Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Welcome to: PA Lady Daringer

It's that time again - time for an update! I spent a full 10 days at home my last set of days off so had some decent-ish time to work horses. Mostly I am trying to slow down and take a little time for myself and my own horses - my tendency is not to do so, which is exhausting and leads to my feeling burnt out at times. Sub-optimal!

Rayne - 7yo APHA mare
Guess who whinnied to me the first time I went out to catch her?! I've really developed a connection with this little horse over the course of our 6 sessions thus far, and really look forward to working with her each time. First session back she was forward and off my leg right off the bat. We struggled a bit with SI but she eventually relaxed and got in a few steps of decent SI. We worked a lot on developing that softness and relaxation and also straightness and of course developing even more responsiveness to my leg. There was a lot less resistance than in prior sessions. That evening we took Rayne out to Thorlakson's feedlot to work cattle in the Bullpen! Special thanks to Rayne's owner for taking us to Thorlakson's and also thanks to Wendy for such a great experience; she really did a great job providing me the right guidance for introducing Rayne to cows in the arena. First thing when Rayne saw the cattle entering the far side of the arena was to SHOOT backward from the center of the arena, to the end furthest from the cattle... lmao I don't think I've ever felt a horse back so fast!! Forward was an issue but it was all in her head, though of course responsiveness to my leg and relaxation and softness in general are also contributing factors. There were some pops and attempts at flight and evasion, but nothing extravagant and we finished the night on a great note with Rayne standing quietly as heifers approached her and even shot past her at times. She successfully turned a few back, and moved the herd from one end of the arena to the other a couple times, then finished by walking through the herd with me on foot. I am thinking by session 3 or 4 on cattle, that she will be (albeit perhaps tentatively at times) working the cattle effectively. It was really nice to see the level of athleticism and confidence she demonstrated though, given good guidance. Session #2 with Rayne went wonderful. We worked a lot on that SI, on a PROPER TOH (she really wanted to be lazy and just drop the inside shoulder on her turns on the forehand!), on leg yields, and on transitions and straightness. One of the exercises we focused on was to halt and back-up every so often down the long and short sides. My focus started with having her be very responsive to moving off my leg (trot to halt, halt to trot) and to also sharpen her halt, but we inadvertently also incorporated straightness when she tried to both halt and back-up crooked each time. Our hard work paid off when she was much straighter in her halts and back-up in session #3, with minimal and infrequent correction on my part. Her SI was also very successful, as were her TOH's, sidepass', and TOF's in session #3. She was very light off my leg in her halt-to-trot transitions - no resistance whatsoever. Session #2, with high winds blowing, we had some difficulty having Rayne relax and connect back to front on circles, but with good improvement session #2, she was immensely improved session #3 to the point where she was consistent in her circles and was even maintaining bend and softness in changes in direction and spiraling the circles in and out at the trot. Overall, Rayne is becoming very soft and relaxed, which is our ultimate goal. From my understanding she has never really specifically been taught to be relaxed and soft, which I feel plays a large role in the resistance and sourness she offered when I first started riding her. I like the consistency Rayne is showing between sessions - she is getting a good two weeks+ break each time between sessions yet is not regressing whatsoever and is actually making substantial progress within each ride. She seems to be becoming a much happier and willing horse under-saddle. This is translating back to the ground in that she is also no longer cinchy and is more co-operative (ie, more still) to saddle.
As far as any thoughts as they pertain to purchasing Rayne, I have decided to wait until spring to see where we sit financially as I make a job change and we (likely) move onto our property earlier than previously planned. I think all might work out where I can make an offer on Rayne in the spring, but I do not want to make such a decision now where it might not work out in the near future, which could negatively affect both myself and Rayne.

