Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Missy 1/3

(1/3 meaning first session of three before I head back up to the ranch...her next sessions after that will be more consistent hopefully but will exist after my permanent return home from the ranch)

I chose this morning to add to my already-8-hours-of-sleep rather than ride either of the boys. I don't know what it is about my body, but it likes 10 hours, and it can be very demanding!! Lol. I laid out the boys' breakfasts, packed my bags, and headed out.

I did not get home until later that evening (had to make a few stops en route) and took Missy out first thing. We worked on her specific tying issue (she ties everywhere now, and I mean everywhere, except to this one specific rail), did a little groundwork, then took it up into the saddle. I have to admit I worked her pretty hard today and got after her quite a few times. If she were my horse, I would take it slower, but she needs to move along a little quicker since she's a sale horse and she is also at the point where I feel I should be expecting a little more out of her by now. For example, leg yields - she didn't quite fully understand what I wanted, but was not even trying much of the time. So, whenever she tried, I left her alone, when she didn't, I wiggled my dressage whip at the offending shoulder that wasn't moving over, and even tapped her if she ignored the wiggle. Pretty soon she was doing pretty nice leg yields. Not completely fluid and even, but responsive and with effort. Being the brilliant horse she is, I expect her to have them down pat by tomorrow's session with her (that's just how she is). I think though I was interfering too much with her canter. Every time she picked up the wrong lead, I slowed her back to a trot and re-asked. Cross-firing, same deal. However I would insist she pick the canter back up right away, whereas she wanted to go from a fast trot into the canter. Whenever I inadvertently allowed her to do it her way, she picked up the correct lead and didn't cross-fire (usually). If I insisted on a better depart (less trot steps), then she usually gave me a ridiculously messy and unbalanced canter. So, I guess my lesson learned today was to a) just focus on my riding to make sure I stay out of her way, I was admittedly sloppy at times (*shrink*), thanks to her imbalanced canters; b) allow her to do her thing, even if it is from a fast trot, we can work on a better depart later, as she gains balance and; c) slow her down before you know she is going to cross-fire, before she becomes unbalanced - take what little she can give and then build on it until you have a fluid 20m circle or even an arena-length of nice canter. She's a smart horse and can progress at warp-speed, so take what you can, what you have, and then mold it. We further worked on absolute basics like sidepass and turns on the fore/hind (those are getting absolutely beautiful now) as well. Overall I did get after her quite a bit to get her impulsion up (backing up my leg), but I think we did ok and will both take a lot into tomorrow's session. I'll do my absolute best to make tomorrow's session less work for her, too and accept a little less of canter. To Missy's credit, she actually did very well today, especially for a green horse, and she had a wonderful attitude throughout it all. She actually did work very hard, even at the end, when I could tell she was pretty damn tired. What a wonderful horse overall :)

Missy gets two more works, then I return to the ranch for a final week with the boys :)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Last day of "dressage"

Got in mid-afternoon and as tired as I was, I kicked my butt into riding at least one horse. It was a tough decision, but I figure Link could always use more time under-saddle learning to channel all that energy, whereas Cody's a much easier case (lol). Link's groundwork was ok - he was a little unfocused but - wait for it - did well (I know. I always say that. Sorry). We polished off our groundwork (on the 12' line - we haven't been doing enough regular work to play on the 22' - next week hopefully?) with some practise at trailer loading. Next week I am going to have each horse trailer-load daily - they have to all load perfectly (and preferably self-load - everyone is up to par on that except Cody yet, I always lead him in) by the end of the week. Anyways, it took maybe 10 minutes, but by the end of our ten minutes fooling around with the trailer, Link was not only loading nicely upon my first request (and this is into the end/back half of the trailer, so to him it looks a bit like there isn't enough space), but he was also standing calmly and backing out relaxedly! Huge bonus. He seems to be learning more and more to think and does not seem quite so upset anymore by the other horses leaving him or by other situations where he has to stay calm and think his way through (ie. like getting around a fence and back to his buddies). I'd like to throw him out into the hills - maybe I'll do it with him and Silver one of the days, so Link has some time to romp on his own and think through situations out in the big bad wilderness, all alone (well, with Silver - I'll keep Cody at the house though so I have a horse to retrieve the boys on) - and room to run!! One of the managers at the facility we board Link at was commenting today how much Link loves to run - I didn't realise this, but apparently Link does a lot of running about on his own ;) He certainly does more than 'necessary' here as well, and he almost always asks to run under-saddle (now just to teach him to ask more politely, hehe). I almost hate having not raced him after we solved his physical issues - he probably could have done well. It was a tough decision, knowing how much he loves to run, but I didn't feel the track life was worth the risk and that it was in his best interests emotionally (he might love that track, but the stalls and track life itself wasn't conducive to his mental/emotional well-being)

Under-saddle, we did all the usual patterns and circles in the new dressage saddle. I think I will put it away now until we return home, and take the rest of our week - our last week - on the ranch to take Link out on gallops on the trails again. He was somewhat reactive (it was a cool windy day with the odd raindrop) and high-energy but still remained pretty focused and still learned and improved. As long as we are learning and improving, even if it is in a small way some days, then I am happy. I am just happy to finally feel like I can (well, mostly) trust being on his back now, that he won't lash out at me purposely up there. Mostly. Hehe. We broke down some of the basics - sidepass, turns on the fore/hind to clean up our lateral work; we still need to clean up some of those basics more too, so we'll keep at it simultaneously with our more advanced work. As the basics clean up, so should the advanced work (ie. shoulder-ins, haunches-ins, leg yields, etc). I also had an epiphany today! Usually, when Link loses it a big and blocks me out, he runs forwards and ignores my leg during a leg yield. So instead of adding more leg (what I usually do), today I just closed my hand, so that all that impulsion he had went into responding to my leg. It was like taking the impulsion and molding it into what I was asking of him - a perfect leg yield. Brilliant! So simple I am kicking myself for not thinking of it earlier. Duh. I was so focused on his not responding to my leg, that I forgot that if he's running forwards, I can just stop him from running forwards, eh. My oh my. See? That's why I need lessons. Eyes on the ground and someone to point out obvious stuff for me (and new stuff, of course). Haha. It was beautiful - one minute he was hollow and running forwards, the next he was engaged, bent, and doing a leg yield. His canter today was a bit better, but today I asked him to canter on a straight line then brought him onto a 20m circle. He gets himself so psyched up (especially with leg aids) sometimes and this seemed to help a little. He was mostly collected but was still rushing a bit and thus would hollow when he really got to rushing. We're working on it!

Cody now consistently allows me to pet him all over when he is chowing down and even follows me everywhere...again - we're working on it ;) Simple, but progressive.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Attempted dressage in open fields

Only time for the big dark man today, as I am headed out to Grande Cache this afternoon, to return Monday morning. Rather than taking him out on the trails, we spent another day doing dressage work in a flat area of one of the fields by the house. Link was pretty high energy - as usual (lol), but was super responsive and pretty relaxed for the most part. I find though that he is tenser on the left rein - he doesn't bend his body quite as cleanly, so we did quite a few more circles in that direction in a successful attempt at obtaining some nice curve on that rein. He surprised me though at how light he can be (leg aids)! At one point I simply slid my right leg back and boop his hind end popped over, without my even applying any real pressure! It was a good reminder for me to keep my leg aids light. Sometimes I get so focused on keeping my hands light, I forget that I can also keep my legs light as well - he's a pretty hyper-sensitive horse, so probably half of the pressure I sometimes use is really all that is necessary...keep it light!! I couldn't believe his level of engagement though - he worked from behind beautifully (for his level) for me a good 90 percent of our ride (a good 98 percent after the initial 10 minutes of warm-up). We did all the usual stuff - figure-8's, 10m circles, serpentines with circles at each change in direction, 15m circles along a straight line (with some nice collection on all the straightaway - uphill, downhill, and flat), and finishing with 20m circles (which he did the best he has done yet). I am learning too to use different cues with him - to keep my inside leg at his girth (even a tad ahead) to push him into a bend and my outside slightly back behind the girth to direct his hindquarters. I guess as our work evolves, so will my cues, understanding, knowledge, etc. Everything seems to change and develop with time. To be honest, a lot of times I don't fully understand exactly why I obtained what I did, but it worked! I think sometimes my body just does a lot of things on auto-pilot, innately, kind of like how your fingers will play an instrument even after you forget how to read the music (apparently my fingers still remember how to play flute, yet my emboucher, and particularly my brain, are pretty rusty!). Anyway, we also did some lateral work: leg yields (he's a little stiff yet moving to the right, my cueing with my left leg), shoulder-in's and haunches-in's (shoulder-in's were a little stiff on the left rein) - all of which he did pretty well. His problem is he needs to relax, but he did fairly well, particularly at the leg yields going left and shoulder-in's and haunches-in's on the right rein. We took a minute too to break down the shoulder-in he was having trouble with by doing some turns on the forehand and on the hindquarter (with left leg cues), which seemed to help. Lastly, Link and I took on some canter (more than just a few strides this time) in either direction - and I was, uhh...lucky(?) enough to experience the, um, brilliance (?hehe) of a very elevated canter. He was very, erm, engaged but all his impulsion just went UP into his canter (rather than forward) - it was a pretty neat feeling, lol. He was a little reactive at first, particularly on the one rein, but soon relaxed relatively - he was engaged the entire time, which was fantastic. A lot of tail wringing though, so we'll have to figure that out, but we've got a lot to iron out yet anyways (mentally/emotionally). Overall, I was pretty proud with his entire work - he was manageable, thinking (for the most part), working hard, responsive, and using his body efficiently - all in an open field. He is putting on good weight as well and seems to be building some topline. A pretty fulfilling ride!

