Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Outside in . . .

We talk a lot, in my circles, about building confidence. Generally, we are speaking of rider confidence. We talk a lot about respect, too, and how important it is for our horses to respect our leadership. This year, in particular, I have been very focused on building confidence in my horses and have watched the respect arise out of the process.

In particular, I thinking about Hawkeye. He is a seven year old (you know, I need to look at his papers, six? Eight? Anyway) Paint gelding that I picked up at a sale last Spring. Quite frankly, the purchase was based on his flashy color and the fact that a kid I know jumped on him in the sale ring (his owner was leading him under saddle but didn't want to mount, definitely had the bid coming my way) and the horse didn't so much as widen his eye. Doubled his price, to my chagrin, but in for a penny, in for a pound, and I brought him home.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I had booked myself with a very solid training schedule, acquired a couple more owner rejects (lots of those to be had this year, and some good projects if you keep an eye open) and I soon found myself overwhelmed with "to do's" and nary enough time to get 'er done!

I had a saddle horse in training that was not working out and I recommended my friend send him to what I fondly refer to as "cowboy camp." These are a couple of high school age young men, and their dad. They raise as nice a foundation bred Quarter Horse as anyone I know and are as honest and dedicated to their ride schedule as anyone I know, including my own self. If it rains, you'll probably find me indoors . . . you'd find them in the saddle, slicker and all. Miles is what I thought the horse needed, and some sheer guts enough to ride him through his panics and get him to the other side. I knew all those boys had plenty of the above, and some to spare. I had an empty side to the trailer on the way down, so filled it with Hawkeye.

I need to be careful how I proceed here because the "cowboys" did exactly what I paid them to do, they put honest miles on my horse. Saddled him every day, took him out to see the world. What they did not do, is not on their resume and not their fault. The last thing I want is for it to sound like I am bashing my good friends, I'm not. What I am going to state is that their training is very straight forward and a whole lot of what I think you find in the world of 30 day riders, and maybe better than a lot of them. They get the job done, and my horse came home, safe to be on top of, and that's exactly what I sent him for.

That said . . . What I am learning and focusing on, increasingly, is training the inside of the horse before I touch the outside. What the heck does that mean? says you, my befuddled reader. Well, what that means is that I teach the horse some simple ground rules, such as you give to pressure and I will release you AS you are heading toward the give. Afterwards is too late. You come to pressure when I ask, and I release you as your weight is shifting and you are in motion in my direction. I am consistent, and I let the horse do what it needs to do to figure these things out. I understand that horses are not setting out to be naughty, they aren't deliberately defying my will because they want to fight with me. How goofy, yet some people think these ways. I teach my horses to feel safe with me, to look TO me in times of trouble, and it's done through giving the horse a job they can understand and get comfortable with. Ray Hunt says it's our job to keep our horses out of trouble. He says it doesn't mean they won't get in trouble, from time to time, but it's our job to try to stay just on the good side of that fine line.

Horses don't speak human, and we most often, don't speak horse. We give a cue that seems pretty obvious, to us (try having someone stand behind you, hold on the bit in your hands and try to figure out what they want . . .) and the horse does what he thinks he needs to do. Sometimes, they get it right (for us) quickly, other times they have to seek, a lot of times, if they are aggravated half to death by then, the answer is No, I don't WANNA . . . I take responsiblity for keeping the energy up in my horse and rewarding the effort. As difficult as it is for impatient me to jump in and cue some more, while my horse is searching for the answer, if I leave them alone and let them come to it on their own, we sure do get where I wanted to go, a whole lot quicker.

So, here we have Hawkeye, trained from the outside in. Can be caught, saddled, bridled, taken down the road. Drives like a mack truck, feet not remotely attached to the reins, has no notion of following or yielding to weight shifts and pressure. Those things don't mean anything to him, and there is no reason that they should. I've given sporadic effort to "fixing" him this summer, never really dedicating a whole lot of time to this introverted, distant horse, just wanting him to "shape up" and come along.

A few weeks ago, my friend Annette was riding him for me, went to kick him into a canter and he would have bucked, had he been allowed. A frown has been on my face about him ever since. Not because of his reaction to a cue that startled him, but because I have been ignoring his needs, ever since I loaded him into the trailer on that dark Saturday Wahoo, NE night.

I've ridden him a few times since then, but the most ground was gained the other night in the barn. Me not even in the saddle. I was going to mount up and ride, and thought, what the hey, let's do some groundwork, shall we? Haven't felt the need to do much of that with this horse, heck I paid to have him riding so riding I will, again, right?

Did the stirrup slap exercise and poor old Hawk about jumped out of his skin. Hmm. Kept at it til he was quiet, the eye that almost never rolls my way, was sneaking glances. (Whatever happened to "both ears, both eyes, Ter?) Stiff as a board on his lateral flexion (this is a horse that turns his neck upside down in fear of bit pressure, and I have yet to help that), I asked him to do the "sniff your tail" exercise. Hawkeye's thick black tail is long and flowing so you'd not think it difficult . . . as I spun with him and ran to keep up with the fleeing hind. Something happened in him when he relaxed and gave into his own pressure. I wasn't "making" him, I wasn't fixing him, I wasn't putting something on him. He was pulling on himself (so we wanted him to think) and as he relaxed into it, the disinterested ears came up, the eyes softened and he looked at me. An idea clicked into place inside that bony skull.

Not much'a nuthin, you might think. I'm telling you, he looked a different horse. Ewe neck straightened out as the tension fell out of his topline, he squared up and looked at me, level. I saw once again the attractive gelding I had picked up for more than I planned to but far less than I thought he was worth.

Things happen to horses that do not make sense to them and they lose confidence in what the human is trying to get done. I see this over and over, and sometimes I am the perpetrator though I try hard not to be. We say "gee, I wish my horse could talk" and then blow through thresholds that the horse is trying to explain to us til the whisper turns to a scream and maybe someone goes to the Emergency Room for hearing aid treatment (or broken bones, however you want to look at it). Taking the time it takes would seem to be time consuming, but we always find time to fix whatever we didn't do right the first time. There are no shortcuts in horse training, and I want them as badly as anyone, would love the magic gadget, the perfect bit, the fall off proof saddle. Ain't gonna happen.

I do those simple exercises, hip over, front end through, incorporating squeezes, barrel play, over things, under things, backing circles, up and down hills, doesn't matter. What does matter is that I remain consistent in my requests and my release, thus building the horse's faith that I know what I am talking about, understand what I am asking for, and am willing to see the journey through with him. Setting boundaries helps my horse trust that I am capable of taking care of him, should the wolves roll in. The beauty part is that I end up with a soft horse that knows how to handle his feet, body and is light in my hands, not so bad, that, huh? That's what it means that it's not the tools you use, not the technique, but how you use them and when you quit is where you teach.

Watching big changes take place in a tuned out, introverted turned off horse that has refused to find a home til I do my job for him, sinks these lessons home in me, once again. It's a two way street, you know. As the horse trusts and respects me, so do I gain confidence in what we can attain together. I don't think I believe that the one can take place without the other. Lucky for Hawk, I have figured out, I have to come from the inside out, not the outside in . . .

Happy Trails!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Let The Yawning Commence . . .

