Saturday, May 30, 2009

Adventures of a Saturday morn

24C today! It was a scorching HOT 28C yesterday, though personally I can't tell the difference, lol. Hot is hot, be it 24C or 28C with the sun beating down on you. Tomorrow and up until Thursday is predicted to be just as nice, although we all know how those Alberta weather reports who knows, maybe it'll snow tomorrow! Nearly melted today until I discovered the nearest Booster Juice...aah. As promised, here are some photos...though now that I am looking at them, they don't really do our little Mustachio much justice. He's a great looking little critter and is well muscled. Those excellent bloodlines are really coming out. Like I said though, these photos really do not do him justice. I tried to snap them quickly before my threatening-to-die camera gave up its last ghost on me and did not really set him up all that well or anything. Oh well. More photos to come of the others I am working with over June.

Twist did excellenté today! As usual, we tacked up and played our 7 games - for which he was pretty quiet and far less reactive than yesterday. Oh yea, and I forgot to mention, yesterday he trotted up to me!! Hey, it seems I become less velocoraptor-ish in appearance with each passing day. Whaddaya know. Today he walked up to me as well - from in a field with his buddies. Of course it helps that all his (4) pony buddies come running to see me as well (lol), but he still wouldn't walk or run up to me on previous occasions (or even stand for me at first!) despite his buddies milling about me. Improvement in all areas! After running through our games quickly I mounted up, three times each side, third time swinging my leg over. This time he allowed me near the stirrups almost no problemo, and he stood quiet as usual (on a loose rein) for me to mount up. A truck door slamming nearby scared him though and lit him into a few bucks, but nothing special and relatively minor compared to yesterday's Grated Coconut performance. I calmly talked him down until he was standing still again. He did a bit of worried sidepass and turns on the hind for me - he wasn't sure what to do initially but knew he wanted to keep those feet of his moving. I played a bit with his head via my reins - he is quite sensitive and soft (beneath that tension anyways). We got in quite a bit of movement and even a little forward movement and a half decent lap of the pen in either direction. Progress! His being as slow to progress as he is (due to his fearfulness and lack of trust), I had only anticipated him being comfortable with me on his back by the end of this week, no walking about, so being where he's at he is actually further along than I had anticipated by this time. His owner watched our under-saddle part a bit as well and pointed out that Twist seems very willing. He's right, he is very willing, he's just also very scared. So time, calm handling, etc will all help make him a fantastic riding partner ;)

Friday, May 29, 2009

A cousin to Grated Coconut?

Alright so I only have two days to blog about, but I miss blogging daily and just couldn't help myself, haha. So, here it is. I've only been working with Twist the past two days, everyone else is pretty much on hold as I study for my exams next weekend. So lucky Twist, he gets the blog pretty much to himself this next week-and-a-bit.

May 28
20-something degrees, yay! I again soft-tied Twist to the post to tack him up, and except for a couple of moments where he tensed, he was actually pretty quiet - so much so that I am hoping by next week I can tack him ground-tied. We played our 7 games as he wore his saddle and he did well - very focused with some reactiveness, but calming quickly. At first, he wouldn't allow me at his side near the stirrup, so we had to work on some approach and treat (complete with rubbing!) until he'd allow me by his side. You know The Song that Never Ends? Yea, that's Twist, particularly on his left side. Except his chorus is: this is the turn-on-the-forehand that never ends...he just keeps going, and going, and going... So lots of approach and retreat, lol. Eventually he allowed me at his side and even allowed me up in the saddle - some tense moments but for the most part no spook. At one point I was hanging over the edge of his saddle, just desensitizing him to being in the stirrup without actually swinging my leg over, when this huge wind blew up. So there I am, perched over this explosive horse, eyes widened and waiting for him to explode. Luckily for me, he didn't and we finished the session with him comfortable enough with me sitting in the saddle and bumming around up there (shifting weight, rubbing my legs against his sides, etc) to lower his head, half-close his eyes, and cock a hind leg.