Link - 7yo Thoroughbred gelding
I was lucky enough to get in 3 rides on Link this time I was home! I really enjoyed working with him and experienced a lot of success, especially as it pertains to finding a suitable warm-up routine for Link and developing better straightness. He is really softening, relaxing, and learning to loosen up and reach over his back and streeeeetch. What I have found to work best at this point is to warm him up at the walk with of course a lot of bending and circles, but with specific focus on the SI. Counter-SI and renvers, travers, half-pass are all also in our toolbox but still require more work yet. The SI however is proving to be a very beneficial exercise in developing straightness and suppleness (it's recently really clicked how beneficial an exercise it is so I have actually been using it on a lot of horses with great success) in him. We've also worked a lot on his level of responsiveness, especially concerning his responsiveness toward the dressage whip and to my leg asking him to shift his haunches over. On the ground, I am expecting and am getting some very nice TOF's and TOH's, which is carrying over u/s. I thought that maybe I was a little too hard on Link last time I rode him - although I was both quiet and patient, I was persistent in asking him to respond to my leg to shift his haunches over, and also to respond to the wiggle and tap of the whip when he ignored the leg cue. Of course a few tantrums ensued but I was quiet and kept persistent in the proper position until he tried. Of course it sounds silly now to say that I was too hard on him considering where he is at training-wise, but he made quite the protest so at the time I had wondered if pushing him on this particular issue was the right answer. I wanted him to, instead of blocking me out and reacting, to THINK and respond appropriately. It paid off however in that he was MUCH quieter to the whip now when I had to occasionally use it to remind him to move off my leg (just with wiggling or gentle taps), and he was also MUCH more responsive to my leg when asking his haunches to move over. This especially paid off in our leg yields, SI's, and asking him to be straight in general. He tends to get a little lazy on the left rein and does not bring his haunches under sufficiently, which results in his being crooked and lugging on the left rein. A successful warm-up has really helped this, as has targeting his response to moving off my leg when I ask him to engage his haunches more. This was just an extra push in that direction and it really made the difference to our work. Overall we are developing a lot more actual impulsion and straightness, which feels absolutely phenomenal!!!!! I always ask a lot of my horses - expect a lot, accept little - and am usually happy with their progression however I am particularly chuffed at this recent sort of 'breakthrough' with Link: I CAN expect more of him and can push him more and I NEED to push him more, at the level he is at. When I do, the results are beautiful. Lastly, we worked both on canter and counter-canter, successfully.
Our third ride consisted of a lesson; we did some flat work and worked on the aforementioned but finished with some jumping, up to about 2'6. Contrary to (recent) prior jumping experiences, I actually felt very confident and secure on Link this time. I learned the mistakes that we were making over fences were NOT actually MY fault, that he had a large role to play as well (haha!) and that I could also push him harder in certain areas. The additional confidence and security really allowed me to focus on myself and though I am not back up to par with where I used to be (or at least, where I think I used to be - hah!), I made great strides and am happy with not only Link's progression over fences, but also mine. We are focusing particularly on developing a rounder jump in Link, which is where all our flatwork and dressage work comes into play. Overall he is doing very well and I look forward to building to a course over our next couple of lessons together (hopefully over the Christmas break). I am aiming toward a couple of spring shows with Link, likely hunter to start.

Soraya - 4yo CWB mare
I had the chance to put 2 more rides on Soraya while I was home. She did wonderful - her groundwork was great (she is really learning to respect my space no matter the circumstances, for one, she is learning to WATCH me and to be responsive yet relaxed, etc) and under-saddle she was relaxed and accepting of everything. She was fantastic at the trot for the first time (u/s) - her trot was beautiful to ride (so nice I badly just wanted to sit it and revel in it, haha). A little head-shaking ride #2 as she wanted her own way, however she responded well to my gentle corrections. The second ride we rode with one other horse and rider in the arena - horse and rider would be 20' away and Soraya was already giving them the stink eye, haha! By the finish of the session however, with a few corrections, she was much better at focusing on her own work and ignoring the other horse. While she took to the process very well, I did not feel Soraya was actually looking to me for guidance u/s as much as I wanted her to, so more work to do in that regard. I think some work with her at liberty might be the key, as well as furthering our current work (preferably, on a consistent schedule!) of course. A lot of athleticism and power there though - I am really liking this mare the more I work with her.

PA Lady Daringer - 3yo Quarab mare
So we finally got up to Edmonton to see our most recent purchase! We were very happy with what we saw in our new filly - she seems sensitive, responsive (ie, light to moving off pressure, etc), intelligent, and confident (ie, not excessively spooky). We really look forward to bringing her home to work with. Of course she is intended as a project horse however we will see what she is all about once we start actually working with her and once we start her u/s, and decide at that time where she is best suited. Very nice mare from working bloodlines (Doc's Blonde Buckshot x TW Fire Whorl) - should be a pleasure to work with! Her prior owners are currently boarding her for us over the winter and have been very gracious in a number of ways. It was lovely to see both her sire and dam on site, as well as a number of full and half siblings!

Lastly, I did ride Bella once - she was recently moved to a new facility (just across the road from the facility I board at, actually!) and has been settling in well but had not been ridden in the indoor yet. She was initially quite nervous and forward but did not take too long to relax and really work nicely from behind. We went over some trot poles with minimal fuss (just a couple looks initially!) and she surprised me with some beautifully balanced canter in either direction. Her owner took over from there and confidently rode her around at the walk before calling it a day on a great note!

