Friday, April 3, 2009

Link under-saddle!

April 2

Chicky seemed like she'd maybe slid a 1/4 step back today, but nothing serious, it just meant we had to work a little harder than usual. We worked quite a bit on achieving a higher level of respect, as she did not seem at first too keen on giving me all that much. We got some snappy transitions and changes in direction at the 7 games. Overall she was not as sensitive and was somewhat unfocused (she was quite concerned about what was outside that open arena door...but she ignored the other working horse -who was quite reactive much of the time - completely, which was great!). Her yo-yo was Phase 4 today (and HUGE Phase 4) when it is usually Phase 1 or 2 at most. Her porcupine was alright, but I had to use some driving game. Her driving game was great though. At the circling game she kept wanting to canter, but pretty soon she was doing the traveling circle at the trot. Changes in direction were a little rough on her right side (which is always her worst side anyways) but got better throughout the games and patterns. For the sideways game we had to use the wall - little more work to do in that area but we finished well. Her patterns were great after some initial mistakes!

By the time we got to her under-saddle work, the other horse and rider were gone, so Chickadee was even more distracted, but overall she did great! Her patterns were perfect, her transitions were okay (distracted), and we got quiet, comfortable w/t/c's in both directions. Her back-up was horrible though, she absolutely refused to back up, even though she normally does so in an instant when I so much as pick up a rein and ask with the lightest touch. It took a lot of work just to get two steps each time I asked! Afterwards we went for a bit of a walk around the yard outside, say 15 minutes. At one point she spooked at a tractor that roared up a ways behind her, but after a turn-and-face she was great. We walked through snow, huge mud puddles, slippery, sticky mud...etc and she was completely calm and great throughout.

It's probably too much to ask that she be where we left off after 6 days off like last time she had 6 off! I guess I can't be lucky every time. Haha. Oh well, a 1/4 step back is not much ;) we'll bring it back up by tomorrow hopefully :) On another note, she was great to catch today!

Monkey walked up to me today on his own to come check me out ;P I did not tie him up either (I caught him after putting the yellow Dee away) and he was quite calm throughout, lead rope just looped over my arm. He was a little curious of everything (1 - part of his extroverted personality, and 2 - part of his being a young extroverted 5yo toddler) but for the most part remained still, even when I used the metal shedding blade on his winter coat (which he normally does not allow - I'd forgotten he didn't like it and had just automatically started using it before I remembered hehe). No pawing, no pacing, no bobbing his head, no anxious behaviour whatsoever, which was great!

We started out on the ground with our 7 games, which he breezed through with ease for the most part. Our first "game" was to do some switchbacks, just to establish communication (I wanted to show him I was calm and reliable, that we could communicate in a LB state of mind...after a few moments he relaxed with me and we got onto the same level of communication). I had to remain very calm and quiet and just walk my straight line while casually cueing him to continuously change direction. He did great though in the end! He was a little too right-brained to do the sideways game without the wall though. His yo-yo was much better than usual, Phase 3 (wiggling my forearm) - but a very very light Phase 3!! Normally he is at Phase 4 (wiggling my entire arm) - full-out (uber wiggling, lol), and he still stands with his head raised and body tensed; it's taken a lot of work, but he is getting there! His driving and porcupines both were phase 1 with 180-360 degree circles. Since it had been awhile since we'd last played, and even longer since just him and I had played all the games together, I started off the circling game with the 12'. This was the point where the other rider in the arena (different from the one working while Chicka and I were at play) told me I could borrow her longe line. Actually, no. Buuut thanks anyways. I put him on my 22' and we continued our circling game. He did tend to want to go RB and canter, but for the most part he was on an edge, like he wanted to stay LB but was teetering to falling of that edge and becoming RB. We started off slow, with short lengths of trot before I'd ask him to hide his hind and relax. A few times too when he took off into a run I stopped him but then had him move out immediately afterwards, keeping his mind busy. The thing that I felt had the largest affect on him today though was talking to him; I just kept repeating easy, easy, the entire time, and we actually got several laps (one+ at a time) in either direction, which is a lot of progress for him, particularly after 6 days off!

I talk to my horses a lot (usually) and do find it has an effect. Chickadee seems to always perk up and know she's done well when I tell her good job; they are able to read our tones of voices. I always knew it had an impact, but with Link it just really sank in because of the drastic difference it made with him. So that is my goal, to talk even more with the horses - with Link today I even added in the good job line (lol). I think the easy's cause him to relax because when he's on that verge of becoming RB, he's not paying so much attention to my body language anymore, he's tense and is becoming more and more "zoned" - the RB walls are approaching closer and closer until they're surrounding his vision like a tunnel and he stops thinking and seeing. So the voice is something that he doesn't have to see and notice himself - he automatically hears it and in it he hears relaxation, and so he follows that leadership a bit. The good job's seem to convey my happiness in their achievement, so that they know they've done well. We even ended up doing some successful changes in direction at the trot (usually cause him to become RB)!! We did do a few transitions (w/t) but did not attempt the traveling circle or spiraling today though - another day!

