Monday, October 26, 2009

Workout with the boys

Back home again! Unfortunately I can only stay home a couple days before heading out to work for a couple of weeks. I have finally come to the realization that I may not get in as much time with my horses this winter as I had anticipated or hoped for. Right now I am trying to cater to my new employers a little - gotta pay the bills.

Missy got in a good, albeit short, session today in the rope hackamore and western saddle; she worked pretty well, especially after some initial work. I was really assertive with her today, despite people being in the arena (lol), which made all the difference! She had impulsion, some balance even, a good walk, and a good stop on her. I will probably ride her english tomorrow (the A/P fits her better), though I'm not sure whether to put her in the hackamore or the cradle bit. We'll see :)

One of the boarders permitted me to ride her mare (she wanted another opinion on how the mare was riding), who is a lot like Silver. She was brilliant to ride though and it was so nice to ride a finished horse! I get so used to riding all these greenies that it is just a real treat to ride something at a higher level, lol. This mare was about the same level as Silver, though she's had some real reining training, so she was definitely better in those areas (stop, quick back, spins, etc). I think I could bring Silver up to that level, which is kind of exciting...one day! For now, I'll work on bringing Cody on up to that level, time permitting :)

Next, Link and I had our dressage lesson; he did very well! I started him off with some liberty work (a little rough, he wasn't quite focused on me but he was starting to get there at the end) in the roundpen as well as his 7 games, at which he obviously did great (got to move him back up into the patterns again and get us progressing there!). He was quite calm and relaxed, though I didn't get much warm-up time prior to the lesson. He had a lot more rhythm in his trot today and was rounding up sooner. We didn't do any collection or lateral work, but K had me do some exercises and work on Link's canter (which is much like how his trot used to be - very rushed). We had trouble picking up the right lead, so I had to remember to position my shoulder and hips correctly (inside hip and shoulders ahead), as well as to sit back!! I know I do this a lot, but initially without realising it; today it really sunk in that I've been doing this for awhile, as I reflected back, when K pointed out that I sit forward when asking for the transition. Say on Silver or something I wouldn't, or even Koolaid. Not good, because then you make it more difficult for the horse to lift its front end and pick up a balanced canter on the correct lead. Anyway, no worries, but it is something I will keep in mind now :) She had me sit back more while still staying light, and Link and I eventually worked out the canter in both directions, on the correct leads - fantastilicious. We also worked on my sitting trot, which can be quite messy (eep!). I can keep it pretty good in a western saddle, but english is somewhat different because you're trying to sit back and deep while still keeping your legs back and the rest of your equitation in order... and in this case, on a tight-backed horse. I can do it easily once I get a horse balanced, in rhythm, and engaging from behind, but soon as they hollow, my sitting trot goes to shit. Plus I like to be as light on a hollow/young horse's back anyways, so I have never really worked on my sitting trot. But, now I obviously have to, lol. Link and I figured it out pretty good though by the end of the lesson, though of course I still need more work, particularly when he is hollow. I need to get some weight on the guy though! He has lost all the weight, maybe even more, that I had put on him while he was with me on the ranch. Winter blanket (to prevent shivering), beat pulp mashes daily whenever I am home, and a roundbale in his pasture are all in order. Hopefully he keeps some okay weight this winter; I am growing weary already of having to deal with such a hard keeper, but obviously it is worth it :) The best part of my day, besides a great lesson? Walking into the barn later, after working Cody, to see Link's head pop over the stall door and whinny at me several times :)

Cody was next up and while he still did great, we were not quite as great as some of our last sessions - this time though we were unable to do any liberty work in the roundpen (too dark), which I think was the reason for the difference. We did do our 7 games though, at which he was fabulous, even transitioning down from a trot in the circling game when I so much as relaxed my body (I never had to even lift the stick to direct him to slow)!!! He's so perceptive - I love it! Under-saddle though he was a little less willing to trust me; he started off by moving out immediately as soon as I swung my leg over, with a strong desire to really move his feet. At first I did let him trot out, which seemed to help him a little, but it still didn't get him relaxed and trusting in me like I wanted of him. Shortly thereafter I ended up taking the bridle off and just working him in his rope halter under-saddle, to work on the basics. I knew I should be working in the rope hackamore, but I had gotten a little greedy because he was so good, lol. He's got a lot of intermediate skills and so I was skating a bit on that, but he needs to build up more of a solid foundation yet before moving on to the bit, especially since he does like such a droop in the rein. So, today we worked a little on transitions and stops, but mostly on our three-part maneuver (turn on the hind/fore, bend to a stop), sidepass, and leg aids. All the basic stuff. He did well, but not as excellent as previous sessions, so I decided to finally just end on a good note. I just couldn't get him to really relax and trust me, which was really hampering us. I did, however do a little carrot stick riding and got a couple really good spins out of him! So it's in there, lol, I just have to work on developing it. He was pretty nervous about my riding with that carrot stick but I feel he did alright...all the work we have been doing is really paying off, as he is developing more curiosity. I hate when curiosity has been beaten out of a horse - he's scared to check things out because he is terrified of the consequences of doing so, and it can be a little difficult to re-teach a horse to be curious, especially an introvert like Cody. Slowly though he does seem to be becoming a little more extroverted, which is great to see :) Last note before I take off for bed is that I also had Cody leading by his mane, forelock, front and hind legs, and tail again ;) We also did some extensions of the circling game, including transitions (as previously mentioned), changes in direction, and traveling circle - all of which he caught on rather quickly. Now just to get him started on those patterns...

I will hopefully have the chance to post here tomorrow after another session with the boys (provided I am not having to travel up to work tomorrow evening and/no have no internet access up there), but if not, see ya in two weeks!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cody: liberty video

Just a quick update of today's goings-ons. Brief because I need my sleep and I am finally packed up and ready to go up to Edmonton tomorrow for a new job. Unfortunately today I didn't get back from Red Deer until later and only had time today to check in on the boys :S

Link
seemed maybe slightly better (health-wise) today, but definitely no worse (and very perky!) and he had been stall-walking...so I turned him out. I am pretty sure he is fine :) He seemed pretty keen on taking off once I had him in his pasture, but he actually took a couple of moments to visit with me after I removed the halter before walking off, rather than spurting off like I expected (and like he acted, lol)!! I hardly dare to say it, but I think he might be coming around and turning a new leaf!

I had removed Cody's halter yesterday and although he initially walked off today, after I pushed him away from me he turned back around and walked right back up to me, allowing me to rub his head, etc! He was slightly suspicious still, but definitely enjoyed the rub, especially when I hit a sweet spot under his jaw, lol.

The following is a video of Cody's and my liberty work yesterday! As I said yesterday, he wasn't as in tune with me yesterday as he had been the day prior, but he was still fantastic to work with! As you can see, any time he decided he'd rather not work with me (like when his buddies walked past us to his pen, lol), I pressured him off, then whenever he decided he wanted to come in (for the most part), I let him in to create more draw. It's a delicate balance and I am still working on things with him, trying to balance draw and drive, but we're getting there :)


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Strangles scare

Well the afternoon was commenced with a work on Missy. I had intended to take her out on the trails but our roundpen liberty work ended up being carried over into riding and I just felt it more appropriate to continue our session in the roundpen than on the trails. Her groundwork was ok, with her coming in to me regularly, but her draw was not strong enough to circle me or such - if I asked her to move out, she was gone. Yet when I asked her to come in, she would come in, though she was not as in tune with me as say Cody was yesterday. I'd have to make it very obvious to her that I wanted her in, as she was somewhat focused on the great outdoors outside of the (outdoor) roundpen! Needless to say, it was a bit frustrating! I think next roundpen session I will work her a little harder to get her attention, but this time I took it a little easier on her - w/t/c though (and she picked up the correct leads!). I figured it out too after watching the Parelli Lead Changes DVD; horses will often crossfire because they are not balanced sufficiently and are not wide-stanced in their hindquarter. Linda explains it much better than I, so I'll have to go over my notes, lol. So when a horse is injured or such and cannot have a wide stance, they will also crossfire. Though Missy is not really "injured" and she certainly was not lame on the leg she banged up awhile ago, I could tell - because I knew her movement, that she was slightly off on that leg. So my theory is that the injury did have an effect (which I had been suspicious about) - she wasn't standing wide because she didn't want to bear so much weight and impact on that sore leg and thus was crossfiring. It wasn't noticeable, except for its effects - the crossfire. Anyways, as her leg heals, she seems to be able to pick up her leads easier as well. Much of it is likely just a balance issue as well. Not that we've been working on it much, but I have had her canter on the ground a bit and she has been picking it up alright lately. She is starting to balance herself a little, though she is still having issues balancing herself with the weight of a rider. Anyways. Under-saddle she was ok at first, but it took a bit for me to earn her respect before she was really responsive. At first she simply walked through my aids, but we trotted (transitions, point to point, etc) and did a little canter, really working on impulsion (in the trot), and eventually she started responding beautifully, to the point where I didn't have to use reins to direct her or have her transition. It was beautiful! It took a lot of painstaking work to get there (lol) but we did it and ended on a good note, with her sappily snuggling into my arm for a rub, as usual (*roll eyes* mares, lol). Turns out she was also in heat (which I figured out later as she waved her tail at Cody), so I guess I can forgive her a bit for her unresponsiveness and grumpiness at first, especially if that is the worst she is going to do, particularly while working outdoors, where it is already more challenging to keep her focus, lol.

