Saturday, August 6, 2011

An exciting July!

Yikes, I just realized I did not update at all since the past two sets of sessions with all the horses, so here goes! Since I last reported, I did one set of sessions (10 days), then a break while I worked out of town, then another set of sessions (10 days), so 2 sets of sessions and 20 days total.

So far she is great with the tarp on her body, walking over it, and even (mostly) backing over it now. She's also great with the clippers (ears, nose, jawline, bridle path, fetlocks) and also lowering her head to make the task of a bridle path easier; there really was no issue here, she was great from the start as far as the clippers go ;) Bathing has come along even further than previous, as well as have all her usual ground exercises. The primary task we worked on this last set of sessions was trailering: first time in the trailer she put up some fight but gave in after less than 10min. By the third time she was walking in without further ado, to stand quietly awaiting her next cue - wohoo! Unfortunately however she sustained a bowed tendon during the last span of time off so all our work since the diagnosis has been done at the walk and with care to take it gentle and easy on her. The tendon did seem to improve however over the two weeks I was home and I am sure after 6mos of pasture rest she will be good as new... in the mean time we're reducing her 'school time' by half, so 5 in lieu of 10 days every time I am home. I was happy to hear the vet was impressed with how much better behaved Skittles was this time round!

Unfortunately Mesa had this previous set of days off due to sustaining a penetrating injury to the sole of her hoof! She looks to be on the mend though and hopefully will continue with at least one more set of sessions (ie, 10 days) next I am home, then her owner will likely take over from there. Previous set of sessions however, Mesa was absolutely fantastic! Save for her tripping and falling on my leg one day (complete clutzy move from the trot, on a straight line - hah!) of course, hahaha. Her owner is present for just about every single one of her sessions and usually rides her after I have finished my session with Mesa, but one of the sessions her owner was not present Mesa and I took a leisurely stroll down the road for a little trail ride - she was fantastic of course (in the rope hackamore, to boot). She was w/t/c not only with me but also of course with her owner, by the end of her last set of sessions in July, and we ironed out all the little kinks her and her owner were previously experiencing (well, they ironed out most on their own and we just refined it a little more). What we've been focusing on at this point has been furthering her balance and engagement and lateral work (including leg yields across the arena at the canter!) - all has gone phenomenal! I really look forward to putting another set of sessions on the mare.

Since Charlee bucked me off I was a little cautious however she has progressed in leaps and bounds since! First set of sessions since our last report, I started incorporating liberty work into our sessions. This translates to doing most of our usual ground exercises, at liberty (ie, no ropes - no halter or lead, etc), and includes having her play 'stick-to-me' at liberty also. The goal of 'stick-to-me' is to have the horse seeking you out and following your movements (gait, direction, etc). Being at liberty really allowed Charlee the freedom to move off if she absolutely had to, and allowed her the choice - she could choose when to move off and when to stick with me. Obviously my goal is that she never leaves at all (!), so I work toward that end goal. I find when horses have that option to leave however, that they grow more confident in responding to your requests and are more likely to stick by you because they feel less restricted by the lack of ropes. Playing at liberty, I found Charlee was not especially keen on my being on her right-hand side and also that she was wary of traveling between me and the fence at the walk and especially the trot - manifestations of her trust issue. We've been working on developing and furthering everything we've been doing thus far and especially the liberty work and thus far she is growing increasingly comfortable with herself between me and the fence (even at the trot), both sides. The right side is still our challenging side however she tries and is greatly improving! With the liberty work I've been able to see her confidence and trust start to bloom, albeit tentatively. The other boarders and her owner also report that she now follows people around in the pasture and tries to interact with them too - something she never previously did. She also approaches me now when she sees me coming with the halter (rather than just allowing me to approach). All great news! I've also carried this liberty work into her saddle work... which means mounting without any ropes on her head. At first I just mounted and dismounted, but increasingly I've progressed her to the point where she is now comfortable walking relaxedly on the left rein, at liberty. The idea was the same as doing the groundwork at liberty; should she blow (which she has not yet *knock on wood*) I simply immediately dismount - I can't stop her blowing with a halter or hackamore on anyway and since they seem to actually trigger her blow-up to substantially worsen, it's worked really well to just forget them altogether. At first she was fairly tentative but now she's actually breathing under-saddle (so simple but so important!), chewing and licking her lips, blowing out (ie, snorting), trying to eat when she's bored, etc. There's moments when I will feel her tense beneath me but I can now actually push her through those moments and she is SO much more relaxed overall with the entire process!!! Last ride on her we actually had people pounding posts maybe 40' from the round pen - she was a little tense at times but was generally relaxed walking about. She's fairly tentative walking on the right rein yet but we're just picking at it in bits and pieces thus far and she's coming along in that respect also. My tentative plan is to have her walking comfortably, both directions, before introducing the trot, and having her both walk and trot relaxedly in either direction before re-introducing the halter when we ride. I think by that point she will move along rather speedily! Last tool I used the past two sets of sessions (ie, 20 days total) was treats! I GREATLY underestimated how food-motivated Charlee was and hand feeding her treats both on the ground and u/s has increased her receptiveness and willingness to be more open, trusting, and interactive... by huge degrees!!! It has made her a LOT more interactive and has allowed me to just get my foot in the door to her trust so that I could peel away the layers of mistrust. One example: she doesn't like to turn her head when I'm up in the saddle, and bend her neck - she'd rather keep her body straight, ready for flight. But she'll reach around for treats! So reaching around for treats she now bends both to the right and the left when fed from the saddle - since nothing bad happens each time, we build a bit of trust each time. I've also been toying with the idea that if licking and chewing is a sign of relaxation after the horse has exhibited some tension, that inducing that licking and chewing (after tension) via treats can also encourage relaxation? Something I am trying out and will keep at the back of my head anyway! The fearful horse in flight mode is not stopping to eat so encouraging the food-motivated, currently fearful horse about to go into flight mode to eat, might help in transferring them from reactive to thinking. Food for thought (pun intended) anyway! It's been such a relief to see so much progress in this mare the past two sets of sessions; I greatly look forward to progressing her further this next set of days with the horses. I think once I've got her progressing even more, her training will pick up increasing speed and she'll be soon up to par with our goals this year (ie, acting like a relatively normal horse u/s!). She clearly understands her 'job' u/s (ie, moving off leg, etc), it's just the fear issues so I think as we evaporate the fear issues her actual u/s work will progress rapidly.