May 29
Can I still keep calling him Mustachio if his namesake is disappearing with the rest of his winter coat? Anyways, see, I have this problem. With his name, that is. I mean, (the original owner who registered him) naming a horse Hard Twist? Why don't you just name him Grated Coconut, or something. Y'know, go full out. Might as well, right? Just kidding of course, haha - I actually love his name but can't help joking about it a little, particularly given his reactiveness ;) So today I groomed and tacked him up as usual. Pretty spooky playing his games, but he still did well and we did a lot of circling with changes in direction and such to get him focused. Next, some approach and retreat again until he'd allow me at his side....and then some mount-up. Now this is where Twist lived up to his name. He twists when he is reactive under-saddle. Hard...and whaddaya know, fast too! I cannot recall exactly what spooked him - he was doing very well at first! Next thing I know he's bucking and I'm looking down at the metal bin (the one I told the owner, just yesterday, wasn't interfering with our work and so did not have to be removed)...wondering which way I will land on it. That's when he started spinning. Did I mention I had not yet put my other foot in the stirrup? Well I hadn't. He started spinning to his left - hard, while bucking. Then he moved on to just straight bucks, and finally, rearing (luckily for me, not over backwards). At first, I tried and tried to just get his head up. But 1,000lbs really is no match for my little arm. So that head stayed down. Finally after I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't going to get him to stop bucking (and hey, look at that - I was still on!), I moved on to using my voice to get him to relax. Don't underestimate your voice! I cannot count how many times I have used my voice to see a dramatic effect in the horse. It worked this time as well. In between leaning back and holding on to the horn for dear life, I talked to him. Yes, talked. "Relax, easy boy..." etc etc. I even reached down and rubbed his neck a little. Don't ask me how, in between bucks, I don't know either. I just remember reaching down and rubbing his neck. Within moments he was standing still. Full of tension, but a definite improvement on bucking. Hell did I want to get off! But I knew that if I got off right then, with him ticking down to another explosion, I'd likely end up with a dismount less voluntary than I had hoped for. So I voted for staying on the horse. I also realised that if I got off that horse at that point, I wasn't getting on again during that session! I desperately wanted to end on a good note: doing so meant staying on until he was relaxed. So, legs shaking from the effort of staying on, I bent down and tied my leadrope onto his halter to fashion a set of reins (I had never meant to 'ride' him so only had the rope halter on... the plan had only been to swing my leg over then dismount - further desensitization). Then we sat. When I finally felt he was relaxed enough, I asked him to do some turns on the hind and to bend his neck towards my knee, which he did well enough and will little reactivity. Finally we called it a day and unsaddled. But what a day! As I've mentioned before, it is not necessary for a horse to buck on a first ride. It's not assumed that it will happen, it's not a given...or it shouldn't be. If all the prep is done correctly, your typical young horse should not feel like it has to buck on its first ride. So far, this is the first horse I've started that has really bucked on a first ride, and for good reason. He's reactive and very fearful. I am pushing him a bit, a) because we're on a bit of a timeline, and b) because I feel he needs to be pushed passed some thresholds (reasonably, and done the right way) so as to further earn his trust. So far, it's working. Bit of a process though! Today was a huge threshold for Twist to cross though and he did well, ending on a good note and relaxed.

Upcoming June horses:
-So I've got Twist for another 30 days in addition to the 30 I've already put on (well, almost). His owner insists I take as long as it takes, until I feel comfortable he can get on Twist no problemo.
-A 2yo ArabxWelsh pony mare - another half-wild horse Twist's owner would like me to work with. General desensitizing (to people, tack, etc) and maybe a little under-saddle (walk, bareback maybe? We'll see what she can handle physically).
-An 8-9yo registered Paint gelding owned by Twist's owner's neighbours. He's seen me working, likes what he's seen, and so asked me to work with Sunny. This horse has been ridden, but not for a number of years (4-5), and the last time he was under-saddle, he bucked his rider off. He's originally the product of a PMU farm and is a fantastic-looking horse. Definitely reactive and needs some groundwork, but hopefully turns out to be a good horse to work with.
-A 5yo Dutch WBxQH mare, Formiss (aka Missy). I put roughly 60 days on her last year (her journal is buried in this blog) and will do the same this year before selling her for her owner. Her sire is the late Dutch WB holland import Formaat and she has his gorgeous movement, including a fabulous natural extended trot! She's palomino too, with some nice chrome ;P A fabulous mind with the potential to match.

My limit is four this month!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

May 18-27 Return of the Missy

Yea it's been awhile since I updated, but I've been busy between all the horses - sending ones home, picking new ones up, working on my own horses on a more regular schedule, home chores, and also studying - I write exams beginning of June; this will probably be my last blog until after the exams.

So! Where to begin...

I definitely lost some of the little Mustachio's trust after our saddling episode/broncfest. He was definitely leery of me and anything I touched, so after his exploding a few times at simple games, we took a walk. Literally. I felt some "herd time" where he could follow me as his leader in new places would benefit him. It did! We braved the bone-chilling weather to walk up the road a ways and back, passing horses who tore around, tails raised as flags, past blades of grass blowing menacingly, and past deer and cattle. I was even so brave as to stand at the edge of a canyon with him, admiring the view of a creek snaking its way through the long gulley as cattle grazed. Twist was kind enough not to push me over the edge, something that had certainly flitted through my mind, I assure you. Since then I have saddled him first without saddle pads, then with, and turned him loose. The first time he did toss in a few crow hops, but nothing much else. I didn't ask him to play any games at first because I did not feel he was comfortable enough with the saddle to concentrate on what I was asking. Last session I tacked him up (lead looped around a post; not tied, but it allowed me to encourage him to keep his feet still so that I could desensitize him and tack him up, but still allow him to back off if he really needed to) fully (pads and saddle) and played all our games. He was comfortable enough to focus on what I had to say; we even worked on desensitizing him more to the saddle (ie. flapping stirrups a little and such) and on having weight in the stirrups. We worked a lot on relaxation throughout, and he has relaxed more and more each session. I did not actually hard-tie him but wrapped the rope around the post twice; this allowed me to keep him in one relative area, yet allowed him to back up when he really needed to. It just helped me keep him in once place so that he wasn't moving around so much...I felt like I needed to push a few thresholds with him. A round pen would have made things so much easier, but since a round pen is not available, we have to adapt to the circumstances. Little Mustachio has definitely progressed a ton. He is now wearing the saddle pretty comfortably and has become a lot more trustful of me. I am hoping to have him comfortable with me on his back by the end of this week, which will include 4 sessions with him (Wed/Thur/Fri/Sat).

Well the Bigass Mare went home Monday! I explained to her owner where she was at and her owner seemed pretty unconcerned; she was actually hoping to sell the mare to someone who was okay with her being where she was at. So, hoping all goes well for that mare, she deserves a good home and a good job. I hope whoever continues work on her will take things slowly and will approach her with understanding.

