games, which went by pretty quickly and easily.

Saddling up Chicka I was able to do so with the 22' line lying on the ground. On previous occasions she would take a step or two while I did up the cinch, but I have been even more careful as far as taking my time doing it up and doing it up in phases (ie. do it up a little, move around a bit, do it up more) and also I have not been doing it up as tight as I usually do. This horse really has very little wither for the saddle to grip and so causes it to slide a bit if the cinch is not tight...which is fine if the horse is coming along great. If the rider's balance is good they do not usually have to worry much about the tightness of the girth (real story: I've ridden Silver, my Quarab, down a track in a full-out gallop with a very very loose, basically useless-loose, cinch - obviously not planned, but my balance was good enough to keep that saddle in place...I wouldn't recommend having a cinch as loose as I had it that day, but obviously the cinch does not have to be horse-cannot-breathe-tight). So long story short (or, made longer, in my case: make story longer than is necessary and in doing so cause people to fall asleep...check....aaand check), I was doing her cinch up a little tighter than normal because last thing I needed if she threw in a bucking spree (which does, by the way, usually indicate that I did not do my job properly and establish a strong enough foundation before getting up in that saddle, but everyone makes mistakes and sometimes horses need to be pushed a little within certain time constraints) was to have the saddle start slipping, which, especially in the beginning stages of our under-saddle work, would have only caused her to buck harder and longer. Sub-optimal for me. Suub-optimal. Anyways, since she has been going so well and as my fears of her spooking at a slipping saddle have been mostly alleviated, I've been doing the cinch up snug, getting on, then re-doing the cinch 10 or so minutes into our work - that way it's snug, but done up in even better phases, and comfortable. ANYWAYS. She was extremely quiet throughout, I never had to correct her once. We did our three-part maneuver, which is getting lighter and lighter each time. I got a couple 180 degree turns on the hind today even, on a very light rein. Leg aids are not yet her forte though so we did a bit of the cloverleaf pattern at the walk. We also did some stick-to-the-rail, figure-8 (MUCH lighter today, so amazingly light on both sides at both the walk and the trot), and weave (trot). She wanted to move off a little quick but was pretty much LB, I did not feel much RB at all and certainly no reactive-ness. We did some walk/trot/canter along the rail...she was anticipating canter a little so we ended up doing a lot of trot just to make sure she was paying attention and to try and ease her into relaxing and not trying to anticipate the canter. On the right rein (clockwise) she kept turning her nose in to the wall and I found I was trying to micro-manage her so I ended up instead bumping her nose a couple of times with my inside rein and asking for more impulsion and respect at the same time, which had her straightening out some. She tried the same at the canter, like she was going to turn in to the wall and use it as an excuse to stop, while humping her back up a bit...not sure if that was solely a respect issue or if it could also be a physical issue (ie. chiropractic or such) as well, but I'm leaning towards the former. She does not do it on the left rein and after I earned a little more respect she stopped doing it. We'll keep investigating though. On the left rein she was very fluid and relaxed, we got in two laps that were very very pleasant and on the rail the entire time. On the right rein she was a little rough yet, so we'll keep up the practise! Afterwards we had a quick cool-down and I turned her out...a great day for the little yellow horse :)

March 21-24 catch-up

March 21

Trying to work with the little bugger more often so mom - his owner - can feel a little more comfortable around him ;)

Today when I brought the oversized toddler in, I stole a page from my friend RW's (who'd been working with Sonny previously) book and did not tie him. Instead I groomed him just holding his lead and correcting him until he'd stand still for me (blocking his movement, yo-yo'ing him, driving him around a bit, etc) so as to prevent him from getting so psyched up while tied. He ended up standing pretty well while I took the shedding blade to his thick coat. Goal-of-the-day numero uno: cover thyself with bright orange hairs. Check. Nice, we're on a roll today.

We started out with the driving game; Sonny was a little RB on his right side, fleeing forwards when I applied pressure rather than calmly moving off in a turn on the hind. We did a bit before moving on and returning to it later - later he was much better, completely RB and very responsive. The odd time at first he did actually end up running into my stick as I came in and he chose not to move, but after a couple of times he picked it up and gave me a much higher level of respect. He ignored my porcupine a bit on his sides (ie. turn on the hind), which forced me to go back and earn a higher level of respect from him and to get him from a little RB to fully LB. To earn that respect, I had him squeeze (12' line) over some barrels laid down, twice each direction with no wall - he hesitated a bit but went over quite easily and cleared them nicely, tucking his legs up so as not to hit the barrels. We may have a jumper after all! He's certainly got the conformation for it, I'd just like him to have the mind for it...we'll see. When I eventually returned to the porcupine later he was much better, though still not 100 percent. Keep in mind too though that I have not worked with this horse myself in months and he hasn't been played with in general in weeks. So he did great, all considering!! At the circling game (22' line), he played a bit (threw in a buck or two and a couple of squeals and air-strikes haha) but did very well, even spiraling in and out at the canter. He's got this great conformation and thus he carries himself so easily and so balanced - spiraling down to a 10' diameter circle at the canter was effortless for him. He was very soft to my hand too, spiraling in and out without much tugging or any lugging on the line. We also did a lot of changes in direction at the trot, for which he remained completely left-brained!

Next we tackled the figure-8 at the trot (which was pretty flawless) as well as the weave pattern. The weave we had more trouble at, particularly on that right side again - he'd ignore my cue and run past in avoidance. I had be extremely assertive going back to re-cement our driving on that right side again a bit before we perfected the pattern, where I had to be very quiet in my language.

By this time there were people in the arena as well as Chicka's newfound friend (who disappeared into a paddock that day), a little yellow dun QH mare. She was a little distracted at first, calling out and paying attention to her friend, but quickly quieted down to focus on our games as we started. We did a little switchback and spiral at the trot and also trotted the figure-8 and the weave. Under-saddle we did some walk/trot/canter - she was a little RB but otherwise good and very light.

Was very RB today (with the friend working with him) but became LB enough to trot the weave equally successfully in either direction as well as to trot the figure-8.