No time for Cody, but I have been insisting on his allowing me to touch him while he eats his morning grain (supplements with beat pulp and a little handful of sweet feed for taste) the last couple times, via approach and retreat, persistence, and quiet body language. This morning, he allowed me to walk right up to his shoulder (usually I have to start at his butt and do approach and retreat to his head) and rub his head and neck right away even. There was one instance at the very beginning where he tried to turn his bum in towards me, but he moved it back after I gave a quiet but sharp "hey" and asked, with my body language, for him to disengage the hindquarter and put it back (away from me). He did so and stood still the rest of the time. Nice!!

Boys get a day off before I am back Monday for more play!! Weather permitting, I would like to take Cody out Tuesday for a 5-6 hour ride to re-trace our steps one of the days we were gathering cattle, to see if we can't find my lost camera. As far as photos go, I will pick up a couple of disposables and hopefully have some photos up here by the end of our stay at the ranch.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Beavers, porcupines, and URO's - oh my!!

URO’s being Unidentified Running Objects. Or Animals, to be more accurate. Hehe. Something Aly tracked and chased down into the bush. We'll never know what. (and no, it wasn't a deer, lol)

Though I had tried it out on Sonny and felt great, I also tried out the “trial” saddle – a Don Rodrigo dressage saddle – on Link. He’s the reactive, high energy one, and he is the one who’s movement I am most used to, since I have been riding him a ton more than Sonny (so I would notice a difference in the saddle more with him). I was a little concerned that the seat is so slippery, and that I might lose my seat on Link as his feet tapped about beneath me when he’s excited. To my surprise, I didn’t loose my seat whatsoever (despite his dancing about), but actually felt like I had the best seat I have ever had (for dressage purposes, that is). Usually I have to post Link’s tense trot – it is not really possible to sit until he relaxes and starts engaging, which takes a lot of work. With the dressage saddle, I could sit both his trot and his canter much more easily. It was awesome – why have I not done this sooner!!?? I have ridden in all purpose saddles only for the most part, since I always jumped and just dabbled in dressage as flat work and part of Pony Club and lessons throughout the years. More proof that the right equipment makes all the difference!

In the Rodrigo, Link and I did circles, figure-8’s (took a bit, but he finally relaxed and did changes in direction without tensing and flipping his head), serpentines with circles at each change in direction, 10m circles down a centerline (need to set up some cones for better accuracy!), and 20m circles (again – cones!). By finish, he was still pretty reactive but was collecting consistently and for long periods of time (even down straightaways) – pretty great, especially considering how reactive he was feeling in the high winds and working out in the field!

Later, I took Cody out for an hour long cruise to the back of the property and down the creek. We meandered through the bush and along the banks, following the creek as it twisted and wound its way through the property – it was absolutely stunning and utterly breath-taking the entire way. Gold leaves spattered the grassy green banks littered with logs and trees the beavers have felled. Creek banks ranged from wide, broad openings to steep, towering rock cliffs. We followed paths through the bush and along the banks, making our own paths whenever necessary – rarely, because there were paths everywhere, including well-worn paths beaten down by the hooves and feet of the wildlife in the area. It was beautiful!! Do you know how crazy incredible it is to watch a good 4 or 5 beavers rush into the water and slap their tails at once?!! There has got to be a good dozen beavers or so on this property!! Aly, Cody, and I also stumbled on a porcupine (fortunately, Aly didn’t get any quills in her nose). Cody was great, though a bit rude a couple of times in the bush (continuing forward when I asked him to stop, or insisting on a path I didn’t want to take), though very polite in other areas (such as standing rock-solid when I mounted a million and a half times – I had to get off at times to lead him through the thick bush). I’m not sure what was up at the beginning of our ride though, as he even bucked a little going out, (just one little hop that I even doubted happened, it was that small, lol) and then again (a few in a row) when I asked him to canter!! It wasn’t a resistant buck or an I-want-to-go-home-now buck, it was more of a reactive buck. Once we were further from home, however, he relaxed mostly (he almost always holds some tension still, even if it doesn’t seem all that noticeable – I am starting to learn how he feels, etc, and therefore how to read and feel him better), to the point where he wasn’t arcing stiffly to the left and was comfortable trotting and cantering (no bucks whatsoever afterwards, though a little speed here and there – flight). I’m not sure if there was something going on around the house that little human me was oblivious to (the cattle grazing near the house spooked at something, Aly growled at something she perceived around the house, and Cody seemed hypersensitive around the house and didn’t relax his heightened alert until we were quite a ways from the house), or if it's just a matter of us still dealing with the “cracks” in Cody’s foundation (also very possible, given we’re still sorting out that foundation)…I guess only time will tell! I was pretty disappointed when he bucked, but then on the other hand, he’s apparently been through a lot, so I guess it shouldn’t be surprising...and he has progressed so so much. The type of buck he gave wasn’t too concerning either, it was pretty easy and he came out of it nicely. Once we eliminate all his fear issues, he is going to be one heck of a great horse…I just hope we can help him enough to make him safe for Dad to ride (Dad can't get hurt!), because he is an amazing, bomb-proof mount otherwise!!! Either way he won’t go anywhere, ever, he’s with us for life – but I’d really like Dad to have him.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Counting cows

Link was much more responsive and relaxed this morning over yesterday; he was focused enough on me to do transitions at our circling game and to start out the circling game at a walk (as opposed to a tense, “flighty” trot). The rest of our games (just brushed through) went really well as well, and he stood nicely to be tacked up. Leaving the house (and other horses), he stepped out smartly and pretty relaxed. Once into a trot, however, he was a bit tense. The rest of the ride went well, with some tension and some bad acting, but nothing that wasn’t possible to ride though – I felt I could trust him enough to be honest (ie. no bucking or surprising me) in his playing up, which was great. Overall, he did very well, including being led through the creek (I think I will ride him next time at it). All in all, we tackled walk/trot/canter, collection (working over his back quite a bit during the latter end of the ride), leg yields, serpentines, circles, figure-8’s – all throughout our hour-long ride, and he did fantastic. He has also put on enough weight now that his ribs are barely discernible through his coat when he moves now (and he’s more comfortable bareback!) – I’d like to see even more weight, particularly going into winter, but it’s a great start and we’ve still got two weeks of grass left here.

was my evening horse tonight (my two-and-a-half-hour horse, to be more specific, lol), and he did fantastic! He was quite a bit more difficult to catch today than usual (consistent work is definitely key) and a bit tense during the first part of our ride, but he sure stepped up to the plate!! Our groundwork went well also, with some great relaxed work once he was more relaxed overall. He wasn’t so sure about walking through a long boggy area (thick bog) under-saddle but followed nicely on the ground, and when I asked him to gather up cattle for me later, he worked beautifully. We came up with two bulls (the third lounges up in the back section), 21 cows (did I miscount last time when I came up with 22??), and 14 calves (less than I had anticipated). We went through bush (led him some of the ways, as it was too low for me to ride him through some of it), walked right in amongst the cattle, etc. At one point I spotted a cow on the ridge a little ways off and asked Cody to immediately pick up the canter. I had 19 cows, 2 bulls, and 12 calves counted and had left two cow-calf pairs behind in another area of the section (they’d been separated when the rest of the herd moved as I counted); I was hoping that the cow I saw on the ridge was my missing cow, and I wanted to get up there quick before she disappeared into bush. Cody took off just as I asked, transitioned down later when I asked (with a weight shift) as we approached the cow(s) – very responsive. Unfortunately the two we found were the two pairs separated earlier. Cody and I took off over the rest of the property, including through the creek (which he walked through, without jumping, and handled the best he ever has – even though he handled it well before) and back home through the dark. At one point I just couldn’t see well enough to properly guide him over the ground, so I gave him his head and he got us home safe without a single misstep. During our ride he was relaxed enough in my presence to stop and pee (super success for this horse, lol) and afterwards (after our ride and after turning him loose) he allowed me to approach him loose and rub his barrel as well – he’s getting there, though it is still going to take time to earn his trust and to erase that intense fear he has of people.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Back in town

Middle-of-nowhere-town (yes, Tomahawk), that is. Hehehe.