We've worked in both the indoor and outdoor rings now, though no trails as I did not feel she was ready for it. She's still pretty stiff but at least has impulsion and respect under-saddle now. She is comfortable with w/t/c and we've been doing a lot of circles, serpentines, and figure-8's, as well as all our basics (back-up, turns on the hind, turns on the fore, etc). Next step for her is to teach her leg aids so that the rider can help her learn to bend and be soft and supple. She's done fabulous though: she moves out nicely, goes from a canter to a halt with a simple weight shift (no rein), and backs easily. She even does near-full turns on the haunches. All that is left is refinement for her continued development! Some more refinement and I feel she'd be ready to hit the trails.

Little Queen Bee is definitely destined to be a superhorse with all that potential. She is light, sensitive, and brilliant. She is very comfortable with w/t/c and all the basics. She bends and balances better than her half-sister LRF but needs some work as well - leg aids would be the next step for her as well. I almost had her doing sliding stops though she's so responsive! She backs up when I so much as lift the reins off her neck (without pulling back whatsoever), round my back, and change my seat to ask her to back....pretty neat. She too does very nice turns on the haunches. I have taken her out on the trails once and she did very well. She spooks but has the confidence to approach the spooky object, and she's smart about it. She seems to trust my leadership for the most part as well, which helps. A great horse with a ton of potential!! Both mares are going home tomorrow morning to owners very happy with their progress.

I've finally got my big guy on a regular schedule - we're headed into our third week now of regular work (approx. 4 sessions per week as of right now). His groundwork is amazing, he's doing the weave now on the 22' at the trot on BOTH sides, something we could never accomplish previously, he does changes in direction at the trot without becoming reactive, he does w-t-c/c-t-w transitions on the line, and he does the figure-8 pattern at the trot at the full length of the 22'. Though on the 22' rope, he leaves a lot of slack in the rope and usually circles around me at about 15'; even his canter circles are becoming more balanced and are starting to leave a bit of slack in the rope! All-in-all he's coming along fantastically.

Under-saddle, we've been working a lot on dressage basics to get us to the point where we can really work on Training Level. My goal right now is to have him consistently engaging from behind so we have been slowly approaching that with various exercises: serpentines, serpentines with 7m circles at each loop, 10m circles along a straight line down the center of the ring, figure-8's, 10m circles, and 20m circles. Today we did quite a bit of warm-up at the walk to help him wrap his head around the job: haunches-in, shoulder-in, leg yield, sidepass, 10m circles and figure-8's. Of course not all of it was perfect but it's a work-in-progress. I am finding that if I start him off with small circles at the trot first (after our walk warm-up) that it allows him to relax easier then progress on to the 20m circles and our way up. If I try to warm-up a bit then throw him on the 20m right away, he's too strung out to concentrate. Today too we focused on maintaining some even figure-8's that were also rhythmic and collected; he tends to throw his head when we go to change direction, so we finished the exercise on a good note where he was cool as a cucumber throughout the direction changes. A lot of it has to do with me - half-halting appropriately, keeping my hands soft and shoulders relaxed, and cueing him appropriately with my legs. We also worked a lot on moving his haunches around after I discovered he wasn't doing so well in that area last session. This session he made a lot of progress in that's a vital part I feel of helping him obtain that right lead he has so much trouble with. Today's session was amazing, especially after - I have to admit - a not-so-hot session yesterday where his head just wasn't in the game and I soon became frustrated (shitty!). Link wowed me today as well with a gorgeous trot-canter transition! I slid my outside leg back and asked and boom, it was there. Usually, same as on the ground, I ask then wait and allow it to happen. It means a lot of trotting steps, but I feel it allows him to balance himself beforehand (at this stage in his training). If I rush him into the canter straight out of the trot (achieving a snappier trot-canter transition with fewer trot steps), the result is a tense transition - head up, body tense, etc where he's all over the place and far from relaxed...which means a tense, strung-out, and unbalanced canter too. So I've been asking him to move into the canter then sitting back and waiting for it. Well today I got it. We trotted (calmly! Not much engagement down the long side yet though but that'll come!) down the long sides of the arena before circling (10m) at the corner, then I asked for the canter on a 20m circle once his trot was relaxed and collected. Today the transition was incredibly smooth, no extra trot steps whatsoever, it completely blew me away! So obviously we're on the right track and I've got the right approach with him ;P He had a bit of difficulty picking up his right lead again, but after I straightened out my leg cues and re-asked, he got it bang on. It's hard concentrating on so much at once - my legs (and keeping them there, haha), my hands, my shoulders, my general position, then Link himself! Haha. I realised today too that sometimes, just as my hands can have the tendency to get hard (I'm always focusing on keeping them soft, literally like every two seconds), my legs can too! For the most part my hands are very soft and today was no exception - they were soft so he was soft. But one thing I learned after bombing yesterday's session with Link was that I can also soften my leg - he feels the feather-light touch, no need to push in harder with my leg...doing so only causes him to react because he's wondering why I'm "yelling" at him! So today my focus also included keeping my legs softer and lo-and-behold he was even more responsive than some of our past sessions. Who would have thought eh LOL. I was also proud of him today as, for a second session now, he trotted down a straight line, engaged and rounded (albeit at a low level). Those exercises (Progressive Schooling Exercises for Dressage & Jumping - Islay Auty) are working wonders. The first time he did it, it was for maybe 3 strides, but today he trotted a good 20m engaged and rounded! It's hard taking that engagement from the circles onto the straightaway (particularly as you increase the pace), so to see him do so today was fantastic progress. His engagement is becoming more and more consistent, which is great. His trot today too was so much softer - I was able to sit much of his 20m circles comfortably. Link has come a long way and we continue to progress through each session - I think that he is teaching me just as much as I am teaching him though ;)