March 22

Porcupine was a little rough on the right side today, she had a pretty low level of respect for me on that side which required phase 3/4! We did our yo-yo on the 22' line though today and got 180 circles (both turns on the hind and on the fore) at the driving game though. I had her squeeze over the barrels, with the 12' line, twice each side using no wall; she was a little hesitant at first but did pop over them nicely. We also did the sideways game with the 22' today, no wall again. Our circling game with the 22' line consisted of w/t transitions, direction changes at the trot, spiraling in and out a bit at the trot, and the traveling circle at the trot. Overall she did well, though she was a little keen on cantering during the traveling circle; I think she was just feeling the urge to flee, and thus move her feet, as a result of a bit of pent-up right-brain-ness. If that makes sense...haha. She just felt a little uneasy and I feel that cantering was her outlet. Our weave with my being on her right-hand side was a little difficult at first - she comes off a cone to look at me and try to go to my left, rather than to continue the pattern. After a little bit though we did get it (at the trot) and she did great. She did the figure-8 at the trot perfectly, no issues really whatsoever. A lot of it is just me learning to communicate with her better and then also her learning to relax and be LB rather than to react (even as comparatively small a reaction as it is when compared with how she used to react to things unknown). She made a mistake or two at the figure-8 but was LB enough (and I was savvy enough at that moment) for me to correct it from a distance - I really focused on keeping my feet still and just yo-yo'ing and driving her from a distance back around the barrel, which she did and 99 percent LB! I find I really have to practise keeping my feet still at the figure-8 and keeping my walk/jog a straight line at the weave...otherwise I end up doing as much work as the horse, which sort of defeats the whole purpose of these patterns! Also, just as the horses try to anticipate what I am going to do next, I sometimes try to anticipate what they are going to do next - in doing so we each mess up our communication with one another. Disclipline disclipline discipline (on my part, on myself)!! This is where really being aware of what you are doing and of how your body is moving comes into play - most of the time we're not even aware of the body language we could be projecting, we just move about and react without really thinking about it. So being aware of every. Single. Little. Move you make, can be challenging!

Under-saddle we did basically all our freestyle patterns for level one - transitions (walk-to-trot, trot-to-canter, canter-to-halt), back-up (very light, as usual), small circles on the rail (little difficult on her right side), and walking/trotting the figure-8. The latter was pretty rough but it was our first and so is to be expected as such (rough, that is) - otherwise it was good. I think her difficulty with things on the right could possibly be more than just that side being her "bad side". Horses are "right-sided" or "left-sided" just as people are "right-handed" or "left-handed". I can't tell whether her sometimes-extreme left-sidedness is normal for her or not because I don't know how this horse normally moves and sometimes she feels okay (or "normal", for her) while other times she's just downright awful on that right side. She can be resistant to the point of keeping that side straight as a board and stumbling as a result of this stiffness when I ask her to move to that side. Other times she can be softer and actually bend and do alright. I think it's possible she could have some chiropractic issues on that side but I think a lot of it might just have to do with respect, relaxation, suppleness, etc. We'll continue on, see how things go, and maybe I'll make a suggestion to her owners for a chiro to see her after she's done with me. For now she's fine, not in any pain or major discomfort or anything, so continuing on with her will allow me to gather a fuller picture of her and how she moves.

I worked with Link today on my own, but he was tied a bit before I got to him (after Chicka) and so he was a little frustrated by the time our session came around. His porcupine was amazing, phase 1, 2 at very most at small instances!! I never even had to apply pressure to his nose to get his front end around in a perfect 360 pivot on that hind. Very uber light. His driving game too was responsive and left-brained, giving me full 180 turns without effort on both his and my parts. We did our yo-yo on the 22' - still a ways to go but he did well (phase 3 or 4....but not phase 11 (non-existant btw hehe) anymore) and is certainly improving. Of course his draw on the yo-yo was no problem, the big guy has no problem coming in for rubs and love haha. I had not worked with Link for a few weeks and no one else (ie. my friend who had been working with him) had worked with him in a number of days, so I didn't really know where he was at. He coincidentally surprised me with his responsiveness and such - he did very well! As such though I first did our sideways game along the wall before trying it out without a wall and on the 22', which he did well and with limited RB-ness. I also had him squeeze over the barrels at the walk and trot, twice each direction, no wall, on the 12' line. The squeeze game has always been a challenge for us; formerly having no wall for support was basically impossible. So it was amazing to have him jump the barrels, twice in either direction (by the time the first round is finished the shock has worn off and so the second time around is usually more challenging haha), without that additional support (though of course there definitely was some hesitation on his part - "I have to jump this? Are you sure??" haha). Not only did he leave several feet to spare (nice form - rounded back, clean knees...ahhh *sigh* haha), but he was completely LB coming out of it! Rather than taking off after the jump, he was relaxed and turned and face without effort. Nice! Our circling game incorporated some direction changes at the trot and some traveling circle. He was a little RB at times but returned LB in the end and was mostly LB throughout all (no explosive reactions); he even cantered completely LB, I definite first for him!!! Usually anything more than a fast walk causes him to go easily RB. His weave pattern was great, at the trot he was mostly LB (only a bit of RB here and there) and made only limited mistakes - all in all a success, especially since we finished off completely LB. The figure-8 Link actually started trotting right off the bat, without any cue from me; he made only 2 mistakes that were easily corrected. Otherwise he was mostly LB and did amazing.

I tossed the saddle up to see where he was at, but unfortunately he was pretty unfocused. I could have invested more time into it however it was a long day and by that time Chicka had untied herself, so we ended there (just our 3-part maneuver) and pulled the saddle off. No worries, it's great to see where you're at and as we continue our groundwork, one day he'll surprise me and we'll have built up everything it takes for a successful under-saddle session :) Maybe we'll try again soon, but right now I don't have the time and my priority with him lies with increasing his level of groundwork before we start including saddle work, to make him safer and better under-saddle.

March 23

No work with Sonny, Link, or Chicka (day off for the three), however, as per our daily routine, we did head out and see Koolaid and Silver. Koolaid's knee is looking much better; it's still a bit stiff the first few physio exercise reps (say 3-5 usually, at most by the 10th rep) but gets moving pretty fluidly afterwards. His flexibility in the leg is 100 percent by that time as well. Just for the heck of it though, I jumped up to see whereabouts he was at. I didn't want to do too much because although he's maybe grade 1 on a lameness scale, I didn't want to risk stressing his injured leg too much - on the other hand though, doing some of the same activities (actually, it's more likely less haha) he does on his own in the pasture is not going to harm that leg. He was a little ignorant of my leg but was very responsive to my carrot stick (which I hadn't been sure he would be) - we had also just played a number of respect games just prior, though keep in mind too I haven't actually had a solid play session with him in quite awhile given the weather (only outdoor ring)!! He was extremely soft and responsive to my savvy string around his neck though, backing up at the lightest touch and transitioning down to the walk without touching the string whatsoever, just based on my body language. We did a few short trot steps here and there but otherwise just walked all about the pasture (even leaving behind his herdmates). It was extremely neat though to feel him working with me like that. I evaluated him and Silver at home later, going through my patterns booklets based on what we have already accomplished or what I feel we could accomplish based on other things we have done. Koolaid and Silver seem to be level 3 in most areas, level 4 in some. We have a lot of work to do (at all levels, some just to re-iterate or cement former levels and our partnerships), but I think my goal of completing level 4 with both horses this year is definitely within reach. Fingers crossed that I can get the time I need in with my two boys.