Took Link out for a quick peek at the cows, to make sure everyone was alright. We only found the main group, as we did not go far since dark was hitting us fast. Link was a little rough (high energy, jumpy - nothing major or dangerous though), both on the ground and under-saddle, but he still did well overall, especially since he’s had almost a week off!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dressage saddles and grumpy mares

I started off my equine day with Sonny (mom's Thoroughbred), trying out a new (used) dressage saddle I might possibly purchase. It seemed to fit Sonny really well, so hopefully it also fits Link ;)

I did all 7 games with Sonny prior to riding him, including some great sidepass, changes in direction, transitions, etc. He went really well, even keeping a little squeal under his breath rather than full-out playing - he seems to have a greater sense of maturity lately. It is not that I mind him playing here or there, he is certainly free to do so, however I want to see some sense of maturity as well! Lol. Under-saddle, he was phenomenal. He has not been ridden regularly in well over a month now, yet he rounded up under-saddle and went beautifully. He was quite responsive as well, though he had moments where he seemed to check to see if I meant what I was asking, if he really had to do it; when I continued to ask, he would resignedly do as I had requested. At one point, I asked him to do some leg yielding at the trot - no response. I figured maybe he didn't know how. But wait a minute, he can sidepass under-saddle, so it only follows he should pick up leg yield? I swear he knows lateral work... So I broke it down for him a little - try it at the walk. Suddenly I was getting some almost perfect leg yield. Later, we even got it at the trot - it was perfect, it was brilliant. I'm not sure yet whether or not he truly didn't understand my request at first and then picked it up in a moment of brilliance, or if he simply didn't want to do the leg yield and then decided to do it afterall. I'm voting for choice #2 - just the vibes he sent off to me, and how well he did the leg yields, made me think he'd known all along what I was asking and simply chose not to do it. Maturity. Something that hopefully becomes Sonny's close friend with time, hehe. He certainly demonstrated some great talent for dressage today, it's just motivating his mind that might prove to be difficult. He seemed to enjoy the patterns and such that we trotted though, as he became more responsive in some areas with them. He was still a little resistant yielding to the left in the end, but was overall pretty good with some great consecutive strides in either direction. His canter was good as well (nice and easy - fluid - to ride), though it needs a little slowing. While I didn't find him to be exactly leaning on my hands, I felt he was grabbing the bit a little too hard, so we'll work more on softening him (primarily by keeping my own hands soft as well) and lightening him further; he went nothing like his old racehorse self (leaning, uber heavy on the forehand), but was just a tad heavy, which is okay for now. He has inspired me though to take some dressage lessons for sure with him (as well as with Link)...which will make mom happy, as she had wanted me to get into dressage with him for both hers and his sake, plus he is the best horse right now, between my 4 and my parents' 1, to take higher in dressage.

I was pretty excited after Sonny but was sobered pretty quickly with Missy's performance later for the potential buyers who came to see her! Why is it that she never bucks with me, but whenever someone comes out to watch her, she has to pin her ears like she is the grumpiest horse alive, and even insists on throwing in a little buck at the trot??! Otherwise she did great, but her attitude was far from fabulous and she was not in tune with her rider(s) at all (so very little actual engagement as well). I think she's just intent on staying here with us rather than finding a new home!! Dammit mare!! On the other hand, people do have to understand that she is a green 5 year old with very limited work put on her so far, considering. She could show by next spring if someone put the time into her this winter, but she needs consistent work. Otherwise though, she did great with me beforehand, and possessed a happy attitude while I bathed her (tied, she never balked once and even cocked her hind leg and relaxed while I bathed her), tied her for awhile (no pulling back or such whatsoever), and clipped her (all four legs, bridlepath, head) for her first time ever (other than the leg at the vet's on Monday) - she never even so much as appeared to think about balking over the clippers. How is it that a mare can go from so content and quiet to so obviously grumpy, within the span of only a few minutes??! *sigh* She needs even more work, but I am not here to do it unfortunately, which is so frustrating. Tomorrow she will get another work, then a week off, then three days of work, then a week-and-a-couple-days off, then she can be worked regularly (hopefully, provided EMS work doesn't interfere). To add further to my grief, she refused to eat all her medicated feed *arg!!*. Ah well, what can one do. She's a great horse, but is just still very young and green in some areas (*ahem* like, work ethic, lol).

Tomorrow I am off (after working with Missy one last time) to be with the boys up north for another week! I will be back next Wednesday for three days down in the south here - home. Wish me luck, and I will return with plenty of posts for both blogs (both The Perfect Horse and Through the Eye of Equus), promise!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Horse doctors

Yesterday was my first look at Missy's leg, which seemed to be perhaps slightly smaller, but still stocked was our vet appointment with Dr. Matson (who was fantastic, btw) of Moore and Co.

The big mare took maybe 10 minutes to load but was pretty good to trailer - and she was a blast at the vet's!! She stood still and quiet through everything we threw at her: walking through strange barns and past new horses, walking into stocks (twice), having a hind leg clipped (her first time with clippers), having IV shots, being worked on by strange people, ultrasound, x-rays (twice, one machine went down), etc etc. I was quite proud, to say the least! We started off with an x-ray, thinking the splint bone could be possibly broken - it wasn't. X-rays were completely clean, so we moved on to ultrasound. Tendons, ligaments, everything - fine. No foreign bodies. Lots of edema, however - you could see pockets of it everywhere. The vets finally surmised that, for whatever reason (likely lack of movement on Missy's part), the leg is just simply stocked up with fluids - pretty minor. No major involvements, and she should make a full recovery. She is on antibiotics and another drug to help tighten up the leg, but should be fine with exercise! I was pretty relieved to hear that the injury remains very minor and that there is really nothing wrong with the leg. The vet gave us the full go-ahead to work her as usual (including canter), especially since she isn't, and never has been, lame.

Big Miss was alright to load afterwards (took someone shoo-ing her in behind), but was pretty temperamental in the trailer itself (but only after a lot of time spent waiting!)...turns out she is in heat as well! Bonus. *ahem* erm, yea, maybe not. Haha. Anyways, we got her home and immediately I took her out for some groundwork and under-saddle work. Both went absolutely fabulous, with lots of impulsion (guess she just needed to put that busy mind to use!!) and some really great w/t/c and collection. We finished the day with a bath (which she stood quietly for) and then with her standing very nicely to have her feet done (half asleep, actually, hehe), despite plenty of "busy-ness" around the barn area.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Days spent slacking

While they boys will/are, anyways. They had both today and yesterday off and will have the next four days off as well, to slack, until I return!

Yesterday was spent cleaning up a grazing pasture as best I could so the boys could graze in it (which they seemed happy to do - there's tons of long grass in this area!) and cleaning house!

Today I headed back home with the SO, Matt, early in the morning to enjoy Keith Urban and the Tragically Hip in concert over the weekend ;) I'll be back next Wednesday.

Oh, one last, interesting note - I found it really great to find another denotation of Cody's and my progress, to a) have not had any watery manure for awhile now (not once since I have been working him out in Tomahawk) and b) he has even pooped a couple of times now under-saddle, over our last two sessions out riding! Something so simple, yet showing a lot of progress with Cody; he finally feels comfortable and relaxed sufficiently to poop while under-saddle, and his sympathetic system obviously isn't rocking out so much anymore when he is around me that his manure turns watery! Like I said, something so simple, but change is definitely about in the little guy! On that note, he has been allowing me to walk up to him loose in the pasture and pet his hindquarters and/or barrel, which is another step in the right direction!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Are you afraid of the dark?