We picked up the 'little' mare over the weekend! Her feet are in terrible shape and she's got a lot of whale blubber to lose, but otherwise she looks great. Her coat has darkened up a lot to a very beautiful dark gold, a couple pre-existing splints on her fronts have disappeared and/or reduced in size. Today though she had a chiro adjustment: her pelvis was a little out, two ribs, and one wither vertebrae - all very minor and not requiring a follow-up (lest the pelvis seems to bother her or something in the future, but it should stay in place). Tomorrow her hooves meet Mr.Nippers as the farrier trims them down to a reasonable size! Today she also got a good grooming session in - dead hair removed from her back, a little Showsheen-like spray (which she eventually took very well), and a hair-cut! She's now got a nice trim, english mane, a trim jawline, a straight tail of proper length, trim ears, and trim fetlocks! She actually looks professional. I think with some weight loss she can look like the real dressage horse I know she could be, the one we are aiming at selling her as. Last but not least, today we played our 7 games and she remember it all from last year (approx. 6 months ago), which was fantastic. As soon as her feet are done we'll progress the games and get her going under-saddle. Lastly, we'll also get her teeth up-to-date.

Poor Silver and Koolaid have been sort of neglected as of late (Silver has been very kindly pointing out my neglection by making a point of whinnying at me every time he sees me, lol), but once Missy is on a regular schedule of 6 days a week, I am hoping to include them in say 3 each of those days. Koolaid I would like to get started on a bunch of dressage exercises so that I can progress him along the same pace as Link (especially once I get into lessons with Link), and Silver I would like to progress in some reining exercises with a curb bit - I'd like to start refining our communication and working on some higher-level get him prepped for a show season next year (who knows, maybe even a show or two this fall) would be fabulous.

Photos soon...well as soon as I can get a camera running...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

May 11-17...bronc fests inclusive

Week May 11 - 17

Still pretty complicated, the Bigass Mare ranged from calm and relaxed under-saddle and on the ground to Pearl Harbour explosive. Out of our 4 sessions this week, she was under-saddle 3 of them. For the most part she's got her basics down at the walk - halt, back-up, circles on the rail (nice bend in either direction now), and direct (turn on the haunches)/indirect (turn on the forehand) rein, however she is not consistent - some days I can ride her, other days I forego the pleasure of facing imminent death. On the 'iffy' days she will sometimes be calm under-saddle, other times she is explosive but calm by the end of our session, and other days (well, today was the first) today...I try my hand at flying. Today she did very well at the walk and seemed comfortable enough and so I asked her for a trot...not something I would have done had I all the time in the world, but as a trainer I've got time restraints to an extent. We obtained trot for all of 3/4 of a lap of the arena. That was my cue to pull her up and rest her on a good note...but of course I didn't. She was doing so fabulous that I thought I'd allow her to continue for a few more strides. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, a blade of grass blew in the wrong direction behind me. Well you can guess what happened next. Little mare suddenly approached the height of the Calgary Tower and lit into bucking. But she followed the rail! At least I have taught her something after all. I held on for a good 1/4 lap before she tossed me behind her (yes, behind)...her rump actually made for a good slide-like descent. She then took off another 1/4 lap before running right up to me, eyeing me up but looking to trust me. It took a few moments for her to calm down and relax around me, as she was pretty keen on viewing me as a predator looking for blood at that point (not my style, but heck, how's she supposed to know lol), but finally - after some groundwork - she allowed me to re-mount. I did not feel she would allow me to walk her under-saddle though so I just sat on her and bounced around up there until she was comfortable once again. She was pretty calm by the end of the session and we did end on a good note, however she is definitely not where I would have liked her to be. This mare needs a lot more time on her and I am concerned that she will not get that time, or that she will be punished elsewhere for her fear-based reactions. Unfortunately though she goes home Monday (hopefully after a session) and possibly on to a new home afterwards. *sigh*

Little Mustachio enjoyed only 3 sessions with me this week after a full week last week (and future full weeks), though I have been out to visit him an additional two times. He is slowly progressing in the trust department and I have finally removed the halter that was on him previously; he actually allows me, as of late, to catch him out in the pasture! His games have been steadily progressing and I have even done some bouncing around him and desensitization to blankets, the saddle, and ropes (I use the ropes in ways to desensitize the horse to a cinch being applied later, ropes around the feet and elsewhere, and to encourage the horse to think in a variety of good learning situations). Unfortunately we did suffer a minor setback mid-week when I applied the saddle (after desensitization), cinched it up (after former cinch-like work), and asked him to move out. Well, move out he did. Except it was more upwards than anything. I learned how well my emergency cinch-tying works (hint: very good)! SO. We have been taking it even slower as for the desensitization process with the saddle. After I deem he's fully comfortable with the saddle and blankets (etc), I'll tack him up and likely turn him loose to become accustomed to moving about with the saddle, at his own leisure (supervised though of course). He is definitely nearly ready to start encompassing some mount-up work and possibly some saddle work simultaneously with his groundwork....just very slowly.