Ah, so I picked up Cody out of his pen while taking Missy back to the barn, with the intent of feeding him while I worked Link, seeing how he would likely miss dinner if I worked him after Link. This way though Link would get back in time for dinner, which he really needs, but Cody could be fed both before and after his session, so he'd get a pretty full meal. I left Cody tied long in the barn, eating out of a pile of hay, and dropped off Missy, retrieving Link on my way back to the barn. He seemed pretty mellow, maybe even a bit lethargic, which set of warning bells for me...on the other hand, I wasn't sure if he was just relaxed and in a better frame of mind since all our ranch work? He'd lost a bit of weight though and his eyes somehow didn't seem as expressive. To top it all off, we'd noticed what seemed to be perhaps a swollen vertebrae the other night after my lesson; not only was it still there (I don't think it's been there before? I have such a terrible memory, especially if I deem something irrelevant, lol), but his throatlatch was 'swollen'. Not under his throat, like in the lymph nodes, but at the side of his head, directly behind the jaw. Of course Strangles was my first thought, so I called the vet out. I wasn't sure if it was an emergency or not, but I had rather be safe than sorry! I immediately sequestered him and started disinfecting everything, including myself, before I would have anything to do with Cody. I told the barn owner and asked if we could keep him in a stall, isolated, for the night if we thought it was something contagious, and she agreed. The vet came out though and within minutes determined it was almost guaranteed not to be Strangles. He wasn't sure why both areas were swollen, but though Link was slightly sensitive in both areas, he was able to turn and even shake his head and neck easily. Also, Link lacked the snot and feverish temperature of a horse with Strangles (though I knew he didn't have the snotty nose, I figured maybe it could be because the Strangles was only just starting to manifest). The vet felt his throatlatch would be much more swollen should it have been Strangles (and his lymph nodes should have been enlarged); he showed me how it was actually his salivary glands that were enlarged. Apparently they (vets) have no idea why this happens yet (it is suspected to be an allergic reaction to different grasses, or the result of a feed change, etc etc). Oh goody. I did not work Link (it was getting late by the time all was said and done and I wasn't sure how he was feeling) though and the vet said just to watch the swelling and make sure it didn't become enlarged. We stalled him away from the other horses though just in case. Tomorrow evening I will be in and I'll exercise him and make sure he is ok - if so, I'll turn him back out with the others. I was looking forward to some liberty work with him though! I'll try to do some with him tomorrow...it would be nice to get some under-saddle time in on him too, since I could be away for a couple of days prior to our next lesson on Friday.

Anyway, by the time all this was said and done, I didn't really feel like riding Cody and was running short on time, so I resorted to simply doing some liberty work with him...I actually recorded it on my camera :) Cody was not quite in sync and responsive to me today as he was yesterday - yesterday his entire focus was on me, whereas today I had to work for it a little (I know, poor me - so spoiled, lol) by having him move out some or disengage, etc. We played the circling game though at liberty, with his circling in close proximity to me at the walk going in one direction - going in the other direction though I tended to "lose" him. That's ok though; even though we didn't achieve as much as yesterday, it is still a lot, especially coming from him! We built up draw too as we worked and he began to sync up more with me. We also did some friendly game at liberty (just with the carrot stick) as well as driving game. After that, we attached ropes and played the sideways game, yo-yo, porcupine, and more circling. I finished his session by teaching him to lead by his forelock, mane, front legs, back legs (back-up) and tail, as well as to porcupine his head down. He is such a quick study! He couldn't get the tail thing, so I started by playing the yo-yo while standing at his shoulder. I gradually worked my way back towards his tail until I was standing almost directly behind his tail and yo-yo'ing him back towards me. Then the next step was just to pick up his tail and apply gentle pressure; if he didn't respond (which he didn't at first; he had no idea what I wanted, lol), then I yo-yo'd him back to help him figure it out. Within a try or two he was moving back by light tail pressure without my having to use the yo-yo game. It was awesome! While I might question how much someone has taught him in other areas, I think I can pretty confidently say that no one has ever taught him to ever lead by the tail and thus that his quick progress today was a result of his thinking and intelligence rather than previous knowledge, lol. He is so responsive though; for example, even when I picked up the tail the first time (very lightly - only about a third of the hairs or so and only lifting, not pulling), he was already starting to ask questions and trying to figure out what I wanted. Leading by the legs, he picked it up as if he'd been doing such thing for years, lol. He had a little trouble figuring out how to lead by his hinds, but he got it in short order. All this makes me question how much he really was taught. For example, all our arena work yesterday - maybe he really didn't know thing such as leg aids and hard stops on a light mouth but had simply learned, over this past month of quality trail riding, how to read me and put together the rest with his smarts! I can recall my first ride on him, just trying him out to see how he was, he seemed to have absolutely no idea of what leg aids were, he had a hard mouth (ie. directional) and was not all that responsive (ie. to weight shifts or such). My first time taking him out on the trails (ie. looking for, and herding, cattle all day) he grew lighter and lighter within moments it seemed, until he had a light mouth and was responsive to my weight changes. He didn't seem to fully understand leg aids, though it seemed he had a bit of an idea of them (I've been using them a little when I ride) and when we actually worked on them yesterday, it seemed to just click with him, like he was thinking "oh, so that's what that meant all those rides ago - now I understand!!" And *boom* like magic, he had leg aids. Lol. So I'm leaning more towards the "he's just plain smart" theory, lol. All our horses are brilliant and are great partners and individuals, but this horse just never ceases to amaze me. I think I'm falling in love, haha. Not to put down Link, Silver, or Koolaid though. They're all so different and great to work with and each has their unique talents, just Cody is not only willing but he is so light and responsive too! From Link to Silver even (who are both very light and responsive, just as much so as Cody), I still have to work (even if just a little, as in with Silver) to get that willingness to work with me, but it's like Cody just hands it to me, on a silver platter. He's so focused in on me and waiting to do what I ask. And despite all he has (obviously) been through. It's beautiful!!

The hope tomorrow is to get in as much as I can, but I am not sure how much I will get in... busy schedule with a course to do and a new job to start over this week. I'll be back Friday though for Link's and my lesson :)

An exceptional day

I've got a couple posts for The Perfect Horse in the making, but in the mean time, please be patient with me - I have not been updating it as regularly as previously due to major time constraints.

Well, I had wanted to work with three horses today - Link, Cody, and Missy, but as it often seems to go, things did not go as planned. I decided to give Missy the day off in the hopes she would have a fresher mind come tomorrow and due to time constraints. Link didn't get out because by the time I was finished with Cody I was running short on time and Link was being fed. I don't mind Cody or Missy missing out on feeding time (I just allow them to eat most of what they would have eaten, in the barn prior to turning them out), but with Link or Sonny, I try not to miss feed times - they cannot afford the weight loss with their metabolisms. At one point I could have decided to finish up with Cody and take Link out, but Cody and I were doing so well that I thought I would go full out and ride him in addition to doing the liberty work we had already done, plus, Link had already been fed by that time.

So, Cody. He was absolutely phenomenal today and completely blew me away! Keep in mind throughout all this that though I have been working with him about a month and a half, it hasn't been a lot of "foundational" work that would develop him or teach him the basics. We have been doing the 7 games but not really focusing on them (or anything else that has cropped up); we mostly just did a lot of quality riding out on the ranch. So I was not expecting much of our liberty work today - we haven't built up a sufficient partnership for it. I was actually full-out expecting to, when I turned him loose in the roundpen, be unable to catch Cody again - at least not without a lot of work! Instead, he did about 3/4 of a lap before turning to me with the question: may I come in now? Of course I responded with a "sure," upon which he promptly walked right in to me to receive a rub. I was shocked. Did that really just happen? I should mention too that he even allowed me to catch him easier today - I walked right up to his shoulder and made my way easily up to his head today, rather than having to work my way up slowly from his hindquarters. So back to the rounpen. I asked him to circle, and he would circle within about 6 feet of me, rather than taking the entire roundpen. The entire time, he would be bent, asking me if he could come in. He did this at a walk, with some trot. With some of the trot though he did use the full roundpen, but even then he would be watching me carefully (this, despite tractors running about, people, and horses being walked past the roundpen); if I relaxed and backed up a step or two, he'd turn right in on the circle and walk right up to me for a rub, lowering his head to the ground within seconds as I rubbed his face! Not only did he allow me to rub all of his face (well, except the ears, we left those mostly alone today), but he didn't try to "put" me on one side or to keep me at his shoulder. He gave me full submission and trust!! We also did our friendly game at liberty with the leadrope and the carrot stick. On-line, he'd wanted nothing to do with the stick rubbing him or the rope being tossed over him. At liberty however, he seemed to feel more comfortable because he had the power to move off whenever he felt too pressured. If he moved off, I would just get him to circle a lap or two, then I'd allow him in and we would try again. It only took a mistake or two before he was standing quietly while I tossed the leadrope over him and rubbed him all over with the stick, even as I walked all around him and did it from at his rump (previously if he was nervous about something, he would allow me to do it, but only if I stood at his shoulder for security). He is getting braver and learning to trust me more from a distance! We also did the driving game - back, fore, and hind, and I got him started on doing that "spin" away from me (ie. drive his fore around completely so he does a 360 whilst I keep my feet still). After that, I snapped the line back on and we did the sideways game, yo-yo, and some more circling game. We played our squeeze game both prior to the roundpen - I had him walk over that trail-type bridge I mentioned yesterday (well, he jumped it, but going over it is a start and is still the squeeze game) and then after, in the arena, when I asked him to go between me and the mounting blocks and between me and some barrels he was unsure of.