The day started early…or yesterday finished late? Whatever you want to call it, it was midnight and coyotes were yipping and howling nearby, as they do every night. They set the neighbourhood (yes, we’re all on 160+ acres – the property I am on is two quarter sections – but we’re still close-ish at the front, along the road) dogs to barking, as usual, but this time they didn’t stop, as they usually do. The Herefords belonging to the neighbours down the road, west of us, started bawling. Our cattle started bawling. The bulls belonging to the neighbours across the road from us, north of us, started calling out. I was just reaching for the light switch when the sounds of creaking fences drifted in through the window. I paused. The squeal of barbed wire against fence posts continued, intensified, even. I rolled my eyes – I’d seen the damage fighting bulls could do. But at one am? Cattle started calling out in alarm, cows bawled for their calves in the confusion evidenced by the sound of hooves and the sounds of the herd moving quickly through the protesting fence and into the brush. I thought I heard a cow or calf scream. I sighed as I tore on a pair of jeans, shirt, and sweatshirt. Leaving Aly in the bedroom, I raced out the door; I didn’t want her getting tangled in anything in the dark, where I wouldn’t be able to see her. First things first, I thought the cattle might have only gone through a fenceline on the property rather than a fence lining the road; my priority was the road so I jumped into the truck and idled down the fence along the road, my flashlight focused on the fences. Nothing seemed down and no cattle were visible on the road. My discovery meant that the cattle had likely simply gone through a fence into a pasture we had gates open to anyways. As relieved as I was, I still wanted to make sure, I wanted to find the cattle and see their whereabouts for myself. The horses were hanging around the house, another sign that something was up – normally they spent their nights in the pastures away from the house, down by the creek. To be up within the lights of the house was unusual. I grabbed a halter from the box of my pickup and threw it on Silver, fashioning a set of reins from the rope. I didn’t want to take the time to saddle up. As I led Silver to the gate that would lead us into the cattle pastures, I took note that any and all herds of cattle within a few kilometers of us were still setting up a ruckus, as were a neighbour’s dogs to the west of us. I could hear whom I thought to be one of our bulls calling out from the bush off to the east, and I thought I heard a cow or two. Silver stood stock-still as I leapt onto his bare back from the wooden fence and immediately stepped out into the blackness. I trained my flashlight on the ground as well as the surrounding area – it never stopped moving. I wasn’t sure what was out here upsetting all the cattle, but I wanted to make sure it didn’t have any of our calves. Silver and I walked past where I had heard the cattle go through the fence, to no avail – it was pitch black with no moon. The limited beam of my flashlight failed to find a single cow, though I could hear a bull quietly lowing occasionally, in the bush north of us. We continued along a little longer before following a ridge to an opposite fence. Following that fence would take us through a gap in the fence and over a culvert and mostly dried-up creek. My plan was to cross the small, dried-up creek and head north to the pastures on the opposite side of the fence I had heard the cattle plunge through. If my estimations were correct, the cattle had likely headed north then east, since they would turned east to avoid eventually hitting the northern fence along the road or the western fence along the house. They knew this land and were headed into the bush along paths they knew. Until now, I had mostly been following Silver’s guidance. Wherever he felt we should go, we went. I fully trusted his wisdom – I could feel in his step that he wanted to find the cattle as much as I did. As we walked towards the gap however, some type of sound reached our ears. I couldn’t decide whether it was the sound of flesh being ripped from bone or simply the raspy breath of a cow catching her breath after a bolt, or even someone tearing up grass. Was it just my imagination taking off on me? I couldn’t imagine it being a cow, seeing how there were none within my flashlight beam. Taking off the way the herd sounded like they did, the cows would be sticking together, not wandering about alone. The remaining cattle here are not exactly entirely quiet either – someone on a horse, waving a flashlight around brazenly, would have spooked a cow into running off towards her herdmates. This sound wasn’t moving. My flashlight beam didn’t pick up any cattle but I couldn’t make a thorough search of the area or for something along the ground without moving closer towards the sound. Silver didn’t seem overly alarmed but remained as tense and alert as he had our entire explorative journey. The sound continued without pause. Uneasy, I turned Silver about towards home. I’d heard some of the cattle in the bush nearby and knew they weren’t on the road – they should be safe as I could make them at one in the morning, in the dark. The last thing I needed was to further investigate some sound and find out the worst (likely a wolf or cougar, possibly feeding). Visions of Silver spinning about upon sighting the worst, leaving me with whatever else lurked in the dark with us, prompted me to turn him towards home. I had nothing to back me up and continuing on into possible danger was not exactly tantalizing. I could search first thing in the morning. I wanted so bad to pocket my flashlight, grab hold of Silver’s mane, and just let him rip all the way home. Instead, I reined him in. For whatever reason – whether there really was something out there and Silver wanted no part in it, or he just wanted to get home (albeit after stepping out eagerly and without hesitation away from home), Silver wanted to tear off as much as I did. My brain triumphed over my instincts however and forced me to ask Silver to walk. If there really was something out there, nearby, the last thing we needed to do was take off at a dead run. Even if something was already feeding out there, I had no idea what it was and had no wish to tempt it further. I kept my flashlight beam scanning the ground behind us and the sound carried on the wind as we travelled back to the house – as I type now, I still try to block the sound out. Cows bawling periodically as I type send shivers down my back. They should be quiet and sleeping peacefully, not calling out for their calves. Upon arrival home, I gathered up our three boys, whisked out some grain treats along the ground in front of the garage, and shut the barn door that would allow the horses into the back pastures. Our boys are staying in tonight. Thank-you Silver for taking care of me out there and for keeping me safe.

This morning I awoke late to the sounds of rain. Despite the dismal weather, I still wanted to check the ground where I’d heard the sounds last night. I sucked it up, got dressed, and caught Silver outside. Once saddled, I led him through a back gate that would lead us to the cattle pastures and swung up into the now sopping wet saddle. We took off along the fenceline and were within the area where we’d turned around last night within minutes. I scanned the ground nearby and found nothing. Not even so much as a misplaced hair. The cattle were lounging in the bush close to the house, and no cows were bawling for missing calves. Silver and I wasted no time in the rain and, brief search complete, headed home. We can conduct a more thorough search tomorrow, in better weather. So far, so good though, as we have not seemed to have lost anything in the confusion last night. What was out there last night I will probably never know.

Otherwise, no further work on the horses! I spent the day mostly catching up on lost sleep (I didn’t get to sleep until 4am) and relaxing. There was a moment or two of motivation to do stuff around the house…but it was quickly lost (lol). The boys spent the day rolling in the mud and grazing in the rain whilst I watched from the shelter of the house. Tomorrow will be a busy day of house cleaning, pasture clean-up, and riding!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

English v/s western riding

Link’s groundwork (we just sampled in a few games) was great – looking to move him up into the 22’ line now that we’ve got our 12’ line work brushed up on...tomorrow? Under-saddle he was a little tenser today than yesterday, but still very manageable and I felt very safe on him! This is quite the progress for us, because when I first got him I did not feel the least bit safe on his back and even our first day out here on the ranch, I didn’t feel safe on him. He still flings his head a little and dances with his front end when he’s anxious, but he hasn’t reared or bucked at all (which he does when his brain hits overload), which is fabulous…the work we’re doing is pushing him but not past his emotional limits.

I was afraid yesterday’s muddy episode would have scared Link off of working in the muck at all with me, but, surprisingly, I found the opposite to be true! I left his halter on beneath his bridle and led him through the mud (after having him walk down into the gulley), asking him to halt on the other side (still in some mud). There we just spent some downtime relaxing, where he could take some deep breaths. He had followed me down very willingly and through the mud, but was still pretty anxious from doing what I had asked (he stood quietly, but just had an anxious energy and mild hindquarter tremors at first). We spent a good ten minutes or so between there and up on the little bank above and next to the creek, relaxing and walking through the deep, sucking muck. Link did great, with no full-blown panic episodes whatsoever!! He was not nearly as upset today as he had been yesterday either…I was pretty impressed with my boy. The rest of the one-hour ride was spent relaxing on our way home! I think we’ll do the same for a few days (crossing the water via ground and playing in the mud) before tackling it again under-saddle. Link did very well today though, including working through his back a lot!! The first part of the ride he maybe worked through his back about 40 percent of the time (which is still more than usual for him), but the latter half of the ride, he worked through his topline a good 80 percent or more! I was so proud!!!

I just wanted to briefly point out, via an example, of how you can seem to be going backwards with your horse, when indeed you are making progress. I had worked out a lot of one-sidedness in Link in the arena – he tends to arc to the left when he’s tense and to be less responsive on that side as well at times (when his mind is elsewhere). Most of it was pretty much gone, but taking him out here and working with him, it has “come back”. In reality however, it’s not that it has come back, but that we had yet to fully fix the issue. In the arena, there are less distractions and Link is more relaxed, so it was only a matter of time before he was relaxed enough to work out the one-sidedness. Take him outside however, and he has so much more to worry about, to think about, to be distracted by; it's an added challenge (outside). So while the one-sidedness was nearly gone in the arena, we took it (the challenge) up a notch going outside – I was throwing a bigger challenge at Link now. So instead of going backward, we’re simply now tackling a bigger challenge and continuing to build on that foundation we created in the arena! Keep in mind that the same can follow for any horse – maybe you are not going backward, maybe you’re just asking something more demanding of your horse (whether it be due to environment, etc) and so it will take a little time to conquer the new challenge and you will have to overcome old tendencies that resurface.

