Friday, April 30, 2010

Back down to business

This is my attempt at getting back into blogging regularly ;) So, a brief outline of how everyone is doing, as well as future blogs I promise to publish:

Princess - Right-brain extrovert
She did not know anything about leg aids, but this little mare is brilliant. Just by using my legs as I do naturally, on all horses, she picked it up - I did not even have to really take the time out to teach her leg aids specifically, as I normally would! I have taken such time out, however it was only to further cement what she had already obviously learnt from our previous rides. She is also very keen to move off of pressure, hence the reason I believe she picked up the leg aids so easily. She already side-passes like a dream, is starting leg yields, and is moving off of my leg into the wall and such when she is spooky to the wall. She is pretty relaxed at the walk now and really stretches out her frame nicely, and her trot is starting to have less arc to the outside wall and is becoming more relaxed and rhythmic. All in time though! Her canter I have been mostly letting her pick up on her own when she feels like it, to motivate her to do it. If she does it by her own volition, then hopefully she will do it when I ask it of her as we progress ;) We do a bit when I ask too, but just short stints with lots of praise at the end, as she has a bit of a sour attitude about it for whatever reason. We also fixed some initial sourness and reluctance by switching saddles from the one she was sent down with, which was obviously pinching, and one I have that fits her alright (much better than the one she was in at least). Lastly, last week I even took her out for a short trail ride alongside another horse!! She was fantastic. Today huge gales battered the sides of the arena and snow kept sliding off the roof but as spooky as she was, she trusted me and did very well. So far we have also worked with tarps and ropes - she becomes more comfortable each time. She is extremely curious and is developing confidence and thus relaxation. Very very responsive and light!! She also stopped pacing her pen as well and is no longer pulling back when tied (though I do not tie her hard), more signs of her progressive relaxation.

Toffee - Left brain extrovert
Toffee Toffee Toffee. The little man is doing well but still has a bit of an attitude. Overall though I think I am overcoming it. We lost a lot of time initially with his being sick and today we lost another day - there was no way I was taking him into that arena with the weather the way it was - I just did not feel the benefits would outweigh the potential risk and lack of progress (or even digression) we would likely make. So I am hoping that tomorrow is a bit better weather-wise, and I will likely ask his owners to leave him with me a couple extra days so that he can get all his days in. He is pretty good but just is a bit independent - wants things his way. So it's a challenge molding him so that he wants to do what I want! We will get there though ;) He is comfortable with w/t but no leg aids or such yet, and no canter. Canter was our nemesis when he was a 2yo at the Trainer's Challenge as well - I anticipate it has to do with a lack of strength and balance (and so I have been very cautious in my asking for the canter and building him to it). I might try ponying him at the canter?? I did ask him to canter the other day, but it was on a day where he was already feeling unconfident, and I knew I was pushing him. He just picked up speed at the trot and I thought that if I could just get him to canter a couple strides along the long side of the arena, then stop him, it'd be good. He had other ideas however, and became quite resistant. Finally, he jumped from the trot...into a buck. Okay, so into several bucks. For such a little guy who needs to pick up weight, that little horse can buck!! I can usually ride it out, but not this one, not this time. He went up, I started to come off, he went up again, and I was off. I caught a lot of air and smashed down onto my right knee and left hand for an intimate discussion with the dirt. That conversation may or may not have lasted several minutes (hint: it did), my dog circling me protectively as said little horse approached me cautiously. Somehow I even have bruising on the inside of my left thigh - from the saddle? Lol! I did climb my way back up and back onto that horse for some walk and trot. He was quite jittery, but some walk and trot throughout future sessions will fix that ;) As I always say, a horse bucking is usually the rider's fault - you can't blame the horse for acting like a horse, he is simply responding. This horse is not going to make the progress a horse such as Princess will, however I am hoping I can have him comfortable with w/t/c (the canter being limited to his lack of strength and balance, so along straight lines and such) and halting/moving out based on my weight shifts, as well as very light and responsive to my hands on the reins. I think I also might move him into a bit this week - not something I usually do but perhaps appropriate in his case.

