Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Me n a horse

That's what it really boils down to . . . after all the thinking about horses, talking about horses, debating about horses . . . what really matters is when it's me. . . and a horse. I have spent my lifetime with these animals and choose their company over my own species, hands down, most of the time. I got my first pony for Christmas when I was two years old, and we beat his butt with a board when he was naughty. Mine got that, too. It was what we knew and what we did. That pony never did quit bucking, and quite frankly, I am probably still naughty. I am not blaming my parents for what they did or what they taught me, they honestly did do the best they could with the information that they had at the time. The results were not what any of us were looking for, not with the horses nor my childhood, and it sent me off in a journey searching for other answers and I've been a whole lot of places looking for them.

A perpetual lifetime student of many topics, horses have been the main focus of my interest. I used to want to know how to get things done the fastest and the coolest, then later on, the safest. Now, I am in a place of wanting to know how to be the best human being for my horse that I can possibly be. I still want a horse that lopes collected, loose rein and on the proper lead. I want a horse that confidently goes where I point them, whether it's up a steep climb, across water or over the ubiquitous blue tarp. When I am saying I want to be a good human being for my horse, I am saying I want to be a great leader, worthy of his respect and faith in my ability to take care of him when the wolves come. In his mind, that's always a possibility and there might be one, just right up there around that corner. Who am I to say different and that he's wrong.? I just want him to go there anyway and trust that it will be okay.

There is nothing in the world like the feeling I get when I am working a horse, my eyes are closed and I know what the footfall will sound like before it gets there. The horse and I are in sync, I can shift my body in time with his, whether on the ground or in the saddle and his will shift with me. This is the partnership I strive for with just about every horse I ride. It's not that I am going to gain that level of communication with them all, sometimes the for sale and trade crowd are too shut down from previous experiences to allow that and would it really be fair to open them up that much and then send them out into a world of riders that don't communicate that way? Usually the training horses get there, to some point, and then they go home. My own, I laugh, as you who read this know, they are usually the last I ride and the ones who might need the most work of all. Still, I have a glimmer of what is possible and I hunger to taste it, every time I walk out the door and head for the barn. No matter what the lesson, that's the goal for the day.

This Spring, since I had decided, after catching up on last year's training commitments to not take outside horses, I am getting to work with my own, and fill in the holes that my scattershot approach at their education has left in them. I find consistency is still my biggest difficulty. When I am being paid to ride, it is a no brainer to go outside every day and work horses. When they are my own, there are a thousand excuses and sometimes good reasons that get in the way. Unfinished business continues to plague me, being aware of a problem doesn't magically provide a fix for it, that takes discipline and effort, snark!

I have a training horse in, a lovely filly whose owner did a superb job in getting her ready before she got her. She's soft on the halter rope, does her groundwork nicely. I am having to catch up with her, as my usual first week or two would be redundant. We saddled without incidence yesterday (she's worn one many times at home), in fact saddled several times, looking for the right saddle fit for her young back. Did desensitizing, and graduated to hanging the milk jugs off the saddle to let her experience some activity on her back and against her sides. Filly was not one bit afraid of that mess but it did annoy her princess self. She pinned her ears and advised them they might want to exit, and do that right now. Being milk jugs and impervious to such warnings, they stayed put. POWW! She aimed and cowkicked them clear over her back . . . onto the other side. This happened a few times, with some intermittent crowhops, and the milk jugs proved their point. They weren't hurting her one bit and they were not leaving. Exactly the same point I want to prove when I ride for the first time. She walked, trotted and loped with a decent attitude, got her rubs and atta girls, and ended the session ears up, eyes soft, licking and chewing through her new lesson. Ray Hunt said it's our job to keep a horse out of trouble, they might get into trouble anyway, but it's our job to try to stay on the good side of that fine line. I think I did that with her yesterday and it paved the way for more good days after that one.

Were it not so muddy, that would probably be today, and still might be, depending on how things go. I am going to head out into the mud and gunk, normally, I'd be cussing the circumstances, today I am grateful I get to . . .

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Spring Fresh!!

Wonderful in laundry, body wash and the guy sitting next to you on the bus, Spring fresh is not near as desirable in my horses! Earlier this year, I pulled Ginger, my husband's big pretty mare, out and took off on what I thought would be an enjoyable toddle down the road. It was far from that, til we met up with another rider and both of relaxed and had fun snow busting and playing on the wintery trails. Ever since then, I have had the plan in the back of my head to address the very understandable buddy sourness that every horse in my herd has firmly latched onto. Why understandable, asks my reader? Well, if you could hang out with five or six of your closest friends at a free buffet, napping, gossiping and snacking at will, and some guy shows up with a job for you to do that you do not necessarily WANT to do . . . think about how you'd feel about that. I know how I'd feel about it!

