Thursday, May 27, 2010

Welcome to: Onyx!

Alright, I admit it is a bit intimidating posting after so long away, because then I have so much to say - so I keep postponing it for 'when I have more time'. *snort* As if THAT is ever going to happen ;) So this is me, biting the bullet, and updating anyways. I will try to be more regular and with work starting back up and thus my being away from home on the road, the one thing I can look forward to (other than actual money in my pocket as opposed to hay and crumbling horse treats) is more time to write. Oh, and being away from people (of course I miss some people, but not the general populace, not gonna lie!). For the most part.

We worked on a lot of trot before we hit our next bucking episode since I last posted. Toffee had decided he didn't need to trot, I gently attempted to pursuade him otherwise, and he declined by throwing some bucks my way. I came off - some profanity may or may not have been involved in the entire unplanned and rather uncomfortable dismount - and found myself kneeling, facing the arena wall, with someone's hocks digging into my back. All I could think was "oh shit, please don't let this horse kick me," because if he did, he was going to nail me real nice to that arena wall. That was the day I emailed his owners and asked for more time. He was already staying an extra few days and I asked them to extend his stay by another 30 days so that I could have time to work out all his little issues. I promptly (and yes, I did ride him immediately after he bucked me off that day) gave the man a few consecutive days off and did nothing with him but bring him in and love on him. Food and grooming. The way to any man's heart. I hoped I wasn't just wasting time, but I desperately needed to change his perspective from one of resistance to one of willingness - he had to want to do what I asked. I felt the key was spending undemanding time and creating that 'draw'. The problem wasn't his misunderstanding me and becoming fearful, the problem was he wasn't trying and had no care to do as I asked. After three days of catering to him, I finally strapped the saddle back on and re-tried this thing we call riding. He was much better!!! Our last major bucking stint happened a few days later. Some boys had just finished roping at one end of the arena. So far, so good. Except Toffee was pretty convinced he should be allowed to stand quietly at one end of the arena. You know, kinda like all the cowboys' horses tied up at that end, enjoying some quiet time and relaxation. Toffee thought they had the right idea. It started with slowing at that end of the arena and finally progressed to stopping completely at that end and generally being resistant. I would push him through my phases and spank him lightly with the end of the rein, and we'd be off again (albeit crooked) go through it all again 30 seconds later as we passed the same spot. Finally he'd had enough. I am going to stop here. What - no? Should I rear and flip instead? No? Okay. Hmm. What's that? You want me to move forward? Oh I'll move forward alright...and a pretty spectacular bolt and bucking spree ensued. The cowboys all turned their chairs to smoke their cigars and drink their beer with a full view of us. Thanks boys ;) Toffee bucked as hard as he could, he bolted, I yelled, I pushed him forward, and finally he gave up and the two of us continued on our way. Henceforth, Toffee has been extremely willing. His w/t is up to par, he rarely spooks (and if he does, it is mostly simply a jump in his own tracks), he does sidepass and leg yields, is moving off my leg directionally, and stopping and backing without rein - all pretty consistently. We have even managed some canter! Today was the most we achieved, with canter down nearly the entire long sides of the arena, with very little buck. Rather than the bucking sprees I was seeing before, if he bucks now it is simply a gentle crowhop that is easy to sit. I am gradually getting more canter out of him and am better able to push him with his decreased resistance. The last hiccup we had was a few days ago when he became a little reactive on me and started bucking - but promptly stopped when I brought his head to my knee. Apparently one should never give green horses 4 consecutive days off for a long weekend. Lesson learnt Captain.