Silver is currently being prepped for 4H by the young rider currently riding Onyx (mom's Thoroughbred mare) and is now moved into the same pasture as Link.

Oh, last note - first weekend I was home I also traveled down to Longview with Charlee's owner to check out a prospective trainer to continue Charlee's training (since I am not specifically working any horses over the winter on a schedule). Keith Stewart is blunt and to the point and seemed a very effective trainer for Charlee, in my opinion. I saw a lot of Buck Brannaman in what he does. I learned a little I can add to my arsenal of tools and much was reinforced. Something I had not considered that he did mention - the horse who is cinchy is also likely to be sticky in transitions. Reason being is that the horse is not entirely comfortable with the entire process - the catching, the saddling, the cinching - all are indicators of what the horse thinks about work under-saddle and thus are predictors of the horse's behaviour and tendencies under-saddle, including what he is going to do in transitions (ie, potentially buck). I had not thought about cinchiness as it relates to transitions but it makes sense to me and I found the note interesting. I sensed a wealth of knowledge in the man and look forward to the opportunity to learn more from him.

I am looking forward to being home for Christmas and New Years; hopefully I can get in some more good rides on each of the horses!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fall has arrived, me amigos!

So it was another busy week home in which I had literally only 5 days to enjoy before I was back off to work, which unfortunately meant a sparse few days to work the horses.

Skittles - yearling QH filly
I spent 3 days doing a re-fresher with Skittles, working on all her basics such as picking up all four feet (including the injured leg), having her bridlepath trimmed, being loaded into the trailer, and walking all over a tarp and having it tossed all over her. She was pretty good throughout; the first session she was actually 'angelic' but made up for her unusually good behaviour by aiming a good kick at me session #2. We continued to really focus on respect and good behaviour (including incorporating all the 'usual' groundwork, albeit lightly and in consideration of her former tendon injury) and finished on a good note. No problems with the tarp, she was self-loading even when I threw the rope over her back and let her load herself completely (she even walks deep into the angle-haul and angles herself correctly), and she tolerated clipping and having her injured leg lifted. I'm not so sure this little one will ever stop testing her handler, though!

Rayne in the summer, photo courtesy of her owner. The three photos below I took of Rayne in pasture a little over a week ago.

Rayne - 7yo APHA mare
I'm not sure how exactly this transpired, but it seems I've only worked with mares all year, as it pertains to client horses! I agreed to put 3 sessions on Rayne, mostly as a way to evaluate her for spring training and for sale, but also to of course improve her. So far I have been extremely pleased. While she is quite resistant and has a bit of a 'tude, Rayne has actually responded quite positively to the work we have done thus far. Over the three sessions I've done a little groundwork each time - she obviously knew her stuff and proved to be a very sensitive, responsive mare, and by session #3 her respect level, already decent, had already greatly improved. Under-saddle, she is clearly a VERY intelligent mare who is also extremely sensitive and responsive. My work has been cut out in challenging and pushing her to learn and progress (and in a willing manner), while remaining quiet and passive when need be, to not play into her provocations. She is quite resistant and tried just about everything in the book to not go forward, to start! First day u/s, Rayne decided backing was the best method of evasion. I sat there, my leg off even, and waited. When she'd had enough, I re-asked. More backing. More waiting. Finally she got the hint - I wasn't going anywhere, not even with a little hop and later, with a little rear and lots of head-shaking. Once moving out, she proved unconfident upon leaving her buddies, wanting to move her feet (too much forward!) and trying to go above the bit (or, hackamore, rather) and head-toss to evade my hands. Our u/s work was composed of a lot of walking and mostly trotting along the fenceline in one larger paddock/small pasture, some 20m-ish circles, and lots of serpentines along with some point-to-point pattern (to create impulsion off my leg). My goal was to have her moving forward off my leg, then to channel that forward into a balanced horse with a relaxed back. I feel like she is extremely tight in her shoulders due to the tension (read: resistance) in her back. It wasn't long however, by the finish of the third session, where she was moving out mostly consistently to my leg and where she was learning to balance and relax. I found that she was very adamant I use the lightest pressure possible (akin to Bella - see prior posts - in that way), so she learned that I would be extremely light in my aids provided she gave me a response, at least some try. The result was that she was quite light and we got a lot of relaxation and thus increasingly good flexion laterally. Her willingness improved substantially, from a '0' out of 10 (no forward) to start, to about a '7' out of 10 (forward mostly consistently, little resistance). We even achieved some 'lateral' work/etc - leg yields, sidepass, and even a little SI (shoulder-in) and shoulder-out. The SI/O was probably the most difficult for her because she had to remain between my aids and give up a lot of tension/resistance, which was hard for her at first; we achieved a few steps either direction however, which was great progress! The only speed bump we experienced was session #2 where I gave Rayne her head and allowed her to trot up a slight incline. She felt like she wanted to offer the canter so to see what she was all about, I allowed and even gently asked for the canter. Immediately she popped a little buck and I was on the ground. I don't usually come off that easily however I feel the combination of her compact body and my longer torso (in comparison) resulted in her just being able to pop me out of that saddle easily, with little effort. Once she had me off she simply stood there (having achieved her goal, haha). I took a moment to catch my breath, remounted, and she was great. We ended focusing on a lot of relaxation. Lots of work yet to do at the trot before we try again for the canter! Since she has proven so inconsistent in the past, I am hoping she continues to progress but am banking on the fact she may go backward at some times. The more sessions I can put on her between now and spring (when her owner may decide to put her in 30 days' training prior to selling her), the more accurate a feel I can get for her and thus the better the idea I can give her owner of Rayne's potential (etc). I feel like what this horse really needs is a job. That, and to be worked such as I worked her the past 3 sessions... until she decides a) resistance is futile and b) becomes willing and learns to really enjoy her work, consistently. The latter could take anywhere from a few months to years. The preceding starts next I am back home - plan is to take her to a cow sorting/team penning event! I'm really excited to bring her and to see what she will give me... plus I am just excited to go, myself, haha! It will be a blast working cattle again; Rayne has apparently been on bison so I am hoping it is not too much of a transition for her to 'get' working cattle. Obviously (if you couldn't tell already by the multitude of photos!) I really like this little horse, but the last thing I need is another horse. I'm thinking about it though! If I did decide to purchase her it would probably be with the intention of keeping her a couple years, making her into a dependable little cow horse, then selling her down the road when she's consistent.