It occurs to me that while I am going on about how excited I get over a look in a horse's eye, the swiveling of ears, the lowering of a tensed high head, I maybe should explain a little more about what my goals are when I work with a horse. Any and all horses, mine, sales or training stock. It's about the relationship. Getting things done is high on my list and anyone who knows me can tell you, I am as competitive as they come. I want to do it, not just right, but best. What I have come to realize, over the years, is that "getting there" only counts if I have not sacrificed my horse to make IT (whatever that might be) happen. Haven't blown through thresholds, forcing the horse into whatever next plateau I have decided we need to hit, haven't lost my temper and shredded the hard won trust I worked so hard for, the last time I handled him, haven't skipped steps that I understand are valuable, but are time consuming and I WANT IT NOW!

By nature, I am impatient and demanding. I have been known to harsh with myself, my loved ones and anger is a quick leap for me.

Because of these innate qualities, I have had to struggle to maintain patience, to hang on to the idea that the winning Trail Challenge ride, the impressive turn in the sorting pen, the high point trophy from the local show, all that starts with a simple give. And for me, they aren't possible without it. I want to win, but I want to do it on a horse with soft eyes, ears up, and a relaxed, conditioned responsive, athletic body. A partner.

Off work today and a weather forecast in my favor, I had high hopes of getting quite a bit accomplished out at the barn. After a leisurely morning, a couple cups of joe, and my friend, Walt on his way over, I was ready to head out and get started. The training fillies, Knosie and Slippin, are home for the winter. The other training horse . . . well, he's another story and I don't want to talk about him right now. Turns out, I own him but not because I want to . . .

Priority of the day was Sugar Sox, who is home and looking good. This is a sharp little 14 hand POA/Appaloosa gelding I sold some folks as a kid's horse. They didn't get along, and in the interest of good customer service and standing behind my deals, I offered to trade them back for something else. I needed to know what was going on with my good little gelding who had apparently been bucking, spooking and had become clumsy to boot, for these guys.

I saddled him in the barn, and he didn't move a foot or bat an eyelash. Well, that's a good start. He was a little fresh, stepped right out when I was leading him, tail aloft and eye bright. Not much for manners, he crowded me and would have happily pushed me out of the way to get where HE thought we should be going. Scowling, I backed him off, sharp. I understand that to obtain that relationship I am talking about, I have to estabish myself as a good leader that can be trusted to save my horse from any stray roving predators, but getting that trust means that first they have to respect me. A horse would never run over the boss horse in the pen, and they darned sure are not going to run over me. His willingness to ignore my space gives me a good idea of how things went, over there, in his other home. People often do not realize, as they step backwards to get out of their horse's way, that they are teaching the horse that HE is the leader and the boss, the horse has control of the human's feet, instead of vicey versa, as it oughtta be. I am about to fix that for this little guy, pretty quick. Every horse wants to know where they are at, in the herd. They are constantly asking the questions, do you lead? Do I? Who's looking after me? If the horse is looking after himself, believe me, the human is no longer in the same hemisphere.

In the round pen, I was unfair to Sugar. I picked up a flag and waved it wildly without warning. He picked up his pretty head, opened that big eye and took a few steps . . . no jumping sideways, no big reaction. I did a bunch of stuff to him like that. Walked away, whirled, threw milk jugs at him randomly hitting his body, throwing them under his feet . . . nada.

I warmed him up, free lunging him in the round pen. Sugar's cute white n varnished roan body was fuzzy but he looked pretty slick as he broke a little sweat from the unaccustomed work. Not spooky, but sure not tuned into me, either. Nose over the rail, hip turned in toward me, Sugar made it very clear he wished he were out there, anywhere but in here doing this. Not even an ear tipped my way. I started asking him to let me catch his eye and change directions. He spins his butt to me and off the other way. I kept stepping back trying to draw that eye but he was having none of it. I picked up my lunge whip, and swatted the offending butt. When he was too far away to swat, I popped it in his general direction. About ten minutes of ignore, spin, scoot away from the whip (is this horse EVER going to give in? Not been three days, Ter . . .) he almost accidentally turns to the inside. I melt backwards, releasing pressure. Let him move off softly for a round or two and ask again. He blows me off, prefers me on the right side to the left that he generally gets handled from.

Finally, with me staying consistent in rewarding him for turning in to me and handing a consequence when he doesn't, Sugar is trotting these slow figure eights in the round pen. I am at one side, just stepping back and nodding my head to indicate it's time to change. His ears and eyes are on me, and when I draw back, he stops, faces up and walks up to me. That's better.

I ride him in the round pen, walk, trot and a little lope, but it's too slick for much of that, says me. I don't know why it went sour, where he was at, other than some basic lack of horse handling experience, I am thinking, and when I find them their next horse, we'll have a lesson or two, and see if we can't get some of that, in place.

We work outside, attempt the wooden bridge, little horse wants no part of it. I can tell he is less confident and a bit less responsive on the bit than he was, when I sold him. It happens. People lose confidence in the horse, hang on to the reins tight, thinking to better control the horse. Horse loses faith in the people, starts running through the bit to save themselves. Bad but common enough story. I don't know that this happened there, just seems likely from what the horse is telling me.

I finally get off and work him from the ground, sending him over the bridge the short way. We get it done like that, and call it good. At no point, does he try to buck, jump away or do anything other than say he just doesn't want to do it, and eventually I get my point across that he is going to . . . It's cold, Walt needs to head back to work, and Sugar gets a rest while I eat lunch and find my fingers.

Riding down the road after lunch, we dealt with neighbor horses dashing up to the fence (head came up a la Takota, but I kept his feet moving where I directed and it was no big deal). I take him up and down some of the steep banks beside our road, he skids down on his butt and climbs steadily back up, no issue. We worked circles and box turns at the end of the road and he did take a little jump forward when a semi jack braked on the highway behind us. Picked up his rein, and that was all there was to that. Doing the box turns, I worked on bringing his hip and rump through before asking for the shoulder. It was cool! Pretty soon, he's breaking at the poll and really riding cute! Back up, each foot connected to the rein, and even a little lateral at the walk. I find myself thinking he's an awful lot of fun to ride. Where he went was not the right home for him, but it's out there somewhere and they will like him, tons. I already do.

So, what does this have to do with yawning, unless you are falling asleep at yet another training blog from Sioux City?? Unlike people, yawning is not a sign of boredom from horses, nor is it indicative of a late night out with the girls. Yawning is a sign that horses are releasing stress, coming down from adrenaline . . . Sugar? Nope, no yawns from Sugar Sox. It was Moonshine.

Hard to catch, even harder than usual, had to let her into the barn TWICE (bolted through the big doors the first time), I look at my big pretty mare and wonder what it's going to take to get through to her. I saddle her, but it's on my mind that if we don't ride, I don't really care. I want to fix that bridling issue, and work on the tension that lives in her, any time a human is wanting to do anything more with her than feed her treats!

I started out with the plastic flag on the stick, letting her roll her hip away from me, but then, as she quickly learns that a step or two, and then disengage gets the scary thing away from her, I ask her to tolerate the flag bouncing on her saddle as she moves. This mare is unbelievably light on the halter rope and wants subtle cues. I am so sorry I sent her away to be ridden. They did send her home, safe to be on top of, and that's what I was looking for, but I almost missed the boat on this mare. I was thinking of her as a sales prospect, wanted her gentle and down the road, cash in pocket watching her leave. The first time I rode her, down at Oak Creek, I got a glimpse that there was a lot to her and that maybe she deserves more from me than a quick turnaround. Enormous (to me) that she is, this mare is as sensitive and wants the lightest cues of any horse on the place, she sure does not need the heavy hand of a less than experienced rider.