Oh, and prior to the roundpen, we also clipped him a bridlepath! It took a minute or two to get him to allow me near with the clippers, but it was not long before I was clipping away! At first he still stood pretty rigid, at the end of his rope (I had the rope through a ring and was holding the other end, so that he couldn't get too too far, but it was not tied, in case he really needed to get away) and frozen, but after a little bit he relaxed. He was never entirely relaxed, but enough (lowered head, some slack in the rope, etc) that I felt we could end there, on a good note. He is definitely a LBI - he'll freeze (rather than fleeing), but then as he's frozen he gets thinking, which prevents his exploding and allows him to relax. It's pretty nice. He still is not overly comfortable in barns though, which led to his being frightened with things I have normally done with him outside (such as spraying him with a spray bottle today) - he did relax fairly quickly though. Afterwards, we saddled up and headed to the arena. We had already spent a good hour or so together, so I could have decided to put him away after all the good work we had done thus far, but I really wanted to ride him and see how our liberty work had impacted our under-saddle work! Plus, Link was already eating by then, so I did not really want to take him out, so I had might as well take full advantage of Cody!

In the arena, I actually did a lot of the exercises I did on Link yesterday in our lesson. We did some serpentines to loosen up his barrel, which coincidentally also seemed to loosen up his stride a bit and get him moving off my leg nicely. Once he figured out the pattern (which took only a loop or two), he started moving off of my leg so I wouldn't have to use much rein. Afterwards we did some transitions walk-trot - he got to the point where he would transition down as soon as I relaxed and transition up whenever I so much as picked up my energy (nevermind using any leg, even lightly!); he is an incredibly fast learner and he is unbelievably sensitive to everything you do in the saddle. Every shift, every movement you do, you'll feel him asking "what was that? What would you like me to do?" Even if I so much as breathed differently he would prepare himself to respond to my next request. We also did some circles and figure-8's, to which he easily bent around my leg, and then also some turns on the fore/hind and sidepass. The turn on the fore to the left (using my right leg to push) was more difficult - he wasn't as clean about it (well, not clean at all, really) and so then when I would use more rein (still being light, but picking up the slack he liked in the rein), he would fight me for the slack back - he really loves a loose rein and will respond to my requests (when I use rein) when I simply pick up the slack, before I even actually touch his mouth really; uber sensitive (which is fantastic, especially considering how hard-mouthed he was when we got him!). Anyway, so then he would be focused on getting his head rather than the turn on the hind, and both of us would get a little frustrated. I finally figured it out though. Add more pressure to the right-hand side, and give him back his head. By adding pressure on the right side (keeping the leg on and rhythmically swinging the rein end towards his shoulder), he would move over cleaner - with slack still in the rein, he'd have the focus to respond to my pressure on his right shoulder. I'll work on it more with him tomorrow! We also did some cloverleaf pattern - a pattern I usually use to teach responsibility in the horse (continue to do what I asked originally until I say otherwise) as well as leg aids. By the second run (or even sooner) through the pattern, each side, he was moving strictly off my leg without my using any rein guidance at all. I am going to mention here too that all of our work today was done on a loose rein with plenty of loop. As we progress, I can add even a little more loop and on a curb bit, I can add even more loop thanks to the more intimate communication the leverage allows. He was very light and very responsive in all respects. It was pretty neat though to have him moving off my (directional) leg so lightly, so quickly! This one is pretty smart and very motivated to learn and work with me. The odd time he did not respond, I would simply cluck and he'd respond - it was like he was off in his own little world and my cluck would break him out of it and remind him of what I was asking, lol. Lastly, we did some impulsion work. I would trot him down the short end of the arena then down the long end, picking up speed as we went. Then at the corner of the long end, I would sit and ask for a stop (just sit, relax, and pick up the reins without touching his mouth if need be). After a few shots in either direction, he even slid some!!! I couldn't believe it - he is built to sit down and slide, but I was not really expecting such a hard stop from him at this stage. Can you imagine what some further development, could do for us?! All in all, the little man was absolutely amazing today, he really did blow me away with his willingness, his work ethic, his partnership, and his talent! He was responsive to everything I asked - he would even slow or increase his jog according to my breathing. For example, I always breathe out (usually audibly) when asking a horse to transition down. How much energy I remove from my body reflects in how much air I breathe out, which in turn reflects in how much of a transition I want (ie. trot to walk, trot to halt, canter to walk or halt, etc). Then when I wish for a horse to move into an upwards transition, I "pick up" my energy accordingly. Link is quite sensitive to this and will slow his trot as I breathe out in such a way that indicates I want him to relax and slow, but not change gait. This has taken awhile to develop though! Cody however picked it up immediately, though I am sure that riding him on the ranch has helped him figure out how I operate. Still, he was slowing his trot to a slow pleasure-horse jog when I breathed out gently (without really thinking about it), and if he felt me breathe differently, you could feel his stride questioning me, trying to make sure he was doing whatever it is that I wanted, at all times. It was neat! We have more work to do, like developing greater relaxation and confidence, but man this horse has got a good start, and I can only see him flying through everything I teach him. Oh, last point I should mention is that we did canter today, though he was quite unbalanced so I only asked for it down the long sides mostly and I kept it short in duration. He did pick up the correct lead each time though, I think in part because I made sure to make sure my body was in the proper position to ask (ie. appropriate hip and shoulder forward according to the lead I wished him to pick up). What a good boy! I did leave the halter on him again tonight, but if he goes well again tomorrow, I will take it off, likely for good now. I still can't believe the trust Cody put into me today, and how much he worked like a real partner!!

Tomorrow my goal is to work with all three horses currently in my focus - Link, Missy, and Cody, with liberty work for all three. Missy and I will hit the trails, the other two will be in the arena. That's the plan anyways, and I am pretty determined to see it through! It'll be a long day but I should be able to get it done.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dressage in jeans

There actually is a blog by the same name that I saunter by occasionally for a good read - check it out: Dressage In Jeans. I felt the title was appropriate for this blog post though because a) it is a title that often represents me (I can be quite unconventional at times) and b) well, I've been working on dressage - in jeans. Today in particular.

I forgot that I was to give Missy the day off today (now I'm stuck with deciding whether to give her a day off this weekend or to just work her through in case I can't ride her as regularly next week...I think I'll ride her through the weekend) and so ended up riding her anyways, albeit just for a short time today. She lacked a lot of impulsion today and used the other riders in the arena as an excuse in particular. Anyway, I didn't have much time anyways and so restricted our work to the basics. Turns on the hind and fore. Back-up. Transitions. Impulsion. Bending into the outside rein on a corner. Leg yield. Side-pass. She did well and actually did put some effort in - we picked up some real impulsion during our point to point! We called it a day at that and I dismounted. Tomorrow we'll have more time, so I think we'll just do some field riding. Heck, maybe we'll ride in the fields both tomorrow and Sunday.