Silver - 16yo Quarab
Unfortunately things with Silver started to quickly disintegrate with his lessees just prior to my returning home from work. Nothing to do with Silver himself of course! While I wish it had not been necessary, I ended up having to pull him from his lease after the contract was defaulted on a number of times. The last straw was when he was moved once again without my being kept properly informed (after the lessees were booted from yet another facility). Unfortunately for the lessees, my horse's needs come first and I did not feel that, with those several breaches in contract, his best needs were being served. Furthermore, it had attained the point where I felt I could no longer trust their word, intentions, or motives.
I did fortunately find time to fit in one ride on my boy! He is quite fit and as usual, very athletic, which was very nice to feel u/s. He feels like he is maintaining a 'frame' however, rather than being truly collected as a result of being ridden back to front. He did willingly stretch down a bit when allowed, but did not understand the idea to stretch down into contact. As a result, I felt a lot disintegrated at the canter especially. I won't have much time to dedicate to working him, but I am hoping that I can get him moving a little better within the little time I do have to work him. I took him over a few jumps, up to 3' and he was fantastic! He was rhythmic, slow, relaxed. It was really nice being able to work on myself and not have to worry about him. When I made a mistake, he simply carried on to the next fence. Hah! It's soooo nice, after having been riding greenies for so long. I forget that riding can be so relaxing, and that jumping can be so much FUN!!! I've lost a lot of confidence simply not jumping as much as I used to, and in working on greenies over jumps (who make you pay for your every mistake, haha, and I make a lot of them over fences since I have not been jumping consistently the past several years), that I've forgotten what it should be like, or rather what it will be like even on my greenies as we work our butts off and they eventually progress to Silver's level of consistency. I'd like to put a little work into Silver and take him to a couple shows this spring to show him at the 3' level (for my own benefit), but we will see what is in the cards as my parents will likely take him out to where they are until we get settled into our new farm. In the mean time, I will do what I can and enjoy him for as long as I have him!

Link - 7yo off-track Thoroughbred
For a variety of reasons, I only got one ride in on Link, unfortunately. He was a trooper and did great, but there is so much I want to work on with him! His flatwork however was good and I even took him over a couple jumps about 2'6-3'. Of course he pretended they were monstrous 4'-ers but that relaxation and confidence will come in time. Check out his photo though (taken within the last couple of months) - the man is finally learning how to move better... on his own, too!! It's really neat to see how he moves at liberty to be affected by what we're schooling u/s.

The only time I had for Soraya was to take her into the barn, tack her up, have her stand in the arena while I rode Silver and Link, then turn her out, haha. My time with Phoenix was even less, and I did not get the chance to see Koolaid at all. Plan is to see Koolaid and maybe even take a lesson on him when I am back home next. We're also planning on taking a trip up north to visit our new girl, 3yo Quarab Lady Daringer, whom we purchased as a project pony for the new year; photos to come!