(just look at that bum! It's just made for sitting and spinning after cattle!!! Haha)

My little painted man is doing fantastic! He is developing a great stop on him, is moving off my leg fairly well, and is even up to the canter under-saddle!! He is starting to relax a little more, though sometimes it takes some liberty work on the ground first to get him to loosen up and 'let me in'. I am very pleased with his progress though and look forward to getting him into some reining patterns soon :P

(he actually looks a lot better than his photos portray, haha, it's just that I can never seem to catch a good photo of him standing proper!! Lol. We just need to lay down more topline and rip up those abs!)

Same as Cody really, Link is doing greatgreatgreat. He is loose and relaxed, engaging at the trot, and is mostly picking up the correct lead in the canter going to the right when asked within the first try or two. I tried him out in a Nurtural bitless bridle the other day though and have to admit I was rather disappointed. He was great in it and moved out mostly as usual, however I did not feel the subtler communication I had been hoping for: for example, he really had no idea I was even wiggling my fingers up there - I actually had to use arm muscle. I realise it would grow more refined as he and I get used to it...but it just was not the same. Even when we picked up the canter, rather than picking up the bit and just focusing, he really hollowed on me, like the old days. We did end up jumping in the bitless though! I had jumped him over the barrels (approx. 2') on the ground initially - it was amazing, because he usually tried to duck out in the past, and I always had to have the barrels against the wall. But since all the progress we've made, this time was different! He was so calm and jumped so easily and willingly! So, why not try it under-saddle? In a dressage saddle! Lol. He was a little unconfident, but when I just let him go and pushed him forward, he jumped very well!! I was so surprised though, he handled it so beautifully. He was cool as a little cucumber going over those jumps. We are definitely going to continue with the dressage, but I think he's ready, mentally and emotionally, to start jumping!! Luckily, the owner of the arena is going to bring in some jumps as well - bonus! End of our ride yesterday I even let one of Sonny's riders, an 11(?)yo, take Link for a good 20min or so spin. He was doing well with me and I thought he'd do well with the younger rider - he did not disappoint :) Our current 'project' though is to develop more straightness, as right now he tends to really lean to the inside on the left rein and to really grab the bit on that (non-hollow) side. We'll get there ;)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New trainees!

So reeeal quick I thought I would update here to start back into the swing of blogging (and yes, I fully intend to blog on The Perfect Horse, I am hoping tomorrow!

Wednesday April 7 I ended up working with both Link and Cody; work under-saddle with Link and simple groundwork outdoors with Cody. Both were absolutely fantastic, with Cody doing exceptionally well at all 7 games as well as initiating some confidence and curiosity toward a pair 0f blue horse-eating barrels, despite the high winds. Link worked well in the indoor arena seeing how by the time I got to him it was too windy to do anything outdoors! He came into my hands and on the bit, lifted at the base of his neck, allowed his rounded back to swing, and stepped beneath himself quite nicely with very little encouragement! He even picked up the correct canter lead on the right rein without too much difficulty - it took a few tries but he kept at it and instead of going hollow when he was uptight, he actually stretched down and forward and picked up contact! All the impulsion he obtained from the canter was beautifully recycled through my hands - I loved it!! Eventually he did get the correct lead at the canter to the right, and he immediately picked up the correct lead to the left. We wrapped it up finally with some liberty work; at first I simply removed the bridle but left the reins around Link's neck, but ultimately I even removed the reins, since he was obviously in tune with me and very responsive. It was funny though, as I directed him near the fence during one pass of the arena at liberty, and laid his bridle on said fence as we passed. Of course (Murphy's Law!), the bridle fell, spooking Link, who shot forward a little. Immediately, my heart leapt into my throat - I was on a horse I wasn't sure I could trust, who had bundles of energy, who tended to 'lose his mind', who loved to run, and on whom I had nothing on his head. Fan-frickin-tastic!! As I leaned forward and panicked though, I reminded myself that I just had to relax and ask him to slow. Sure enough, as if he were reassuring me as well, he dropped right back into a walk immediately. He could easily have taken advantage of the situation and the 'Old Link' undoubtably would have, but this Link instead acted like a true and honest partner!