It doesn't take long and she's not skittering anymore at the rattly plastic, either on her saddle, her butt or head and neck. Moonshine is a blast to do groundwork with, she rarely takes the slack out of the line, and we dance around the muddy barnyard. I lean toward her hip, she rolls it away, I step back, she comes through on the forehand, crossing over in a lovely, balanced athletic way. For a 16.2 hand draft cross, she's a handy thing!

Okay. The bridling issue. One should make sure the browband doesn't cause pinches and pulls on the ears and forehead. If you don't, you deserve a bridling issue. Grr. I take the bridle apart, remove the browband, and settle it back on her. This is after a 20 minute session of asking her to drop her head, on the halter rope, moving her head back and forth, getting her to, if not melt into my hands, at least give down for me, and not fling her head back up at the nearest opportunity.

She discovers the bridle doesn't hurt, and we no longer have an issue, or not much of one, anyway. Can't believe I didn't catch that, but there it is.

I ride her in the barn, it's not large, but we do manuevers. Before I got on her, while standing in front of her, I picked up my line to the left and asked for a lateral left front foot. Got it. Leaned to the right, asked for a hip yield. One step. Got it. Put the cues together and she sidepassed three steps to the left. Damn, that was pretty! So . . . can we do it from the saddle? Absolutely! Three steps left, rode off, came back the other way, three steps right. Yep, I used the barn wall so I didn't need to worry about controlling the forward motion, and before we got the three perfect steps, she crossed in front and straggled behind. Doesn't matter. That's how you learn it. Once the front was good, I asked the back to keep up. Easy peasy . . . I've been working on the soft feel, and we progressed from dead weight of Percheron cross head and neck hanging on my hands, to her mouthing the bit, working it out, trying to figure what's being asked. I help her, and release as she gives. She's not ready to hold it for very long, and I remember to ride her on the buckle and let her stretch her neck and relax. At least, now we are talking to one another . . .

Pulling the tack, her neck was level to my chest, head dropped to my knees. I removed the once offending bridle and rubbed her. All afternoon, she's been giving me these amazing licks and chews, each one last several seconds. I am finally giving her the time for her light bulbs to come on. I am promising her that I am going to be fair and good to her, and my behavior is backing up the promise. She licks and chews again, as she releases the snaffle bit into my hand, and then the yawns start coming. Almost Jacklike, her eyes roll up in her head and she yawns and yawns and yawns. Her entire body relaxes. This is a different horse than the one who about made a Terri shaped hole in the barn doors, had I not got out of the way a few hours earlier. She enjoys the soft brushing and there is plenty of communication going on as she reached out and snuffles up and down my jacket. Her huge black eyes are lively, her ears follow me as I move around her. She stays where I put her, but watches me in a friendly way. When I turn her loose, she stands for her pets. This was a great night for me n Shine. Hope it helps.

Meantime, Donovan, my good and much neglected Quarter Horse gelding, sticks his head in the open window of the walk thru barn door. HUH HUH HUH, he says to me, I walk over to see him, and he nickers again, deep in his throat as I cuddle him through the door. Dang it, I guess you are not for sale, either, I tell him. Man, what am I going to DO with all you guys!!

Work some overtime to pay for feed and be grateful that life has brought me this many wonderful horses to ride, a warm dry barn to ride them in and a loving husband who waits patiently and hungrily for his wordy wife to finish her blog. Off to dinner we go!!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Reflections Of A Truly Good Day . . . and Night

Ole Man Winter showed up tonight, on the heels of high winds and fast dropping temperatures. Just in the nick of time (I have a horse named Nic so find that funny right now), I had unsaddled fillies and distributed horses into various lots, with run ins and shelter belts. Tucked the afore mentioned Nic the Thoroughbred colt, in the barn as he has no genetic heritage telling him he needs a hair coat in this part of the world and I don't need an overly large horse-sicle decorating my pasture, nor do I need to call his owner, who has him here on consignment, that I have let his very nice colt freeze to death.

Stretched hoses, man, I am not ready for the winter chores, haven't even unearthed my tank heaters, yet, made sure the electric fence was alive and well and came into the house to refect upon the day.

Great day at work, still developing that quality of life theory that anywhere you are is worthwhile if you put your heart into it and do a topnotch job of getting things done. It's working out in the day job I acquired a month or so back. Though, as I told my (jobless) son tonight, being proud of doing well in a job designed to be handled successfully by brand new high school graduates is a very personal choice on my part. Having that go okay is helping the grieving process of not having my days to completely call my own (shoulda got more accomplished and maybe I could have afforded the lifestyle, but I never do, left to my own devices), and the short hours left to find horse time is causing me a serious difficulty on more than two levels.

Got home this afternoon and raced the setting sun to get the two fillies I was going to ride caught, groomed and saddled. My energy was at a fairly intense level, and several times the looks on their faces and their body reactions reminded me, my schedules, issues and fears of the rapidly dropping temps and sun were of no concern to them but how I treated them most certainly was. I made myself take breaths, and slow down, quieting my racing heartbeat. I had forever to run my brush over the buckskin filly's golden body . . . all day and a night to saddle her, allow her to settle for bridling . . . she was backing away and flashes of Moonshine crossed my mind. The last thing I want to do is CREATE an issue for this nice filly that has not had any previously. Again. Slow down. Frame her face, let her settle, place the bit under her chin, rub away the worry, let her settle. Ask nicely for her to accept the chilly iron into her mouth, be respectful and fold the ears forward with care when setting the headstall in place. Breathe. Both of us.

I hang her on the wall, she does what all my horses do when they have been here awhile, immediately cocks a hip and dozes. For all she knows, she might be there a spell . . . I saddle Slippin, the gray filly, having to remind myself the same things, but am already feeling myself transition from fast paced "get 'er done" to what I want to be for my horses . . . slow moving, caring, and letting my love and regard for them flow out of my fingertips every time I touch them.

My plan for Knosie's next ride was to be out of the round pen. I had planned for it to come the day after the last one, but weather and a trip out of town, supporting my husband's interests for a change, made that not happen. I decided to warm up outside, start in the round pen and see how things developed. Warm up now for both of these fillies is just a matter of checking emotional temperature, working out any stiffness in the body that could cause an issue under saddle, and takes about five minutes, as a rule. We do the bridge again, she couldn't care less, I just have to be careful that I don't put feel into the line and have her come prematurely off the bridge into a circle.

I set her up to mount, inside the pen, and let her know I am coming, pulling a bit on the saddle horn to encourage Knosie to set her feet. She's ready. I swing up. Bend her head around to the left, she follows the rein nicely. Ask her to bend and see from the right as well. I have never got bucked off a green horse doing this, but I darned sure have got dumped on a few I didn't let see me on both sides, first!

Knosie is dead calm, this is old news to her. I ask her to move off, and she dawdles along. This will not do. I know there is a good walk in there, and I bring up the life in my seat and legs, acting like we are already walking faster. I try to time my body movements to asking for more as each foot leaves the ground. Not much reaction or result from Knosie. Okay fine. I pick up the end of my rein and tap my leg with the popper . . . we get a smidge more. Cue from the body and then I lightly pop her shoulder. Now she walks out. Getting Knosie to loosen up her feet works better from the trot, she moves into it easily, nice long strided thing that she is. It's easy to sit, and I experiment weighting my seat bones to keep her either on the rail, or move her off of it to avoid the deep sticky mud at one end. She runs through my legs and hands occasionally, and I find myself nagging her with the supporting leg. It doesn't seem to mean much to her, right now and it needs to. I thump her pretty good with it, and she obligingly shifts over. Next time I ask, I still have to thump but not as hard, and the time after that, she moves off an ask, and stays out of the mud, to boot. Progress!