My painted warhorse has been absolutely amazing as of late! I have done less liberty work with him as of late, but he has been much more willing to trust with the increased schedule, and I have mostly figured out how to 'unlock' him under-saddle. While he continues to remain pretty tense under-saddle and tries to keep his body straight rather than supple, he is slowly starting to supple up and relax. The key was galloping him out. Where before it was difficult to get him to trust you enough to canter out, now he actually seems to enjoy moving out, and his walk and trot become so much more relaxed after he has been allowed to move forward. Today, he actually volunteered to canter and gallop, and even do sliding stops!!! So we have been doing a ton of forward work, from galloping to sliding stops (he is just built to stop!!) and rollbacks. Today was absolute bliss, though he was a little reactive, particularly at first. He was so willing to please and nervous he was continuously trying to anticipate my next move to do what I asked - I had to be careful how I even so much as breathed (no joke!), else he'd misinterpret me, haha. I am trying to teach him to stop the minute the reins hit his neck (when I drop them, as if I were roping) and he is quickly picking it up. Otherwise his stop is fantastic the minute I weight the stirrups and sit deep, but I have to sit properly if I want that beautiful sliding stop, so I have been working on myself for that. I also switched him over from the french link full cheek snaffle to a D-ring with a low port. Enough for tongue relief, but not for pallet pressure, plus each side of the bit (on either side of the port) moves independently, so I can communicate to each side of his mouth independent from the other for more specific movements and corrections. It's sweet iron as a bonus and is even rusted out a bit, so he seems in love. I had forgotten though his fear of having his ears being handled and touched and slipped on a bridle with an earpiece while chatting away with another rider. I'm watching Cody out of the corner of my eye, and he's got one ear right back, so at the back of my mind, as I chat, I am racking my brain to figure out what is going on. It didn't make sense with the rest of his body language - was he about to do something? I was almost ready to jump out of the way, just by what I was picking up from his body language, when I laughed as I realised what was going on. He had never worn an earpiece with me and was trying to figure out what to do with it - haha!! He seemed ok with it though so I brushed any worry aside and mounted up - he was fine. With the new bit (which is very simple and actually gentler than the french link), his mouth was really soft and he was really flexing at the vertical and playing with it. He also gave me some absolutely fantastic spins! He almost got me off once or twice even, as I had not been expecting his spins to be as quick as they were, lol. I might have myself a little reining horse here!

The little Arabian is also doing fantastic and is learning to relax. I also have her in the same bit that Cody is in and she has been much improved even since that switchover! We have been hitting the fields both with other riders and alone, and she is even working well in the outdoor arena without being too spooky or otherwise distracted. Her biggest challenge is relaxation - she tends to try to keep her body really straight so she can bolt, and she travels crooked down the long sides. Slowly though she is improving and learning to relax, particularly since we have been working outside - it's like she conquers working outside and so figures working inside is not so bad and so she can, y'know, maybe relax! Haha. She is developing a really nice low and long frame at the walk, which is a huge step for her. I would love to see that same frame at the trot, then at the canter, but we might not see it at the canter before she has to return home - we'll see though. The other day she and I hit up the fields for some trot and canter - she was pretty hesitant and I could feel a few times where (at the canter) she considered bolting, but she went very very well and never really made any missteps (a couple spooks at some scary shadows that that suspicious-acting grass was casting, but that's it!). She is really allowing me more and more to move her barrel and bend, and I've been teaching her inside leg to outside rein to really encourage suppleness and relaxation. Her leg yields and sidepass are beautiful though, as are her w/t/c transitions and her halt and back-up (both the latter occurring on a loose rein). She is making a ton of advanced progress simultaneous with the basics, so she should go home to a very happy owner come mid-June!! The highlight of my day is walking to her paddock and having her whinny happily to me as she follows me down the fence and meets me at the gate - even if we had both left the last session a little frustrated! The girl's a trooper!!