I just had time to grab Link and Cody, saddle Link up, and walk over to the arena, when my instructor showed up, early. I didn't have time to warm up Link and get him in sync with me much, so that ended up happening during the lesson instead...next time I'd like to have him synched-up with me beforehand, to make even better use of our lesson. I had been a bit worried that I wouldn't be on the same page as this instructor. I knew her a bit, but couldn't recall how she taught and if it was along similar lines of thinking to mine - I've found that instructors who possess "natural horsemanship" or "classical dressage" type of thinking are (seemingly anyway) few and far between. To my glee however, I discovered throughout our chatting during the lesson that we have pretty close to the exact same line of thinking - putting the horse first, using seat first, hands second, not forcing the horse, etc. She seemed quite impressed by Link - he was definitely further along than she had anticipated, as a track horse, plus he is very smart and very light. I think even I was more advanced than she (and I!) had anticipated, considering I have not had a lesson now for a few years. The only thing she told me to focus on thus far was to slide my leg back slightly and to try not to hunch my shoulders when I concentrate. She also pointed out how I haven't interfered with Link and that he is very relaxed, in sync with me, and loose. It was great to hear, because I feel like my biggest job as a rider is to guide the horse and put them through exercises that encourage what I want (ie. collection, etc), and then to just stay out of their way!! I was glad to hear that I am doing a good job on him (and thus the other horses I apply my techniques to as well); it was a much-needed confidence boost to someone who is so critical of her own riding. He's got a great walk, he started picking up a good rhythm and tracking up nicely during the latter part of our trot work, and even his canter was decent (lots of power, was her primary observation) on a 20m circle (we tried along the rail to see how he was, but he hollowed and picked up speed, I went up too forward, and we generally fell apart, lol). She thinks he will fill out a lot more, has really good bone, and that we can develop his topline a lot more as well. She also pointed out how he has a lot of elevation (he has incredible elevation sometimes - at times he'll just put all his energy and impulsion up!!) and power and how he is never on his forehand, which was not something I had really thought about overly (not on a conscious level anyways, because it wasn't a problem). She - I'm going to call her K for future reference - had me do a number of exercises: transitions, leg yields, circles, figure-eights, etc. Today was mostly a recon mission, but I still learned quite a bit already and feel like I have a considerable more to learn, which is exciting!! My homework until next lesson (tentatively scheduled for next Friday - I may have to reschedule due to work) I think is to do some of the exercises we did today to get Link more in sync with me and to get him tracking up and such. I'll also apply some of what I learned today (building/cementing impulsion and ensuring relaxation FIRST - through exercises) to our regular works as well. Oh, and I'll incorporate some leg exercises (that K taught me today) to strengthen my own legs, as a rider (stretch-type exercises). Oh - and on a last note, K mentioned that a facility nearby (actually, it is only about 10 minutes down the road, I used to board there) is holding a schooling show in December that she thinks would be appropriate for us, to get Link and I accustomed to the show atmosphere. Yay! I really couldn't be happier. I walked away today with some good confidence and a lot of exciting things to think about. The neatest part of the evening was that we took it slow with lots of breaks for Link to relax, lots of loose-rein work (esp at the beginning, but some in the middle and such to encourage him to stretch out), and he really started working in partnership with me. At the finish, I removed his bridle and threw on his halter, tossing the lead over his back as I walked away to pick up the poop with which he had fertilized the arena. In my peripherals, it looked as if Link was pacing the fenceline, which disappointed me because it indicates to me that he is not in a healthy frame of mind (because it is a repetitive, mindless behaviour/pattern he does when stressed). Then, movement flickered at the corner of my vision. I looked up to see Link leaving the fenceline to walk directly up to me!! This was astounding to me, because he walked the entire length of the arena to find me and he left the fenceline - something he would previously never do!! It was an indicator of our growing partnership when he sought me out to put his head in my arms and generally hassle me into rubbing him (well, he didn't have to hassle too hard, I was pretty willing, hehehe). He really acted like a partner today, the result I think of all our work on the ranch. Working in the mountains and out in the "big bad wilderness" (as Link treats it) I think really drew him closer to me - it always seems to quiet him and benefit our partnership. So we'll keep up the outings throughout his career - don't think that as a big bad jumper one day (hopefully) he's not going to still be climbing mountains and trails! Lol.

I was glad I did take Cody into the arena as well - I had just wanted to be around him today and for him to be exposed to the hustle and bustle of a busy barn and arena. He was pretty nervous (as evidenced by the soupy manure he so kindly left me, lol) in the arena, so I was especially glad to have brought him in - he needs it. He didn't disturb my lesson and he benefited from the experience. The more we do these things, the more comfortable he will become! I am hoping to do some liberty work with both him and Link tomorrow, and I found a new toy to play with with Cody - a wooden "bridge" outside the outdoor arena...the type you would find in a trail class. All my horses go over it without question (well, Link skirted it today, but if I hadn't had my hands full he would have gone over it better, but we'll do it another time), but Cody wanted nothing to do with it. I hear a (Parelli) Touch It pattern calling! Hahaha.

Can't wait for tomorrow! Nevermind next lesson!!!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lazy horses

Well, I guess if people can have lazy days, so can horses, but MAN it can be annoying! Missy wasn't entirely sharp on the ground (though she did do everything I asked) but I neglected to really take conscious note and address it: big mistake! In the saddle, Missy was more relaxed than the past couple of sessions...uh, maybe too relaxed. She was pretty responsive at first but gradually lost all impulsion. To the point where I had to dismount or risk being frustrated, lol. We were working a lot on leg yields and pushing her into a bend (via leg) into the outside rein, but every time that I pushed her into the outside rein, I could just feel all the energy draaain away. So I'd work on impulsion, and she'd go straight (ie. straighten her body) on me! Arg!! She did do well overall and she was trying though, so I have to give her some credit. After dismounting, I made sure to be super assertive though and play some circling (lots of changes in direction and transitions!) and driving game. She seemed to still look sluggish, but she responded very sharply and quickly nonetheless. Obviously it just wasn't one of her days, partially perhaps because she wasn't all that inspired in the indoor arena. I'll probably give her tomorrow off, then just do some work in the western saddle and rope hackamore, building impulsion and such, next session. I'd also like to just take her out for a trail ride, likely Sunday (which gives her 5 works this week), to help keep her mind fresh, prior to putting her back into the arena for the next few sessions. I think she needs some fun stuff to do to motivate her :)

Reining?

Well, for once, I saw more than myself and my own horses at the boarding facility we currently keep four of our horses at! Actually, I do often see one other boarder or so, but of the 50+ or so horses that have got to be there, I find it disturbing to see so few out working with their horses! On the other hand, sometimes the time just is not there or there is some other obstacle preventing an owner from visiting their horse, yet owners cannot bear to sell their horse(s), something I can honestly understand. I would rather see a horse of ours sitting out in pasture for a couple weeks, months, heck even a year or two, rather than the back of a truck bound for slaughter one day (though I understand the importance and necessity of slaughter, our horses don't have to go there and I certainly do not like to see horses with potential there!) or being misused or abused in someone else's barn. I harbour a distrust of most people, so selling a member of our family, even with a buy-back clause, is hard (read: impossible). Anyways, today I was privy to watching a whole number of boarders interacting with their horses - from the open-minded students to the experienced/pro's, to the supposed pro's. An example of the latter would have to be a reiner in the arena today. I appreciated someone who was not fumbling about the arena, who flowed and wove gently throughout the arena as we both each did our own exercises and patterns without ever once getting in each others' way. I also appreciated her horse! He seemed young, athletic, of sound mind, and moved quite well. Just as I was judging him to likely be a reiner, she started moving him onto reining exercises - back-ups, spins, and the like. He did very well and was trying so hard for her (no attitude whatsoever), but something was making her unhappy with his performance, because it wasn't long before she was jerking on his mouth and kicking him hard, a multitude of times! I know I can lose savvy sometimes and gain frustration too - we're all human, but man, she was really goin' at 'er! The part that flustered me, was that this horse, to all appearances, seemed very willing. He honestly was trying to do what she asked. Ah well *sigh*.

Missy did exceptionally well, even with blow-dryers going around her in the barn (a first for her), people and horses mucking about, and horses entering and leaving the arena during our session; she is still pretty energetic in the beginning of our ride and trying to anticipate me, but after a whole lot of fidgeting and about 5 minutes under-saddle, it finally clicked that she didn't have to do anything. Standing was actually *gasp* permissible. Lol. Her groundwork was great, as per usual, including some side-pass without the wall. Under-saddle, we worked on all the usual basics of a foundation that we have been working on recently, with a good portion (about 25 percent?) of trot today. Patterns, work on that outside rein (today was the first day she was 100 percent good with it, and its purpose seems to be clicking with her more), leg yields (at the walk), yields on the hind and fore (using that outside rein as well), side-pass, impulsion work (point to point), transitions (w/t), etc. We are getting some great bend and her trot today was actually much better balanced thanks to our recent works (ok, thanks to yesterday's work, mostly). This mare is funny (in a good way) - each work we do, seems, with all the progress she makes each time, as if we've worked more times than we actually have. If that makes sense. Take today, for example. Everything improved so much that it was as if we had been working on all the specific tasks all week! She is a wicked fast learner for sure, faster than most horses I know, I think in part because she has such a quiet, open, pliable, and mature mind. Link, for example, is brilliant, but his (reactive) emotions often get in the way of his learning and retaining information. Anyway, my last point to mention was that she was pretty easy to catch as well and was very good-minded overall!

No time for the other boys today, just a few pets to each (Link, Sonny, and Cody), though I will likely work with Link and Cody tomorrow. Petting Cody (as simple as it sounds), is actually very important to earning his trust anyways. Something I believe I neglected to mention in my post concerning our trip to the mountains, is Cody's behaviour on our second day there. We came out the morning of Day Two after the boys' morning breakfast; Koolaid made a point to make sure it looked like he was still eating (when we approached, he promptly took up post over the hay pile and started wolfing down hay *roll eyes*), but Cody actually left Koolaid and the hay to walk right up to us! I am not sure what was going on in his head, because both before and since he still acts the same (looks like he wants to approach but is scared to, initially walks towards you but then turns and walks away - watching you the whole while, if you approach him), but it was amazing. He strutted right up to me, his nose only inches from my chest. I was shocked, but also thrilled. It is still going to be a long road, no doubt, but there is trust down there (albeit deep) somewhere! Even so, he has a lifetime to learn to trust humans again, we're in no hurry ;)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Day 1 back home

First official day back home!