The Little Roan Filly is doing great under-saddle and on the ground. Her games have progressed somewhat (some sidepass even), including to trotting the figure-8 on the 12' line. Under-saddle, she has all her basics and is up to trotting comfortably. She can be a little testy at times when she wants her way though...for example the other day we worked under-saddle with two other riders in the arena (one of which was tearing around like a madwoman...scary stuff for LRF, haha) and Vienna had it in her head that she'd prefer to be visiting her compadre Havanna. The result was a very slow jog away from Havanna, ears pinned when I asked for more impulsion, and even a little defiant buck when I pushed her a bit. SO! We've got our work cut out in building impulsion...I think I hear some point-to-point exercises in the near future! Otherwise she is doing fabulous, I just have to work a little harder at earning her respect under-saddle, which will be accomplished via groundwork and under-saddle work. Her owners were out Friday and she did fabulous in their presence - her owners seemed quite happy and were astonished she stood so quietly tied! Apparently at home her favourite pastime is to dig holes to China. Here she has had restless days but for the most part after I work a horse they are typically calmer and thus are relaxed enough to stand - as has been the case for Vienna (and Havanna).

My pretty Little Queen Bee is doing fantastic! On the ground she continues to progress...she's sitting at about the same pace as Vienna on the ground though she is softer and more responsive at everything she does. Under-saddle, she is extremely light and responsive to what I ask as well - all of her basics are down at the walk and trot (including trotting serpentines!). We have attempted some canter as well, but it's still pretty rough yet (more to come!). Y'know what the best part is though is that she does not paw...just goes to show, there are better ways than bandaid solutions such as the suggested hobbles. All in all though she is moving along amazingly well (love this little horse!) and her owners (one of which even rode her when they attended our session the other day!) were very impressed with her progress. I'd like to do a little tarp work and such with both mares next week as well as some additional rope work. Both mares should be going home at the end of the month comfortable with all their basics, including w/t/c and some trail riding.

Unfortunately I have been riding everyone else's horses more than my own! Ironic eh, haha. Link and I put in a good session yesterday...some good groundwork (including the figure-8 at the trot, some good squeeze over barrels, and circling at a relaxed trot) to start off before we hopped into the saddle work. Well Link had other ideas. It took a few moments for me to convince him to let me up, but once I did he stood stiller than the Statue of Liberty for me as I dragged myself up 16.2 hands+ of horse. He was pretty challenging under-saddle - so much energy and nowhere to put it!! Well, actually he had places to put it, but they were places I disagreed with. See he wanted to put the energy into practising to be a racehorse. I wanted to put that energy into dressage. Despite our differences he actually did very well for me. I discovered too that I need to provide him more support with my aids - when I do he relaxes and is much quieter... if that is what he needs at this time, that is fine. We worked a lot on 20m circles (well, slightly smaller, we were working off the perfect sunlight circles the arena skylights were projecting on the ground - why set up cones when you have sunspots? haha) at the walk and trot and also spiraling said circles; achieving rhythm and bend at both. The trot was more difficult for Link (difficult in that he had ideas to run lol) but we did well. We also did some canter work, which was extremely difficult for Link (particularly to the right) and admittedly more resembled a hand-gallop: Link's compromise from galloping down a track ;) He was quite reactive at times and was pretty intent on being a racehorse however despite having not worked together in a good week or so he did very well with me, considering. Lots of suppleness and work towards collection throughout...of course a lot of work still ahead of us but we are certainly making progress. It's time for some consistency though (ie. a consistent work schedule) and also to get in some lessons with a professional dressage coach soon as possible.

On another note, we are hoping to pick up Formiss next weekend. She is a 5yo palomino 16hh+ QH x Dutch Warmblood mare. I put in 60 days or so on her last year and plan on putting another 60 on her this year prior to selling her. She has a load of potential as a hunter or dressage prospect (wonderful gaits). I am hoping to get her into an arena for some free-jumping (and videos of it) prior to listing her for sale. So she's my June and July project. I also am likely taking on a couple more horses for June thus far.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

May 7-8 A word on bandaid solutions

Well I only have two days' worth of sessions amassed since my last post to slap up onto this enjoy!

*sigh* The bigass mare is taking longer than I had hoped to get her working nicely under-saddle but I feel that I have made the most of my time with her - I honestly cannot see where I could have pushed her any further without pushing her over the edge like some death-seeking lemming. I am no lemming either and so there was no way I was throwing myself onto the back of a horse that was already explosive on the ground. I call her BAM (bigass mare) for very good reason. So back to the story. She was too reactive to ride May 7th (wind was blowing, cougars were pouncing, you know how it goes) so we left our first official ride to yesterday! She was fabulous at all her games (including circling at the trot with little direction on my part) and also the figure-8 (walk on the 12' line) so we saddled up and rode around the arena. My heart definitely did pop out of my chest a couple of times when I felt her bum scoot beneath me but she handled everything beautifully! She was a little nervous however I continued talking to her soothingly (do not underestimate the effect of your voice on a horse!) and use very quiet aids and we completed several laps of the arena in either direction (at the walk) and practised some direct/indirect rein and back-up. We finished with a quiet and relaxed lip-licking horse. No victory for the lemmings today.

His owner let Mustachio and his pony buddies roam several pastures so I've had to herd them into the smaller pens prior to each session. Yesterday though he allowed me to approach him without much to-do after a couple of tries and he even walked up to me loose after I turned him loose after our session and walked away to open the appropriate gates, so I was pretty impressed! He is definitely coming around. We have been getting in all 7 games (including the circling game at the trot) and he is overall increasingly calmer after each session. Last session we also worked on developing a "sweet spot"...draping my arm and the lead over his back (simulating things such as a saddle over his back) and keeping him relaxed...resting in our "sweet spot" to encourage him to think of having things over his back and my standing in that area as relaxing. My goal is to have him under-saddle (walking) by the end of next week. Still some rope work and desensitizing to go yet before that happens though.

