Friday, June 10, 2011

All the drama of an opera

Much to report after my last set of days off with the horses - phew! Good news first though, as I hate to taint the good news with the bad. So, without further ado, we'll start with the client horses in training:

The mini pony did fantastic throughout her sessions! We started off just building and expanding upon what we already had, including the circling game and some work with the tarp and also water (bathing) in our sessions. Asking increasingly more of her, to focus and respond more intensely now that the tasks were becoming a little more challenging and thus demanding of more respect, allowed me the opportunity to further build on our level of respect. First intro to the tarp, Skittles seemed quite concerned with the tarp - yet she rarely actually focused on it. Rather than make any effort toward my request that she approach the tarp, she felt bolting over top of me was appropriate ;) We slowly and progressively (re)established first that this was my space and therefore bolting over top of the human was not an acceptable answer, and then continued to set up parameters and ask her to focus on the task at hand. Once her focus actually turned to the task at hand (in this case, the tarp), she responded beautifully and was quite bold and unconcerned (overall) with the tarp itself. Respecting my space, she started to make attempts towards my request to 'play' with the tarp and was soon jumping over, then later walking over, the tarp. With her, it might not be so much that she is scared of something, but rather that she is a little apprehensive and so just decides to do her own thing rather than focus on the task at hand and exhibit any effort. She displayed this same type of thinking toward the circling game and also bathing. Within a few seconds of the bathing process however, she was standing relaxed on a loose lead, with water sloshing all over her. Only the very occasional correction was necessary to remind her of the parameters I had established. Same followed for the circling game - a few spunky rebellion-inspired kicks in my direction later, she finally understood the task and parameters and thus that the easiest and quickest way with which to get me to stop correcting her, was just to do the task, or to at least try. I'm looking forward to really cementing and building on all we've worked on thus far, over our next set of sessions! Oh, and she's pretty comfortable wearing her pretty-in-pink rain jacket now, though we're still working on desensitization a bit when it comes to putting it on ;)

The star student has been doing wonderful and has been progressing rapidly. Since her owner will be primarily riding her bareback, we've started riding her with a bareback pad now. First intro to it she was a little cold so I think that might have contributed to it, but she was a little apprehensive. Second session with it, I not-so-gracefully leapt onto her back from the fence - she quietly ignored me as if it were just another day at the office, and moved out quiet and relaxed when asked. She was fully comfortable with a rider throughout it all! Despite a few snorts and spins aimed at some suspicious-looking bushes and logs, she was also great bareback out in the pasture - no apprehension toward the rider at all, or my losing my balance a little in the spins, or what. My goal with the spooking outside in the pasture was just that she remain facing our initial direction - no spinning and/or bolting! Ultimately, you are teaching them to think (ie, spook in place and survey whatever is suspicious while focusing on you, the rider) rather than react (ie, fleeing). We finished our set of sessions with her owner riding her in the round pen, and her owner has continued with her while I have been away, including progressing toward the trot! They have had a little trouble picking up the trot together yet, however I have full confidence we can iron out the details upon my return, if Mesa's owner hasn't worked it out with Mesa already (I've given them a few exercises to try). Looking forward though to furthering Mesa u/s, including w/t/c this time I am home. She is a very soft, responsive, willing, intelligent and brave little mare - all ingredients to a great horse. Last point is that we further progressed Mesa's groundwork with traveling circles (ie, my walking all over the pasture and her maintaining gait and path as she circles me) and the figure-8 pattern around cones at the walk. Due to the mucky, slippery footing in the roundpen my first week home, most of our work was done out in the nearby pasture, but Mesa took it all in stride.

The red mare was progressing quite nicely albeit slowly, despite the mucky weather we were dealing with the first week or so I was home. The weather not only had everyone on edge, but also cold (which makes for a very distracted horse!), and me worrying about footing. As such, I was using the roundpen sparingly - primarily for u/s work, where groundwork was being done just outside the roundpen in the surrounding pasture area. All this meant I had to be very slow and careful with Charlee, since she is so highly reactive - as I mentioned in my previous blog, she goes from 0 to 10 in about 0.03s, which leaves no room for intervention of said explosion. She was actually progressing quite well, including a lap or two at the walk u/s in the roundpen, but Day 5 it was too much for her and she blew. She was on about step #2 before I felt her tense and react and BOOM I was on the ground. The good news is that she did not continue reacting after I was off - she dropped me, then stood with big round eyes...but no bucking! An improvement on past situations where she's taken several seconds of bucking before she calmed sufficiently to stand. It took me several minutes to catch my breath but as soon as I did, I remounted her. I waited a split second, then dismounted, did a little groundwork, and called it a day. The rest of our sessions were comprised of expanding our groundwork - traveling circle and figure-8 at the walk, which allowed us opportunity to further teach Charlee to be relaxed and thinking as opposed to reactive. Due to the mucky footing in the roundpen, we did all our work outside the roundpen; as a result of both the footing and thus being unable to work in an enclosed space, I did not feel it appropriate to re-try walking Charlee u/s. Instead however, we further cemented mounting and allowing me to sit on her back quietly. Next set of sessions I am actually hoping a friend can help me just by leading Charlee with me on her back - we will continue hashing out Charlee's reactiveness on the ground, however I feel some of her reactiveness (that is directed toward u/s work directly) needs also to be dealt with u/s at this point. Having someone lead us might be what Charlee needs and what I might need to get my foot in the door with her, so to speak. If we can establish a few good rides u/s at the walk while being led, we then have something to build off of. So wish us luck! I will continue patiently progressing with her and slowly, gently pushing and developing her.