March 24

Our 7 games went well, all on the 22'. Today we also spiraled the canter in and out (level 3 of the on-line patterns), did direction changes at the trot (a little difficult, some RB), and worked on transitions (walk/trot) - all were pretty successful though, particularly the spiraling canter. I wasn't sure if Chicka was balanced enough yet to spiral a canter, but not only did she seem pretty balanced (not so much as Sonny though, but good for her level for sure), but she was very responsive and light with the rope. She only made a few mistakes trotting the figure-8 pattern, but our weave was much more difficult. She was extremely RB at times, but we kept plugging our way through it and ended on a great note.

Part of what I need to remember and what I've really learned though is that I need to make sure I do not react: our horses are a reflection of us and so what we do is reflected in them. Link really reinforced this one in me: whenever he'd just about miss a cone at the weave, I'd instantly react with huge volume yo-yo'ing and trying to drive him over so that he wouldn't miss that cone. In response, he'd react explosively, go completely RB, and flee, missing the cone anyways. So what I had to learn was to be quieter. If he's going to miss the cone, he's going to miss the cone. Let it happen and remain relaxed. Instead what I did this day was refrain from reacting whatsoever and instead have him turn and face and try again. The solution is to instead solve why he is missing the cone (whether it be because he's RB or as a result of a lack of respect or what), to not react when he does miss the cone and instead try again and/or add in some additional foundation (ie. driving game for the drive aspect of the weave, yo-yo game for the draw aspect of the game, etc). In this way he remained LB and we ended up with a successful weave. I wasn't quite at this realisation with Chicka at the time I was playing the weave with her, but I was getting there. Our weave ended on a good note and I'm excited to implement what I learned from Link (after working with Chicka that day) to Chickadee as well. What I found with Chickadee (and also with Link as well) is that I had to be quieter and not try to anticipate her, as I anticipated her she'd anticipate me and we'd end up screwing up our pattern as a result. So - RELAX!! I can actually "control" her weave even traveling a bit behind her rather than being right at her shoulder, I found. Keepin' it up!

Under-saddle we did some w/t/c (two laps of canter in either direction), transitions, back-up, small circles and changes in direction on a direct rein, and some figure-8. The canter was pretty good and our transition into it was alright as well, though she was a little resistant (code word for: little attitude due to disrespect lol) going on the right rein (right side to the inside of the circle). The figure-8 was definitely more difficult on her right side but we ended well, doing the pattern at both the walk and trot, according to the freestyle level 1 pattern (one loop of walk, one loop of trot); at times that right side was stiff and other times (albeit rare) she was very soft on that side. Some of our loops were a little big, but others were very soft and very tight around the barrel. Our second time with the figure-8 pattern under-saddle and she did well.

Catching Dee has been fabulous as of late. Not only has it only required one person (me), but she's allowed me to halter her while calmly standing, not trying to skidaddle off. This session after turning her loose and feeding her her treat she waited around and enjoyed more scratches, even walking up to me as I was leaving for a last goodbye. Great progress on her part and it really demonstrates to me that our partnership is really improving and becoming solid, to the point where she wants to work with me!! :)

Today was not Link's day (lol). My friend took him out to play with him and seemed to be having a lot of difficulty, so I took on Link to lend buddy a hand and to feel what Link was doing. He was very reactive and had very very little respect, tearing around in such a way that I did feel he was about to kick out at me at any second. Buddy also reported that Link had tried to kick him when he porcupined his right hindquarter (Link's "bad" side is his right side as well, and if he is going to kick it is always from his right side). When I played with Link there was a lot of tail swishing and defiant behaviour (ie. coming in from the circle when I asked him to disengage, head thrown up, front feet a foot or so off the ground in small rears). Buddy working with Link had been having trouble with the circling game and so that is where I started. When I asked for a higher level of respect than he (Link) had been giving initially (when my friend had asked for a circle, Link would saunter out slowly and with a general lack of respect), he reverted to being RB and taking off explosively on the circle, then replying to my request for him to disengage with defiance. I started working backwards with the lower 7 games. His porcupine was virtually non-existent and so I moved onto the driving game so as to improve the porcupine. I worked back and forth with the two games until I had a satisfying level of each (180 pivots on the hind and fore - Link did run into my stick a time or two as he decided to flee through my stick rather than move over, and phase 2/3 at the porcupine a few steps in either direction), at least an improvement, and moved on to try the circling game again. It was still pretty rough and I felt I still lacked respect from him (he was running through my aid to circle clockwise and was instead ignoring me and kept turning to go counter-clockwise, his better side), so I asked him to do a bunch of switchbacks, from one end of the arena to the other. He was quite reactive and wanted to just ignore me, but I had brought my 22' line in so that he was right in front of me and couldn't ignore my aids. I just kept extremely quiet and passively persistent, ignoring his explosions and just continuously asking for changes in direction in a quiet manner. Pretty soon he did quiet down and was responding much better, calmer and more respectfully. I threw in some yo-yo as well to improve his draw (he kept standing far off, tense and ready to explode, refusing to come in to me until he decided to come in) as well as some friendly game to make sure we were alright with the carrot stick. Both seemed to really help him become LB and to balance out our level of trust with the high level of respect I had just asked from him. Rather than returning to the circling game - our original nemesis, I decided to put him to work thinking (to keep him LB), so we took on the weave. The weave was too much for him to handle at that moment (he became too reactive - this is where I learned too though to become less reactive in response to him, as mentioned earlier), so we moved on to the figure-8. Link worked the figure-8 perfectly and at the trot the entire time. He only made a couple easily-correctable mistakes and was extremely responsive when I did correct him (no ignoring me and bolting around in panic), but for the most part he performed the pattern perfectly with little direction. We continued the pattern until he was completely LB before moving back to the weave at the walk and trot. It was a little rough at times but this time I remained completely calm and we worked through the pattern to complete it calmly and left-brained. THEN we returned to our original problem, the circling game. This time when I sent him out on 22' (spiraling him out at first to make sure I wasn't asking too much of him and therefore to maintain the LB we had obtained), he actually WALKED - on his own! He was calm, his head was lowered to a nice, relaxed level, and he was completely LB. I asked him for some changes in direction at the trot as well as some small periods of trot in either direction but kept them extremely short (1/4 circle to half a circle) so as to maintain that LB and not encourage him to become RB on me. After a few shots of the trot in either direction he started to pick up speed a little and I wasn't sure if he might become RB on me so I headed him off before he could do so with a hindquarter disengage (which was done with respect on his part) and we ended there on a great note!! When I brought him in he was very calm and LB, which was awesome. On previous occasions there were times where I just couldn't bring him back to LB once he got into a RB state, but today we worked through it all to make some great progress and end on a fabulous note having got him from extreme-RB to very much LB. :)

On a separate note, Link's knees are great and have not been banged up at all in the last couple of weeks (feeding arrangements have been changed a bit in his pasture). They seem completely healed, he's not at all uncomfortable on them, and his knees maintain full flexibility and fluidity.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

March 14 session

March 14

Today when we went out to catch Chickadee she walked up towards us, then past us and to the! Once at the gate however, she allowed me to toss a halter on no problem! Obviously we still have some work to do, but I think she is starting to enjoy her sessions in the arena enough to start to work more like a partner, including wanting to be with me and thus to be caught...gettin' there!

