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 such....work 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 area...it'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 maneuvers...to 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...