This is going to be brief because I am feeling so tired I could cry. Or just berate someone over nothing. Man I get grumpy when I'm tired. But I have to stay up and wait for the laundry to finish, so I had might as well report on the day's activities so as to stay awake. Not much presence of mind going on here, so bear with me ;)

Missy was pretty excitable when I first brought her in, but she did well at her groundwork and even better under-saddle! We did primarily walk work, with some trot. Sidepass (both via use of the wall and not), turns on the fore and hind (excellent, and no head tossing when I used the outside rein!), back-up, leg yield (not smooth and fluid yet, but getting there), use of the outside rein (she's almost fully got it), and a little collection refinement. Patterns (point to point, figure-8's, transitions), the whole shebang. She did well and was very willing!

I thought Link would be quite the handful (and he was while tied!), but he was very focused with his groundwork (including extensions of the games) and under-saddle as well! I used a lot of my knew savvy from the Parelli DVD's I recently watched, which I think really made a difference! A lot of walk and jog with this guy, including tons of transitions (then more transitions) and changes in pace within the jog to balance him onto his hind end and further develop his collection. All the trot work seemed to also improve our walk - he loosened right up, relaxed, and extended his walk easily; it was nice! He was utterly fantastic - completely relaxed, complete partner. My only qualm - that we worked on, was that when he dropped his poll and flexed, he wasn't straight. He wasn't leaning on my hands, but his head was not dropped straight down; he was instead a little crooked in his neck and head (I hope that explanation all made sense, lol). I could get him straight, but not consistently, so we'll work more on it...and maybe we'll figure out some new solutions in our dressage lessons as well. First one is this Friday - I'm pretty excited!! It's been awhile since I've had a lesson, and I think my seat and horses could use it! Man, for some eyes on the ground...

I checked in on Cody afterwards, but that was all I had time for. We spent a minute or two of buddy time before it was back home for me ;)

Aaaand it's time for some zzz's for me, as I hear the washer is now done. Tada!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Trip to the mountains

Our time in the mountains was amazing! We stayed at Mountain Aire Lodge Oct 9-12 and rode in the mountains along the Red Deer River, in Ya Ha Tinda country. Koolaid was a fantastic partner (despite not being ridden for a good couple of months) and Cody did fabulous for a little guy! Our first day out, we rode for a good 3 1/2 hours and actually stumbled on a herd of wild horses - three mares, a foal, and a stallion. It was incredible to watch the herd interact. Cody was pretty convinced he should be a wild horse too, but after a bit the glamour wore off ;) I'd forgotten there were wildies up this way, and didn't realise they were right. Where. We. Were. Lol. Day one we mostly just rode on trails parallel to the road (but in the bush a bit). Second day we woke up to a little extra snow, but the sun turned up for a warm-ish day. We followed a logging trail up a ways, to a gorgeous mountain view (that overlooked the herd of wild horses we'd seen the previous day, grazing along a treeline below), then descended down a steep slope (which Cody and Koolaid had to slide some of the ways) into a valley. Then back up, down, up, down...lol - through the mountains and back to camp. You could see the trail continue endlessly on through the mountains - it was superb! Both horses were even better their second day out, more in sync with us. Riding through the bush Day two was funtastic, though the only "big game" we saw was a grouse. Or some type of fowl, anyways, haha. That was about the extent of our trip - we can't wait to be back one day hopefully soon!!

Koolaid - Day one the horses didn't have water yet (we got some in that afternoon), so we had to water down at the river.

Wild horses!

Matt on Koolaid, Day one

Matt and Koolaid at the top of the logging road, Day two

Matt and Koolaid walking through the bush down a trail, Day two

Oh, and PS. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Hope everyone else enjoyed the long weekend as much as we did!!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ranch photos

And behold the much-promised photos! Starting backwards. Erm, in time, that is. Sorry, but it is too late at night (or early in the morning?) to be organising photos, so you'll just have to enjoy these as is: "backwards through time" (well, and a little mixed up too), hehe. I returned home from the ranch and my camping (well, we stayed in a lodge!) trip in the mountains with well over 1,100 photos, so obviously these are just a select few! The ranch is composed of 7 quarter sections: two up by the house, another about 2km down the road and by a main road (where the main set of corrals sit), and the last 4 another 2km from the main set of corrals (4km from the house).

The boys comin' in for some morning grub

Down the creek that runs through the property at the house

One of many beaver dams and lodges along the creek

A small pond along the creek, up by the house

Now that's what I call loading! Three horses self-loaded into a two-horse step-up stock trailer - yes, even the once-hard-to-load Link. Cody stepped right up and is tied at the front. Link's rope is looped through a ring up there but he can back out at any time (and he knows it, though he politely waited for me to ask him to back out). Silver obviously is not tied - his leadrope is slung over his back; but I told him to stay there, so stay there he will ;) Atta boys, you've learnt well!

Just down the road from the ranch, last day at the ranch ("homeward-bound day") and first day of snow!

All three boys were feeling their oats come first day of winter (where did fall disappear to anyways?!)...Link (the instigator, haha) playing in the snow

Yes, I tie my horses to trees when trees are available and hitching rails are not. Cody standing pretty after one of our rides.

Yup, the future-jumper-current-dressage-horse even got to go western! Not once, but several times! Hehehe...

Aly our Dobie tearing through the long grass on one of the quarter sections 4km down the road from the house (I am on Cody)
I just love these old homes...I love imagining how life used to be, what it must have been like back in those days (on Cody again, on one of the 1/4 sections 4km from "home")

Same as above - on Cody, on one of the 4 quarter sections 4km from base

Last day at the ranch prior to returning home! Woke up to a snowy sky and blizzard alternating with light-to-no snowfall. The snow turned everything into an absolutely beautiful wonderland.

Well, I had wanted to take at least one of the boys out today, but spent the day packing instead. Took a lot longer than I had anticipated, lol (apparently I had a lot more stuff up there than I had realised, hehe). All three loaded great, despite all the kerfuffle (running trucks, people running about, snow falling, etc). I had decided on taking Koolaid and Cody into the mountains, so upon returning home and to one of the boarding facilities we had to unload Silver and load Koolaid onto the end, then unload all three horses (Cody, Link, Koolaid) at the indoor riding facility for the night. Tomorrow, we hit the mountains!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Trust in leadership

A horse’s trust in your leadership is different, more extensive, than just simple trust in you. A horse can trust that you will not hurt them, trust that you’re their friend, but to trust that you know what you’re doing, that you can keep them safe down whatever path you choose for them – that is different. More later.

Thought it was going to rain today, what with all the cloudy periods, but it actually turned out to be a nice day! Cool, but with sparkly sunny moments ;)

Cody was fairly easy to catch today out in the pasture – he gave me a bit of a run-around but let me walk up and pet his rump a lot. I eventually used that to encourage him to keep his hind leg still by just touching the inside of his hind, then moved up to his front leg. It sounds so silly, but it worked! He let me work my way up to his head, standing stock still, and resigned himself to being caught. I spent several minutes though on his sweet spot to thank him for standing still – he absolutely loves having his cheek rubbed! After a good hour spent on the ground (including trailer loading) – at which Cody did fantastic (throughout), we saddled up and headed out. It was a bit of a crisp day, but the sun was out (in between cloudy periods), so I wanted to catch my last chance to photograph the creek. I missed the time to do it when the days were nice and the grass was long and green thanks to the lost camera, but oh well. Cody was such a great sport, going through deep, sucking mud (at one point, he plunged in up to his knees and hocks), up and down steep trails (sitting nicely on his hind), and even walking on cliff-sides and horizontally along steep slopes. Oh, and stopping every couple feet!! After awhile he did get a little fed up with all the stopping, but I can’t blame him – he held out for a long time, a good ¾ of the ride, without complaint. Despite it all though he was very light, very responsive (except near the end, where he started ignoring some of what I said a little), and just a great ride!

I took the chance while I still had Cody in-hand to load all three horses into the trailer – Cody, Link, then Silver all stepped up without hesitation and with ease, standing still and relaxed while I even snapped photos! Hehe.