Our friendly game today was done in between games. Our porcupine was pretty good, though Chicka tried to ignore my request and run right through my carrot stick at the driving game! Since my stick doesn't move and so acts as a "barrier", she ran into it - afterwards she did some great 180 circles, really respecting my request. She hides her hindquarters pretty well, but not so well at the trot and canter - I usually have to bump the rope to get her attention and focused enough to respond. I've been trying to not use the lead though and so instead have been working on increasing the phases faster when asking her to disengage and turn and face, which seems to be working...we'll keep at it! Her yo-yo, as usual was great, her sideways was pretty good (no wall), and her circling on the 22' had a lot of impulsion! She was actually trying to canter quite a bit - now she's gone slightly to the opposite extreme of before (where there was very little respect and impulsion), but I think we can bring her back to being balanced respect and impulsion-wise pretty easily within a session or two. Having that higher level of respect though is fabulous! We did all our normal circling game extensions and one lap of canter each direction; we also did w/t/c under-saddle (very easily!), including flying lead changes - completely on her part and as per her own decision, to correct herself and her balance.

We had a bit of difficulty doing the patterns at the full length of the 22', particularly at the trot: Chicka would start to ignore me since I was so much further away and then would get RB when I would react to try and get her back on track. I definitely need to be clearer in the first place though so as to set us up better for success! I figured out that if I yo-yo her in to me (draw - ie. crouch a little with a "soft" look, combing the rope) when she's coming towards me around the barrels, then I can point (drive) as she comes around, not directly looking at her, and direct her around to the backside of the next barrel. Once I started communicating to her clearer she did a lot better. This is definitely something I can, and need to, carry over to Link as well, with being ultra-clear with my language! It was pretty neat to change my way of communication and see such an instant and positive response!

Under-saddle we started out with the cloverleaf, at which she was pretty responsive. She had a little more go than woah today, so we did the point-to-point on short lines so as to balance out better our level of impulsion; it worked very well actually - after a few lines she was much quieter and even more LB. We did some small circles on the rail; my challenge here is to keep my hands very very soft, because I tend to brace in return when she tries to brace against me. I find I do the same during our three-part maneuver; if I keep my hand soft and giving though, then she actually responds by being softer and giving too rather than trying to fight me and brace against me. This is why I say soft hands make a soft mouth and hard hands make a hard mouth! It has nothing to do with the horse itself, that horse, and therefore its mouth, is a reflection of its rider. Honestly, if that horse is bracing in his mouth, he is going to have tension throughout his body too, which obviously means a lack of suppleness and thus a lack of natural collection too. Her back-up was great (10 steps with only light light pressure) and she was extremely responsive throughout walk/trot transitions. She was slightly RB and thus a little fast during the trot, but I think a bit due to the howling wind outside (extremely loud against the arena today!). No worries, the relaxation and suppleness comes with time as her comfort level and our level of partnership increases. We finished off our session (before a cool-out) with some canter down the long sides of the arena. Going counter-clockwise (on the left rein) she picked up the canter with little hesitation and with great ease, however on the right rein (clockwise), she had quite a bit of difficulty, so we tried (after some rest breaks as a reward between each try) twice more in that direction, by which time we achieved a relatively snappy and respectful transition (the first time in that direction she actually pinned her ears and resisted a bit) that felt comfortable and pleasurable on her part. She wasn't quite balanced enough for a full lap of the arena, but I think she can be by the next session or two. The little mare did fabulous today though and we ended on a great note with quite the partnership (following me about, nuzzling me, and generally quiet in my presence and a pleasure to be around).

Definitely a Left Brain Introvert as I learn more and more about her, but she is very unlike Koolaid, my own LBI, in many respects! She really does seem to want to please, she's keen on having a partnership, and she really wants to be light in her responses; she's constantly looking for a way to get me to be even quieter each time we do something. On the other hand, she has, or had (for the most part), some extreme Right Brain tendencies. She is definitely highly motivated by rest though, which is fabulous (lol), because it makes her (and other LBI's) so easy to work with - they'll do anything when they realise that they get to rest afterwards! Haha. She's actually very pleasurable to work with, I am fully enjoying our sessions :)

His knees looked great today and have amazing flexibility and range of motion still. The owners of the boarding facility have removed the cattle roundbale feeder and are just feeding loose round bales right now too, which should prevent Link, and other horses in his pasture by the sounds of it, from banging up their knees any further. His sessions have been going fabulous!

His bandages were removed Monday and so far so good. He has not been allowing a friend of mine to do his physio though (and buddy has been doing very well with him and trying all sorts of angles and such to get Koolaid to allow him to do the physio!), so buddy has had to resort to simply trotting him out, having him do lots of directional changes, etc. I have a feeling the bute wore off and the bandages being removed reduced the pressure in the leg and thus the leg is slightly inflamed (MUCH improved though!) and so a little sore. Also it's been a bit chilly out too, so that could be another factor playing into why Koolaid refuses to do any physio lol. We'll see how things go and maybe if he'll allow me to do any physio on him. We'll see!!

Thought I'd mention the tin-coloured man so that he didn't feel left out, but he's doing great! He's holding a great weight and looks happy. No real news to report otherwise though.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Some photos finally!

Link enjoying a moment of relaxation after playing hard!

Chickadee, 5yo QH mare

Today we came into the arena to find one of the Paso Finos (?) being worked today - a lot of jigging and thundering hoofbeats. The gaited horses sound so different, the sound they make when they run their gait is so distinct - when Link first heard them running about the arena in their particular pace his head went up, his eyes bugged out, and he got ready to run! These horses literally sound like a herd of horses on the run lol. This was Chicka's first time hearing and experiencing the Paso Finos (which also exude a bit of "unhealthy energy," I find - these ones in particular tend to be uptight and not particularly happy?) so I expected her to spook a bit, but she never batted an eye!