Our weave was a little sticky at first; usually I start Link off on the figure-8 to get him in a good frame of mind before moving on to the weave, which is more challenging for him to play than the figure-8, but today the other rider had her daughter riding the horse around the barrels I'd set up and I didn't feel like asking for the barrels back (lol). So we started with the weave! Doing the weave with my being on his left Link was fine, even at the trot, but my being on his right side was trickier for him (his right side is always the trouble spot on the circling game and under-saddle too). It took a number of runs (to which I got a hey look, he knows the pattern now! in a I-think-he's-done-that-pattern-enough-times voice from the other rider, haha) but we eventually got a more-or-less LB trot down the weave on his right side, which was great! If a pattern is boring a horse, it is definitely time to move on, however if it continues to teach a horse, then it is definitely okay to continue! Afterwards I decided to just use the cones for the figure-8 rather than steal the barrels back - besides, using the cones would have been more challenging. He was brilliant! At first he did not quite understand and was a little RB (manifested particularly on his right side by taking off when that side faced me), but once he figured out all we were doing was the figure-8 pattern he performed it perfectly, and at the trot!

He was doing so well and I was thinking I could handle the challenge today (or at least try it), so I tacked him up, leadrope looped over my arm again. He was actually very still to be saddled, though he did bob his head a bit in more work to do there ;P It took a few tries before his feet stopped moving when I tried to mount up, but he let me up in the end. We started out with our 3-part-maneuver; the latter 2 parts (turn on the hind, turn on the fore) were great but we had trouble bending his nose to my knee on the right side - he kept bracing against me and moving his feet. Finally I figured out though to a) ask softly - when he pulled his head away, follow him without trying to pull his nose back, then re-ask immediately and softly, and to b) accept small! By rewarding his slightest tries (rather than expecting the same response I was getting on his left side and only rewarding that), I actually got a lot more from him. I started by rewarding when he so much as bent his nose a little to the right (even if his feet were still moving) and kept asking for more until he was bending his nose to my knee easily and without a fight (just for a few seconds, but that was great progress for him!!). We worked on our under-saddle patterns - officially and all of them together for the first time ever: walk-trot transitions (if I talked to him calmly I was able to get longer LB trot), circles on the rail (extremely soft and responsive to my leg - these were a breeze for him!), changes in direction (same response as the small circles on the rail), and back-up (a bit of a challenge for him - whenever I asked he'd become anxious and try to paw, bob, and even brace a bit against me, but we got a few responsive and soft steps each time I asked). We also did the figure-8 pattern - he was a bit RB but still did it well...more repeats (ie. more sessions doing our the figure-8 under-saddle) will improve that area though. We did not do too much moving out otherwise, a little bit of trotting figure-8's and down a bit more of the long side of the arena than usual (usually I keep his trot lines pretty short) and he was great...a little RB and as a result I could feel his body tense the entire time and he even threw in one small, smooth buck (so smooth I'm not even so sure it was not just an extra-long trot stride hahaha) - part of his RB reaction to get me off so he is free to take off in flight should it be necessary, but otherwise he did fabulous! I think more repeat sessions will help calm him down and allow him to be relaxed under-saddle and particularly at the trot. Also, the woman with the other horse in the arena had taken over again (ie. kicked her daughter off the horse) and was yelling at this Appy (little sidenote: this Appy is 4yrs old and ridden by a 11yo or so girl...the horse doesn't even know what she's doing yet, how can you expect it to follow the direction of an 11yo, especially when said 11yo is unfocused and crying because her mom is yelling at her to take control of the horse...) while kicking her sides violently and making the horse turn tight circles (nooot a pretty picture...and then she was wondering why the horse kept biting at her and bucking). The horse herself was not really RB but the energy the woman was projecting (and all that yelling), had a huge effect on Link - he'd humped his back a few times in nervouseness before while we were trotting but had not bucked until the woman began yelling. Just as we were about to pass her on her horse (she was in the center but at one end of the arena), she really took the yelling and kicking a notch up and Link spooked a bit, throwing in that afore-mentioned buck to get rid of me in case the screaming predator taking down that Appy decided to take him down too! Lol. At that point I actually dismounted, which helped him go back to being mostly-LB once again. Once the woman dismounted (a good 5 min later), I remounted and we played another 5 minutes or so to end on a good note. We ended there and I led him out before the other horse could leave; as well as he was doing, he was still quite tense and on the verge of going RB and so I did not feel he was in the right frame to be working in the arena alone once the other horse left. We'll save that for another day when we are better prepared! Once our foundation is firmly cemented it will not be an issue whatsoever to work on our own.

It's been awhile since Link and I have done anything under-saddle, so I was proud of him for us having such a successful session with his working like a partner!! Overall he was quite tense both on the ground and under-saddle, but even so he did everything very well and I strongly feel repeat sessions (particularly if I can get him on a regular, daily schedule for a bit here once I am done practicum) will help him relax into a deeper LB state. In the mean time we'll keep progressing through those patterns to develop that partnership :) I'm keen on experiencing some of the liberty Link and I did this winter but I guess I'll have to wait a bit hehe.

His knee is still a little swollen, which worries me, but he maintains full flexibility, even after 3 days without physio (I was on practicum). When I did his physio today his knee cracked a couple of times and sounded a little "rough" as I initially picked it up of the ground, but he had no troubles flexing it and the joint itself felt really smooth as I did his physio, even from the very beginning. So, so far so good...hopefully that swelling (and a little heat) goes down soon here! My hope is that the weather is nice enough tomorrow to take his half-brother Silver out for a ride!!

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