April 8 my time with Cody was limited to grooming him and his standing tied, politely, for a good hour or so (outdoors, in the wind), while I was busy with some clients and their horse coming in for training. However I had the great opportunity of riding with J (Link's rider over the winter), who rode Sonny, in the arena! Link was actually quite distracted and while pretty calm, he did not focus on me and follow my leadership quite as easily. We worked quietly at it though until he was collecting and working correctly from behind, which did admittedly take longer than usual due to his lack of focus. I was so proud of him though when he started to finally come around, and then especially as he held contact consistently! We finished with some amazing trot (plenty of impulsion while collected consistently and on the bit!), after finishing up the canter in either direction. This time it took only two tries to pick up the correct lead to the right, and the first time I asked for the canter to the right, from the trot, he picked it up incredibly quietly as if he were an old plow horse :) So proud! A huge blizzard hit while we were in the arena and so of course rain and hail could be heard on the metal roof and the wind was gusting all round, banging one of the arena doors loudly and also blowing snow in beneath said door. What most impressed me was how quiet both horses were, but especially Link, and how willing he was to go onto the aids (including picking up the bit of course) despite his fear at times! I would feel him stiffening and eyeing up the snow gusting in (initially) and simply bent him in the opposite direction and he instantly relaxed and went back to work - but the best part was that he allowed me to put him on the aids and ask him to relax! What a partner :)

April 9 was my first session with the new gelding and another session with Cody. The new gelding is a tiny (right around the 14hh mark) 4yo black Morgan gelding, Toffee. I actually competed on this little guy as a 2yo in a Trainer's Challenge, so I have had him under-saddle performing various tasks and w/t, though he has probably had maybe an hour and a half total under-saddle and no other work since I worked on him. He is definitely a little challenging, since he is definitely opinionated on what he wants! He will rear or even kick out occasionally, though not necessarily really to challenge my authority (not directly), but rather he'd just prefer to do what he wants, haha. As such though, he does not put a whole lot of effort behind it though and is fairly easy to work with. Our first session I pulled a good horse's worth of hair off of him, lol, prior to our work in the indoor arena. He was not sufficiently focused to learn the sideways game and just did not quite grasp it, however he did all 6 other games! He was fairly unfocused however did very well for his first outing. Cody did fantastic as usual - at all 7 games, despite riders in the arena, and he and I finished off with a short bareback ride. When I first threw my leg over, I could feel he was extremely tense - his back was very humped up and I wondered if I had made the wrong decision by getting on his back. This horse has never been ridden bareback, to my knowledge, and has not been ridden under-saddle for a good several months now (7?), plus he was only in a rope halter at this time. As I quietly urged him forward though and gave him the time he needed to think, gradually he 'unfroze' to walk calmly at one end of the arena. I only asked for simple patterns - primarily circles and figure-8's, as well as turns on the fore and hind, back-up, and turns off of leg and seat as opposed to hand. He was actually extremely responsive and light, even to leg! All in all, I was quite impressed with his demeanor and how he handled himself and what was requested of him.

The following day, April 9, ended up being a Toffee and Link day! Toffee progressed on the ground, though still no sidepass yet. He was quite a bit more focused though, and did very well (plus, we pulled off another quarter of horse worth of hair, lol!). Lastly, I worked with Link once more, starting off with our usual ground exercises (at which he excelled of course) prior to swinging up into the saddle. By the time I was in the saddle, it was just after 3pm...with roping starting in the arena at 4pm, LOL! So next thing I know, all sorts of cowboys are pulling up in their trailers and unloading their horses (eager beavers these ones, since they weren't actually looking to start until 4! Haha) - whilst I am on this big Thoroughbred, in a dressage saddle. I think we all found it just a little amusing! Lol. Link was absolutely amazing though, especially despite all the commotion of horses being unloaded, the horses tied to the arena fence, ropes whistling, and people moving about. I could not have been more chuffed, he just behaved amazingly well and worked so in tune with me. I was especially surprised that he did not spook at anything at all at times when I knew he was in deep concentration - it was like magic! It took very very little coaxing before he was on the bit and working from behind. He was also exceptionally light at leg yields, was picking up his left inside shoulder (he tends to drop it and get heavy on the bit on that side at times), and was super responsive. When I asked for the canter, he picked up the right lead on the very first try!! He was a little more reactive this time round and was not straight, but I was not complaining ;) Of course his left lead was fine as well, and I actually had him mostly straight in that direction. We finished with a relaxed cool-out that encompassed dropping my reins (despite other horses in the arena) and simply guiding him with my seat and legs. Wow! I have to admit, as much as I loved that first 'magic' ride on Link awhile back, I was scared I would not see it again for a long while; yet instead he is only becoming increasingly consistent and is moving absolutely beautifully!! :)