Since I wasn't sure how she was going to act, I only played the friendly game with the stick today. Her porcupine and driving games were good but a little rough going to her left (with me on her right) - she kept trying to avoid the pressure by walking off. We worked some of it out but worked out the rest during our patterns afterwards. I never really thought about it before, but I usually work our weave patterns from her left side; I have not done much at all (weave pattern-wise) from her right-hand side. So, today that is what we did! It's been our tougher side doing the figure-8 pattern as well and so today was a little about working some of those kinks out, some of our communication kinks out, using the weave pattern. It's also my tougher side, I just find it sort of awkward from those my job henceforth is to really make sure I pay attention to that as well and make sure my horses do not become "one-sided". So far none have (I am pretty careful) however this is one horse who's really drastically one-sided at times so it's something I have to work on with both of us for success at both ends. I found though we worked some of those communication kinks out today and look forward to working out the rest. At first she had more difficulty on her right-hand side at the figure-8 and weave as well and got a little RB at times, so much so that we had to back up a step and work on the weave on that side at the walk rather than the trot. We finished on a great note though with her following very little direction with the weave (at the walk) and doing well at the figure-8, even trotting it and following my direction while whipping around those barrels! I have to be careful what I "say" with my body language though as I sometimes find myself preparing to communicate the next thing to her and she reads that and tries to do what I am about to ask her. Haha. Horses are way too smart for their own good sometimes!

Chicka's yo-yo game was great, as was her sideways (we did it without a wall this time, as it was being used by the Paso Fino and its rider - Chicka did exceptionally well!!). By the time we got to the circling game, the other horse and rider were leaving the arena, which allowed us to do the traveling circle on the 22'. We also did the spiraling in and out (was okay today) and a circle of canter in either direction (correct leads included!). She was extremely responsive to the simple circling aspect in particular, continuing jogging responsibly even when the other horse and rider worked right next to her at times! Afterwards I saddled her (she stood calmly with the rope lying on the ground at her feet) and asked her to do some walk/trot/canter under-saddle on the circling game as well, which she also did very well.

Under-saddle we did the cloverleaf pattern (she seems to be picking up the leg aids a bit, even moving off my leg and body position in the saddle at times). We did not do any point-to-point this time, as she was extremely responsive to my requests for impulsion; I think we'll do it tomorrow though just to further add to our foundation of respect and thus impulsion...I don't know how to explain it really but I feel like today's good impulsion was a result of yesterday's work and that by tomorrow some of it will have worn off. Hopefully that makes sense! We did some small circles along the wall (not her favourite...gave me a little attitude there because she felt she should go where she wanted to haha), played stick-to-the-rail (also another of her not-so-favourites because it involves being responsible and listening to me rather than doing what she'd like...), did some back-up (extremely soft and responsive), did some direction changes, and a lot of transitions (which were pretty snappy!). This mare definitely is a LBI, though a very very sensitive one and one who does seem to want to please. I think mostly though she just wants to be "spoken to" quietly (ie. quiet aids). She definitely is one from whom you have to earn her partnership so that she wants to work with you and she also loves her breaks! Whenever she did particularly well I'd allow her to rest, which is probably her favourite reward! Now she asks, hey can I rest? hey can I rest? what about now? or now? Haha. She's pretty respectful about it though and it keeps her tuned in to me because she's just waiting for me to say yes lol. She seemed so comfortable under-saddle though that I thought we'd try for some canter! First shot she was a little ticked off at me because I kept asking her for more. I could almost hear her shout at me (liiittle wee buck) "I'm trotting as fast as I can, what more could you possibly want?!!" She did not understand what I wanted at first. Pretty quick though she did pick up that I wanted a canter and so obliged. It wasn't all that pretty - she wasn't on the rail the entire time, felt a little off-balance getting it, and wasn't entirely comfortable at it, but she did it and was entirely LB afterwards and even overall. I asked for a few strides down the arena before taking her back down to the walk. My philosophy is, for the most part, if a horse ever bucks, that that horse was not ready for me to be up there. Sometimes though it's just a result of the horse feeling it has to "shout" at you (which can also mean it's not ready for you to be up there in the saddle) and/or the result of you losing permission, or not having it in the first place, to be up there. In this case though Dee was just shouting at me that she didn't understand what I was asking, she thought she was doing what she was supposed to be doing already, and here I was, still asking!..which resulted in a little buck. It was her way of retaliating for my "shouting" at her (through increasing my phases) when she was, from her perspective, already doing what I had asked. She figured it out though, which was great.

Overall Chicka did very well today. She spooked a couple of times but returned to LB almost right away each time; the large arena door was open today (yesterday one of the riders opened it as well) and despite the distractions outside (including howling wind, snow falling off the arena roof, etc etc), she remained calm and focused throughout. She was a little hard to catch today but as I continue to build that partnership with her (which has definitely been growing at the end of each session!!) she'll come around :) Not sure if I blogged about it yesterday, but I get to keep her for an extra month! I am enjoying working with her and am pretty excited actually to see what the next month brings for us progress-wise!

My main man did very well today for the still-learning friend who worked with him today, a little RB at times but for the most part he was LB. He seemed to have a lot of energy and just wanted to run today but overall he cooperated pretty well with the friend for a successful session.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Excellent progression

Today our friendly game included some work with my 45' line once again, looping it around her bum and applying pressure, tossing it all over her body, tossing it past her head (as if to rope a calf), and whirling it over her ears. I also tossed it over the saddle horn later while having her circle to tighten our cinch in phases and applied pressure so that she could be accustomed to experiencing the pull on a horn (ie. a rider becoming unbalanced, dragging a calf, etc). Her driving, yo-yo, and porcupines were great today - she was extremely responsive and respectful! Since respect wasn't much of an issue today, we did very little of our switchback game (which little bit we did she excelled at). Her sideways game was great as well - multiple steps in either direction. The only squeeze game we did today was between me and the wall (which she did easily of course). We used the 22' for our circling game again today, doing the traveling circle (trot), spiraling in and out (trot), and doing changes in direction. We also got a full circle of canter in either direction! Her first attempt to the left (counter-clockwise) she cross-fired with her leads, but doing her full laps she had her leads correct. She was a little RB doing the patterns on the 22', rushing around at the trot, however she did complete them with not too many mistakes (and quite a few successful runs) and we were able to finish with her LB.