THE MAN has been a charming young lad as of late (ok, so he always is, haha!). He is consistently on the bit and his transitions (including walk to canter) and leads (particularly that right lead) continue to improve. We have been gradually progressing our work - essentially plugging away at all the same exercises we have been. Our key challenge right now is straightness, particularly on the left rein, but we are slowly getting there. I also purchased another book of exercises I hope will help us. The highlight ride for me, with him, was a few days ago because a) he and I had so much fun and b) I had the workout of my life! The following day I looked like...well, like something unpleasant had happened to me the day prior. I won't lie, it took a lot of focus and concentration to attempt to walk properly, and even then I am sure others weren't fooled and saw the wounded duck waddle I was attempting so desperately to hide. Thankfully, the guy I am seeing made no mention of my inability to walk, either because he was too polite to poke fun at me over it or because he was too afraid to ask (lmao!), I will probably never know. This fantastic ride started off with a little outdoor arena work - Link was focused and completely in sync with me. It felt so amazing to have all that power beneath me, just waiting for my next request. He is really starting to fill out muscularly as well now as he matures, so I really feel like I have a lot of horse beneath me! You could feel the energy before, but now you feel so much power beneath that energy. It's like feeling the difference between a nice domestic sports car and american muscle (hehehe). Mmmm. But back to the ride. We did all our usual exercises with my chilling to my ipod as I rode - I really enjoyed the rhythm and relaxation as a result of the music, and as a result Link seemed to be looser and suppler. So we threw in some jumping. I say it like we jumped a course, but really all it was, was about 18'' of cavelleti. But it was fun nonetheless! The first time he dropped his hinds on it for what I am sure was a very comfortable bruising on his hooves, but after that I gathered him a bit beforehand and ensured he put more impulsion in at the base of the jump. It was a blast!! We did both trot and canter to and away and even tried some tight turns and quick maneuvers. He really worked well with me and did not get hot at all. After say the third jump he went to rush the fourth, but I just quietly backed him down and afterwards he was pure bliss! My legs were already protesting slightly when I decided it was a good day for a run in the fields. I couldn't bear for the fun to end! So off we went. No psychotic episodes, not even once. There were a few times he froze up, but rather than losing his head, he simply continued on when I asked, albeit maybe with a jig or two once or twice. We actually did a lot of galloping and I even felt sufficiently comfortable to trust him to gallop downhill and even let him out some for an honest run. A few times he got a little swept up in the moment and would pick up speed, but it was never much to gently bring him back down - he was incredibly responsive. Finally, headed home, I decided I could trust him to let him out all the way. I think he was a little surprised, because at first he ran - but didn't switch into any of his higher gears, really. Not that he wasn't already going fast! But when he hit one of his higher gears, tears started streaming down my face, the wind was hitting my face so hard, haha!! I say 'one of his' higher gears, because although he really kicked in, I could really feel more reserve power. He wasn't done, but we were running out of road, hahaha! There was SO much power and speed there, it was incredible. My legs were burning by that time (what? I have legs? That's funny, I can't feel any...), but I wanted to do some last arena work outside and cool him out. That boy hardly even dropped a sweat, even though I picked up a mild sunburn due to the warmth. Apparently though he has been practicing his running skills out in the field though and annoying all the other horses with his competitiveness. Apparently he always has to win and outpowers anyone and everyone...surprise surprise ;P