The big mare has progressed very well the past two sets of sessions (ie, 20 days) to the point where she is now walking and trotting relaxedly under-saddle - in the arena! I've still got her in the rope halter but she's about ready to move into the rope hackamore and my hope is that we can progress to include canter under-saddle also, this next set of sessions. She too has continued to progress in leaps and bounds (she's not hugely motivated but does look for the treats too, haha): she is so much more relaxed than previous and is very interactive and receptive. In the pasture, now she's just about always following me around. The other boarders report she's doing it with them also - as with Charlee, Kismet never really did it before either. Again, great news! I've incorporated not only the treats with her also, but also the liberty work - both together (and especially the liberty work) seems to have been the key to her recent substantial progression. Under-saddle she's starting to learn about lateral work though is not fully receptive to leg aids yet - she definitely understands them but is still blocking me out a little, due to fear... same with back-up sometimes. It's coming though! Last I rode her I even used the mounting block to get on her - she never batted an eye. She's been much better about my waving my arms around (etc) in the saddle, is quite soft and responsive (ie, doesn't block me out in that respect hardly ever now), and allows me to push her through most hesitation. I think we can start incorporating her owner riding her a little by the end of the next set of sessions, and more the following sessions after that.

The first set of sessions we worked a lot with increasing Bella's willingness and work ethic and developed a little w/t/c in the arena. She was great but by the end was a little footsore, so I recommended her owner have her shod. Second set of sessions, the first day she was rather sour (I think she was expecting the footsoreness?) but by the second day she was almost back to normal and third day she was a happy camper. The difference in her movement was substantial - she's striding out more upfront and is just a whole lot happier with the shoes! I told her owner she could remove the shoes at a later date and slowly build up sole, etc, or use boots, but that shoeing her now during her training was probably the best option. Glad I was correct! She's been w/t/c and though we've been building everything in baby steps, she's doing absolutely fabulous. Once she picked up leg aids it was as if she were like "okay, I've got this!" and the minute she did, she wanted me to be uber light. Now she actually gets quite annoyed with me if I dare put on more leg than she required ;) She's been doing leg yields and side pass, back-up, etc, and I've started teaching her to bend and balance proper on her circles and corners. Her canter she will now hold for the entire time I ask it of her (at this point, 2 laps of the arena at one time), and we've built sufficient work ethic that I feel I could ask even more (but I don't of course at this point!). She's a very intelligent horse and is picking up everything beautifully. Her groundwork too of course continues to progress however our focus has been more on u/s work. Her owner has been riding her some, as has her owner's dad, and so far so good. One of the days during our last set of sessions I even took her out down the road also - though she was a little looky she obeyed my every request and was a great, relaxing ride.

So that's it for the client horses! Now on to my own horses, whoop whoop!

