Wednesday, March 25, 2009

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.

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