Meet Link's little sister! Well, half-sister, actually. She's four, she's gorgeous, and she has got the best mind I have seen in awhile. She was re-started as a 3yo after being 'cowboyed' when she was started as a 2yo. She certainly does not wholly trust people at times, but she will come around. She has a short flight distance when she reacts, is incredibly intelligent, and thinks the situation through. She doesn't spook easily and moves like a dream. Did I mention she is gorgeous?? And built like tank (well, for a 4yo TB filly!!) - as a 4YO!! I wish I could keep her, but I picked her up as a project horse and a project horse she must remain. If I had the property, she'd be here to stay in a heartbeat, but I cannot afford to board another horse for no other purpose than that I love her, haha. So instead I will make sure she goes to a good home. So far she has allowed me on bareback in a halter and has been fantastic under-saddle with w/t/c. Very balanced, very soft, very responsive, sensitive, willing, and supple. She is almost where Link is at now, really - she has none of his challenges or obstacles to overcome. My goal is to advance her further, have her jumping small jumps (cross-rails, maybe 2'6'' at most), and showing by July. She is very well bred too, which is a bonus. And she's gorgeous. Oh, did I already mention that? Oops, sorry (PS. I am not really sorry...really) :P

Still hanging around and desperately needs his feet done but my dad (my farrier!) has been busy as heck. Might be time to hire someone (oh joy) to come in and do his feet instead. Last farrier told me to shank Onyx when she fearfully pulls away. Yes, yes, great idea buddy. Scare the already scared horse. How bout this: you train your horses your (*cough* *cough* shitty *cough*) way, and I will train my horses my way - without fear. I took buddy (uh, Silver, not the farrier) out though for a ride the other day. He did fantastic in the arena, so we headed out for a quick trail ride. He was great, our ride even encompassing a flat-out gallop...until we headed back. He was hesitant further out from home (away from home) but did as I asked politely, but headed back home he started to lose his marbles a bit. I think he was trying to blame it on the bugs and while he did have a bit of a case there (he is hyper-sensitive to bugs *roll eyes*), I think he made a bit of a bigger deal out of it than really necessary. All in all though I was proud of him, because he certainly did well and placed a lot of trust in my leadership after my not having even seen him for a few months now. I miss my boy. I am hoping that by next spring I can afford to bring him over to where Link is at, so that I can work with him more, but in the mean time I will keep searching for a potential lessee.

His lease is up and his lessee wants to keep him an additional month, so he will not be available again now until July 1, at which time I do hope to have him leased out once more. He was doing very well though with his young rider and is apparently jumping about 2'6...they say he is maxed out at that height, but *snort* there is no way. I am sorry, but this is a horse I myself have jumped at 4' (oxers, to boot). That is not to say he can do that now and on a consistent basis, but 2'6 is nothing for him and he is only 10 this year. Oh well though. I think what has happened more likely than not is that he is not 'hot' enough, not that he doesn't have the scope. It's ok though, as long as he is happy.

Ah, yes, Skylar. The first horse I have ever returned to an owner. I have not done much with her (well, not successfully), but I thought her being the first horse to ever be returned warranted a brief spot on this blog. This mare is 7 and is definitely not halter-broke. And she is probably a hefty 1,300lbs. Now, normally in halter-breaking a colt, there will be some resistance, but at maybe 200lbs or heck even 500lbs, it's pretty easy even for some flaky stick girl to prevent said animal from taking off (unless they are Paris Hilton, of course). Colt turns to run, handler simply turns colt back. Colt looks back at handler, surprised, and so the process begins. Colt learns that it is easier to lead and to move off of pressure than it is to try to run off (which won't be successful). Yup. Now try that at 1,300lbs. On a horse you thought was halter-broke. I thought she was coming in to be started under-saddle. Granted, I knew she probably needed some ground manners 101 installed (they all do to an extent, usually), but I figured she was at least halter-broke. I knew she had not been tied, but I was not really worried about that. She leads, right? I mean, you guys get her to places somehow? Yes? Great! Fantastic! *hands clap* let's get started then! Yes, fantastic. Fanfuckingtastic. Everyone loves rope burn, right? Well all 1,300lbs of this mare is most certainly not halter-broke, nor does any ounce of that muscle have any respect for humans. This is how day one goes. I enter pasture, horse comes trotting up. Ooo, fantastic! Horse promptly turns bum in and trots off. Sub-optimal. I toss a rope at her to move that hind end away. And I plod after her, finally catching up to her at one end of the pasture. She walks up to me, I quickly strap on the halter, very aware that she is poised to run over me, particularly as all the other boss mares crowd us. I can't chase boss mares away for fear of scaring stupid mare here (I don't really mean that, she probably isn't