Situation has been much the same with Kismet with respect to weather and footing and where we have been working. Until the last couple of sessions, our work was primarily comprised of building and expanding our groundwork (including the traveling circle and the figure-8 pattern), and cementing her being comfortable with my being on her back in the pasture. As the ground dried the last couple of days, I started asking her to move out u/s and last session in front of her owner was a great success with her walking calmly u/s! Her owner was very excited at her progress and I am very excited with how far Kismet has come and how much calmer and less reactive she is with me, the more work we do. She is still quite tentative and apprehensive though, so I am careful to always push her to learn and grow, but not to blow and lose confidence. I'm not sure she will be ready for the trot yet u/s upon our next set of sessions, but I am hoping to at least have her fully comfortable with the walk. Her owner will be able to start riding her in August, so my hope is that by that time Kismet will be comfortable enough with a rider to transfer what she has learnt with me, to another rider.

Though she's been a little iffy to catch (and by that I mean I've just had to really use a lot of body language and be very aware of my approach, etc to have her willingly approach or at least stand) but we're getting there in the 'draw' (ie, willingness) department. Our last set of sessions, we did much the same and her progress was much the same, as the other mares. We expanded our groundwork outside the roundpen and she did well, including seeming quite comfortable with me on her back out in the pasture. Only reason I did not ask her for more progress was that I need her to be much softer and more responsive before we leave the roundpen u/s. Right now she can still be quite resistant and want to do her own thing - as we build that softness and responsiveness and thus set her up for success, then I will have confidence in bringing her out. Her comfort level with a rider's weight and balance though does not seem to be an issue, so once she's sufficiently responsive, I anticipate she will be w/t/c within no time. My challenge is to make everything fun, enjoyable, and engaging for her - so that's my job this next set of sessions!

Unfortunately this set of days off I did not get the chance I had wanted to work with Link and Onyx. I continued to work all the client horses each day despite the rain, which meant I was pretty exhausted and freezing cold by the time I finished working with all five mares. After Charlee so kindly dropped me in the mud the one day, I also had to add being very sore to my list of excuses ;) In fact, over two weeks later now, I'm still quite sore - definite bone bruising! Furthermore, the rhino outbreak from the Ogden, Ohio cutting event meant everything stopped - nothing in or out and many shows were cancelled... including the small show we had anticipated taking Onyx, Link, and Sonny to. Fortunately though, just prior to my leaving for work things lifted a bit and we were allowed to move horses, which meant we were able to bring Soraya and Phoenix in to where Link and Onyx are at, and get them settled in! I made sure all the horses got their vaccinations though and were dewormed, squeezed in a lesson with another client and also Phoenix's vet appointment, and put my mom on Onyx to give her a try and see if they might be a good match. Though Onyx still lacks confidence in some areas, she is a very naturally quiet and non-spooky horse overall, so when my mom expressed interest, I told her to give it a shot.

Onyx was absolutely fantastic with my mom and my mom really enjoyed riding her, even trying some trot at the end! For an unconfident rider she did exceptionally well, and Onyx really took care of her. I will probably still put Onyx up for sale in case it does not work out, but in the mean time mom will continue trying Onyx. When I rode Onyx, I noticed she was quite unbalanced though and a little rusty, though she is being ridden a few times a week. Her novice riders are doing well on her (including trail riding and jumping her over small jumps now!), but I am looking forward to doing a little refinement on her this next time I am home. Should only take a session or two to get her back on track and from there it's all progress :)

The vet was out as planned, the 30th, but after doing several flexions and watching Phoenix move out on various surfaces, felt that x-rays at this point were unnecessary. While Phoenix was footsore in both fronts, he did not seem unsound on one leg over the other - indicating the left front ankle that was the problem last year, did not seem to be a problem this year (at least not at this point). The vet recommended having his fronts shod to hopefully resolve the footsoreness, then working him over a week or two, then re-evaluating from there. I managed to sneak Phoenix in to a good farrier the day before I left - after looking at Phoenix's feet he basically parroted back to me the vet's concerns re: angles (ie, lowering the one heel and matching the angles to Pheonix's conformation and his two front feet being different). He felt Phoenix's feet could be improved upon over the course of a few shoeings, and shod him up front. It will have been 2 1/2-3 weeks before I can get home and riding him, so first things first I will see how he is on the ground, then swing my leg over! I'm excited and am knocking on wood, hoping he is no longer footsore after the time off (shod) to heal, and that whatever was occurring last year in that left ankle, is resolved/healed. He's had a good 11 months off since racing, which should have been (hopefully!) ample time for something to heal (depending on the injury though of course).

I am quite excited to get back and working with all my own horses. There is another small show at the end of this month so if I can get a ride for Link, I am going to be attending the jumpers day with him. I'm considering the hunters for Onyx though it is the day prior, or I might ask Sonny's lessees if they would like to ride Onyx (and maybe Link) the day prior. If so though, it would only be to ride her hors concours over poles though, so I might just bring her the jumper day, and get her accustomed to the show scene, warm-up ring, etc... she's not quite ready to show over jumps yet!

The sad news to report is that we lost Sonny Friday, May 27, due to colic. The vet clinic did all they could to help him, but it was likely a twist in his (large) gut and surgery was unfortunately not an option. It's been a hard loss for all of us, but especially my mom and his lessess - the latter being the ones who spent so much time with him over the recent year. He was a fantastic horse and was shaping up into such a super little hunter - he had a lot of life left to live. It's still hard going out there and not seeing his perky little face in the pasture, but we're getting through it okay now.