I am working on developing a soft feel with her in the bridle while avoiding trapping her between my hands and legs. She needs to feel free to move, and I feel for her tries and reward them with all my might. I ride with intention, directing her at points in the round pen, and start riding boxes, moving her haunches out the way first before asking the shoulders to turn. This is working really well, and I decide it's time to come out of the round pen.

Dusk is settling in, the heavy clouds bringing down even thicker darkness. Nonetheless, we are going to ride. I get on her down in the barnyard, she is a little surprised as I shift her weight and set her feet for mounting (reasons I set the expectations, like I do) but accepts me in the saddle with no issue. Sees from both sides again. "Yep, Ter, I know you are up there," she says with those big, calm dark eyes of hers. I ask her to move off, and she's a little hesitant but goes where I point her. I ride her on the slope, introducing her to the idea of having to tug herself up a hill with the unwieldy and unexpected weight of a rider up there, down the same way. We ride for awhile, she now stays nicely between my hands and legs. The coolest thing is that there is no "working on the headset" as I once would have been doing (like maybe a few weeks ago). The headset is coming naturally, jaw softening to the bit, pretty level carriage, sweetly arched neck resulting from the poll breaking due to the roundness of the body behind it. It feels kick ass. We do box turns and ride from diagonal to diagonal. My markers are that downed piece of wood over there, the bunch of weeds on that side . . . not exactly the cool alphabet markings on the wall of the indoor arena I dream of, but we get done what we are trying to get done, and she is increasingly responsive under me.

Moonshine has wandered up to see what's going on and I realize we have an audience from the other side of the fence as well. Hasn't phased Knosie or distracted her from our work. I decide to put Moonshine into the run she is standing closest to, as I am locking horses up tonight. I use Knosie to put a little pressure on the big mare, and position the young filly to block her if Moonshine should decide to escape us. She is, without doubt, senior and boss mare to my filly, but Knosie trusts me, just the slightest hint of doubt as I ask he to move up and encourage 'Shine to take the release into the pen. Moonshine looks for a moment like she's going to break and run, and I quickly ask Knosie to shift in that direction to block the intent. 'Shine gives me a rather dirty look and walks haughtily into the pen. I move Knosie in after her, and then back us out, taking her off the object we were trailing. I look at the heavy gate, it does NOT happen to be one of the new ones we have placed on wheels, and decide not to push my luck by asking Knosie to help me close it. I dismount quickly, causing a flinch from the filly which I then need to fix.

I close the gate, move her off her tension and mount up, still moving a little rapidly, letting her know things can happen around her and it doesn't have to be a big deal. She takes it in stride, as she does most things, these days. Now, it's time to leave the security of the barn yard and venture out a little. Dark is all around us now, but it's not full, and I steer us up on the squeezy side of the round pen and ride Knosie between that and the neighboring pasture's fenceline. There's all kinds of junk on the ground there, goat chewed lariat, hula hoop . . . mounting block and hey, there's the folding chair! She cruises by without a second glance. It is too dark to go far into the pasture, we go out, find the bundle of sticks to walk through that we let the Morgan mare think was a jump, come back, cross the bridge both ways, back to the barnyard, some really fluid turns around the barrels that are laying scattered all around, and call it good. Again, not bad for her first trip out. I can't wait to get her out on trails, I'd ride this filly anywhere.

Pitch dark now . . . and Slippin needs her turn. I pull the big barn doors open, letting the light inside flood the barnyard. It casts some interesting shadows and I think, okay, we can work with this. Minimum warm up (I think I could probably flex her a couple times and mount up), we do this incredible dance with the falling leaf routine, her body bending and flexing, I concentrate on the hip rolling over, and it's in motion before I am, I step back and she comes through on the front end, crossing over in these gorgeous motions, light on the rein, eyes dancing, I think she has as much fun with this as I do. I mount up, and do the same exercise from the saddle. It's not quite as smooth, but I can tell my intent for her is not quite as clear. I focus on sending energy into the hip yield, breaking down the parts and pieces of the exercise, not asking for the next til the one I am on is perfect. We get it, and I am laughing out loud while I am riding her. I put my hands on each side of her stocky gray neck, sending to her the love and the joy I feel in being on her and developing this partnership with such a nice filly. Her ears pricked forward, we head up the slope, picking up a nice trot, turn a box turn at the top, trot across but slow to a walk for the descent. I am always conscious of two year old legs, ankles and minds. We will develop Slippin's ability to trot down hill but it won't be tonight.

We head out around the round pen, do the bridge in the dark, she takes it without a blink. Clamber up over, spin around, come back the other way and off to the light of the barnyard where we can actually see where she's putting her feet. I ride her between the barn doors, into the light inside, waking Knosie who is dozing and drying. Back out, I wonder if the change from bright light to dark will bother her, and the dogs, goat and a couple of cats are playing raucously off to the side. I prepare myself for a possible spook and ride her out. Not a step out of place, an ear swivels, an eye takes in the commotion she can just barely see to the dark side of the barn, and out we go. Now, I start asking her to move slightly laterally off my legs, preparing her for half tracking and sidepassing. We do that, back and forth, get some steps, release, get some steps release, both directions. She's really not sure what I am after, but she will be soon. I am finding myself missing my spurs, I am a little fat and lazy, and my legs are getting tired. I don't go get the spurs.

Aiding the motion, I want hindquarters also. At one point, she runs through my hands, a little bothered by the pressure (too much, Ter, too much) and I let her run into the bit, soften and back off of it. She backs a little crooked and I tip her nose in the direction her hip is diving off to and correct the motion. A light bulb goes off in my head and I ask for a serpentine backwards step in the other direction, get one, back again, get one . . . we do that a few times, her hips loosen up for me and I think she's had enough. Probably a good thing I do have a day job and do not have an indoor . . . nights like this, I'd ride til dawn.

This brings us full circle back to the nick of time untacking and settling of horses. I catch distrustful Moonshine, tie her in the barn to keep Nic company and settle a couple horses. Watching her, so unhappy at being captive, I pick up a soft brush and smooth her velvet coal black coat. There has got to be a way to this mare's heart. There just has to be. She tolerates my brushing but in no way does it win her over or set high in her priorities. I decide to go for her stomach, worked on my husband, why not the big mare? A handful of grain, and I am MUCH more popular than a moment ago. Nic happily takes in a treat, and I walk over to Knosie. Apparently, she didn't get the memo that food can come from human being hands and she sniffs suspiciously. Incredulously, she lips a couple of grains, and becomes a believer. Retaining all my fingers, I laugh at her expression of wonder and pet her.

Everyone is settled, Moonshine remains her own girl, but I am far from giving up. Baby colts hold no resentment from their halter lesson the other night, I am sold on the idea that if I never put resistance in them now, I probably won't have to fix it later. They are both lamby gentle, and take some pets. My black colt, Smokey (yep, we have a gang of black horses around here right now) remains one of the ugliest babies I have laid eyes on in recent history. His mother loves him and he's a well bred thing, so I can only hold out hope there is a swan hiding somewhere. He sure has a beaky enough head for one.