While I lacked the time to do any work with my equine trainees, Sunday our new arrival was Princess, a 6yo grey Arabian mare! She is apparently quite well bred and is a very nice looking RBI mare who is in for some remedial training. Her owner's issue with her is that Princess can become quite right-brain reactive at times, especially if she is pushed. Her owner has done plenty of groundwork on her but is looking for 60 days for Princess to be more confident and reliable (calmer, braver, smarter) under-saddle. Photos of both her and Toffee soon!

Monday April 12 was my Princess and Toffee day! Toffee was first and it was soon discovered he had a bit of a bad cold (poor guy), so we kept our work down to a walk and very very little trot. He did very well though and we worked as well on his allowing me to lie over his bare back...something he was honestly not quite that fond of! He's still a pretty narrow and undeveloped colt and came out of winter a little on the thin side though, so I think partially he just wanted his own way, but also that he did not appreciate my weight upsetting his balance and my elbows inadvertently digging into his back! He actually got quite indignant about it and even crow-hopped once and kicked out at me another time, but we plugged away at it patiently until he was standing quiet while I lay over either sides briefly. I think I might just work with the saddle from here, and I will have to be careful how much I push him - he really is not physically capable of too much at this time in his development, in my opinion. I am thinking strictly w/t in the arena and wait to canter until he is outside in the hills and has more of a straight line to balance himself out. We'll see though. I was fairly excited to work with Princess and see how she was, and I was certainly not let down! She was careful and tentative, but also very curious. If I asked correctly, it was literally only a matter of moments before she was walking up to and sniffing previously-deemed 'dangerous horse-eating' objects :P She was a little opinionated with her front end (she is also in heat though), as expressed by the occasional flattened ears and not being quite as responsive with her front end. I was extremely impressed though and left playing the 7 games with her feeling like it was my privilege to be working with her - and I'm being paid for this?!! Haha. I am very thrilled to be working with her - she is light, responsive, intelligent, and has a strong ground foundation to work off of. Just the horse I would look for for myself! I laid over her back as well, but she completely ignored me as if I were not even there ;) I look forward to riding her these next two months for sure, especially in the mountains if possible.

That's about it! I was in a course both Tuesday and Wednesday and will finish off the course next Monday/Tuesday. I am also away this weekend and so the horses will not be worked Saturday/Sunday/Monday, between my travel and my course. I have it all worked out though - Link, Cody, Princess and Toffee are all up on my roster and both client horses are set up for 20 days of work over their 30 days. So stay tuned for updates! My goal this week (and henceforth) with Link is to get him in condition and to continue his consistency at collection. I am so pleased with him - not only is he developing physically into a very nice horse (he has definitely filled out everywhere and has grown an inch to now stand 16.2hh!), but he is also really acting like a prime partner when we work together. I will probably start all three other horses under-saddle this week - Cody, Princess, and Toffee, though my expectations of Toffee will obviously be quite low yet. At this point, I just want him to accept weight on his back and to be desensitized to the saddle and all its riggings. Next week I would like to throw some curve balls at both Princess and Toffee by playing with tarps and other such 'terrifying' objects, lol. Should be fun!

Already Toffee's owners have booked in another horse with me over May and I have another owner with a formerly abused 7yo Paint mare who is also requesting to be booked - so it should be a busy summer!!

I will post photos of everyone soon!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Home: for good this time!!

