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.