Looking forward to tomorrow being the end of the work week. Still going to work "one day at a time" every day, on time. The weekend holds cool things, my trailer comes home, Sugar Sox comes home and we'll see what has become of him. That's probably worthy of another blog.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Setting Up For Success

After the last blog about unfinished business, I have been trying to organize my day, pick tasks, make a list and see things through start to finish, if only in one small area at a time. Progress, rather than perfection, is what I seek. If I look for perfection, I become overwhelmed and the whole thing grinds to a halt before it ever really begins.

S'anyway, today was one of the gorgeous orange, red, yellow and blue Fall days. Balmy temperatures and it was my blessing to have the day off and be allowed to spend it outside with horses. I had a buyer coming to look at the Thoroughbred colt, and it was time to get dressed. Never good when buyers and clients catch me in my jammies, coffee cup in hand, and not looking my well prepared, professional self, HAH!

Dutifully I made my list. Showing Nic, riding fillies, saddling Dusty . . . wormer to be administered, new horses to be handled and further assessed. Happily the swelling on the new Quarter Pony mare's jaw is half the size it was. Hearing that she likely tangled with a newly discovered mangled round bale feeder gave me hope, as these are injuries that look like they will heal, as opposed to being caused by a secretly rotting tooth. I also needed to separate out my herds. I have been feeding two large groups and they are consuming round bales like the things are free or something. Of course, they are, to them, and their big, fat hay bellies are showing their indulgence and my skinny, weanie wallet is begging for mercy!

The admin parts were first, or they'd never be accomplished, and I saddled colts in between catching, schlepping, worming and grooming. Skipper, broodmare-soon-to-turn-saddle-horse, volunteered for her halter, like I'd handled her yesterday. I need to remember what a nice horse she is and not let her get so far on the back burner she falls off or gets traded away . . .

Finally, everyone is where they need to be. Queenie, the stocky new chestnut QP mare is in residence on the Tree of No Regret . . . that's where you stand tied til you have no worries about it. She's a little spoiled, but settled in easy, occasionally whinnying her protest and a little pawing. Can't hardly hold that against her, but stay tied, she did. The Arab cross who I have christened Phoenix, as I see him rising from the ashes of what his fate would have been, where he a 100 lbs heavier, came in the barn to be tied there. He is a bright one! Alert and really wanting friendliness, he impresses me more every time I handle him. I have a home lined up for him, and I hope he works out there. Need to get a saddle on him, but he will stay with me through the winter so no real hurries there.

It's time to ride the fillies. I rode them for their owner yesterday, in the round pen, but I know Slippin is done with that, no reason to take her backwards. Anything she needs to know, we can work on, out in the world. I have not formally introduced either filly to the wooden bridge, though they live out there, with it, those obstacles take on an entirely different set of features when the horse is asked to actually do something with them! I figure if I am going to ride her in the world, I need to do her warm ups there as well.

The cute gray filly steps out in a lively fashion as I move her around me. Her body stays nice and round, we do hip over, shoulder through and go back and forth in the falling leaf pattern, moving up and down the pasture. I work circles with her on a slope, to get her ready for riding up and down the hilly pasture, if we get that far. We do.

She's not near so shocked that I mount, outside the round pen, as she was the first time I did it. I guess it hadn't really occurred to her that would be an option for me :-). I bend her neck, ask for softness, ask her to look at me from both sides, rub her face. I move her hip over once and we spiral out at a lively walk. I love the exuberance in this filly (the voices tell me it can kill me but I am learning those voices are a hindrance I don't need and they are more dangerous to me than any horse. It's getting easier to shut them off and keep them quiet. Let the healing continue!).

We circle the outside perimeter of the round pen, her sister, Knosie, and Dusty the Paint colt, are saddled and standing inside, awaiting their turns, and it gives her a little comfort (or me) to stay close to what we know. As we come around, she picks up speed, her mind, body and feet wanting to head for the round bale where Jack, Nic and the babies are busy munching away. It's downhill which also challenges her balance and she wants to trot to catch herself. I bend her to shut her down before things can get out of control, but she comes to my hand very easily. Next time, it's just a small bend, and the time after that, no issue. Okay, enough of that, we head over to the wooden bridge. She'd taken a couple stabs at it, during her groundwork before crossing, but walks up on it now, under saddle, like she'd crossed it 1000 times. Dang, I love this filly!

We cross from both sides, and head out into the pasture. The rustling cornstalks that line her pasture, this one, the one she lives in, give her pause and concern. I get an opportunity to work her through some uneasiness but it never develops into a spook and she never tries to leave me. Gaining confidence in both of us, I point her down the long slope to the bottom side of the pasture that lines our neighbor's property. That length of slope challenges her and she isn't quite sure what to do with her feet, but listens to me, and comes back off her trot steps when I ask her to. We traverse the length and width of the pasture, ride through some trees and come up the barn side, and do some exercises in the barnyard. Not bad for her first real tour out of the round pen.

I thought about taking Knosie out as well. Don't quite have the handle on her that I do on Slippin though, and those long buckskin legs of hers are a little gangly and less coordinated. Decided to work on the handle and freeing up the feet. At least one more ride in the round pen, I thought, and then we'll head out. I did her groundwork outside, though, worked on the slope, she really stretched out into the prettiest long trot I have seen from her yet. Completely relaxed, and just reaching for it. Did the bridge, absolutely no issue for this big, calm minded girl. She is less bothered by things than her Doc Bar bred half sister, though she sure did not start out that way. Knosie's doubts get expressed in her dragging her feet, and getting sticky. Today, I didn't see much sign of that til I used the flag on her saddle, rubbing it, bouncing it a little, she slowed WAY down, head rising, eyes widening. I just kept going with her til she relaxed again. Time to ride!

Once inside the round pen, I did ground work, moving Dusty around, asking Knosie to stay with me, moving out of my way when I needed her to, coming forward, sideways, and backwards. That got a little harried, more than I can keep track of, really. Did lope Dusty around, he's not going to have a lot of problems moving his feet, but he's no scatter brain skitterer, either. Really nicely balanced young horse, in his mind and in his body. Put the boat buoys on his saddle to see if he cared about leg-like stuff bouncing around on him, he does not. Big colt did, however, attempt a couple of times to run through or maybe over the trainer, so I tied Knosie's reins up (she needs to feel her bit, anyway, I think to myself), halter Dusty, and we learn to back up (I already know, so I guess this is the editorial "we") and we learn what happens if we run through the stick. I "rode him from the ground" (Dennis Reis technique), keeping him between my halter rope in one hand and my stick in the other. He did really well for where he was at. When he would lose it and escape, I'd bring him back, put him in position and we'd go again. It didn't take many bumps on that halter rope for him to be looking to me for cues, and following my hands with a really nice lightness. He yields his hips off just the softest ask, and is really happy with his "atta boys."

Good looking bay colt is turning from "not excitable Dusty" to communicative, licking and chewing Dusty. This stuff is all so new to him . . . from Thou Shalt Not Run Over the Trainer to what the heck is this thing on my back and these straps around my tummy, that I think the whole thing took him aback a bit when we first got started. I like him expressive and I'll work him from the top of the round pen tomorrow. Should be on him, soon. Colt starting is turning into fun like it has never been before. Hmm, guess this stuff I preach does really work, in practice, LOL!