Under-saddle she was quite responsive and quiet with our three-part maneuver, relaxing more than usual with her bend-to-a-stop to the right (her more difficult side). At first she was a little RB but we did some quick weave and figure-8, which turned her back to being LB once more. She was a lot more relaxed under-saddle this session overall, she is definitely becoming more comfortable with the weight and new-ness of it all! We did a little walking to make sure she was comfortable before taking her up into the trot and doing some point-to-point, where I ask her to move off from one point in the arena to another specific point, where she can stop and rest. The point is to achieve snappy transitions (halt to trot, trot to halt), responsibility on her part (to pick up and maintain a particular gait), and snappy halts (ie. stop where I say when I say, through bending to a stop at a pre-determined point). It was something taught to me at a Jonathan Field clinic and I find it works really well in building impulsion and respect under-saddle. We also did some small circles on the wall, some direction changes, a little stick-to-the-rail (never micromanaging, putting the horse on the rail and expecting her to stay there - if she moves off simply correcting with a light direct rein and some leg...teaches the horse responsibility to do what I ask until I ask otherwise), and some back-up (which she was very light at). She was extremely responsive and exceptionally willing today!! We finished off with some trotting a figure-8 over the entire arena and then by walking out (cooling out) along the rail. I was pretty impressed with her, she did extremely well. She seemed very comfortable under-saddle once we started working, her focus 100% on me for the most part despite snow loudly falling off the arena roof constantly and light spots developing in the first the sunlight spots spooked her a bit but she willingly checked them out when I asked and was calm from then on. Even the snow and odd sounds at the far end of the arena turned out to be not so scary after all! She spooked twice throughout the entire ordeal, each time calming down almost instantly and continuing on for an amazing session! Very proud of her today and looking forward to some cantering soon.

She was a little difficult to catch again today (just quietly avoiding me lol) but was great to put away - normally she takes off almost right away but today she just relaxed after I removed the halter, standing quietly, eyes half-closed in the sun as she enjoyed a nice scratch behind the ears :)

Did extremely well today, remaining LB throughout his 7 games and patterns on the 22'!!!

His bandage is supposed to be left on for 2 days each time we dress it, so today was day 2 and time to remove it! The swelling was much less today compared to when we dressed it Tuesday, the leg was quite tight. He also had really good flexibility in the leg - doing his physio exercise he was able to touch his toe to his elbow quite easily after a couple of initial stretches (same as yesterday). So, so far so good! I'm not too worried about his future flexibility or mobility but am just hoping then that we can prevent any progression of the arthritis already present...hopefully the physio and care reduces it back to nothing! Crossing our fingers :)

The day the arena became home to a circus...

March 11

Played a little with the ropes today, this time asking Chickadee to unwrap herself from the 12' line (my walking behind her bum to her other side - at her head - and applying pressure to the lead, asking her to "follow the feel" to do a 180 turnabout and face me). At first she was a little leery about the rope around her hind end yet but she quickly settled down and played the game on either side three times. Her driving, yo-yo, and porcupine games were alright (she tested me a bit by trying to walk off at the driving and porcupine games but all in all was good). I played a little of the switchback exercise with her (where I have her doing switchbacks back and forth in front of me at the trot) to establish a higher level of respect, and we did all our regular circling game expansions - the traveling circle at the trot (where I walk down the arena and she continues circling), spiraling in and out at the trot, directional changes, even some canter - all on the 22'! Her sideways game was great and we even did some squeeze game over the barrels! She was a little bit resistant at first but did not try so hard this time to come over top of me to evade the barrels (lol) - with a little encouragement she popped over the barrels nicely twice in either direction. Well done on her part!!

By the time we got to the patterns though, we had two riders come in separately but one after the other. The one man was leading a foal at his mare's side while the other rider, a barrel racer, was ponying another gelding of hers in the arena. The problem was that little barrel rider (not so little either, say in her 30's...and wearing spurs with a tie-down and huge-*** curb bit on her horse...) had no control of her own horse, never mind the one she was leading! The gelding she was leading got away twice on her (after putting up a fuss that definitely got Chicka's attention lol), and she seemed completely unable to catch him on her own horse, basically just following the horse around as he darted about the arena, trying to chase down the other rider's foal he was leading. At one point (when the barrel rider's gelding that she was leading was acting up), Chickadee threw in a few bucks during her circling game. By this point she was saddled so I was just circling her to tighten her cinch, but I was a little worried about riding a freshly started, green mare in an arena where one horse kept pulling away from his rider and wreaking havoc! That horse was intent and pretty disrespectful towards the other horses in the arena when he was loose...last thing I needed was to get hurt (or for my horse to be injured!).

Mounting up, Chicka was a little right-brained but she quickly re-focused after we did some patterns under-saddle (just working through the barrels and such). We did some walk and trot, working on transitions and small circles on the rail...little back-up and figure-8 patterns as well. She actually did very well and never once offered to buck. I was very impressed. This was her first time working with other horses under-saddle in the arena, and "strange" horses too, to boot! There was the odd time she wanted to visit but at those times I allowed her to stop (the first couple of times) so as to regroup and re-start out. Eventually though she was willingly trotting past the other horses. An awesome session, especially for it only being her second solid and official under-saddle session!

Chickadee (or Dee, as her owners call her), will be staying an extra month after some talk with the owners. She's making excellent progress but I feel that her owners would be more comfortable with some more miles under her cinch so that she does not return to them so green, considering they are relatively green themselves.

Did well today, even completing the weave and figure-8 patterns on the 12' with a friend of mine, so great job with him as well! His knees, which he's been banging on the roundbale feeder and bruising nicely (as we finally surmised), were in great shape today too, which was fabulous to see.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Koolaid's "attack-of-the-vet"...and on balancing respect and trust

March 10

Not too much exciting today, except that I spent a nice while following Chicka around in -24 weather, freezing my *** off trying to catch her! Definitely an LBI and as an LBI we are lazy. No, we do not appreciate work in any way, shape or form, and we especially do not appreciate having to leave our buddies for said work! LBI's, or any LB so far actually, I find take longer to get to the point in a partnership with them where they want to hang out with you... though Chicka does have a fairly healthy level of "draw" overall. At first playing with you is a bit of a novelty, so they don't mind being caught, but as the novelty wears off (and since a firm solid partnership is not yet fully established, it's still in the works) they become harder and harder to catch, especially if you are playing a lot of "drive" exercises (such as where you drive the horse out and away from you, establishing respect, such as the switchbacks, driving game, circling game, etc)...until you firmly establish that partnership to the point where they want to work with you. So, we're in the mid-phase, haha.