Last set of days off (last week, actually) I had a really really good chiropractor work on our boy. What I thought was simply funky conformation actually turned out to be curvature of the spine due to misalignment. He has a bit of a 'rounded' back anyway, so I just thought the increased rounded look was due to the loss of muscle and fat (we've been struggling with his weight and he doesn't move around enough) when in fact it was mostly due to misalignment. He was an absolute mess for her to work on and was obviously in a lot of pain as she manipulated different areas but he was notably more comfortable throughout his session with the chiropractor. His back came down quite a bit and his gaits were a lot freer and more relaxed afterward also. The chiropractor wants to see him again in two weeks (when I return from work again) and will do another work-over at that time. At that time she is hoping to give a more definite prognosis but so far so good and she seems rather hopeful she can fix his multitude of issues. I have a lot of confidence in her ability based on word of mouth, based on what I saw in practise as she worked on Pheonix, and based on the things she confirmed that both I and others have noticed (including vets). What we're hoping is we can solve any alignment issues and get him comfortable in that respect; at that point we can then evaluate for any lameness that might still be present and follow up with injections or x-rays or surgery or what. I told her we have absolutely no expectations of Phoenix except for him to feel better, but that of course we would love to be able to ride him if only lightly. So fingers crossed the latter can occur, but I'm glad to see my friend at least become more comfortable. I was in tears at one point - I hate seeing any of my horses in such pain but especially such a softie as Phoenix. Since I had him adjusted when I first bought him (and he was relatively fine), I had not thought to do so again until now - I'd been focusing on the lameness aspect of it all and following my vet's orders in that respect. Anyway, I'm glad I did and hopefully this will all give us an idea of where to continue to look for this mystery lameness, with the vet. I only wish I had done so sooner - but lesson learnt! He's getting good hay now but I will probably top that off with a complete feed and also will start adding some Glucosamine.

I'm happy to report a huge change in Soraya's demeanor toward people ;) She ties well without pulling back (not that she really did previously though, but I now have even been able to trust her tied while the farrier is working on her) and without pawing (mostly, lol), and leads quietly and respectfully on a loose lead, at my shoulder. I've put in two sets of sessions with her, albeit not a full ten days each time. She's fairly solid with her 7 Games now though and next set of sessions the goal is to further those and throw in some Patterns (Parelli) and liberty work (ie, stick-to-me, etc). At that point I will also start her walking under-saddle and will henceforth continue to progress both saddle and groundwork simultaneously. She's so willing and receptive now, with only the occasional time she's annoyed and pissy (and those times I am usually able to reprimand her now a little - when appropriate, without fear of retaliation). She's also very accepting of most things I do around her (okay, except clipping a bridle path, she hates the clippers so far!), down to saddling her and girthing her up (first time she just accepted it all without any thought) and using the stirrup to mount and stand over her, run my leg over her, and lean my weight in the saddle. Emulating a Pez dispenser for horse treats certainly helped (very food motivated, as expected!), as has earning everything from her rather than demanding it. She is a young horse though after all and is still looking for that direction so offering that direction and leadership in a quiet but commanding and confident manner has served us well. I would not call her 100 percent trustworthy (etc) yet, but she's almost there! She was never really a bad horse, she just didn't have the experience to go off of where she knew she could trust and thought she should respect people. Once she gained some solid experience, she's been phenomenal. She was never mishandled in my opinion - she just hasn't been sufficiently handled, specifically in recent years, to learn to trust and respect people. After the first session with her, there was already substantial improvement. Second session her responses were even better, and by the third session there was no more attempts at dominating me or at being disrespectful - she was all ears to learning and was very willing and quiet. It's been a relief to know I did not get in over my head and to know she really was a sweetheart with just a little attitude on top ;) That attitude will serve us well later - the only question was how much it would hinder us at the start. Turns out, not really at all! Bonus when it comes to breeding her, to know she is not an innately badly-behaved mare on any level or under any circumstance. Being a naturally confident horse though is definitely an asset in so many respects - she is naturally so accepting of most everything when it is introduced in an appropriate (ie, quiet) fashion. I love building the trust and partnership with her and really look forward to the relationship I am going to build with this mare. Words cannot express how wonderful she is to work with and how excited I am at both her and our potential!!! She's got such a positive energy about her and is already obviously very athletic and talented - cantering a 24' circle (just being silly, she was only supposed to trot!) is a breeze for her and she makes jumping a 2'6 vertical even with hesitation at the take-off point look easy. Anyway, I am absolutely ecstatic with her - I definitely made the right pick and am in such love with this mare. I'm glad it has all worked out for me to be able to keep her and am lucky to have a family who helped in that respect and also an SO who pushed me to pursue my dreams and not give up throughout some of the difficult times thus far. This mare I am sure will continue to be a challenge but she is incredibly smart and talented so I have no doubt we will progress in leaps and bounds. I'm excited to get home and get her started u/s! The SO has expressed interest in being there Soraya's first time u/s so I am hoping for some video and photos :)