Today was the day. I had a grand plan of saddling every horse we own, and did manage to get five out of the seven (left Jack for another day, and Chica, my Quarter Pony broodmare was protesting being tied to the wall with enough vigor I decided not to give her a saddle to destroy in the process.). Next part of the plan was to ride each one to the end of our lane, the broke saddle horses that is. Hard to expect that of Skipper, who just came home and doesn't really ride, yet, though she had a nice start last night at Two Rivers. As Donovan was so full of himself at the same ride, he drew first straw. To end the day with at least one horse that I can feel comfortable with just saddling up and heading down the road was high on my priority list, and he seemed the best bet. Two hours later we were there, but man there was a tussle in the middle.

High, high, high, he snorted, pawed, cried and in general had brat fits, while tied to the wall as I saddled the other horses. When ride time came around, he seemed to have found some brains, much to my relief. We did our warm up down in the yard, and big eyed he was but yielded his hips and shoulders and felt okay to get on. Even headed down the road with a minimum of fuss, but with a tense, springy step that let me know I needed to be very aware of what was going on with him. The trick is to now ride relaxed so that his tension doesn't turn into my tension, which in turn would further fuel his fire. We rode the field across the road and played on the bank a little, attempting some steep ups and downs. Not bad. Didn't try to buck me off, anyway. On down the road . . .

Suddenly a boxer female comes dashing into the lane, barking, snarling, head down and hackles raised. Rats! Donovan freezes, head skyward and ears pricked so far forward they are almost touching. I yell at the dog who fortunately stops her dash, but continues to bark and threaten us. I don't know this dog, and no one comes calling for her, despite the racket. I get Donovan to move his feet, never turning our back on the dog and at least she retreats if we advance. I holler at her to "git home!!" She turns and runs up one of the drives, but not far. We sidepass nervously past her, and I back Donovan until we have good distance from the dang dog.

We practice turns at the end of the lane, and when Donovan drops his shoulder in the direction toward home, I bend him as Missy taught me to do with Moonshine and get him to stand upright and then move off. He is a little pissy, but listens and we head back for home. Another skirmish with the dog, and this time I use Donovan on her like she was a cow. We moved her back toward her drive but she can see he's scared and she's getting braver and nastier. I am not sure what would have occurred next, but my neighbor comes driving down the road, her year and a half old Newfie in the back of her truck. He's a good boy and won't jump out but he bellows at the boxer who says, nuts to that, now she has reinforcements and she boogies for home. Sure hope her people don't make a habit of letting her run loose, will have to stop in and have a word about that.

Upon reaching home, Donovan, who wasn't horribly pushy about getting back but a little more eager than I wanted him to be, said that's it, we're done. I was asking for some hip yields and a little sidepass, normally non issues with him. He was fussy and all ears and eyes on the other horses. I was using a log to sidepass over, and suddenly he throws a fit, backing away from it, shaking his head, just absolutely putting down his hoof and saying, NO! No more! I won't and you can't make me! I bent him and asked him to move his hip over. He sulls up, ears pinned and tried to sling his head away from me. When I wouldn't let him, I felt him gather himself up for I am not sure what . . . rather than continue this way, I said hey, you don't want it like that, fine, I'll just step down and I bet you move your hip, forthwith. And, a little spanky spanky and that hip was in motion. This way, then that, shoulder through with alacrity please. Now eyes and ears are on me, where they belong. Some pets, no grudges held, and I mount up. Hip yield is better but he'd still really rather be at the barn. Okay fine, let's go there. We'd had some arguments about opening the heavy gate, he'd not stand still, then he'd not sidepass with it, I bypassed that, rode him through and then we trotted and loped circles, and then we trotted and loped circles some more. I don't have level ground on my place by the barn so it was an exercise in trotting and loping up and down inclines and it wasn't long til we were both puffing. Want to rest, asks me? We head back out the drive at a soft walk, but he wants to go back, okay fine, here we go again. We did this about three times, until my sweaty bone headed little horse figured out if he'd just stand quietly, head down, out on the drive without trying to take me somewhere I didn't want to go, life was much easier for him. We will both be sore tomorrow, I have no doubt, but I think I have his brains back in his head. That was the hardest ride.