I spent maybe 15 minutes playing with Link afterwards (on the 12’), getting him prepped to ride. He was very focused, relaxed, and just great to work with! One of the biggest things I learned in the liberty DVD that was applicable to Link at this time, was to target his “bubble” rather than him himself (actually, this applies to Silver at this time too – as well as to some of the horses not here), and to target his “zones” specifically. For example, I find it hard to “win” the driving game when driving his fore around, because Link gets RB a bit and just spins faster than I can drive. He keeps his nose far off, but his shoulder is left behind, keeping me in the wrong spot. Then he just runs forward, out of my reach! So the last couple of times I have been targeting zone 3 (his shoulder) as well as zone 1 (nose)…making a point to target zone 3 specifically really helps and is cleaning up our driving game very nicely!!! It just makes such a huge difference – it was all an error in my communication; I clean my communication up = Link clears up his response. Back to the topic ;) Link actually stood still to be groomed and saddled afterwards as well, which was a plus. Heading out (western, rope hackamore), Link was the most relaxed he has ever been – his walk was long and loose. However his focus was ev-er-y-where but on me as the ride progressed. Of course, everywhere that his nose went to look, the body followed. Had there been snow on the ground, our path would have zigzagged the entire way to the creek. Finally, I let him out some for a bit of a gallop, but slowed him after a bit. It is hard to trust Link considering all we've been through (ie, how reactive he can be) and when he does not yet trust my leadership! He crossed the creek nicely, but scrambled up the opposite bank without heeding my advice of where to go up the bank. Yesterday, he wouldn’t walk where I wanted him to because he couldn’t see a path – I just wanted him to trust my leadership and walk there anyways!! He is very reluctant to follow my leadership and just wants to do things his way – super independent! *sigh* Makes things challenging, but once we get over this obstacle (which will likely take a long time, months to years of working on our partnership – he is only 5 though so no worries…and what can you expect really, particularly from an OTTB with a lot of “baggage”) we’ll be a great team. It is frustrating though! It is slow work plugging away, but it will be rewarding. Luckily our boarding facility though has a round pen now, so I am excited to do some liberty work with Link – both on the ground and under-saddle, which should help! Anyway, back to the story – the rest of our ride was pretty uneventful. We walked back (I had to continuously remind him to walk) and even counted cattle (2 bulls counted, 21 cows, and 14 calves, in two different herds). I was still contemplating on taking Link to the mountains (YaHa Tinda area) this weekend but after our ride today – although it went well overall – I changed my mind. I've decided on Cody for sure, and either Silver or Koolaid. Decisions decisions!

End of the day, I turned the three boys out on the full two quarter sections. They only made use of the pasture by the house here, but both Link and Silver tore around like mad, kicking up their heels and having a blast! I was glad to be able to provide them some fun and look forward to letting them roam a little more tomorrow before we leave ;)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lazy day

I had a trip up to Whitecourt to make for a meeting, and upon returning back come late afternoon, had a raging headache (chiro, anyone? I can feel my neck inflamed) and felt pretty exhausted, so it ended up being a day of no horses. To make matters worse, the warm wind that had been blowing in this morning (that I had been so excited to ride in, it had felt so great!) had turned cold by the time I returned home, and it was raining lightly to boot. I had not actually thought I would get much done today thanks to the weather and my trip, but had been hoping though that I could take at least one horse out! Tomorrow :)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Straight trail riding

I had left Cody in a smaller pen last night, to let him think over our session last night by himself, and to make him easier to catch in the morning – I was hoping somehow it would help things sink in and that it would further our partnership. Today when I walked out to Cody’s paddock, he seemed happy to see me, walking right up to the fence, though not letting me touch him through the fence (he is still pretty particular about zone 1 – his nose). I ignored him, even in his pen a few minutes later, snapping away photos of Silver and Link, who were standing just outside Cody’s pen. When I turned around – several times, there were Cody’s whiskers, literally inches away. It was great! He allowed me to walk up to him and catch him right away, without much playing at all. We played all 7 games online and he did fantastic! Just as last night, I had to be uber patient with his sideways game, but we succeeded in obtaining several nice steps in either direction, and Cody was a little more trustful!! He was of course still very tense and wary of me while playing the sideways game (he seems to feel very trapped and vulnerable in that position), but he was more trusting than our first attempts at the game, so it is still progress. For our squeeze game, I sent him into the trailer – there was some hesitation at first, but he knew what I was asking and so after a moment or two of contemplation (evaluating me), he walked right in. It surprised me, I expected him to just put his front feet in or something at first, but he offered me a lot, so I was pretty impressed. He can be a little hard to read, because he is so introverted, so sometimes I am not quite sure what he will do. My challenge is to make him more extroverted, because he’s a little extreme introverted at times – I want to encourage him to be more curious about things and to express himself more. It is all just about developing him and teaching him it is ok and safe to be curious and expressive. When I first asked, Cody went to move back, but I used my body language and held until he released, then pointed (phase 1) and flicked the tail end of my stick at the ground in a super small movement I knew was enough for Cody to see (phase 2). He walked towards the trailer then looked at me, as if gauging whether he could trust me or not. Finally, he just walked right in, before I could even ask for more! I had him walk in once more, backing out both times – he was very calm backing out and much more trusting at it :)

After our games, we saddled up (another challenge will be to get him to allow me to trust me enough to saddle him at liberty, right now he still can be quite nervous about the saddle) and headed out to the lease property (4 quarter sections) to see if we could locate my lost camera (no such luck, unfortunately). Cody was pretty spooky at first, but still moved out when I asked, at the gaits I asked. He just did a lot of “body shivers” and the odd skirt around an object – moreso than he usually does. At one point, he actually unseated me, but stood still and did his job to allow me back up into the saddle from my perch hanging off the side (lol)…which had been partially my part – I was so tense, waiting for a spook that I wasn’t relaxed enough to zig when he zigged! Needless to say, he was obviously quite tense at first, but after the first hour, he was actually pretty relaxed and was back to his usual self. We toured two quarter sections of the property, with his doing absolutely awesome. A good 50 percent of the ride I just threw my reins down on his neck or over the horn, leaving Cody on a super loose rein, while I took photos. Whenever I needed him to stop (which was, admittedly often, kudos to my insane photo-taking, haha), I would relax my seat and he’d halt – immediately. If I needed him to move down a specific path, I just needed to apply some leg, and he’d shift over in the direction I had indicated. He is actually very responsive and wants to be very light, so it should not take long before he’s working on some advanced stuff! My hardest job with him will be developing him into a more confident horse and then also earning his trust. Once I do, he’s going to be unstoppable :) Throughout our three-hour ride, Cody was very pleasurable to work with, including at canter and along the roads. At the end of the day (after riding both Cody and Link), Cody even allowed me to walk up to him and pet him in the pasture and didn’t flinch (first time) when I rubbed him gently while he was eating. My touch has changed with him though, thanks to the new, or more developed, perspectives the Parelli DVD’s (Collection and Liberty) have offered me. I am even more compassionate and softer in my touch, and I take the time to just stand and rub him, to let him know he can trust me, to let him know he is loved - rather than having such a business and work-man-like approach. Doing the same with Link, when I normally would have become frustrated with his acting out and being rude (which he was a couple of times when I asked him to stand quietly), calmed him as well. I’m so excited to keep developing and improving myself.

Last in line today was Link – he was, as usual, very high energy during our 7 games, but he was ok with his focus and loaded very well into the trailer (squeeze game) – first try! He also stood and then backed out of the trailer best he ever has, very calm. I realised, after watching the Parelli Collection DVD (very inspirational, re-affirmed that I have been doing things correctly, but also taught me so much!!!) that Link is one of those horses that is like a spring coiled up very tightly – too ready to “break”. One of the things Pat recommended to “unwind” such a horse, is to do casual work, on a loose rein, which made sense to me. Of course Link is improving as we develop him in general – with the games and such, but we could use more “unwinding”!!! I realised after watching the DVD that we do a lot of good work, but something that can help us even further is to work on a loose rein more, to just do casual stuff. Usually we hack out in the English saddle and in the cradle bridle – light contact, but contact nonetheless. So today I saddled Link up western, tossed on the hackamore, and we headed out for an hour-long walk! He actually did relax very well, though started to tense up some after I continuously stopped him for photos and after we crossed the creek (he did amazing with the creek crossing – he walked pretty calmly through the deep muck and handled it the best he ever has!), so next time I will be sure to dedicate my time to him fully (no camera). I even let him out a bit (for a gallop) at the end, which seemed to help let off some steam. All in all though, I felt he did very well, so we’ll repeat it a few more times before returning home – just some nice, leisurely walks around the property.

I have to really recommend the PNH Collection DVD as well as the Liberty DVD (Beyond the Round Pen). They were both amazing and taught me so much. The Collection DVD re-affirmed so much for me but also taught me some new exercises, techniques, and ideas – the learning part of it with Linda and Remmer was based on classical dressage. I will probably share some about it on The Perfect Horse. Both DVD’s taught me a lot in general – about really making sure to allow our horses to keep their dignity, rather than just respecting them, and about staying very soft and just letting things flow, rather than trying to make things happen. It’s funny how when you’re no longer trying to force things to happen, so much more happens – at first you think “well that’s not what I was looking for”, but then you realise “hey, that’s actually more than what I asked for!!”. Your horse offers you more and you take what they give and run with it, developing it into something you do want, even if you were not expecting it at first.

Tomorrow I am busy during the day, so I’m not sure who I will get out…we will see how the day goes!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Grounded

I spent a few hours of my day watching and taking notes from the Parelli Liberty DVD. Not only did I learn a lot, but it was super inspiring! Pat also addressed how playing with our horses at liberty relates to “the real world” and how it is not, as some claim, “circus tricks”. It answered a lot of my questions and taught me much about some of the stuff I was having difficulties with as well as other things that had occurred or that I had been taught, but that I had never fully understood.