stupid, but I like to think she is - makes me feel better), and I can't get little miss mare off of me (correction: BIG miss mare) for the life of me. Ok, no worries. My heart in my throat and fully aware I am in an accident waiting to happen (you had to be there to feel it, but it was there - I am rarely afraid of such situations, but this was one to be wary of), I lead mare up to the gate. Where she promptly crushes me. Ok, ok. So far...uh, sub-optimal. So I lead mare through the gate (a more complicated procedure than necessary, thanks to stupid mare) and have to now keep another boss and very snarky mare off of us. Oh joy. I finally get mare into the barn, where she promptly dances about. But I get her groomed up, I spend some time with her, I even play a few games with her. She's ok and I decide that is enough for both of us that day. I am tired of having to have my guard up constantly and the eyes on the back of my head are working overtime, plus she has had a good experience without pushing her too far. She is dull to pressure and immune to body language. Day two. I catch miss mare and lead her all the way up to the barn, albeit with some halts and eye rolling as she takes halting steps. I brought a spur this time and have a chain over her nose. The spur is to hold against my side so she cannot run into me (I just hold the spur and allow her to run into it so that it is her choice to move off the pressure), and the chain is to maintain some illusion of control. Extreme measures on my part and not something I usually do, but extreme situations call for extreme measures, and if it is going to be either her or me, it is going to be her. My safety comes first. I snap the chain maybe once, gently, so she knows it is there, and she seems to understand and even maybe start to mind me a little. She crunches me into the gate again but after an intimate encounter with the spur, where she thought my hip would be, she moves off of me, surprised, and gives me a little space. I am impressed and even pocket the spur, thinking I might not even have to use it again. I am even a little proud that it was that easy to overcome such a bully on the ground. She 'forgets' a few times afterwards but is essentially pretty mindful. We get to the barn and she suddenly decides she has never seen such a dangerous contraption. She backs away. I gently lead her back. With some gentle persuasion, she walks all the way in. I breathe a sigh of relief. And she promptly backs out. Though I am not applying pressure on the lead rope or the nose chain (that is not what the nose chain is for), she backs out of the barn as if it were on fire, rears once she is outside, and spins away from me. Helloooo rope burn. She tears back to her buddies, my lead rope trailing through the mud. I grudgingly go back and get her, having to corner her (because by now she's got herself worked up), and lead her back to the barn. Before we even get to the entrance, she rears again, pulls away, and goes back to her buddies. I give up. Day three I decide to try forgetting the barn and see if I can instead lead her to the indoor arena (indoor, so that I hopefully have her focus). My goal is to spend some quality time with her so she is not reactive and so she is trusting me, but I also want to teach her to move off of pressure and body language. By some miracle, I get her into the arena and we start. Sort of. She half pays attention, half starts working herself up. I can't get her to do something she doesn't know, so I am stuck with trying to gain her focus by teaching her something new. What does she do? Ah, classic: she rears and pulls away. At first, I try to approach her. No go. Then, I decide maybe I can use the arena like a roundpen and teach her to come in to me. No go. Finally I simply stand back and watch. She tears around frantically, as if her tail is on fire, screaming to her buddies outside. I wait, and wait, and wait. She is lathered, sweat is dripping off everywhere, and she is still running. Finally I have had enough. I open the gate at the near side of the arena, she tears through, and I manage to (somehow, without being run over) corner her and catch her. Leading her back to her pasture is more akin to water-skiing. Day four is much the same with even worse results - because she now knows she can simply pull away (after all, what is all small human weight of ME going to do about it?!), so she does so immediately, without even trying to do what I am asking (allow me to pet and rub her), and resumes her maniac run-around once more. Day five I have the brilliant idea of working her in the now-dry roundpen. Oh, and did I mention that I find out later that her rear and pull away thing is something she also does at home? And that the supposedly halter-broke horse is really only 'barely' halter-broke? I mean, not that I hadn't