Friday, May 29, 2009

More Fun Than Ice Cream

. . . thinking about yesterday, I have a smile on my face and a glow in my heart. Day sure didn't start that way, as some of you know with the whole can't find my id for the Bomgaar's drug test thing. Did find an acceptable form of id and spent the entire afternoon at the clinic getting that deal taken care of. That part was not more fun than much of anything except I did get a wild walk down memory lane in my fruitless search for proof of birth and identification. (among other things, I found some photos of me from . . . 1984 . . . yeah baby. Nope, not gonna be seeing them, here you won't . . . )

Had all that crappy congestion in my chest again when I got home and went down for a quick nap before riding (where's the fun part, says you? This doesn't sound like fun . . . ) It all got better about 20 minutes later, dogs exploding in stranger danger warning . . . Not an axe murderer, turns out, just neighbor Teri come to see her filly work.

I rallied, like the noble get 'er done kinda gal I wish I were, and saddled Knosie and Ella.

Did Ella's groundwork out in the barnyard. This is a super quiet laid back filly and I'd like a little more impulsion in her gaits at this point. I don't want her hot and jumpy, that would definitely be a wrong result but she does need to move. I worked with her, getting her to reach equally with all four legs and lengthen her stride without speeding up the strides. This is hard, and she really didn't see the point, much. I have watched Buck and some others "drift the hind" while doing groundwork and under saddle. Watching Missy, she explained that the hind needs to travel on a slightly larger circle (I tend to get more bend through the ribs, and that's not wrong but more bend slows a horse rather than lengthens them, makes sense, huh) than the fore but all four legs should be reaching equally. This sounds more confusing than it is, when you can actually see it happen. Says me who was utterly confused by the concept until . . . I saw it happen. Now I get it.

The thing is, it's not only what happens in the body, as it relaxes, stretches and starts working properly, but the mind of the horse engages as well. I talk about how the mind can't work without some kind of physical manifestation, well, it goes the other way too. When the body is working properly, you have the mind. Through the feet, to the body to the brain. That's the way it works.

Ella's brain is not far away at the worst of times, I am not completely sure what her worst of times even look like. This is one of those once in a lifetime horses that wants to please from the tip of her nose to the end of her pretty long black tail. She is the easiest little horse I have ever ridden in my life. We were laughing about how young horses like this make a person want to go out and buy a truckload . . . kind of like having an easy baby first. You have another one with that false sense of security "what's so tough about this" and then hellspawn arrives.

Once I got a little more try and effort out of that sweet girl, I mounted up and rode around. We played on the hillside, letting her feel a rider's weight as she learns to negotiate up, down and sideways. Rode out in the pasture, headed toward the bridge, but I couldn't make up my mind if I wanted her to go by it or cross it, dunno, I was stuck in my head, it happens, and so we kind of stopped in front of it. She looked back at me like "if you are going to drive, please decide where the heck we are going!" Okay fine. We circled the bridge, came back at straight and with purpose, and over she goes. Stop in the middle, pet her, on again.

My life energy was pretty low, I was happier about being outside, but not feeling the best and she dogged out right along with me. We went into the round pen to open up a trot and get some life stirred in us, both. The round pen instead of staying outside because that is the most level spot with the good footing, and Ella doesn't need to lose her confidence slipping around on the grassy hillside while I try to wake her up. Counterproductive in spades, wouldn't you think?

She jogged around like a little pleasure horse wannabe, and nothing wrong with that if you are asking for that. I wanted forward motion. I want a horse to be able to reach out and really extend that trot. Then, when I want them to slow down, they need to be able to do that, too. I started asking for lateral flexion, moving her hip over and really asking her to power out of the turns so as to build the impulsion and movement. Ella felt a little off to me, we just had her trimmed last weekend, but I have never had a horse come sore after Scotty does his work (yes, I have forgiven Scotty, he is still the best traditional farrier I know for setting up a foot that isn't going to be shod). I stepped down and sent her around a little. She flew! Not listening to me one little bit. Apparently, I was not the only one frustrated with our process, she was just too polite to say so, until now!