One example: Pat was clear that if your horse comes in to you on the circling game while you’re playing with him at liberty, not to offend your horse by sending him out right away and getting after him – don’t make him feel wrong for having too much draw! Instead, thank him and ask him to continue circling (or even just take a moment “off” from whatever you’re doing to just hang out a minute or two, then continue), but allow him to circle closer to you. Maintain your horse’s dignity. It made so much sense to me – Silver usually has a lot of draw and when I send him out, he takes off, because he thinks that he’s wrong to come in. Then, here I am trying to build more draw! Yet he gave it to me earlier and I rejected it. Link, on the other hand, gets really offended and sometimes retaliates, when I send him out again with bigger phases than just pointing – like he’s frustrated at me because he was trying to synchronize with me, “join-up” with me, and I disallowed it. Instead, I should be allowing them to ask questions and offer more, and learn to work with them rather than enforce only what I want to do – that’s what liberty work is about, letting the horse express himself as well! So should be all our work with our horses – a partnership based on what the horse wants to do as well.

Anyways, so of course, after the DVD, I was pretty intent on doing some liberty work myself! I started with Silver, since he is my most advanced horse and the one most likely ready for some of the liberty work I wanted to try. We did all our 7 games on-line on the 12’ (pretending he was loose), then at complete liberty – friendly, porcupine, driving (difficult, because he wanted to be crooked – I had to learn how to keep him straight without ropes on him!), yo-yo, circling (at first he just circled the pen we were in, but after a few moments he started to circle me!), sideways (thanks to the fence this time), and squeeze (having him hide his HQ on each side of the “squeeze”). I even got him to do double turns, like in the video! It was pretty difficult to communicate to Silver what I wanted of him – he wanted to face me, but eventually we got it. I would ask him to turn away from me, then “catch” him as he was turning back towards me, and get him to turn again – 360 – and at liberty. It was very sweet!! We also did changes in direction on our circling game, and transitions (those need more work). Lastly, I finished teaching Silver to lead by the forelock, mane, ear, hind and forelegs, and tail. I’d started teaching him awhile back, but only a session or two, and probably a couple months ago. He’s a fast learner though and wanted to do what I asked, so it only took a moment or two with each new thing for him to be backing/following me softly, with light phases. It was really neat!!! We ended there, with a great connection together.

Second up, I worked with Link – at first just all our usual stuff on the 12’, then some on the 22’. We did all our games pretending as if there weren’t a rope and he did well, so I took the rope off. He did the first 3 games (friendly, porcupine, driving) at liberty, but the rest were shot – he wasn’t willing to work with me, fully focused, at all. He just had so much energy and that energy was scattered every which way, distracted by everything! No worries though – we continued the rest of the games on the 22’ and he did well. Another technique I applied to all the horses, including Link, was having Link come in to me off a circle when I backed up. Of course he wasn’t really paying attention, so I had to “pick him up” via disengaging his HQ a bit (which would get him to walk towards me, then I’d back and he’d follow further). Silver was already reading me and wanted to be with me and so picked it up right away, but Link was quite hard to bring in – he wanted to be out where he was, out on the circle and picking up speed, and he wasn’t in tune with me enough to even notice and thus respond to my backing, encouraging him to come in from the circle. This is something I learned when I first started (backing and having the horse come in softly), but had logged it away – I didn’t realise its importance of it at the time. Now though, I can see how it applies to liberty work, so it is something I am trying to teach all our horses. Anyways – Link started to become lighter and pick it up a bit, but it is going to be a bit of a long haul. He is very independent and just wants to do things his way – even when he does come in, he shakes his head and comes in with a bit of rebelliousness, and invades my space in disrespect (for now I do allow him to walk “on the line” a little, and just ask him nicely not to "cross the line" by walking all over me). It is going to take a lot of work to get him fully tuned in to me as Silver is! Man, this horse is a challenge – I enjoy it, but it’s also a lot of work!! And learning ;)

Cody was last man standing and by the time I got to him (I admit, I took a quick break to watch some of Heartland, hehehe), it was dark, so he seemed a little spookier. He actually did exceptionally well with all of his games – except the sideways game. Going to his left, he side-passed easily along the fence, and without too much hoopla. To his right though, Cody went completely right-brained on me. He’d try to go between me and the fence, and if he couldn’t do that, he would back up, pulling on my left arm, despite my efforts and requests to have him move forward. If I pushed it, he would try to bolt away. The entire time, his body was tense and ready to spring. Bah! I admit I got pretty frustrated (I hate to admit it, but it happens – not very often, because I have the tools and savvy usually to prevent it, but it does happen occasionally, when my human self gets the best of me – it’s all about controlling your emotions and disciplining yourself), so I had to put him away and walk away. Becoming frustrated is not something I can allow – as a horse trainer I need to know better, however I am only human too. It wasn’t Cody’s fault though – someone has really hurt him bad and he was just terrified I was going to beat him (or worse – really, horses, as prey animals, are concerned about being eaten by a predator). It can be frustrating though – you just want to tell him that no one is going to hurt him anymore, to just relax! Unfortunately, horses don’t understand English well enough though. Lol. Anyways, like Pat says though “frustration begins where savvy ends” – I didn’t know what to do. I went inside, talked it out with a friend, and went back outside. Cody actually allowed me to walk right up to him, and we did both our circling game and the sideways game. This time I was calmer and just stayed very very soft and relaxed with him. I found that if I relaxed my body posture while he was standing, braced against the rope, that he would stand a minute or two evaluating my body language to make sure I was for real, then he would come forward. With my being softer and injecting a ton of friendly game (lots of cheek-petting, lol), we worked through all our issues successfully to end the day on a good note. *sigh*

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Trailer loading on a mission

I actually forgot to mention something that happened with Cody last week that I found interesting. I was working with him on some of our groundwork – doing the friendly game at the time, tossing the carrot stick and its savvy string over his back. Or I should say I was trying to, rather. He was pretty suspicious and we made slow work. At one point however, one of his forelegs touched the rope I had been tying the dog to when we first arrived at the ranch, to teach her to stick around the house. The rope was loose and had a lot of play (no danger in him becoming entangled in it), but it lay across his coronet in such a fashion that to him, it might have felt snug at first. I first checked to make sure the situation was safe – I hadn’t really been paying much attention to where we were working (not on a conscious level), as we tended to move about quite a bit. Cody hesitated and did not budge a step, so I proceeded with caution. Did he think he was caught? He went on to allow me a lot more than he usually does, and I could see him thinking. He wanted to move away, but didn’t feel he should; you could tell he was unsure whether it was safe or not to pull his foot away. Is he hobble trained?? If he is, I doubt it was done for legitimate purposes – given his past, I am willing to bet that if he was hobble-broke, it was done in a gruesome fashion, to keep him still for whatever else he was forced to submit to. I finished our game up prior to removing the rope so that he felt he could walk around once more. It was pretty neat, and I am still not sure whether he didn’t move because he was just being cautious, or if he has been trained with hobbles. Today, when I placed a rope around his fetlock and asked him to move off, he did, but very carefully – all the while checking out his foot to make sure it was okay; he moved very slowly and with great care and thought. *shrug* well, it is nice to have a horse so careful with his feet!

A couple of weeks ago I had to cross a downed fence on Cody. To have gone around would have meant a lot of time lost, and I had no way of cutting the fence to make a hole to go through. Either way, the fence was down enough that I felt it would be safe to walk Cody over it (else I would have sacrificed the time) – all the strands of wire were together and were either in the ground, or only an inch or two off of it. Still, I was very careful going over the fence. I halted Cody just before it and gave him his head so that he could see what we were about to go over. I gave him his head and nudged him forward, but I kept my hands and seat ready to stop Cody if I had to. He lifted each of his feet carefully and navigated over the downed fence very slowly, of his own accord. He seemed extra careful and also prepared to stop should he accidentally step wrong. A horse so thoughtful and great with his feet, who doesn’t panic in situations where he is, or could be, caught, is hard to come by!!

Today I ran into town and got done everything I needed to before returning home, saving my long ride with Cody instead for Monday, when the weather is supposed to be at its best. Tomorrow, we should even see rain and snow apparently! Upon returning home, I caught up Cody – a much easier feat today than has been the norm. We probably spent a good two hours on the ground working out our 7 games. The circling game he wanted to take off from – he’d just stop and if I went to ask him to continue the circle, he’d back and then try to turn away. Eventually, we settled on doing the game where he wanted to, in front of one of the barns. Actually, Cody wanted to go through said barn back out into the fields and away from me and my work, but he finally settled for doing the game in front of the barn (lol). From there, once we got the game going well, I asked him to do the game now where I wanted, in the open and away from “Cody’s barn”. By that time we were working well together and he properly understood what I wanted (with some work), so he humoured me and did as I asked. With a lot of additional work (and body language!!), I finally got Cody to side-pass on the ground as well (game 6)!! Afterward, I felt it was finally time to also introduce game 7 – the squeeze game, via use of the trailer (go big or go home, hehe). It took a bit to get Cody in the trailer without my leading him in (and by that time, though our games were going well, he was a little skeptical of me due to all we had worked through and all the challenge I had asked of him, and would not follow me in anyway): a lot of friendly game interspersed (to re-acquaint Cody with my “arm extension” aka the carrot stick, and to remind him it wasn’t a tool with which to beat him), plenty of changes in direction via driving game (reminding him to be responsive when I asked him to move in a particular direction rather than to block me out and move in the opposite direction*), and lots of circling game (reinforcing to move forwards when I asked). Basically, we were breaking everything down as we found “holes”, and fixing it (the basics), to create a successful squeeze game. Finally (though it seemed like eons, it probably all took only about 15 minutes) I had him loading – it had never really been a question about the trailer, but rather a question about my leadership (which is always the case anyways, but moreso with Cody). The trailer itself, Cody was confident with – once he put one foot in, the other three followed easily and he stood quietly in the trailer. Our next big challenge was getting him to back out, rather than to turn around in the trailer (which can lead a horse to come out on top of you one day). It took a bit, because Cody again was not quite fully willing to trust my leadership on a sufficient level to back out when he cannot see much as he backs and has to feel his way out! Finally though I had him load and unload a couple of times, each unload being better than the last. Last challenge I thought I’d take on was to load all three horses into the two-horse-slant stock-horse-like trailer. It can be a challenge for the second horse to load when he thinks he doesn’t have enough room, and it can be an even bigger challenge for the third horse to load when there is only room for exactly one horse – no room to spare, so it looks to the last horse like there is not enough room. He has to trust that you know what you are doing in sending him up there and just go up there. Much to my surprise, Link loaded very easily when I pointed at the trailer and directed him in, to stand calmly next to Cody (no backing out or anything!). Next up, I sent Silver in. Within a few seconds, all three horses were standing in the trailer, door still open, calmly and without moving. I couldn’t have been prouder! I let them soak it up for a moment or two before asking them, one by one, to back out again.