Knosie girl was feeling neglected or so I decided she was feeling, and I mounted up. She's so solid, now, I don't think a thing about swinging up on her. Again the same, bend her around, let her see me on both sides, rub her face. Move her hip over and away we go. She volunteers a trot and I take it. As hard as I have been working to get forward motion out of this girl, no way am I going to shut her down now! I encourage the trot and ask her to lengthen her stride. She feels great under me and I keep asking. I start loping, in my body, and she said "what the hey are you doing up there, Terri??" but I keep it up and eventually she picks up a few lope strides.

It was AWESOME!! She's one of those leggy things that is just going to float when she moves. I told Doats yesterday it was such a toss up for me as to which filly I would own if I had the choice, but when it comes right down to it, I think it would be this one. Man, what a horse she is going to be when she grows up!!

We do a lot of trotting, get a few lope strides going the other way and chase Dusty all over. I have Knosie track him and turn him, then use her to get out in front of him in the center of the round pen, catch his eye and have him turn in to us. I use her to move him over and send him the other way. We do this, over and over. I don't know if they are having fun, but I darned sure am. She's getting lighter and lighter off my hands and legs. I am trying to remember to weight my seatbones correctly to set the hindquarters up properly for the turn, and when I get it, I feel her respond under me. Slippin did too, in fact, she was so sensitive that I turned her several degrees more than I meant to, more than once! I am all over the place while we are moving Dusty, leaning out to pop his butt to remind him to keep moving, reaching back to pop hers now and again. Knosie just stays under me and tolerates it all. She put her ears up and moved right out . . . I am guessing she had a little fun, her own self. When I turned her loose, later on, she stayed right by me, and walked with me on her side of the fence. Girl is growing up.

Riding my horses from "back to front" is about having the power and the impulsion come from the rear as it properly should. This is the preliminary for true collection. I was amazed to watch Knosie break at the poll and level her headset while I was asking her to do hindquarters over and shoulders through from the saddle. I am excited about lessons with Missy and can't wait for the next one in November!

I played with Donovan briefly, loved on Moonshine, saddled Hawkeye but ran out of daylight before he was up to bat. I really need to get his ride up to the level I want it to be at, and let that fellow find his next new home. Getting his feet attached to the reins is my top priority with him and getting him to trust and relate to his rider will be a major part of that.

All in all, it was a wonderful day to be outside with horses. Work tomorrow, and then I get to do it all over again. The setting up for success is for me and my horses, and it starts with the baby steps. My definition of succeeding might be different than some other people's, dunno and not real concerned. I walked away from good horses that watched me go with trusting eyes, into a house to cook dinner for my best friend, that I just happen to be married to . . . It might not ever get any better than this!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Unfinished Business . . .

I am a huge believer that life is about continuing to learn, grow and progess as a human being. I also believe the Universe is generous in it's Lesson Plans. If you don't get it the first time, don't worry, the opportunity will come back around. The stakes, however, may be higher next time.

As I look around me, all I see is unfinished business. Tasks around the place, begun but not completed, with the tools and materials left where they lay. Housework . . . don't even get me started (in fact, you can't get me started.) Horse related . . . 17 head in various stages of training and readiness. Not a single one of them where I think they ought to be, and where they would be, were I consistent in my approach to them or any other thing going on in my life.

Why do I find this important enough to take up time in a blog? It's one of those things that I run into time, after time. Great ideas, blossoming rampantly in my head that somehow never see fruition, horses kept and hung on to in light of what they MIGHT be, CAN be, if I will take the time to bring them along. When something is placed in front of your face, over and over til it's the only thing you see, might, perhaps, be time to pay some attention.

I am huge on blaming my husband, after all, a certain amount of those projects out there have his name on them. If I want a tool, I need only to look where he had it last, and unbury it out of the fallen leaves. As long as I can keep blaming him, I can put off examing my own behavior and taking care of my side of the street. Excellent procratination device, and frees up a lot more time for me to be on the computer.

Horse related . . . Back to Moonshine (at last, you sigh, something about a horse!!). She is definitely a victim of started-not finished horse training. By myself and others. I have blown through her saddling issue . . . Decided the tension in her was not worthy of address, she didn't really DO anything, did she? Last night, I am pretty sure if I would have just saddled her, forced her to bridle and jumped on her, she'd have bucked my ass off. Or something. Took me most of the evening to just get a bridle on her. Last time, I thought we had dealt with the problem or at least taken a step in a positive direction with her concerns. She showed me we are not on the same page, at all. I hate it that I am mis-reading her so badly. What it really is, on my part, I want to ride her. I want to ignore that she has never been started properly and is holey as swiss cheese with mice in residence. She tolerates humans on her back and I want to fix whatever is wrong from there. I keep insisting on heading this way, and the stuff I am ignoring from the ground or giving lip service to fixing, is getting worse.

I have two hard to catch horses in my herd. Jack, the rescue horse, and Moonshine. By now, most of what I ride, would have been easy to get close to, would hunt the halter when I offer. Not her. Horses tell you what they think about working with you in the ways they react and interact with you. I sure am not happy about what this sensitive, wonderful mare is telling me. She deserves for me to give her what I know, to complete the task, and to do it from the ground up. Give her what she needs instead of me selfishly insisting upon what I want. (right, Brenda? :=))

Most of the time, when I blog, it's going to be a start to finish (at least I can do that, HERE!). This is the problem, this is what I did to fix it, this is what I learned from the process. This blog is about unfinished business. I can't tell you what the ending is because I am not there yet. All I know is that it is becoming critical that I seek organization and discipline within myself to give my horses, my husband, friends and world the better parts of what I have to offer, not to mention it would sure make it easier to get around, in the kitchen!

Good horsemanship isn't a skill or a discipline, it's a way of life. How my house, my barn, my yard, my car, my herd look on the outside, reflects what's happening on the inside. It's high time I bring what I am learning in regards to my horses all the way home. Doesn't leave much room for blaming others, losing my temper, poor living habits, and ineffective behaviors. This isn't for anyone but me and it's been a long time coming. I am guessing at least my horses and husband would be thankful for the improvement.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Filly Ridin'

"Man, I wish we could have a month or two like this, " I said to Arron, as we wrapped up the day's accomplishments. Then, I realized, we HAVE had a month like this, I haven't been able to be out in it. Snark.

We got a lot done today. Started kinda slow . . . I can tell I am going to become very jealous of my Sundays . . . the only day off Arron and I share. "No alarm clock" day for either one of us, and we took full advantage of it, til the dogs going nuts told us someone was at the door. The neighbor with hay. I complained yesterday, about the oat stuff we've been getting. The horses dig through, get the oats, and then starve to death eating the straw. As a result, I am seeing ribs and big bellies. It is time to worm, too, but that speaks more to poor quality roughage and them trying to consume more than they should to get what they need. So, he brought me alfalfa. Arm and leg prices, convenience will only buy so much, as soon as the other guy is out of the field, I'll get hay from him, but it's nice to have more than one source.

Once that was dealt with, we rolled into the day. I caught and saddled the trainers, and Arron went to work on hanging gates and fixing fence. I brought Nic in, too. I have someone coming to look at him, and I probably should manage to be on him, before they get here. Anybody wanna earn $20??

I am bored with the round pen today. My guts, my instincts, everything but that nagging voice in my head, stomache, wherever it lives, that predicts disaster at every turn, everything but that told me Slippin was more than ready to move on. Get her out, keep her interest fresh, is what the good voices said . . . what if she . . . what if she . . . shut up.