Wow, I am so proud of the progress we have made and looking back the past (almost) three years, it's been substantial! When I first bought Link he was difficult to handle on the ground, let alone u/s and it was awhile before I returned to riding him, he was so reactive and at times dangerous. Now he is so incredibly relaxed and responsive and just has so much try and heart to give! Lately we've also been doing a bit of liberty work (first in the roundpen, now just in the arena) - it's really strengthened our relationship and is a whole lot of fun! He's great keeping pace with me on the ground, even flying over jumps with me at his side, at liberty in the arena ;) We'll have to practise a little more bridleless work :P U/s we've now officially got our leads and are starting to school flying changes (he can do them easily of course thanks to his track training, our job is just to include them in our arena work now). He's got some wonderful leg yields at the trot and is even getting them at the canter, and is doing shoulder-in/out and is starting haunches-in/travers (for whatever reason that one eludes me, haha!) and half-pass (the latter all being at the trot thus far, though we'll soon start schooling them at the canter). I no longer really intend to show dressage (we'll see!) however I still feel it is an important foundation nonetheless so will continue our progression in that respect. His canter is absolutely beautiful now (he actually could potentially pass for a hunter, haha!) and he remains on the aids much of the time now and can be pushed onto the aids just about every time he does have the inclination to hollow. It's an incredible feeling! Still a lot of work yet to do in respect to flatwork/dressage, but we've started schooling jumpers now simultaneously. The 18'' cross-rails and cavelleti are nothing to him, as are even the 2'6 and 2'9 verticals. I'm sure he can handle much more height with ease. Now me... that's another matter entirely! Hah! I still have some work to do as it pertains to re-building my confidence over fences, even at a measly 2'6 ;) Otherwise, I'm happy to find my position (ie, lower leg, etc) is rather secure... I'm working out now however so as to obtain a higher level of fitness and thus make my position even more secure, but other than the leaning too far forward on my horse's neck partially in preparation for a stop (a stop I cause by doing so, the irony - hahaha!!), we're all good. I'm confident once we get this last piece of the puzzle in place that there will be no stopping us. I'm just excited for next spring - I have a deadline to get off the road and work at home. From that point forward my work with my own horses will be more consistent, which will lend to even better progress. We did manage to attend a small schooling show end of July though! Though I was intimidated at first, I actually had an absolutely wonderful experience. It was a schooling show and I was lucky enough the judge's daughter even volunteered to coach me over the 2'9 class. We had quite a bit of difficulty with the 2'6 course also (refer to the above!) but got through quite a bit of the course. Another issue I have to take note to remember is rein length - at a couple points my left rein was shorter. Bad me! Lol. Link was a blast though - he flew over jumps he'd never seen before in his life including things like flowers and yellow oxers (all the usual for a jumper ring!) without barely even batting an eye. Each time I corrected my posture (ie, leaning forward in distrust) and just trusted in him, boom, he was there for me. So though we were not competitive, I learned a lot and we both had a fabulous experience - I am keen on actually returning to that venue for some follow-up lessons with said judge's daughter as soon as possible. Link's novice riders are tentatively planning to attend a show and jump him up to 2'3 or so later this month - I'm sure they'll be very successful and I might even attend a class or two myself. Next show I am anticipating is at Spruce end of October... provided the entry fees prove affordable, haha. I'd like to just take Link in something small though who knows, maybe we'll be ready to compete at the 2'6-2'9 at that time. We'll see! If we can get another couple shows in this year I will be ecstatic - we'll be better prepared and have our foot in the door for next year's show season. I'm also aiming for another jumper clinic at the Mane Event next year at the very least (again). So much exciting to plan! I have to give a HUGE thanks to my friend L at the barn I board at for trucking Link and I out to the show last week and for staying and supporting me, and also to my SO for supporting and pushing me to go to this show. He's always there to push me and to encourage me to progress and do well with my horses and for that I am extremely grateful.

As for Silver and Koolaid.... I STILL have been unable to get out to Silver. It's just been tough time-wise for me to work it into my schedule. However the SO, my step-daughter and I all went down to see Koolaid the one day! He looks great though has seemingly taken to emulating a hippo - there's a large pond in his pasture and he's the only horse who will float around in there literally all day, eating pond grasses and finding relief from the mosquitos. Lmao! His lessees still love him; they actually recently took him to a show straight out of the field with essentially no prep, to win their 2'6 class at a show. The barn he is boarded at (close friends with his lessees) also love him and use him (limited) for lessons and have expressed interest in keeping him if his current lessees ever give him up. Silver seems to be doing well by all reports and photos - hopefully I will get to see him this next set of days off. Fingers crossed, haha! Onyx has sustained a few injuries out in pasture but is otherwise doing fine and will continue to be ridden by the 11yo novice who has been riding her the past months and later by my mom also. Happy to have her around!