noticed the latter and guessed the former... Apparently she is also fond of pushing over people at home too, which was obvious by the practiced way in which she barreled me with her shoulder and threatened me with her hinds. Yup. So, round pen. I manage to lure her into it with the aid of a grain bucket. I may or may not have been grumbling under my breath at this point, for having to stoop to such low levels. We actually have some success with the roundpen and although it is not perfect, she is not pulling away so much and is actually responding. Apparently fat horses don't like to run in the sun. So having her connect and 'join up' with me is not overly difficult, considering. Since she now likes me (because she doesn't have to work when she chooses to be around me), she actually focuses on what I ask of her. So far, so good. The next sessions are decent. She is learning pulling away gets her nowhere really, that she can move out of my space (yes, even when I am on her right-hand side, surprise!), that moving off of pressure is another possibility, and that turning your bum in to me is sub-optimal. We are making progress and although it is hard work, I am satisfied. Then all hell breaks loose. Heaven forbid, I actually try to ask her to work for me on a - *gasp* overcast day. Then it starts to rain. Miss mare runs me over, rears and pulls away, refuses to circle to the right, and goes into panic mode. I can't stop her, so last resort is to open the roundpen gate. She bolts over to me and I just manage to pry her off my being. I lead her to her pasture and although the session was a wreck, I at least have some satisfaction in her being a little respectful to lead to her pasture. It gets worse, don't worry. Next session she again refuses to work with me. And the next. Finally, the last straw was another (oh no!) overcast day in the roundpen. I ask her simple things. Like, you know, allowing me to pet her. Relax. No go. Move off of pressure? Sort of. Move out of my space? Decent, actually. Yo-yo game? Ok. Circle game? Wha-? To the left she is fine, but to the right, she decides (and you can actually see her thinking - this was not reactiveness) that she doesn't want to. So what does she do? Yessiree, she pulls away. She pulls away then trots over to the side of the roundpen where she can see and scream at her friends. I try to roundpen her. She decides instead to climb the fence (again, very clearly thinking - not fearful). It is only a matter of time before she actually successfully scales the fence and learns that is an option in addition to rearing and pulling away. Not worth my time. I was tired of being run over, mauled, crushed against things, feet dangling in my face, asses threatening me, rope burn as she kindly decided now was a good time to leave, and general disrespect. What this mare needs? An enclosed roundpen with high walls - the kind she cannot see out of. She needs to be fed and watered by her trainer, so that she is dependent, and solely dependent, on him/her (and said him/her needs to be strong enough to stop her plowing through them). Then maybe she will focus. Even then, to teach her to think through situations and not go into complete right-brain melt-down mode would be a challenge, and to teach her she cannot simply do as she pleases - would be a challenge. She is 1,300lbs of spoiled horse. I couldn't even imagine her under-saddle and honestly it was not worth the risk. I feel a bit of a failure for being unable to do much with this one, but I felt like I tried everything I could within my capabilities and given the facilities I have at hand. I cannot keep her by herself, which I really feel would be important to her progress. In addition, it was not worth the risk to me, even if I could continue working with her. She was downright dangerous - not because she was mean or anything (she wasn't), but because of her disregard and disrespect for people. If she wanted to do something, she did it, and if you were in the way - you were shit outta luck. Lastly, I did not feel right charging her owners to work on simple groundwork with her, halter-breaking her and instilling manners. If it was progressing her and we did even 30 days of groundwork but she was a completely different horse by the end of that month, then I would have no problem with it. We could work on under-saddle work over the next 30 days she was to stay with me. But that wasn't the case. I was working on leading. Basic halter-breaking. Not worth my risk and not worth their money. She had might as well be somewhere where the trainer has the appropriate facilities and skillset (and physical strength!) to handle her so that she can be progressed further than I could given my situation. I hate to admit a failure, but this one was unbelievable...she really was worse than I make her sound, even. *shiver*