*Horses are prey animals and as such, often automatically want to do the opposite of whatever a predator (us) wants them to. So if I want Cody to go right, he is going to try to go left. He assumes that there is a reason I want him to go right, and that reason could mean his life (especially to a horse as fearful and mistrustful of humans as Cody), so he is going to make sure that he goes anywhere but right! This is where I had to work on a lot of changes in direction with Cody, because he would go in the opposite direction and just take off – blocking me out completely. Changes in direction are not something I usually work on with a horse until a little bit later, especially with a horse with too much 'drive' (they build a lot of 'drive' - and the last thing you need in a horse with already too much 'drive', is more 'drive', lol), but it came up with Cody and he caught on quick. It really got him thinking and eventually enabled me to gain more of his partnership.

By this time, Cody was pretty sweated up – he’d worked hard and had been forced to think even harder! I decided though to tack him up and take him out so as to end on a good note as well as to get more hours in under-saddle. He was about the same as usual leaving – a little skittish, but nothing to worry about. Actually, I was also on the phone while I directed Cody to head out past one of the cattle herds and out onto the property, and he still moved out readily! For the second time now in a row, he picked his way through the sucking mud in the creek to the other side (rather than jumping the creek); it was great to feel him so comfortable with the mud and water! The rest of the ride (all at a walk) went fantastic, with Cody walking out comfortably and spooking only occasionally (and then, only a body shiver and maybe half a step to one side) in the crisp and breezy evening (pretty good, as the horses were all pretty frisky and spooky on their own all day!). He even humoured me when I took a half a gazillion photos (have to return when the sun is out for some more shots!) and it took us twice as long as usual to get home as a result, haha. All in all, a pleasurable ride and I look forward to a few more before our season here is done!

On the note of “frisky horses”, Link and Silver have become quite inseparable, and I think today (after actually putting some thought into it) I finally figured out why (from the first time they saw each other). Energy levels. They both have nearly identical energy levels. While Cody (a Left-brain Introvert) is quite content to chew away at grass and meander about, maybe toss in the odd canter here and there, Silver and Link are racing around, tails in the air, bucking and playing – constantly. I watched them play today, for a good 10 minutes, nipping at each other in play. That was prior to them tearing around for no good reason other than to stretch their legs, lol. It will be nice to see them back together again one day, when we have some property of our own :)

Our weekend in the mountains was almost cancelled, as our guide had to rush out on an emergency and could no longer take us. Fortunately, I was able to make reservations at a nearby lodge instead, where we can keep the horses for the weekend! It will be nice to head out on day rides over the weekend, to return home to a nice warm room and a glass of champagne! From this location we can head into the Ya Ha Tinda, which is known for its gorgeous country. It should be a fabulous weekend.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Missy 3/3 aka back to the boonies

Unfortunately, Missy 3/3 did not happen. I ended up caught up late in Calgary, much to my dismay, and so did not have the time to work Missy before taking off to make an appointment in Red Deer :( I should be able to work her 3-4 days straight though when I return home, the way I have arranged things. Hopefully October can be a bit more consistent for her until we get her sold (hopefully by the end of October – I know, a little far-fetched when I am in and out of town so much, but it has to happen).

Just arrived at the ranch this evening (too late to ride, unfortunately) and although I forgot my pillow (a huge downer for me, since my neck – in terrible shape – depends on it to stave off migraines) and my house cell phone charger, I am pretty excited to be here! I am sad to see it come to an end but am excited though to get in some final good, long rides. I am excited for the new job I am commencing that will allow for a show season next year and thus Link’s and my progression, and that will allow for other opportunities. I am excited to finally have some lessons lined up, and the appropriate saddle to help me out. Heck, I’m even excited for the new (albeit cheap) camera I purchased to help my goldfish memory remember all these great moments and the beautiful country both here and in the mountains I'll be riding in Thanksgiving weekend. I am one lucky duck, and I have to give thanks to Him for everything we have been blessed with.

The boys were up by the house when I arrived; they were all in great shape, as usual, and were happy to receive their grain treat for the night. Cody allowed me to rub him all over pretty easily and with very minimal twitching (lol). Weather permitting, I would like to take Cody out for a long ride tomorrow, to see if we can find that camera I lost. So far, it is nippy out – that fall crisp that feels refreshing but reminds you that winter is sneaking its way in (don’t you dare!) - but no snow yet! So I’m gonna try to get as much riding in as possible while the good weather lasts.

Missy 2/3

Purchased a new camera today, so I will definitely have some photos up by next week, both of the ranch and the three boys enjoying their time out there, as well the trip in the mountains next weekend!

I had a chance to work with ol' Sonny boy whilst waiting for Missy's interested peoples to show up - his groundwork went well (just basic 12' line stuff) and he did pretty good under-saddle as well. He was a little heavy on my hands, until I slapped myself in the face and corrected him (lol). Sometimes I need a dose of my own medicine, I don't even listen to my own speeches, haha. A "heavy" or hard-mouthed horse can be the result of either horse or rider, but continues in a vicious circle as both horse and rider play off one another, worsening the situation. If the rider stays soft, the horse will stay soft - at most, and (the horse) can only become 'so' hard - at least. So it is up to the rider both not to exacerbate the situation, and to correct it. Which I did. Finally. I lightened up the vice-like grip I had on the reins and just started gently bumping him with the reins (like mini half-halts). Immediately Sonny picked himself up, sat back on his hind end, and lightened up the front end. We also worked quite a bit on leg-yields; his leg yields going to the left are spectacular - extended, engaged, beautiful. To the left...not so much, pretty resistant. So I made sure to ask for the leg yields off of a circle so that he already had the bend and just had to move out sideways; he responded much better with the added help. Still a lot of work to do, but much improved. Otherwise everything else was same-old, same-old. He worked well, was balanced, picked up the correct canter leads, etc. I find he, the same as Link, tends to race forwards when I use leg, so I am working with him to get him to just relax and respond, rather than rushing. He was a little unresponsive to my body (ie. slowing when I sat back and relaxed, asking for him to slow with my seat) as well as to my hands opening and closing (the latter - response to my hands - particularly at first because he was so heavy on the bit), but we'll work on it further. I think lots of walk and trot work! I have to make sure too to always stay on top of him to remain light.

Missy had some visitors today, and for once, I was very pleased with how experienced they seemed. They were professional dressage riders and really knew what they were doing. They understood where she was at, how to get more out of her, and even complimented me on how nicely trained she was thus far, which felt great. One example where I felt we were on par and that I was finally dealing with some people who actually knew what they were doing, was when I finished warming Missy up for them; I told them she could canter, but that we were working on it one stride at a time, that we were doing lots of trot work and such because she was completely lacking in balance so far. The one woman responded with a "I wouldn't try to canter her either!" (it sounds mean when I write it here, but it was not spoken nor meant that way at all, lol). She immediately saw where Missy was and that she still needed a lot of walk/trot work to balance her out, and understood my reluctance to show them her canter. Yes, she can physically canter and won't throw a tantrum or anything, but it's so unbalanced and difficult to ride - she just isn't there yet. By the time she is there, she'll be pretty far along all-round, but it is going to take some time yet. On that note, I feel better about her canter with my opinion and work supported by professionals. They (the two dressage riders) really really liked her though: they felt she was a fast learner (she was already picking up things in the 30 minutes or so they both rode her), moved well, looked gorgeous under-saddle, and showed a ton of potential. I am hoping she is what they are looking for otherwise.

On another note, I ran into one of my old Pony Club coaches today and will be taking lessons :) We chatted quite a bit and I am pretty pumped now about actually taking some lessons!!!

I will put in another good session with Missy tomorrow morning (3/3) then I am back off to the ranch! I will report back (including Missy's 3/3 report) soon!