Vienna and Havanna
The two girls are progressing much quicker than I had anticipated, hence the extra day off for them today. Their figure-8 pattern and 7 games have been going well (sideways is still a little sticky but it's coming). We saddled up the last session and took a couple of tours around the arena working on halt-walk-halt transitions, figure-8 pattern (read: bending, suppling), indirect/direct rein (read: turns on the fore and turns on the hind), and back-up. Vienna actually worked in the arena alongside a Velocoraptor (read: another horse and rider) and did so calmly if not slightly distracted. Both mares are only a little keen on things going their way however if I ask politely yet firmly they do as I ask. Both are still figuring out what is expected of them and boundaries and limitations and are doing fabulous!

Which brings me to the next point: hobbles. AKA bandaid solutions. While I was riding Vienna, little miss queen bee Havanna was focused on digging up a hole to China. That's what those front hooves are for after all, right? I threw the odd "hey!" in her direction when her pawing increased to a volume that drowned out my own thoughts, but otherwise I wasn't really intent on getting her to stop pawing...which would have been fruitless (yelling at her to stop is not really going to un-frustrate her).

Quick injection, let's take a look at pawing: it's a result of what is going on inside a horse's head. The horse is uptight, is stressed, and is expressing said tension and frustration by pawing, because its flight (first instinct as a prey animal when it is anxious) is restricted. So there are two solutions: apply bandaids to the physical aspect (the pawing itself), or resolve the problem at the root by dealing with the mental and emotional aspect.

In LQB's case, she was pawing out of impatience and frustration. She didn't want to be tied, she wanted to be wandering about, doing her own thing (probably, ironically, just standing). So back to the story. I was leading Vienna outside the arena, into the tie area where Havanna was, and following the other rider who had been in the arena with Vienna and I. The rider turns to me and says:

"Hey, you should put hobbles on that mare, I put them on my gelding for...well, for a looong time, but now he doesn't paw".

I just shrugged. Okay, I shrugged while also staring down the too-tight tie-down on her horse, the horse she'd been spurring and yelling at only moments earlier.

"I'm not too worried about her pawing, it'll resolve itself as I continue working with her."

"Really?" She asked, one eyebrow raised.


I'm pretty sure she was convinced I am insane.

In every case, solve the root of the problem, not the manifestation of said problem. Take Link as an example, a very high-energy off-track Thoroughbred. A horse who had severe right-brain tendencies (highly reactive) and who was an emotional wreck when we bought him last fall. When tied he'd paw, he fidget, he'd bob up and down incessantly. As I have worked with him, developing him into a calmer, braver, smarter horse, his bobbing, fidgeting, and pawing have greatly decreased to the point of non-existence most tying sessions. As I work at developing him further I anticipate his emotions will level out even further. Why use hobbles, read - force, when there are better ways of achieving a non-pawing horse? Why focus simply on the physical manifestation to temporarily solve the problem (this follows for any and every bandaid we use), which will eventually come undone one stormy session, when we can instead permanently solve the root of the problem through developing and balancing a horse's emotions? There are also other simple exercises to play with a horse to encourage them to relax while tied (for example: when you're untied we work, when you're tied, you get to rest. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard...eventually they learn to take advantage of being tied, of downtime, to relax).

The same follows for tie-downs (used as bandaids). Horse's head up in the air? Solve the root of the problem, whether it be overall tension, your hands, an ill-fitting saddle, pain or discomfort, a poor bit choice, etc. Horses do not need to be "reminded" to keep their heads down - they need to feel relaxed and a relaxed horse will keep its head down. If you need to remind a horse that it can remain relaxed, use your voice, your hands, your seat. Not a's just unnecessary and masks a larger problem. Lack of control because your horse's head is in the air? You've got bigger problems to worry about than the horse's lack of control in general. Earn that partnership, establish an effective means of communication, and you're set (tie-down-less).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The beasts

May 05 -06

I think this may be the last of my attempts to blog daily before I take it to a weekly basis...y'know, so I actually have something to do on my only day off, Sunday (*roll eyes* as if...I have no idea where the time goes...). 23:55 sounds very much like sleep time to my ears...rather than blog time. So! The last two days of sessions with the furry beasts. That's right, I called your horse a beast... but lovingly ;)

I had to chase her around a bit in the arena (ie. my adapted version of "round-penning") again our last session because I was finding our circling game had too much drive and not enough draw, but she was pretty quick to come back to me this time. Today was our first time over the past few sessions where her 7 games were fabulous - no running necessary. She has been saddling well - little jumpy at moments but remaining ground tied. On the subject of ground-tied, when I say that these horses are doing something while ground-tied, it's not that I have actually yet taught them to be fully responsible and stay somewhere when I ask them to - that comes after. For now though I can drop the lead and they are comfortable and relaxed enough with the situation and the environment to stand quiet and still without fleeing. Eventually official ground-tying (where they can stand still until I tell them otherwise despite my walking off, etc) is developed later, as part of the whole process. Yesterday I just did a lot of sitting on BAM so that she was comfortable with me up there - lots of lip-licking and chewing on her part was served up as order-of-the-day. I also asked her to do a little neck bending (her right side was still pretty stiff). Today's session under-saddle was better - her bend was complete on both sides (after some work) and we also worked on direct/indirect rein and back-up prior to progressing to a couple of small circles at the walk. On the ground she's also doing the Figure-8 pattern brilliantly (at the walk on the 12' line). We also clipped (okay well cut - scissors) her bridle path back down to acceptable levels. What's great - and neat, I find - is that a few days ago (after "square-penning" her) she lowered her head into my arms. When she first arrived there was no way I was touching her poll, yet there's something interesting I've been finding: when a horse crosses that threshold and really starts to invest full trust in you, they'll lower their head and just rest it against your chest. Personally I see it as a prey animal placing full trust in your leadership, hiding its eyes against you and lowering its head. Sounds silly to many but it's just something I have found time and time again.