Cody was also out for an hour and was ridden, western, in the Parelli hackamore! I started riding him out here in a full-cheek French-link snaffle, which is unusual for me, but I wanted to get him in a soft rope halter as soon as possible, and I felt today to be appropriate. I spent a lot of time correcting his left side, as he seemed to arc to that side but then travel right (lol)…I think in part because he may have been conscious of the leadrope tied to my saddle on that side. I think also though that he is a bit one-sided on that side, so we’ll keep working on it. We traveled around to the creek (he handled the creek beautifully when we crossed downstream from where we usually do) and downstream (or upstream, really – I have no idea, since the beavers have dammed up the creek enough that there really isn’t much movement, lol, and the drought has stripped the creek of much of its water in some areas) a little ways before following a trail back up the side of the gulley. It was beautiful and I was very pleased to be on Cody – we rode along the edge of the gulley a bit yet he never put a step wrong (even when I failed to direct him because I was so caught up with the view below, lol). The trip home the two of us came across a gorgeous trail along the western side of the property – absolutely stunning. We even spooked what I assume to be last night’s deer herd, hidden in the bush today! Aly had already chased a fox in the 30C heat and decided to let the deer be, lol. Both Cody and Link were pretty sweated up by the end of their rides, though neither really worked all that hard and we spent a lot of time in the shade. It was still pretty hot though and I know how refreshed I feel after a cold shower, so I bathed each of my boys after their rides as well. I wasn’t sure Cody would allow me to bathe him, but much to my surprise, he did!! He was a little leery of it, but still pretty calm and thinking. He did super well!! He was also much easier to catch today and even allowed me the privilege of walking up to him and petting his barrel! Our little man is getting there! His groundwork went great as well, and I think he is ready to be doing the latter 2 of the 7 games now. I want to really work on our games a lot (particularly the friendly game with myself and various objects such as tarps and saddle blankets, even the saddle itself), but will do more (including liberty work in the new roundpen where we board at!!) at home. Out here, I want to focus on getting Cody moved out, trusting my leadership, and working in partnership with me. His foundation needs work, but I feel it can wait a bit (we’re still building it, just slower than I normally would – typically I’d put more focus on it and less on riding out on the trails at this stage) and that right now, riding where we’re at would be most advantageous to our situation. I want to make full use of the ranch while we’ve got it to use!! One last point is that I feel he is safe enough to ride out, so we had might as well make full use of the trails we have access to now, and use them to further develop Cody :)

Anyway, that is about it for the day! I wasn’t so productive in other areas but am content with it – my boys’ respective successes made up for it, and I’ll do more housework tomorrow ;) I’m not looking forward to returning home (lol), it’s just been so great out here! I have four days at home – horse assessment, vet call, showing Missy to a potential customer…it’s going to be busy, then I get to return here for another week ;)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The world of non-panicky horses

I don’t live in it. Well, not always, and not with my good friend Link – not when it comes to horse-devouring mud, anyways! His groundwork beforehand was excellent – transitions, changes in direction, everything was fantastic and much better than yesterday. He was also much more relaxed under-saddle as well (though still somewhat tense)! While yesterday he’d been too tense at first to move faster than a walk without panicking, today he was loose enough to move into a trot, and even canter, right off the bat. We trotted and cantered the entire property, with a stop at our new 'arena pasture' for some figure-8’s and serpentines at the trot for some collection-ish work as well as some lateral work (leg yields), turns on the fore/hind, and back-up. I was ecstatic when we initially left the house and he even volunteered to canter – relaxedly! It was the slowest canter he had ever given me and was exactly what I have been looking for!! My hands, who seem to have a mind of their own for the most part, were light as a feather, our communication subtle. We avoided another stint in the bush and instead circled the rest of the property…down to the creek that meanders through the rear of the property (one of two, the other runs from the back to the front, north to south). This time I actually rode Link down the steep bank to the creek below (no easy feat for a Thoroughbred lacking the QH hind end and knowledge of using his hind end properly, haha) and even attempted to ride him through the sucky mud at the bottom, to cross the small creek. One problem: Link started in through the mud and panicked. His panic of course caused him to sink deeper rather than plod along the top layer (for the most part)…which in turn of course caused more panic and caused him to turn around to get out of the mud! I mean, who wouldn’t, when they thought the mud might be trying to drown them! As he turned and scrambled though, he wound up sunk deep past his hocks and knees, trying to crawl up a couple foot high bank back the way we’d come. It was right about this time that I volunteered to dismount in an effort to allow him better mobility without having to deal with my weight. In other words, it was time to abandon the sinking ship before we both hit bottom (hehe). Immediately he worked his way out and stood, heaving, next to me. I led him down another side, through the creek (which he jumped), and up the other side. Except by the time I was trying to lead him up the other side, I could tell he was pretty frazzled mentally – he wasn’t really paying attention and as I told him what I was going to ask next, I could see him looking here and there, not really paying attention. I talk to my horses a lot – I am sure they don’t understand the actual words, but hey, maybe they understand my gestures, and I just like to – for whatever reason – tell them what’s up and explain different situations to them (I know, sounds silly!). This time, I was pointing out to Link how I wanted him to navigate the 3-4’ bank. He completely ignored my little monologue and set to clambering up the bank himself…up all 3-4 feet of it, rather than taking the easier route I was pointing out and guiding him towards, which was a sort of path on an angle up the bank (dug into the bank) and didn’t include 3-4 feet of pure vertical-ness. He was partially up when he just gave up and stood there, chest dug into the bank. I took the moment to back him up and re-direct him to the path I had previously chosen, which he clambered up quickly without thought. At the top, he stood huffing and shaking. Poor guy was absolutely mentally fried and pretty shaken! I led him up the other side of the gulley and re-mounted, since he seemed ok with it (no more shaking, etc). At first he jigged anxiously…until I stopped giving him something to jig against (I had been lost in thought, lol)! I loosened the reins even more (though they had not been taut by any means) and relaxed my body. The rest of our trip home was mostly composed of relaxed walking, with only some trot and canter when I felt appropriate. I wanted to keep the rest of our one-hour ride low-key as possible to relax Link and make sure he was alright (emotionally and mentally). On a side note, my English saddle has never been muddier. Good thing it’s a synthetic! I’ll have to keep that in mind when I finally do buy another leather (hopefully soon, I miss the feel of the ol’ leather!!!).

I feel pretty terrible poor Link was so stressed and unfortunately, there just isn’t (that I have been able to find so far) any small muddy areas where I can acclimatize Link gently to walking through muck! He will walk through mud or water (heck, he used to race in it!) if he feels he has to (more work on that over time, specifically with my leadership), but bog? It’s enough to make any claustrophobic prey animal panic, never mind a horse like Link who’s still in the process of learning to think rather than react. This will be good for him, though I think I will have to do it a bit differently, because today’s session with the mud was inadvertently pretty traumatizing to him I think. So over the next several sessions, we’ll just do some approach and retreat with the mud, sending him back and forth through it (eventually, as he is ready), as well as into the pond near the house. We’ll do it from the ground so that he has clearer leadership to follow and so he doesn’t have to deal with my weight. I fear I may have accidentally made Link’s fear of bogs worse today, so I want to get on top of this right away to make sure it does not worsen or remain as is. Solve the root (Link’s propensity for reacting rather than thinking) and we get the “fluff” (going through mud), but we’re tackling it a bit from both sides, with groundwork (teaching him to think) and direct mud work…crossing my fingers we can beat this challenge!

I am pretty excited about all this hill work though – I am looking forward to building up some muscle on Link, especially his topline. I am also hoping that going up and down some of these steeper banks (most notably the ones to and from the creek) will teach him to use his hindquarters more efficiently. The hill work and trails in the English saddle are serving me well too, as they are ensuring I use my body efficiently and use correct equitation! It is so much different than riding in a western saddle, as I usually do (on trails, that is).

Come evening, it was Cody’s turn to get out for an hour under-saddle. Groundwork went great, including successful circling at w/t and full yo-yo games with him remaining confident at the end of the line! He was a little skittish to leave (under-saddle later) and even nearly unseated me when he scooted forward at one point, but once we got going he was great! We did w/t/c and while he was a little tense, he was mostly relaxed and still very responsive. Very left-brained as well – at one point we spotted a small herd of deer: I couldn’t see them all that well (and Aly missed them completely, since she was on our other side and down a slope a bit where she couldn’t see them) in the dark – just dark forms and white tails, but Cody spotted them! He stood stock-still and watched until they disappeared in the bush, then carried on as usual.