I started off with the switchback game I've been using and also some driving game, as I really wanted to focus on earning her respect. She did well at all 7 games though and remained pretty focused, particularly since we started out with a bit of a bang with the respect games. Our patterns on the ground also went well; we worked on the 22' today with the circling game as well as the patterns and she did well at both. She actually ended up trotting the figure-8! She was a little leery about me being so assertive however she seemed to settle down in the end. Saddling and mounting she was great, and her 3-part maneuver was better than yesterday. We did several laps either direction at both the walk and the trot (still learning to stick to the rail and to move out responsibly, to stay at the pace I ask her to be at) as well as some small circles on the rail, some changes in direction, back-up, transitions, and figure-8's that encompassed most of the arena. Great progress so far; tomorrow I'd like to work even more on her impulsion and responsibility (ie. remaining at a particular pace) as well as clean up some of what we did today (ie. sticking to the rail, small circles, transitions, etc)...I'll also introduce her tomorrow to the cloverleaf pattern. Today we were a little short on time though, but tomorrow we should be all set! We ended on a good note with a calm and attentive partner (following me throughout the arena afterwards lol) so hopefully tomorrow we can start on a better note :)

Wasn't such a sweetheart while Chickadee and I were out playing tag (or so I hear), but he was pretty calm and LB for the session when Chicka and I were there! He ended up even playing the figure-8 and weave and also remained calm for the circling game. Great job buddy :)

We finally took the little squirt in to the vet Monday. After 3 weeks of his leg wound not healing to my satisfaction, I figured it was time to take him in, hopefully just for some antibiotics. When we got there though the vet actually recommended a set of x-rays and an ultrasound, since the wound was so close to a joint (above the right knee), there was so much swelling, and also since his mobility was affected (on a lameness scale he only scored 2, but his flexibility in that limb was definitely compromised). We wanted to see what we were dealing with once and for all. Turns out the x-rays showed a bit of bone calcification in that area and also some arthritis, likely caused by the injury - so he obviously banged himself up pretty bad at the time of injury! Doc says worst case scenario we have to do surgery and clean everything out, including the infected bone calcification, but best case scenario the bone calcification is not infected (which is most likely) and the arthritis goes away as the injury heals. The ultrasound showed us a very thick-walled joint capsule (it holds synovial fluid) - abnormally so, but that the tendon was not inflamed. There was a lot of scar tissue to be seen and it looks like the outside of the tendon (from my understanding) has been scarred a bit however the interior is still healthy. The vet who looked at him thinks that he will always have some visible permanent scarring, but that, with regular physio, Koolaid should have full mobility with no recurring lameness, given time. At the clinic, Koolaid was unable to touch his toe to his elbow, which he should be able to, which greatly concerned the doc. They wrapped his leg, mostly to provide pressure to the wound, and instructed me to give him a daily dose of Excenel (antibiotic) and Bute (anti-inflammatory), as well as to do phsyio exercises with him. Today when I did the physio exercise with him, already he loosened up enough so that the toe would touch his elbow! So far so good then, we'll just have to keep it all up for now (bandaging for a week, antibiotics and bute for another 2 days, physio daily) and see how it goes.

Edited to add: Koolaid healed up just fine and was soon back to 100 percent!

On the subject of vets...I left to go check out the x-ray images with the vet and returned to find my horse had been doped up and a technician twisting his ear...I didn't say anything and instead just took the technician's place, but needless to say I wasn't all that pleased...Koolaid is naturally wary of strangers, but for good reason (obviously!). Whenever a vet or farrier comes around they first off never introduce themselves to him, instead just walking up to him to do what they need to - classic predator-style direct-line thinking. Meanwhile the horse is still trying to figure out who they are and if they should even be allowing this predator into their space in the first place! Koolaid certainly respects me and although he does give me (minor) trouble the odd time, ultimately I can always do what I need to or want to with him (without a fuss). Since I was not there this time, they tried to force him into doing what they wanted (which is only making their job tougher next time 'round) and ended up tranquing him a ton just to shave his leg over the wound! No wonder he doesn't trust strangers when they never take the time it takes (which really is only a minute or two and probably saves you time in the long run anyways!) to earn his trust and every time one touches him it's never for something nice, like a treat or a rub - rather it seems to result in twisted ears, rasps against his belly.....aaah. Ah well, I need to learn to speak up and also to find a clinic (and a farrier!) that practises natural horsemanship (or along that ideology)...which is very rare. For now I just have to settle for knowledgeable and good people skills.

-28C for Chicka's first official under-saddle session...yay...

March 9

-28C tonight...yay!! Or not. Haha. Here I was, bundled up to the nines in jeans, ski pants, scarf, t-shirt, sweatshirt, winter coat, tuque....and I was still freezing my butt off!! But back to Chickadee...definitely recognising the LBI as the RB tendencies wear off!

First thing I wanted to focus on earning her respect, so after a minute or two of friendly with the carrot stick, I had her doing quick, clean switchbacks back and forth in front of me as I walked from one end of the arena to the other. Her porcupine and driving games were great, save for the few "tests" she threw in my direction here and there (ie. she'd ignore my aids and start walking off) lol but overall she did well with all her games. We played a little touch-it with all the "scary" areas in the arena that involved patches of snow along the walls/fences/etc as well as the squeeze game in said areas - she did very well, being curious and mostly left-brained. For our circling game we did, for the first time in awhile, all our expansions - spiraling in and out at the trot, the traveling circle (I walk from one end of the arena to the other as she continues circling at the trot), and changes in direction, all on the 12' lead. Our sideways game was fantastic today with multiple steps in either direction (twice each side). After earning Chickadee's focus, we also played around with some ropes!! I tossed the 45' over her rump; first time she shot off and cantered small circles around me (she actually did not even pull on the say 8' of the 12' line I had given her throughout) but after a few moments she returned to LB to the point where, a few minutes later, I was tossing that rope and tightening it all over her rump, even tossing it back and forth from behind (the rope tightened around her hindquarters) like a skipping rope. To play the friendly with the other side actually was a lot faster and went a lot easier for us. Our figure-8 and weave patterns were great, so I threw Chicka on the 22' lead; while we didn't go to the full extent of the line, I did give her quite a bit extra lead and she did well on the pattern (at the walk). She isn't up to doing it at the trot yet, I think I need to earn a higher level of respect from her yet so that she has the impulsion to trot when I ask - right now she basically just ignores my cue for the trot. We did a little circling at the trot and canter as well and she did very well, hiding her hindquarters and thus disengaging nicely when I focused in on the hind and tossed the savvy string in the direction of her rump.