Ginger started out high too, heck they all are and why not, they stand around eating alfalfa all day and not doin' mucha nuthin . . . She did her best to buck at first as I was lunging her in the round pen, feel good written all over her pretty face. It's not much of a buck, more a round backed body roll but I was happy to see it quickly out of her system. I rode her in one of Arron's saddles, and it's roomy but felt okay. Just in her rope halter, she rides as well in that as the rest of mine do in their snaffles. I practiced using both my reins to get a soft feel, a little more pressure on the inside with the supporting rein keeping her straight. She stayed nicely between my legs and when that shoulder dropped (wow, there's a theme developing here. . . have I really not noticed this before?) I picked her up easily, did some bending, some extended trotting, practicing my posting on her smooth and effortless gait. I asked a couple different times for a canter, cantering in my body to help her make the transition. She shook me off, and I decided not to push it, tonight. We'll get there. Backs up off body and weight transitions, and then we worked on sidepass and lateral. I have a bad habit of using the counter bend to get my lateral movement, and that is counterproductive. It's harder, getting the proper movement (which is why I cheat, no doubt!) and I got a few good steps each way, with her truly figuring out what I wanted and called it good. That was the easy ride.

The coolest ride, hands down, was Skipper. I moved her around the round pen, getting her to lunge at both a trot and a lope. I had my Crates saddle on her and it's too big for her, but for what we were going to do tonight (plus I was about out of jam, my stamina is definitely not what it was!) I decided to leave it be. She didn't have an ounce of buck in her step, and I've not ever seen any, so after some really sweet bending, yielding of quarters, hip over, shoulder through, I mounted up. Last night at Two Rivers, when I stepped up, she had instantly started backing up like that's what she thought I wanted. Tonight, she didn't back but she didn't move forward either. I used my hand out wide to lead her from the saddle and got her moving out at a nice walk. She'd go a few steps and bunch up. Not like she wanted to buck, just stuck and confused. This is weird to me as she's not lacked forward motion before, but hey, ride the horse that shows up, right? I stayed loose on her, let the reins dangle and slapped my leg a little, letting her pick wherever in the round pen she wanted to go as long as she kept moving. That was of course, the gate, and I hustled her a little harder when she got by it. Skipper picked up a nice trot coming away and I rode that, gently asking her to keep it up when she would have stopped. We did that for a bit, and I started to pick up one rein and ask for some bends. Started out, she'd stiffen against my hand (again a different behavior than when I rode her last, which was not yesterday) and I'd bring my hand to my hip, sit and wait for her to come around and give. Then, I'd ask her to step her hip over, which she does, REALLY nicely and send her off the other way. This morphed into lateral flexion at the trot, and pretty soon, we are riding toward one point in the round pen at a lovely smooth reachy trot, I'd set my weight to let her know we were changing directions, pick up a rein and drop it like a hot potato as she'd sweetly give her nose and arc into the turn. It was just the BEST! :-) We almost loped, too, she's been loped with a rider but that was a couple of years ago, and I decided not to push that either. We'd probably have been fine, but I like BEING fine better than thinking I'm fine, if you know what I mean :-)

Super nice transitions when I'd start walking in my body, she'd slow instantly and it only took a very little to keep her moving into the walk instead of just stopping as she first thought I wanted her to do. Backing up is nice, chin tucked, very soft. And that was us, tonight.

Oh yeah, Moonshine got caught. She didn't have to do anything but stand tied to a tree, but tomorrow will be a different day for her. Classic was saddled and could have used a ride, but I ran out of time thanks to my donnybrook with Donovan, I'll start with her tomorrow. Hawkeye stood saddled, also tied to a tree and waited for the other shoe to fall. Poor guy, I told him tonight, he needs to LIGHTEN up, life is just not that bad for him! Arron says Hawk gave him kisses and he's not a usually touchy feely kind of horse, so maybe he's taking my advice, ha ha!

You know what one of the coolest things about this day was? Here I had this bunch of horses, just as goofy and unruly as any group of Spring training horses, but for once, this group is mine. No pressures of "can I get done what the owner needs done in the time allotted?" No "how can I teach this owner how to ride this horse so they don't get in trouble together and have problems after all the hard work I am going to do to get the horse right." Nope, for once, it was my bunch of evergreens. Getting the time and the work they need. I do need to go back to work one of these days. Not the job I was doing, but something, and my health issues are still a problem, but it's stuff I can overcome when I am doing what I love. In the meantime . . . I'm going to ride!!