I tried to head out before complete dark hit so that Cody and I wouldn’t be navigating the creek in the dark, but we didn’t quite make it in time…it was still a little light but was pretty grey by the time we hit the creek. Cody sorted it out beautifully (even being so bold as to trying to trot the steep-ish trail down to the creek, lol) though, including powering up one of the little banks on the opposite side of the creek with a huge hindquarter thrust when I accidentally sent him up the wrong area of the bank…an area lacking a path, lol. Apparently human eyes weren’t made for dark, and especially not mine

Once home, Cody got a good brush-down and a little grain treat. The plan is to catch him each morning now as well, just to spend undemanding time with him. That way he doesn’t associate being caught with being ridden every time, though I think he does enjoy getting out (I’m doing my best to make sure he does!). As far as catching him, he’s been so much easier to catch these past couple of days, and particularly since last night’s session! Today he allowed me to walk up to his hindquarters and pet away as he munched on grass in the open pasture, and even allowed me to walk within close proximity of him whenever I needed to in the yard – something he never allowed prior to last night’s session together. To catch him, I normally have had to corner him and use body language to get him to face me, as well as approach and retreat to allow me to work from his hind end to his head. Today however, I used a lot of driving game instead. Usually when I use the driving game at liberty with a horse who has not had much work yet (ie. level one or two with no liberty work yet), when you apply pressure to their hind end, they simply dart forwards. Cody, however, disengages and shifts his hindquarters, as I am asking. This leaves him then facing me so that I can approach his shoulder. Once there, he allows me to play with his head as well. I have to be very quiet with, and aware of, my body language around him, and it is working (he’s pretty tuned in)! I’ve pressured his hindquarters before, but tonight was the first time I really used it to catch him (as I figure things out with him), so I was very happy with the results in getting him to “catch me”.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Of beavers and trust

After spending the day grocery shopping, chatting up Canadian Tire, and cleaning house – even somehow making it through my mid-afternoon energy low without a nap (on a day “off”? That’s downright miraculous!! lmao), I decided it was time to take the big black (or, to be more correct, dark bay) kid out (aka Link) on a trail ride. I was glad though to have adventured into the realm of groundwork before actually climbing onto that back when I uncovered a lot of reactivity and lack of focus. All he could think about was his friends, and he was downright little-kid-on-a-sugar-kick about it, even a little rebellious at times. By the time we were finished (all of 10 minutes maybe), he had already worked himself into quite the sweat. I swung up and we headed out. Link was pretty reactive at first – a walk was all we could muster, and it was a tense one at that. A bush horse, he is not…yet (hehehe). Sticky muck horse he definitely is not, so he made me get off and lead him halfway across the country through bush to make it around the thick boggy muck to the meadow on the other side. Once on the other side, we worked on some of the flat-ish ground on some lateral work and engagement – which he did a bit! I was quite proud of him for relaxing enough to do collection (etc) at all, as he was quite tense! From then on he was much better – trotting and cantering most of the ways – even downhill, my own nemesis (due to my lack of trust in him). Trouble is, he obviously does not fully trust my leadership either (he willingly left his herdmates with me, but was quite tense a lot of the ride and questioned my leadership several times – “what? Go there??! Are you sure??!"), so I need to just throw myself in, sit deep, relax, and trust him! By doing so I can allow him to trust me, because I am conveying to him (inadvertently) that I trust him as well (and that I am relaxed!). Anyways, we circled the entire property, including past the various groups of cattle, down the steep bank Cody and I traveled the other day, through the creek, and up the other side (though I led Link the entire way to, through, and past the creek), and through hills and bush home. We were lucky enough to see the resident beavers seated on the banks of the creek upon our return home – it was pretty incredible!! The view throughout was breathtaking and the ride a fun one, including the couple jumps I put Link over closer to home (small downed logs). I was surprised – the jumps were rather small (the highest was probably only about a foot tall) yet he still jumped them (as opposed to trying to trot over them)…which is good, because we’ll take up small jumps regularly when I feel he is ready – smaller jumps will allow me to work on my seat and also build Link’s fitness up to where we can eventually jump bigger. Link’s lack of faith in my leadership was also evident in his questioning my path over the jump – he did jump, but I had to use some leg to guide him over the logs, as he was happy just cantering past them (lol). He is still questioning me, so I am glad we are doing what we are doing.

At one point with Link (when we reached our “arena pasture”), three black dogs (like black American Eskimos!?) rushed at us, or more, rushed at my pup Aly, who was with us at the time. Of course Link didn’t realize they were rushing Aly - he just saw three dogs rushing towards him, aggressively, and tensed up. Can’t blame him! During our work he continued to watch the dogs with his peripheral and ears (whenever they broached the trees) and tense up occasionally, but otherwise he was fantastic – no flight, no fight, nothing. He was excited, but not beyond help ;) On that note, I was exceptionally proud also of our Doberman cross pup (I say pup, but she is 3 years old now! Lol), who could have been involved in a fight easily with just one wrong move. She held her own but ignored the other dogs when necessary and was very responsive to my requests! I had to correct the other three dogs a couple of times though, as they were keen on a fight and kept rushing us, but they soon learned to keep at bay.

Trust seems to be a big theme today, as I also worked on it extensively with Cody as well! It’s weird, whenever I am around Cody (actually around him, not just when I am thinking about or talking about him), the name Dusty pops in my head. I can’t quite make sense of it yet, I don’t know why I have this overwhelming sense to call him by some other name! Anyways, back onto sane talk…I had to corner Cody to play with him, but I used a lot of body language to keep him in the corner as well as driving game to keep his bum away from me (he still turns it in to keep me at bay so that I can’t catch him, same as he did with his previous owner), then approach and retreat until he was letting me touch his hind end, then his barrel, then his neck, and finally, his head. Eventually I just wrapped my arms around him and relaxed with him; it was great to just feel the tension drain from his body as his head slowly lowered. I led him towards the house but “lost” him en route and had to “re-catch” him once again – it was much easier the second time around! Once at the house, he stood quietly, at liberty, while I brushed him. Once he left to follow Silver and Link, who were walking away, but I followed and he allowed me to catch up to him (just loose, no corners or anything) and finish brushing him. Afterwards, I laid out a grain treat for everyone and Cody even let me approach him there (only his hind, mind you) as well. I was pretty happy to make such a big step with him and am looking forward to an entire week of progress!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Headed back out to the ranch

Today the little Gypsy girl was a little easier to “catch” and even allowed me to pick up all four feet as well as rub her everywhere at liberty! I had her walk up to me a few times and left her once she seemed pretty relaxed in my presence. A good end to our 60 days as well!

Missy was the lucky victim of yet another bath and is to the point now where she backs away from the water at first, but after a moment or two stands quietly (without my strangling her down or anything, lol – on a loose rope) while I splash her all over. She’s a quick learner and settles down quickly.

After making my rounds with all the horses around home, I took off for Tomahawk – I can’t express how fantastic it was to see our three boys grazing happily in the pasture by the house!! It was even awesome-er to run out to the pasture, hop on Link’s back, and ride him in from the pasture, through the smaller paddocks and the barn, up to the house and specifically to my truck – all at liberty!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Allowing your horse to run home

No, you didn't somehow "miss" the following blogs the past week, I am "back-dating" them so it is apparent when they occurred...they should be dated according to the day they happened ;)

My last training session with Sunny was another good day – we spent quite a bit of time chatting up his owners before hitting the fields just for a quick jaunt. Just a little groundwork before our little trip (enough to tighten the cinch in stages), some standing around quietly, and then a jog down one side of the field with a walk back. He did very well – some tension but no reactivity whatsoever, despite the very windy day! I was very proud of him and pleased to end our 60 days on such a great note :)

As a bit of an offshoot…I was raised always being told never to trot/canter a horse home, to always walk home. Failure in doing so – I was taught – would only result in a horse who is always ancy to get home, who is always trying to trot or canter home. I chose today to walk Sunny home, but I often do jog or canter horses home should the need or desire arise…and I have yet to have a horse jig home. It is only to be expected that after a ride, your horse will probably step out quicker en route home – put yourself in your horse’s shoes…or, erm, hooves…why wouldn’t you want to be returning home to your herdmates!? On the other hand, your horse should want to be with you as well – which is up to you. If you earn your horse’s partnership sufficiently, he’ll be content to be with you and will be comfortable following your leadership (away and to home)…hence no anxious jigging because, although happy to be headed home, your horse is happy, confident, and secure where he is at, with you, as well! Also, part of developing a horse is creating a horse who thinks and who is relaxed - relaxed, thinking horses don't jig! Jigging requires tension and some level of anxiety. My horses might ask politely if they can trot or canter (either en route to, or away from, home) – but politely, because that is where our partnership(s) is(are) at. If I respond with a “no”, they quietly continue walking. If I respond with a “yes”, they eagerly pick up the gait I responded "yes" to. I have never had a problem with runaways, jigging, etc once I have fully developed a horse emotionally and into a strong partnership, even if I do canter or trot that horse home! It is not about what you do or do not do or about the habits you create (or disallow) per se (though of course those do matter), but rather it is more about the partnership between you and your horse. The jiggy, anxious, or runaway horse is simply a manifestation of bigger holes in the partnership between you and your horse rather than the result of allowing a horse to move out faster than a walk when headed home!