Five minutes of groundwork, she's so solid she looks better than most of the horses I ride willingly, anywhere and everywhere. Arron is working on the front pens, I say, hey I am going to ride her in here today . . . Still a pen, but a different pen, one with edges, corners and more room . . . and stuff to play with. During the five minute warm up, I showed her the squeeze I just built out of the cut logs, asked her to step up and down off the concrete foundation . . . (you better believe I am thinking "Trail Challenge" with her, but we have far to go . . .). I step up on her, astonishing her a little I think. Her ears set back a little and she's a bit grumpy as we step off. I don't think she knew I was going to make a habit of being up there, on her back, just any old where in the world . . . I don't think she had realized that, at all. Did fine.

She turns off a light touch on the reins, moves off my leg with a little heavier one. We ride the perimeter of the yard pen, sliding a little in the mud on the bottom . . . slippin' . . . She doesn't lose her cool, not in the least and we trot, going back up. That's fine, too. She's got some spunk to her, picks up her pace with just a little Doc Bar 'tude, not enough to scare me, just enough to make me like her even more than I already do which is plenty. We ride the squeeze, non issue, walk into the little box I made on the other side, stop, step over and ride through again. Toys are good. We go up the foundation, up on the smaller side, and step down on a not challenging part, too. Next time, we pick steeper:-)

Arron is grinning at us, he agrees she is riding like a proper little horse. I look longingly out into the bigger pasture behind the barn, I really want to take it out there. Arron asks for help, he's finished hanging gates and is ready to work on the tree demolished panels that have rendered the bottom pen useless now for months. Least I can do, eh. I reluctantly climb down and lend assistance.

Snapping the shovel handle while trying to pry up the buried panels . . . I suggest I might be more use, riding fillies. Gets me nowhere. Don't be a quitter, he says, and assigns me a different job . . . sigh.

Annette shows up with Sandy man, and we chat about the weekend at Turkey Creek. Part of me wishes I had been there with you all, part of me knows I did good to stay home. Learned some stuff, got to hang with my honey, who has been vastly underappreciated by me, lately. Sounds like a wonderful time was had, and good ground gained with Annette & Hank. Good horsemanship is easier done than described, and it does sound like there was some really good stuff going on with them. She's going to make a great horse out of him. I wish it would have been me that did the trick but I only got to lay some of the bricks, not build the whole foundation. All part of the journey, hers, mine, his . . .

We struggle and cuss the wire panels some more, but they get removed (geez, I hate those things) and the big panel is in place. It's short, Arron has to cut some of the panel to close off the section. I take this opportunity to flee to the barn, check on Dusty, who's learning what his saddle feels like, he's fine, and Nic . . .

Decide to ride Knosie, she's wearing her bridle for maybe the second time, started out chewing, gagging, and not at all happy at what happened when I asked her to open her mouth for me. I am going to ride her in her bit, and I spend some time teaching her what it does, rewarding the give, asking her to move out with a little energy . . . She expresses her doubts by dragging her heels but the bit is resting in her mouth and she doesn't care about it, anymore.

I grabbed up Arron and asked him to come watch me ride her. I think it was just to quiet that danged wretched voice, that just wants to chatter at me about bad stuff, all the time. It's not that he could do a thing to help me, from outside the round pen, if I push her into a wreck, but somehow, having someone else around to explain things to, as I go, distracts me from myself and frees me up to work. Goofy, I know, but that's me. I step up on the cute and quiet buckskin filly with barely a twinge. I rode her pretty hard the other night, and she just rose to it. Not much turn or handle, but no buck or spook either. I move her hip over, letting her come off the rein tension, and releasing as the left hind foot lifts to cross in back. Again. She doesn't care one bit that I am up there, is only trying to figure out this unwieldy metal thing that's got her by her tender mouth. I am respectful of that, spiral her out and ask her to walk around the pen. She wants to wander drunkenly, and I ask her to pick up her pace to get her straight and interested in what we are doing. I have to work pretty hard to make it difficult enough for her to keep walking that she finally steps into a trot. I am FINALLY getting what it means to not make my horse do something, just make it difficult for them not to. I have watched my Brannaman videos, my Ray Hunt tribute dvd's . . . over and over, and over and over. This language is in my head, but it's finally, at long last, starting to trickle down into my hands, my legs and my heart.

I ride her for probably half an hour more, most of it about forward motion, asking her to free up those long legs and move out. I have no fear of slapping the saddle with the popper, my leg, and when necessary, her shoulder or her rump. Knosie doesn't resent me, and she gets quicker with her responses as she begins to understand the things I am doing, up there on her back, have meaning, and I do the same things, each time, to help her get that. I ask for more trot and get her going pretty good. We wind up in the mud puddle a couple of times, I don't want to trot through that, there is enough slope to the pen to make it slippery on that bottom end, but after the first time, when she surprised herself and got stuck, we ride through like trail horse people.

Then, I work on hindquarter over, and bringing the front end through to help her lighten up on the bit, and get those feet attached to the reins. I lead her around in front, bumping lightly with my outside leg, as her inside front foot leaves the ground, following the feel on the inside rein. She gets better at this and I no longer have a ton of dead weight hanging on my arms as I ask her to come around. She's turning on a slack rein now, so I call it good. We work on some backing, she understands it in a halter, backs willingly off one rein, but the bit has her confused. We work through that, I ask for one front foot at a time, not releasing til I get the foot I want, but rewarding the try, each time, as soon as her weight shifts the way I want her to go. She sure has a different look and feel about her than she did when we got started . . . thinking the neighbors must have wondered what the heck, as a couple of our "I won't lead and you can't make me" tussles took us down by their fence and all over the back pasture. We are WAYYY past that, now :=)

Arron agrees she's come a long way. "Took you long enough, though" he says. I sniff, thinking ribs, but he is thinking procrastination, and he is more right than I am. Days like this, I love working with the colts and they are coming closer together now. I am starting to get excited thinking about Sasha and Two Socks' first ride, rather than thinking of it with the dark dread that usually clouds me. I have always liked the part when they ride well enough to really start teaching them stuff, but what I am learning now, tells me I start teaching them stuff from the beginning and things are going much better this way. This horsemanship journey is quite a deal, and as personal and as intense as any other I have ever been on . . .

It was groundwork for Dusty. This is a big, heavy boned Tobiano Paint colt, bay with a little white on him. He is a left brained sort, to borrow a Parelli term, and extremely internal. We have a friend we refer to as "not-excitable Jeff". His reaction to a deeply kick ass tattoo that he and Arron designed together, was a small nod, a glint in his eye and a slightly upturned corner of his mouth. "That rocks." he says . . . Well, this is Dusty, and if I am not careful, again, I will blow past his reactions because I won't wait to see them. I did the hip over, front end through and decided to work on the stirrup slap. He is so quiet, I want to just climb on and go, but I have already skipped one step with him (which is why he just got to wear his saddle most of this day, and figure out those cinches) and I am not going to skip the others. I get vigorous with the slapping and he does react with a widened eye and raised head. "Do I need to be worried about this?" He asks. No, Dusty, you don't, you're fine, just that this saddle is going to make noise from time to time, and pretty soon, there are going to be legs there, bumping you and asking you for things. "Hmmm." He says.