Ah - rain and thunder yesterday! Actually I enjoyed being sprinkled (no sarcasm intended for once) and God knows I love thunder. He was a little difficult to catch yesterday (I had to corner him, but even then he did eventually allow me in!) however today was much better - little flitting around before he turned and took a few steps towards me. Our friendly game yesterday consisted of grooming (which he loves) - his head came down and he even allowed me to cut him a bridle path! These last two sessions I did not use my stick but used my rope instead; yesterday we did all 5 games fabulously, today we did all 7! He is an amazing little horse, he catches on quick and he is so incredibly attentive!! I can be so quiet and he still notices everything and responds appropriately. Today I also bounced next to him and got a little fireworks and a "how-could-you-do-that?!" look as a result, so we had to work backwards and break it down so that he was comfortable with me just moving next to him (I was bouncing without my feet actually leaving the ground)...tomorrow we'll progress because I'd like to start getting him used to eventual saddle work and mounting (of course). Oh yea, and I dubbed him today Mustachio...he's got the hairiest lips I have ever seen on a horse ;)

Vienna aka Little Roan Filly...she moves well and she's got a very good mind on her - intelligent and willing.

Ugh not the best photo of her but she's a gorgeous mare and moves so amazingly well too. Only thing that puzzles me is that she doesn't cross her legs easily (such as when she disengages her hind end, sidepasses, etc) - I'm still trying to figure out if it's a mind thing or a physical thing.

Probably my favourite mare to work with yet!

Vienna and Havanna
The two siamese twins (or so they believe, don't tell them they're really not attached at the hip, it'd only be akin to telling some 6yo Santa doesn't exist...and that's just evil) are getting on amazingly well. I've started both on the figure-8 pattern at the walk on the 12' and they both seem to be picking it up. LQB's a little quicker picking things up than LRF however they're both pretty smart. Havanna still has a little attitude every once in awhile but for the most part she actually really does want to please and she wants to respond lightly as she is quite sensitive. Yesterday we played 5 of our 7 games, but today we got in all 7! I'm not quite convinced yet that they understand the sideways game...but it's a start. They are also trotting consistently at the circling game. I've actually groomed them twice now as well... the first few sessions they were much too excited to be groomed but they've been standing quiet (esp the Little Queen Bee) for some good spring cleaning sessions now. Yesterday I tacked each up and started some saddle desensitization (bouncing next to them, mounting up, dismounting, shifting in the saddle, etc)...Vienna was pretty quiet throughout, whereas Havanna had some initial spook but actually finished a little ahead of Vienna (she's a thinker). Today we worked on some indirect/direct rein, back-up, and forward. I only asked Vienna for a few steps from her but I wasn't as clear with her as I was with Havanna later - to be truthful I had not really anticipated them being ready for under-saddle work so quickly but it just sort of happened...they felt ready for each thing I asked of them as it happened so we just took off from there. Havanna and I actually took a tour of half the arena in each direction at the walk. This one is definitely a smart little cookie! I really like her, she's got a great mind and is good looking to boot, haha. Both mares seem very comfortable and are settling in nicely. They've been easy to catch and both are focused during their sessions - no calling out to one another and (*ahem* Vienna) threatening me with deafness.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I can feel it in my bones

May 04

Ugh, well, today was one of those days. You know the days. The days you go to the chiropractor because you can barely use your neck or left shoulder (which is supposedly your good one) and the doctor tells you you're in the worst shape he's seen you in for awhile. Yup, one of those days. So of course you spend the rest of the day pussy-footing around so as to hopefully stay in relatively-good alignment until the doc sees you again the next day. Except new, spooky horses like to explode violently sideways (because of course you were juuust about to beat said horse...of course...*insert rolled eyes here*), thereby tearing shoulder and spine violently in half. This is all nano-seconds prior to said horse realising that I actually (surprise surprise) you are not going to actually beat him over the head. That you actually hand out rubs as if they were going out of fashion. So. Anyways. The story.

Lil twister was my first pupil of the day. Note to self: when owner mentions horse is essentially wild, that is code for: horse is essentially wild. This horse has not been handled. At all. Or he has been mis-handled in the past by prior individuals. After several explosions when I raised my hand to rub him, bowling me over like some little black-and-white bowling pin with his right shoulder, and stepping on my left foot (at least it caused me to forget all about the lingering discomfort in my right foot, the one Venus kindly crushed yesterday)...well, we ended on a good note with some lip-licking and chewing. This horse definitely does not trust me yet but something definitely can be said for his small to Venus' huge shoulder this kid's a breeze to handle. No rope burn, no being dragged when he is scared enough to flee. So long story short...or made longer...we played 5 of our 7 games today. Friendly was actually pretty good after a bit, porcupine was essentially non-existent but was half-passable despite his attempts to flee, driving (which I had not originally planned on doing due to his reactiveness) actually seemed to help me earn some trust with him as he figured out some of my body language, yo-yo was reduced to light phases in no time, and circling wasn't shabby as long as we were walking to the left. To the right he kept asking to come in and could not quite grasp what I wanted. We finally finished with his completing 90 degrees of walk - end on a good note! Finished up with some rubs and petting and we weren't half bad-off. He's very nervous around people but is definitely coming around after just the one session even; when I returned to grab a couple of photos he was quietly licking his lips and even walked up towards me and stretched his nose out to touch me. Hey, I'm not so bad after all! He definitely is half-wild but I don't doubt he is a quick learner and that once I have earned his trust (which I doubt will be long) nothing will faze him.