Gypsy was a little difficult to “catch” (no ropes, but to convince her to stand near me), but once I “caught” her she was alright. I just spent time rubbing her and getting her more comfortable with being around people, picking up her fronts, etc – all at liberty so that she felt like she had the power to get away should she need to.

Missy’s been getting a lot of undemanding attention and is definitely hamming it up!! She also has been getting quite a few baths as of late, just to acclimatize her to bathing, and is doing well!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fall is upon us!

Despite heavy rainfall overnight, the day dawned bright and clear - so clear that I had to double-check to make sure it actually rained last obvious evidence was to be found anywhere! It hit I believe 24C today, but with a crisp fall breeze to make sure we couldn't fool ourselves into thinking it was still summer! The trees making a sudden dash for colour change only completed the scene. I think the elements/nature's chess pieces are in league with one another.

Started off the day (well, the horse-related part of it anyways) with one of the best rides I have ever had on Sunny! We spent 20 minutes or so playing about in our redneck arena, including groundwork (that included great - calm - changes in direction), before hitting the fields for a quick jaunt amongst the canola. He trotted out fairly relaxed and walked back just as nicely. His entire attitude was one of much more willingness than usual, even.

Gypsy was pretty flighty but did manage to walk up to me and allow me to rub her all over, which is what we spent all our time doing!

Next up were (mom's) Sonny and Missy - a friend came out and rode Missy (western, in a french link full cheek snaffle) while I rode Sunny (english, in the Parelli cradle bit). Both horses worked excellent as we toured the fields! Missy was a bit reluctant to leave at first and Sonny started the ride out jigging sideways, but by the time we hit the actual trail, both were stepping out nicely. I was pretty proud of both horses - Missy has had a good week and a half (?) off from under-saddle work, and Sonny probably hasn't been ridden in at least a good month, plus I neglected to do any groundwork beforehand, yet both did very well. It was fantastic just to relax and hit the trails! It was pretty neat though - I could feel Sonny lifting his back and working in a nice frame (without leaning on my hands) throughout and at a couple of points, he took the impulsion he wanted to use to go forward (up hills) and - since I wasn't letting him into a trot, went up with it, which resulted in a very springy walk with a lot of suspension. It was so neat!

All in all, a good day! One more day of work with Sunny and Gypsy tomorrow (after which Sunny will be finished his days), a stop in at Spruce Meadows to check out a bitless bridle down there, and a stop in to trim Missy's feet (and work her), and I'll be back off to Tomahawk to be back with my boys!

Calgary days

It's been one heck of a long day, so this is going to be quick! I woke up early this morning, kissed my boys goodbye, and took the trip back home from the ranch to Calgary. First things first (prior to even stopping at home), I stopped in at a stables in Calgary to do a training assessment on a Quarter Horse whose owner has become increasingly frustrated. Ever since she showed him her new saddle, he refuses to be caught. When I worked with him, I found him to be quite smart (possibly a LBI), very suspicious of people he thought might catch him, and quite reactive when he thought he was to be caught. He permitted me to rub him all over and to "hug" his right side (breaking down the steps to catching him), but when it came time to wrapping my arms over his left side, *boom* he was gone. Eventually he did allow me to rub him again, but not without eyeing me up first! Working with him will be some desensitization to ropes/halters/equipment/etc and catching, but mostly about changing his overall demeanor towards humans and being caught, so that he wants to be caught and enjoys his work. We'll see, what transpires.

I didn't get out to Sunny and Gypsy until quite late in the day, and by the time I was finished with Sunny, it was too dark to work with Gypsy. The time was well spent though - I went through the 7 games with one of Sunny's owners and showed him some of what I ask of him under-saddle - all the basics. That way she has some foundation she can work on to improve him! Sunny did quite well. Asking him for a couple direction changes in a row resulted in an explosion of red and white fur, but he quickly calmed down and I showed his owner what she could work on to further develop his mind to be more relaxed. Oh, and he returned from yet another successful weekend with his owners last weekend! He did great except for one mishap involving the canter, where he threw in a few bucks. Luckily his owner was fine and continued the ride. Sunny's doing great, but is going to take a lot of work - all at the walk and trot for now. He's just not ready for the canter yet in my opinion, not with the trot as tense and reactive as it is yet, which is why I never attempted it with him. For this particular horse, the canter is a project to delve into further along in his training. If we were working in an indoor arena where he could focus better, we could probably get a bit more done, but not guaranteed. For now, I think his needs would be best met with a lot of wet saddle pads and experience to develop his confidence and attitude. His owners seem to fully understand and seem very willing to work with him.

I had a quick peek in at Missy, but that's about it. Tomorrow will be a full day - Sunny, Gypsy, Sonny, and Gypsy. I have a friend joining me on a ride tomorrow, so I will likely have her ride Missy while I ride Sonny. All this after working with Sunny and Gypsy first...and I still have to paint some of the (exterior) house! Where does the time go? Definitely (seemingly) not towards sleep *sigh*.

Fixing fences and Cody's second day out

My first day back in town (home) ended up a complete loss, as Missy was still “off” enough that I did not want to work her, and high winds were in full effect to prevent any work with anyone outdoors (ie. Sunny or Gypsy). When I say high winds, I mean hurricane-like (no exaggeration). It was enough of a challenge just to stay upright, never mind stay upright on a horse! My second day back, Missy and I did some groundwork (at which she did well) and Sunny and I did some under-saddle work in our “arena”. He was pretty good, with even some bend and relaxation at first, before the reactivity and tension took over. Overall though he still did well, and in a rope halter! His owners reported back to me that they rode him quite a bit over the weekend and that he did extremely well with them. I was hoping to work with Gypsy, but the minute I walked into her pasture, she began running aimless circles (whilst I stood relaxed, casually watching her) after making an initial cautious approach towards me. If we're going to make any headway in our last few sessions, she is definitely going to have to be kept by herself in a smaller pen!

Seems like I have been spending more time trucking about and fixing fences than riding up north on the ranch!! Our first day back up north at the ranch, we were dismayed to find that a recent storm had knocked out a gate. Our horses being the opportunistic beasts they are, took off to join the cows…on two quarter sections. And so our adventure began (after a long drive, I might add) – searching for our horses, in the dark, on the ATV. Luckily for us, the horses were close-ish by. Unluckily for us, the next day another major storm hit. We returned from Thunder In the Valley (drag racing!!) to discover our horses had been locked out of their shelter the past few hours (and access to the house/water/trees) by a renegade gate in league with the powerful winds sweeping about. So my second adventure began to bring the horses in and try to convince them the barn was the best place to be (rather than following me to the house). Poor Cody was convinced I had something better up my sleeve and so would follow me about in the rain, continuously putting his bum into the hard downpour to the point of walking sideways behind me at times ;) The rest of our stay up north was spent fixing some fences on the property so that we could turn the horses out into new pasture.

Link seems to be putting on weight with the mash feeds he gets each morning I am up north in combination with the plentiful grass he’s been shoveling in! My next project involves another small pasture around the house with a ton of grass – if I work on it a few days it should be ready to turn the horses out into soon. Should I need one more pasture for the rest of the month, I’ve got one eyed up, though it will take a ton of work. Both Link and Silver have been maxing and relaxing but will be back to regular work next time I am up (this time for about a week). Cody and I, however, had a fantastic ride Wednesday evening!!

Originally, I took Cody out to check the fence line of the next pasture I want to put the horses into. I logged away what little work we’d have to do there and we next headed out to another corner of the property. I wanted to check out the fence lines of one more little piece I could put the horses into should the need arise. That trip took us around the one pasture (including through brush and past who-knows-what that was crashing through the bush close by – not cows) and let us out at one end of the property, where we stumbled upon 17 cows (2 of which hit the bush almost immediately) and one bull. I was curious as to where the rest of the cows and bulls were and I also wished to further familiarize myself with the property, so we followed the perimeters of the entire property. What Cody and I found was awe-inspiring (photos to come soon!). We followed one calf to discover “the lost herd” a.k.a. the wildies (lol). He (the calf, that is) shot off into the bush and down a bank to the creek that snakes over the property. I was unsure of the trail (it wasn’t all that visible from above, so I couldn’t plan our route) and so dismounted and led Cody down. Brilliant idea numero uno: lead green horse you do not yet fully know behind you on a narrow, steep trail. Luckily for me and my heels, said green horse was great and kept a nice cushion of space between him and I (I have eyes on the back of my head…see, I’m all set for motherdom one day, hehehe). Once at the bottom, we were greeted by a beautiful creek, landscaped by beavers, meandering down a deep and narrow gulley. Oh, and the 5 wild cows and their calves we’d discovered crashing through the bush, splitting up to hit the slopes of either side of the gulley. Cody cautiously picked his way down a smaller slope into the creek, leapt the creek, and crawled up the other side and up the steep gulley bank to the top (on the opposite side). From there, we hunted down bull numero deux and Cody and I hit for home, where little man dived into his reward: a handful of sweet feed (whilst bull numero trois made a brief appearance in the nearby distance). I was quite proud of our little painted pony! He was quite tense and skittish when we first started out, but by the end of our two-hour ride of the 350+ acres, he was relaxed and solid. We walked, trotted, and even did quite a bit of canter when he offered; all three gaits were much more confident. He is picking up my body language as well – ie. to transition down/halt when I relax my body, and to move into the next gait when I pick up my energy. Once home, we also did a little work on lateral (sidestep), back-up, transitions (walk/trot/halt), and turns on the hind/fore…basics. My goal is to continue riding him but to also just spend as much undemanding time together as possible, earning his trust.