I felt she was pretty focused in on me at the time so we did some under-saddle work. She was great to saddle, standing quietly as I saddled her with the rope looped loosely over my arm. She also let me up by standing quietly and we did, twice each side, our three-part maneuver of bend-to-a-stop, disengage the hind, and turn on the hind (ie. move the forehand around). She was fairly light and responsive. Same as on the ground, Chicky's impulsion is not so great yet, but we did walk several laps in either direction and we also did a total of a good lap in either direction at the trot. It took a bit of work though! Probably Wednesday or Thursday we'll play some more impulsion exercises under-saddle (such as going from one point in the arena to another and obtaining snappy transitions), but today was just allowing her to learn how to move with the added weight and to learn what being under-saddle was all about! Overall though she did very well, no spooks or anything and her focus was pretty good. We also did some back-up (pretty light) and a number of changes in direction and full small circles (as if we were to change direction but instead finished the circle, so very small circles at the walk). We did the weave and figure-8 patterns (with cones and barrels)...she was great going to the left (ie. on the right-hand side of the barrel headed left) but was quite resistant to going right around the barrels and cones (ie. barrels and cones on the inside, to the right). By the end she was lighter but we still have some work to do, particularly in the area of respect.

A great session though and a fabulous start to our week...hopefully tomorrow's session goes just as well! Though apparently, as I write this (actually March 11...), it is -24 or something outside. Oh yay. Sense the enthusiasm...or lack

Friday, March 6, 2009

The yellow RBI becomes an LBI

Sunday March 1

Quick session with the little Chickadee girl today while someone else worked with Link in the arena. Initially too another rider was also in the arena (our friend the big blue roan draft mare), though they left shortly after our 7 Games. Our Friendly was great until I tried to "wrap" her in rope: it's one of my exercises where I'll walk around to the opposite side of a horse, walking around past her hind end to the other side, thus "wrapping" the horse. I'll apply pressure and ask the horse to "follow the feel" of the rope, to follow the pressure and release - as they follow the feel the horse turns a circle away from me to end up facing me once more. My more advanced horses, I can safely wrap up in a few loops and they'll turn a few circles as they follow the feel. The less experienced horses though I only wrap once (and not fully even), that way if they spook they're free easily and without any safety hazards. I use it because I find it's another tool that teaches my horses to think for themselves, to think through things and solve puzzles. I really notice a difference, for example: when they learn to think things through and say step on a leadrope - rather than exploding, they think through the situation and solve the puzzle. This follows later then into situations such as being caught in the fence.

Anyways, back to the story (lol). Well as I walked around Chickadee with the rope and she felt that rope brush her hind, BOOM she exploded! SO, we've got something to work on next session! She was pretty leery about my foot brushing her bum when I hopped up into the saddle the one time too, so playing some Friendly game with her hind will definitely help in all those areas. Normally though she's been pretty good about some things around her hind, but I think fully desensitizing her in that area - with ropes - will make a huge difference to her trust in my leadership and such. We did a bit this session, but I feel there's a lot more to do in that area. So the plan is to use my 45' rope to play with her...I think if she becomes comfortable with the ropes (she is already with the tarps on her hind, for the most part), that it will be a huge step for us. Porcupine was good, as was her Circling game (did some extensions, change in direction and spiralling), Driving game, Yo-Yo, and Sideways. We did a couple of minutes of Figure-8 (which she did well) but it was about this time that the other rider and horse (and their respective spectators) left, so little ms. sunshine started calling out to her buddies. For the life of me I just couldn't keep her attention on me! Half the time, though she was doing everything correctly for the most part, she'd be looking away and be calling out - aaah frustrating! I wasn't sure how she'd do but I decided to play the Squeeze game with her over some barrels (ie. have her jump the barrels). At first it actually turned into a game of Touch It, because she wasn't having any part of those barrels in a new position (ie. lying down)!! Haha. After a few moments though she got braver and started putting her nose on them. However this was when her herdboundness really started to kick in and she started ignoring me to call out to her buddies outside the arena. I couldn't seem to catch her attention enough to send her over the barrels so we started playing some improvised Circling game - rather than allowing her to circle around behind me, I had her change direction from left to right so that she remained in front of me. The constant changes in direction (and me really upping the assertiveness so as to get that snappy change in direction) forced her to really focus on me rather than things "outside" our little circle. Within a few minutes she was huffing and puffing and really zoned in - all ears on me lol. She tested me a few times doing the Squeeze game to the right (clockwise), trying to run me over to avoid going over the barrels, but she did pretty well, advancing her Touch It to the point where she hopped over the barrels (from a standstill) in either direction. Once we'd finished she was a very calm and focused partner, which was fabulous! She even stood quietly while I worked with Link for a couple of minutes ;)

SO what I learned today (haha always something new every session with my horses!):
Our first number of sessions I was very quiet with Chickadee so as to earn her trust, especially considering her horsenality as a RBI...RB's you really have to focus on earning their trust in your leadership, whereas LB's you really have to focus on earning their respect. BUT. You also have to balance both trust and respect in a healthy partnership. This includes balancing trust and respect in say a LB with RB tendencies, where at times you're really working on earning the trust and at other times you're really focusing on earning the respect, so as to balance each out. So while I was still earning Chickadee's respect with the 7 games in previous sessions, I didn't quite have it 100 percent, which was why she at times walks through my Porcupine game - lack of respect. Also, I find I have to be quite assertive at times even with the Driving game - at times she'll try to ignore my asking her to move around, just a very small "rebelliousness", but a bit of a manifestation of her lack of respect nonetheless. It's also why I was getting attitude on my Circling game with her at times... So back to the point. While still continuing to earn her trust (via Friendly game and various obstacles and such), I feel I really can, and need to be, more assertive with her in future sessions so as to ensure we balance out the respect with the trust. Not that we do not still need to work on her trust in my leadership, but (to an extent), I've got her trust and now need to earn a higher level of respect. You know what, she might be an LBI as I had originally thought, just with right-brain tendencies...we'll see! There are other signs of LB-ness too, come to think of it. Anyways, just thought it was interesting and I am enjoying learning all these new things!! On another note, working on expanding Chickadee's curiosity in things (using Touch It and such) is really paying off, for example: after all our games I took her around the far end of the arena. We have rarely worked on that end and so I wanted to play a little Touch It and Friendly game with her - rather than running around skittishly and refusing to explore things, she actually went up to things on her own! She watched me and took her cues from my body language (one ear on me at all times) while checking everything out. She was ready to spring off, but she didn't and instead was exploratory. A great session and actually a lot of progress!!

The little yellow girl gets about a week off before I return Sunday night. Our next session will be Monday - we'll get in a session each day of the 6 days I have off. I think the key for me to remember will be to be assertive with her and to really gain her focus before getting on her back - if she's unfocused, to get off and get that focus back.