I have actually got some things going on in my life and my computer time is rather limited ever since my laptop decided its best option was to shut down for this posting will be rather short! More to come next week though.

Friday, my first day back home (I have been away for 3 weeks!!) I originally went out to the barn to ride Sonny but ended up riding Link instead - what a joy!! Link seemed pretty happy to see me, even walking up to me initially in the pasture and following me out easily to the barn to be tacked up. I decided to work him in the outdoor arena, since I knew already he would be fine indoors - might as well work where it is hardest! My theory is that if I have got his attention and focus outdoors and further desensitize him to working in such a distractive environment, that he will only be that much better. Initially he was pretty strung out outside; on the ground he tore around like a madman and could not keep his feet still. After working with him for about 5 minutes however, I eventually got him down to a walk on the circling game, and very responsive and quiet with the other 7 games (including the sideways game without use of the wall and having him spiral in and out at the trot on the circling game). We did some w/t/c on the ground, including having him pick up the correct lead at the canter traveling right, prior to finishing up our maybe 10-15 minute stint on the ground with some 'follow-me'; I acted as if he were loose, held out my time though when I held the bit in front of him, he wiggled his lips as if to pick it up on his own ;) Under-saddle, Link rode like absolute magic!!!! Right from the start, I started him off by riding him on the buckle and just getting forward movement, letting him work long and loose at the trot. As he relaxed though (and this was outdoors, where he's most reactive!!), he lowered his head and reached forward and down, allowing his back to swing - the feeling of him pushing from behind was amazing! He had much more impulsion than he has ever had. After a bit, I started to slowly gather my reins as he picked himself up - the result was utter bliss!!! He reached forward and down into the contact, pushed from behind, lifted his back (which rolled beautifully and smoothly beneath my seat), and worked away, even down the long sides of the arena. He probably worked in a 'collected' frame a good 90 percent of the first half of our ride - it was an incredible feeling; I've never had him work so consistently in such a frame. I think his teeth being done might have had something to do with it, as well as perhaps something J, who has been riding him the past 3 weeks that I have been away, was doing... He really focused in on what I was asking and felt extremely in tune though; for example, each time I'd change direction/ask for a different bend, he'd feel my weight shift and would automatically start doing what I was about to ask. We were in complete partnership. The latter quarter or half of our ride did not go quite as nicely, but I wonder if he was sore or distracted, or what. I think it might be possible that I simply over-worked him a bit accidentally and thus his muscles were tired. He lightened up his contact and was a little stiff to the left, and was not collecting as nicely (no reaching forward and down and allowing the back to swing with the hind end pushing). So I am really hoping that I can get back what we had, our next ride, and then stop while we're ahead. Either way, it gave me immense hope to feel him progress so incredibly, so I know it's there (he felt like he was moving like a Warmblood!!!), I just have to learn how to bring it out. Shoulder-in's/out's were fantastic, as were changes in bend. Anyway, my next ride on him will likely be tomorrow, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that we can accomplish much. My goal over the next two months is to ride him 6-7 days a week and to get in a few shows, one or two by the end of April.

I was rather pumped after watching a schooling show at the Anderson ranch yesterday; it showed me a bit of where Link and I are at and where we need to be, what we have to work on to get where we want to be. My next stop is to hopefully attend a dressage and maybe a show jumping show next weekend, to better assess where we are at on those levels and what we need to aim for in the near future here. I have a couple of brief comments on that show as well, but I will save it for a future post if I get the chance.

Lastly, my hope is to ride Link daily this following week and to get him into a regular schedule. We brought Cody in to where Link and Sonny are as well Friday, so I would like to include him in my schedule this next week. Already Cody is doing well. Friday after dropping him off I actually gave him a good grooming and played all 7 games with him in the roundpen, including several at liberty. He was exceptional and even allowed me to catch him afterward, after I had turned him loose in his pasture! So we'll see how Monday goes, if he allows me to catch him easily enough and how he works.

The 9th or 10th (or both!) I have two horses coming in for training, so they will be being worked regularly as well and will be included on the blog - watch for updates!