When she could turn in, face me, and drop her pace back to a trot by listening to my body language on the ground, I could see her stride. There was something, maybe, but it was tiny. Teri and I both thought she could still work, as neither of us was even sure we were seeing anything at all. You know how it is when you have a really good horse, you DO want to take stock in the bubblewrap factory for fear of some small thing turning into that fatal big thing.

Riding her now is a lot more fun (yes we are getting to the more fun than ice cream part. I really do try to get back to the point of what I started. There are no guarantees and sometimes it's a circuitous route, but I do try). She trots out with a much longer stride, not dropping her shoulders, and keeping a decent, light flex to the inside. This is not just her nose pointed in or her neck bent that I am talking about but a flex all the way through her body. We have to pick it up, sometimes, and I might need to weight my outside stirrup a little to keep her rounded out but she has so much willingness, she follows as I lead. When I don't pay attention, she doesn't either, and that gets my head back where it belongs, on top and not off wandering. When the horse is not responding the way I want, the first thing I need to check is me. Am I asking the question correctly, and is it even the right question in the first place?? It's not the horse's idea to be out there, doing that work, so once again, it is my responsibility to carry the communication and be accountable for the results.

We are really enjoying ourselves now (both of us have ears up and smiles on our faces), but Knosie is saddled and waiting her turn. I ask Teri if she wants to ride the filly while I warm up the Knos. We have decided 30 days on Ella will be fine as Teri has another young horse she'd like some time on as well. I won't normally start a colt for 30 days anymore, it's hard to get enough done to make it stick when they go home if they need halter broke and the whole nine yards, in the beginning. So many owners are really not prepared to go on with their young horses after 30 days and can get in a lot of trouble if they don't have their education as well as the horse. This filly is a special case and Teri knows what she needs to do to follow up. I'll send her home with happy confidence and besides, I am right here when and if they need me.

Knosie isn't looking as happy and relaxed as I would like her to . . . but that changes quickly as her body warms up. She gets a little scared, doing her groundwork and is trying to back out of the pressure. I stay easy, go with her, and keep asking for forward motion. I step away from her as the direction she was backing, it presented a squeeze for her to have to move forward past me and she was very worried about that. Giving her a little more open space, without releasing the pressure to move forward, did the trick. When she found the right answer, moved forward, the pressure came off, and her ears went up. Nothing bad happened to her for giving me an answer I didn't want, I just kept asking til I got the one I did. Then came the release and the praise. Most young horses really need help to build their confidence. She's one, and her appreciation when you get there with her is really obvious.

While I started with the buckskin filly, Teri went on with Ella. We are building lateral movement, and had a few decent sidepass steps, using the fence as an aid. Teri calls for my attention, I look up and she and Ella take three very sweet, correct sidepass steps to the right, out in the middle of the pen, all by they onesies. I grin, ear to ear. That's awesome!! Teri says she thinks she skipped some steps, but I told her you know how you know if you do it right? It works!!

Hmm, Ter? I say, do you care if I ride in there, with you? She didn't mind, and this is where the real fun begins. It's all good stuff, working with these young horses, putting the pieces of the puzzle together to help them find themselves and develop as willing partners, but me being as ADD as I am, I like to mix things up, keeps me entertained, and gets the horse trained as a by product. (well, glad you are enjoying yourself, says my clients, whose dollars are hard at work here . . . )

Ella is bottom on the totem pole and a couple of times that they've been together, Knosie has picked on her a little. Whenever we'd come by (Knosie mounted up and rode off like a saddle horse, geez, this is a nice filly!) she'd pin those little ears and look as defensively fierce as she possibly could. I am firmly of the belief a horse needs to depend on it's rider to protect it, not feel the need to use it's own hooves when under saddle and I asked Teri to correct the problem.

What to do? Well, as soon as those ears sweep back in that angry position, boot her. Thump her good. She isn't going to buck or bolt or do anything naughty and if she did, Teri knows how to take her hip away and shut her down. KEEP booting her until those ears pitch forward. Even one, even a little, then STOP. We did this for a few turns. I'd work small circles (asking for lateral flexion in motion, getting Knosie softer and more responsive in the bridle, powering out of the turns, keeping the shoulders upright, still doing my job on the horse I am on) and when we'd be on Ella's side, she go into defense mode, Teri'd do HER job, and Ella figured out a) she didn't NEED to take care of her own self, and b) Teri wasn't going to LET her either.