Back at home now for a couple of days, I am back to finish up my days on Sunny and Gypsy and also to work Missy (at least w/t under-saddle as well as groundwork)…then back up for a week (almost) to play with our three boys on the ranch! Have to admit, lovin’ the simple life up north!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

First Tomahawk week

I would be posting photos of my first week up in Tomahawk...but I seem to have, uh, misplaced the camera. Last I remember seeing it in my saddlebags, but I am hoping it turns up somewhere soon!

First night "home" Link and I headed into the two quarter sections "home" sits on to check on the cow-calf pairs and bulls sitting about there. At first he was pretty frazzled and I even had to get off, but after a bit I remounted and, although uber high-energy, Link did well. Heck, I even got a calm walk out of him! He's still in the process of figuring out what these fire-breathing cow beasts are all about, but he's getting there! Meanwhile, he's learning how to navigate the lay of the land and is learning that the big bad wilderness is not all bad after all.

First morning out I took my trusty Silver horse out...who promptly deafened me our entire journey/work with his shrill whinnies. No hesitation to leave the other horses, just very very shrill, ear-piercing whinnies. I guess that's what I get for not working with him consistently yet this year! We took off at a trot/canter for a four-km hike to journey out into the unknown to find and gather some missing heifers (the four km was just to get to the starting/meeting point from where we all fanned out to find said heifers). Silver and I worked through some pretty tough bush and swamp before calling it a day...only to have the guys on ATV's skid up with the good news that they had found the heifers! We were only looking for the five we'd seen take off into the bush a few days ago, but lo and behold, we found nine! By some act of God, all nine heifers actually walked down the path back to the front quarter sections (with some help - Silver and I did have to enter the bush a few times, lol), where we locked them in with the other 26 we'd previously counted.

The next day I pulled Silver out again, but he was clearly not feeling up to par. He was a little off here and there, was rough to ride, switched into cross-firing on a straightaway, and just did not feel like he was all together. With the help of Aly pup (who pointed us to the hidden cows), we found the 20 cow-calf pairs and 3 bulls we'd been looking for on the two quarters "home" sat on, and I returned Silver home. We'd wanted to know where they were so as to allow an individual to count them, so when said individual appeared, I saddled up Link to lead the others to the cows. He was pretty excited but did well! Man that horse loves to run though, and I have to admit to letting him out (albeit not fully) once or twice ;) I was actually very proud though that Link handled things as well as he did, particularly the horse-eating-cattle crashing loudly through the bush. Yes, I did have to dismount once, but he worked on the ground well and was very light and responsive.

Next day I figured giving Silver a day off was one of my better ideas, so I took Cody out instead...what I thought might not be one of my better ideas. I actually had resigned myself to a tense (on my part) and frustrating ride on a green horse (but the only horse I felt appropriate to take), but a ride on Cody actually turned out to be the most pleasurable ride I have had in a long while! Worse case scenario, I could always turn around and saddle up Silver instead, but taking out Cody turned out to be one of the best things I could have done! We made the 4km trek to where the heifers were stationed (somewhere...), along road and highway - Cody was great with passing trucks, semi's, etc. Once in the front quarter, by some stroke of luck, we found 15 of the heifers right off. I tied Cody to the fence via a rein (didn't think to leave a halter on underneath) and nervously left him to sneak around the heifers from the other side of the fence and push them through the gate, so that they could be locked in a cross-fenced section of the front section (on the side Cody was tied to). Fortunately, Cody stood calm and relaxed, hind leg cocked, as 15 heifers jogged past him. I shut that gate before commencing our search for the rest of the herd...split into three, as it turns out. 11 were hidden in trees on the other side of the fence but appeared when the 15 ran down their fenceline (on the opposite side). So, Cody and I hit some of the mid-quarter area and searched it out. His fear of things brushing him kicked in when we walked through small saplings, but Cody was ignoring the trees within a few minutes. After that, walking through the brush was amazing with this horse! It was like point and shoot: I point, he goes. No hesitation. Through mud, uneven ground, bog, brush, trees - whatever. We returned from our little trek to find the remaining 10 heifers standing close to the other two groups but separated by the gate I had closed to keep the original 15 in. I expected so little of this horse and got so much!! There were countless times I suggested to him what I wouldn't even suggest to some of our other horses in various situations (or where our other horses would question me), and he always did what was suggested, without so much as an alternate thought. At one point, Cody and I climbed a dirt pile (courtesy of an oil company working in the area - the dirt piles lined the road they put in on either side and are pretty high) to cut off a group of heifers we were bringing down. We came down the other side to find a sheer 'cliff' of about 4' or so...and nowhere else to go down. I didn't figure he'd even take the suggestion, but I just sort of sat there and gave him his head. If he turned away I wouldn't have blamed him - I didn't really expect him to go down a mini cliff! He didn't even seem to consider turning away but instead set about negotiating the footing. Within seconds he was sitting on his haunches and picking his way down the little cliff. At another point, we had to descend a steep bank, to another little drop-off where the footing consisted of deep muck, and up a short drop-off. Again, no expectations. Yet he set about plotting his mission and within moments we were across (courtesy of a quick jump). Second time across the same area (in the reverse direction though), he forged ahead with the same confidence (this time I was ready for the jump!). And in the bush? This horse is brilliant! Not a single trip and he picked his way uber carefully! If ever large branch threatened me or the bush got too thick or narrow, he simply halted, awaiting command. This allowed me time to push away any branches, lift my legs out of the way, etc - as necessary before clucking or squeezing him gently forward. I think that's all I can say to brag about this little 6yo boy, haha. I was just so incredibly impressed, he absolutely blew me away. That he would go out on his own so confident (even out-walking a couple fresh Arabs at the end of our long day), navigate foreign ground and bush, etc etc - man, was I impressed, and proud! He does respond to light leg aids (now!), but no leg yield or such, and no refinement to the bit - he feels like someone's just hauled around on his mouth (for the most part) to get him to go where they want. I am very light on his mouth and he's lightening up already, but he's just not 100 percent responsive yet. We did some trot and even a little canter - he's pretty unconfident (I can feel the uncertainty in his gait and if he doesn't understand what I am asking, he'll simply freeze up) but is coming along, esp at the trot. Anyways. Haha. I just did not expect it - I thought he'd make a good turnover horse, but I'm thinking he's far to good to let go to someone else!! lol ;)

Last day at the ranch (this morning), I woke Silver up early to head on out. He still feels a little rough but worked well - I was so proud of, and grateful to, him. I contemplated taking Cody instead, but I needed a horse who could work cattle. Cody's good with the cattle, but he isn't as quick on his feet yet and hasn't got the hang of working cattle yet. I was def glad to have Silver in a few pinches where only he could have done the job I needed done. From now on though he should be able to rest up a little and not work so hard for me. We got 33 of the 35 heifers we'd moved into the smaller piece of property into our newly-built corrals (Silver was fantastic for me - a little high energy and fidgety with the cattle, his first love - but fantastic) in the little time we had. The missing - psychotic - 2 heifers jumped a fence like deer and hit the marsh where we couldn't follow. I ended up having to jog Silver back home after the long and sticky day by leading him through my truck window (long story) and even there I was grateful of how willingly he responded. He was quiet today and even stood tied with little fuss or pawing (a rarity for such a high-energy boy!) - looks like I am getting my partner back ;)

Off to bed, but tomorrow's a day with Sunny, Gypsy, and Missy. Friday will be the same before I head on back up to Tomahawk. Can't wait to spend more time with my boys out in beautiful country! Remind me to write tomorrow in my sister blog The Perfect Horse about how our horses are our mirrors. I had more learning from my (almost) week in Tomahawk, but cannot recall it all yet (lol).