You always return next session to find out what the horse thought of your last session together. Venus was not impressed by last session with all the needle-poking. She did allow me to walk up to her and catch her though and she was fantastic for her first 4 games...but circling to the right at the trot and she was trying to take off - a little attitude included. No worries. She quickly learned though that being next to me is less work than being loose in the arena where she had thought she had wanted to be (lol). I "round-penned" (quotations marks indicate the pen was actually square...not round...haha) her for about 15 minutes before she was willing to come in and be with me. Our circling game still took a little little work but we achieved several laps to the right at the trot today! We also played some squeeze between our friendly tires and did some sideways along the fence (she was much calmer and less reactive about it). Since she was already sweated up (doesn't take much for this girl - she is whale-like out of shape and stresses easily), I figured this was the perfect time to throw in some saddle work! She was pretty good about being tacked up (western saddle) and she was awesome about my mounting up - no fear issues to be resolved whatsoever. Once this girl realises and understands something, she's gold. I sat up there (somewhat nervously I might add...being a good 6' off the ground on a horse known to explode in fear will do that to a person) for a few minutes and even played around with having her bend her neck a bit. She was quite stiff with her neck on the right side...pretty one-sided. I feel so spoiled that none of my own horses (Sonny does not officially belong to me so I get to neglect him in this point) are one-sided...I cannot even recall Silver and Koolaid ever being one-sided (though I am sure they were at one point in time), that I forget that most other horses are one-sided. Like I said, spoiled. Lol. That was about all I was prepared for, though I honestly think she was comfortable enough to do more, but I wasn't going to try without further preparation. Anyways, I'll incorporate some of the same saddle work into our routine and keep progressing her. I made up a schedule for each of the horses so they get an average of about 5 days a week in (18-20 days per month, depending on the horse ie. Venus may need more days) and so she is in for the rest of this week...I would like to have her comfortable at the walk under-saddle by the end of our week.

That's it folks! Just the two for today however I have four horses daily for the rest of the week (plus my own three). I just experienced a moment of panic as a piece of fuzz blew past my face here in the darkness of the computer room, so I have to admit it's probably time for some sleep.

I can feel it in my bones...Gimme of the night.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Quickee update

April 30

To be honest, it's been a long few days and so I cannot honestly say I completely recall all the details of what all I did with the horses this day haha.

Little miss Queen Bee Havanna, LRF Vienna, and BAM Venus all did well - the new two at their 5 games (as well as foot work and being wrapped up in ropes), Venus at her 7 (she's really becoming increasingly trusting). No work with my own three (Koolaid, Silver, Link) or with Sonny today!

May 1

Trucked him out to the trainer's today, so by the time I got back I had to rush to get all three trainees of my own in so I had enough daylight to work with Venus (had to do her last) outside. Vienna and Havanna I worked with outside in the pasture...sort of a laid back session to maybe help create more draw with the two of them. We worked through all our 5 games (we'll try to start including the last 2 games - the squeeze and the sideways, Monday perhaps) and they did well. Venus worked well too, including squeeze between a pair of horse-consuming tires and over a ground pole. Sonny btw looks like he is at an excellent place, I'll be out to visit him in a week and a half, hopefully to take him out on a trail ride in Kananaskis (where the ranch is situated).

May 2

Lazy sunny day today - all the horses were feelin' pretty relaxed! Vienna and Havanna did well at their 5 games outside (despite tractors roaring about and horse/rider movement), though they took a little encouragement to get a full lap of circling game at the trot. I also bounced around a little next to them and applied some weight, working until they were calm. Not much else to report for these two...Monday I'd like to have them doing all 7 games and some patterns and would like to start adding in some saddle work to our routine (just basics).

Tore through a couple of our games (squeeze over barrels included) as well as some circling (transitions, changes in directions, w/t/c) and our figure-8 pattern at the trot (flawless) in the indoor before saddling up! He was fantastic on the ground! Under-saddle we did a few minutes of bending, suppling, softening and collection on 20m and smaller circles at the walk and trot in the arena before hitting the pastures for some fitness work. He was a little reactive at times in the field but for the most part he was fantastic - trot, some canter, and gallop (I couldn't resist letting him out some haha). That horse just loves to run!! I was impressed too at how well he "turned off" - relaxed, chilled, after his few minutes of hard gallop, because he definitely had a lot more left in the tank - super energy lol. We finished off with a little more (outdoor) ring work - just bending, softening, suppling and some work towards collection at the w/t/c then a cool-out.

Worked once more on all 7 games, including squeezing between those monstrously-scary tires and doing some trot at the circling game (a ton of difficulty going to the right). We also tried some vaccinations today...which was not happening. Apparently she has had shots before and she was pretty good, but that was definitely not the case today. She felt that needle and instantly went reactive...feet-dangling-in-my-face reactive. I ran out of (3) needles so Monday I'll bring a few more and we'll hopefully get those vaccines in. Monday also we'll get some more saddle work in too.

Monday's a big day! I'm starting work on Hard Twist, that roan gelding, so I'll be up to 4 horses beginning then. I am hoping to have all three others doing a little saddle work (just simple weight, perhaps a few minutes of teaching to release to the direct/indirect reins and back-up) and progressing those 7 games, including onto the patterns. I'll work out an official work schedule for everyone over my day off too so that they're getting in 4-6 sessions per week without wearing me out...gotta work in some rotations :D