I stop and wait. I count to 30, waiting for his lick and chew (don't get many, at all, from this horse, yet). At 30, he finally blinks, sighs, lowers his head and I know it's coming so I keep waiting. A good fifteen seconds later, it happens. He licks, chews, regards me a little, what's next? Well, now we do the other side. No L&C from that side, and I wait for what seems forever, he gets bored. Okay, here we go, more hips around, ask him to move out at a good swinging walk, and now he licks and chews. Okay, fine, whatever, it's his lesson, not mine, anyway . . .

Line him up at the saddle rack to pull the rig, he stays put and stands solid. I think this colt has every potential in the world to be one of those great 100% good geldings that we all want to own. It's in his nature, just up to me to properly steward the education.

When I brought Slippin in to untack, I took her halter off before her bridle, doing it the cowboy way. She was a little offended with my clumsy fingers in her mouth but we got it figured out :-) If I win the lottery before Doats sells her, I am going to own her. At any rate, I am going to help them get a right kind of price for her, she's one neat little girl.

And that was the day, riding fillies.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Trading Doubt . . .

for trust. That was the focus of the afternoon. I had my training string caught, lined up and ready to saddle. I decided that today's original ambitious schedule was going to downsize, and I'd ride one personal horse, Moonshine, and work one for sale horse, Nic. I don't have a lot of doubt going on with the training colts, it's my own that need work here.

However . . . Nic and Moonshine are different stories. Nic is young and has seen a lot for his tender years. He is flinchy and tends to kick out at sudden movements. The darned stock dogs aren't helping that a bit, running in and nipping at tails, heels, ankles and hocks whenever I am not looking or too far away to bring thoughts of deterrment. Moonshine . . . she had doubts when I sent her out last summer, and she brought them right on home with her again. I really like my cowboy camp, but I think I have to not send out anymore. I bitch, whine and complain that the horses do not ride like they would if I kept them home and rode them, myself, and therefore, ergo, and all that, keeping them home and riding them is what I must do.

Back to trading doubt.

The cowboys are missing some pieces to the puzzle I want to build, but they are fearless and have that old school work ethic that is missing all over the place, including in me. Just this afternoon, I sat here at the computer instead of heading out to barn to catch colt, chest heavy weighted and came up with all kinds of reasons not to get outside and do my job. Come right down to it, I didn't get a ton accomplished. I have struggled, progressed and struggled some more with that fear that lives in the hearts of so many good horse people. Getting kicked a few weeks ago didn't help any, though that wasn't a riding accident, it was still a wreck of judgment, and I feel the pain of it, right this minute.

So, what does it take to get the feet moving, when the will is dead? Moonshine, the 16.2 hand Percheron/Arab cross, was of the most interest to me today, so I decided to start with her. I am auditing a dressage clinic next week, and am on the cancellation list. If someone falls out, Friday afternoon, I'll be taking her . . .

Most of my horses volunteer for the halter, want to be caught, and don't mind the jobs I ask them to do. That is, if I have done my work correctly the day before, if not, they tell me with their heels. She starts there. Hard to catch and high headed, that pretty black mare is much happier in the company of other equines than any human. I want to change that, and I know it can be done.

I let her follow Maxie, her Morgan buddy, into the barn and played the catching game in there, not really feeling up to tailing her around the seven acres she has access to, right outside. I rewarded her eye with release of pressure, walked up soft, stroked her tense neck and waited for her to lower her head. She's been mugged to be caught and it's left it's effect.

Grooming, saddling, I pay attention to the worry in her eyes, even though her feet stay still. I am guessing a casual observer might miss her concern. She stands like a rock for the saddle, a frozen rock . . . I moved her around a little and asked her to acknowledge what I was doing. Cinched slowly, as always. Untied her to bridle. If she had any saddling issues, I'd have untied her for that. Moonshine backed away from me, trying to point her nose up and away. I just walked with her, quietly, and waited for her to come down, halter looped loosely around her neck. I could just see her bolting through the barn door, scraping my good Crates saddle on the way out, and then the merry chase while I seek to recover it, and her, all in one piece. When her feet stopped moving, I stroked and petted her cheek, and face, worked the bridge of her nose, getting her to soften and lower her head. Then, I framed her face with the bridle, tucking the bit up under her chin. Worries there, too. I stoked and rubbed under her jaw, taking the fear away. She accepts the bit easily, still giving me the skeptical eye.

We did some groundwork out in the roundpen, using the plastic bag on the stick. This mare has had a lot of things done TO her, not so many done WITH her. I let her make the decision when she was ready to disengage her hip, and roll around to face me. Worked the same way from the top of the round pen, and some squeeze, but what I really wanted to do was ride. I had it in my head, we could work both of us. I wanted to work on posting, and two pointing, and figured she could just work on maintaining her trot, while I did my own thing, up there.

Didn't really get her as soft and relaxed as I wanted her to be, did some preflight steps which she passed, okay, and went to climb aboard. Halfway up, she's in motion. I have her head bent, so at least I knew what direction she'd be going in. Wasn't all that fast, but a stiff, hurried walk in a tight circle. I figured, I'd wait til she stopped, and continue mounting. She didn't stop. I kept thinking . . . three days, it rarely takes more than three days. I really wanted it to be her decision. Ribs started to hurt from leaning over the saddle, and I said, well, not this time, and helped her get stopped. Stepped down, did some more work. Now, at ANY time, I could have grabbed her up, swung up while she walks off and got on with the riding. It's how she's been mounted, I am guessing every time anyone has ever ridden her, including me. I wasn't going to do it. Did more hip yields, got her softer, more flexion, I look up, a little less worry and her head is not touching the sky now . . . Halfway up, more circles. This time, she does stop, and I get down. Next time, I am in the saddle before she steps off and I gather her up and we stand and breathe.

Tight, hard breaths, puffing harshly into the afternoon chill, tell me the worry isn't completely gone, or even really started to be. We are walking, with energy, or at least that's what I am trying for, and 'Shine is staying under me, but not always between my hands and legs. She's a lot of work to ride, heavy on the bit, and I know she knows what feel is but she doesn't know that I do, and isn't very willing to try and give me a chance to show her. I keep opening up opportunities to turn her, catching her big ole foot in the air and directing it before it comes down, releasing with all my might, any time she accidentally gives and softens. All of a sudden, I notice, even if she's still kinda concerned, my fear is gone, again. Wish it would stay away, but it never does. I am busy working with her, trusting that she isn't going to buck (never has) or bolt (in the round pen, where can she go?) and I offer her a loose rein, bring the life up in my body (hard to do when you are tired and unenthused, which for whatever reason I am, today) and she trots off. I didn't get a whole lot of posting worked out, I can sit her trot easily, am horribly out of shape and found myself taking the comfortable way out.

I did get some pretty decent 1/4 and 1/2 turns on the haunches and forehand. She never became super soft, but I found out that if I adjusted my ask to a really soft request, I had a much greater chance than if I fixed it up with a harder hold. Then she really braces, and why shouldn't she . . . seems a no brainer now, but it took me some bearing the weight of that head and neck in my arms to figure it out!

Okay, here's the cool part. Lining her up at the saddle rack to pull my gear, she went right where I asked and stayed where I put her, but with life and interest in those big dark eyes. She wasn't a shut down statue. I grabbed a soft brush, and went over that velvety black coat, her head level to me and tuned in to what I was doing. Pulling her halter outside, she stayed with me for some pets before I turned, left her there, and went back in the barn.

I sure hope not all the doubts that got traded today for trust, were mine.