The trick, I tell my friend, once you cue for a response, do not quit til you get the try. Whatever you release to, that is the lesson learned whether you mean it to be or not. Don't wait until she has done something wrong to correct her, do it WHILE she is, don't wait to release her til AFTER she's done the right thing, release WHILE . . . it was darned cool watching them work things out. It really was not that long before Knos and I could trot by, fairly close and Ella would stay calm, relaxed, ears up while Teri praised and rubbed her.

We rode joyously until the dark almost caught us and Teri had to dash home to shower and get ready to go to work. There are days that take minutes off your life, and too many of them. Days like this give them back.

Ella is going to Stone Park next week for her graduation ride and Knosie is going to Turkey Creek the week after. This was excellent prep work for these young horses to understand there will be other horses with them, behind, in front and passing them, sometimes at different speeds than they themselves are going.

Today, it's pasture riding. I keep saying I am bringing in my saddle horses to pony from, and then other stuff comes up. Today is the day. Teri is husband free for the weekend and will be back over when she gets up (night nurse). I will have both fillies well warmed up and we will ride the pasture, and maybe the roads a little. We can trade off, one of us on a saddle horse, the other on a youngster and then back again.

This is the part that is more fun than ice cream and anyone who has ever met me, knows I love the good gooey stuff. Arron spent the evening raking and building our fire ring over where we took back the jungle by our bottom pen. We have some old hay, downed wood, all kinds of stuff to burn, and after dark fell, we sat in our lawn chairs, ate some cold dinner and watched the flames and the stars. The dogs thought this was a pretty good time as well, they chased imaginary dragons and then lay at our feet in happy exhaustion.

I am not sure it gets any better than this.


Illoura said...

Hi, thought I'd leave a word just to let you know you're reaching someone 'out here'. I enjoyed the page because I'm getting back into horses after almost 30 years without one and was an experience novice after those first years with starting over again with a horse that's been on pasture for over 2 years (after a knee surgery) finds me sorely lacking in fitness and knowledge. It's great to read what you're doing -the small steps and the progress are all very enlightening and encouraging.
I had found your blog when I did a google search on "mirror for my horse" (looking to see if anyone every put a mirror for their equine to feel he has a companion). Your title Horse in the Mirror caught my eye- but something went over my head or I didn't read slowly enough to catch that meaning. However, I'm glad I found you and I'll be visiting a lot!
Thanks so much for sharing.
P.S. If you want to see my horsie stuff, I have a photo blog at the site listed... I think you'll enjoy the picture of my horse when he found himself reflected in the window... LOL Truly, I'm considering putting a mirror out by his corral.

Good Hands said...

Illoura, thank you so much for your comment! I love the work I do with the horses and writing about them is almost as much fun as being with them.

Best of luck in your journey, as well. If I can answer a question for you, never hesitate to ask! I'll be checking out your site as well. It's been a long and rather trying couple of days, after that fantastic one, and we are heading off to bed, but I'll be looking for yours tomorrow! Thanks for stopping by!

Good Hands said...

Hi Illoura, I visited your website, but it wouldn't let me comment unless I signed up for a Windows Live id, LOL!

GORGEOUS photos!! Nice Paint horse, too. Is his story on your website somewhere?

Lulu said...

Good post... My only disagreement is on how to handle the ear pinning... Rather than start with thumping, I would have put the filly to work. Pin ears and be cranky = work harder.

I just sold the only saddle horse on my place (she wasn't mine), so now I've got nothing for my greenie to follow! I guess I'll be calling some girlfriends, asking if my filly can follow them through the fields and on the trails. LOL

Lulu said...

To llloura....lots of folks use mirrors for only horses (esp. those stalled). Just pick one that is "equine safe" and will not shatter!

Good Hands said...

The technique I used is one I watched Buck Brannaman employ in a clinic a few years ago. It got to the horse's mind very quickly and in a much less stressful manner than the old "move your feet" method. It was new to me, at the time, and I have really liked the results I get from it.