Saturday, July 25, 2009

Looking for the Changes

Nope, not talking about moving or personal development, this one is pretty much back on track with horse training :-)

Right now, I have a scheduled set of horses that I am riding as close to every day as jobs and weather will allow. Both of those are being generous and I am getting quite a bit accomplished with my crew. I have Hawkeye, Skipper, Sadie, Slippin in the line up for sure with Hershey and Classic on deck. I'd rather sell Classic than Skipper but I have started riding Skipper and I am not getting off again until I am happy with where we are at. If she sells because of that, so be it, I've got to both reduce headcount and inflate bank account, and that is life as I know it.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand.

People often ask me how long I ride a training horse in the course of a day's work. I can't remember what I do tell them but what I want to say is however long it takes to make a change. One day last week, I was riding Teri's Sadie, who is a quick, stocky reining bred QH mare, and she was having a very hard time figuring out what I wanted. When she did make the change, it came really well. Her mind and body totally relaxed and I knew we had accomplished something good. I'd only been on her about 30 minutes at that point and called it good. The day before I rode a lot longer and got less of anything that mattered. Making the change is what was on my mind today and I was determined to pay attention and not miss it!

The morning started in a fine way, with me sleeping in, missing both a call from my farrier, who fortunately came later, and a prospective customer, who bravely came anyway. I am in my jammies, haven't yet had my first cuppa (and we all know how THAT can be) and this lady is knocking at my door . . .

It went okay. She is looking for a really broke, ride down the road, do most anything kind of horse, and I already sold him. She knew that, but came anyway as she may want me to ride a horse for her, plus she wanted to see what else I had for sale.

It was a great opportunity to start with Skipper. After I showed her to that gal, and we both agreed Skipper is an extremely nice horse who showed herself very well (the lady said she would never have known Skipper was not the "broke to death" she was looking for had I not told her different), the customer left, and I rode Skip again. Something at the back of the pasture really had her bugged (in fact, at the end of the day, when I turned her back out into the grove, she was running back and forth, snorting and staring back there, eyes white and tailed flagged. Very UN Skipper!) and she got the most hot and bothered I've seen her with me on her. Head would come up, the tension would just rise up off of her. I would bend her and ask her to come back to me, mentally and physically, and she never really did. It was hesitant step after hesitant step, bunchy, jerky, fits and starts. We worked the figure eight's, never turning away from the side that scared her and when she'd soften, I'd ride away, she'd grab her butt, and we'd have to start over again.

It smoothed out eventually. I had the idea I might have to "ride her til I liked her", but it didn't take all that long and a change was made. It wasn't perfect, she wasn't as soft and quiet as I would have liked her to be, but she stayed under and with me. Tomorrow, I will warm her up a little more, ride in the round pen first, and then we will graduate outside and see if the world looks better to her. I really want to jump start that mare to being where I want her to be, instead of allowing her to be where she is and grow from there. That would be a bad mistake, and could cost both of us. Tomorrow, I will do a mix of getting us OUT of the round pen, which is entirely timely and necessary but not causing her to lose confidence and blow her mind.

Hawkeye and I are not working in the pen or pasture at all. We are heading down the road, and today, that felt like a job kind of on the scale of cleaning the bathroom or doing the dishes. I wanted him to ride straight out, and for whatever reason, he was just not feeling it. He whinnied, he wandered, he tippytoed, tender footed, having just been trimmed. I decided to go back to not making a big deal of anything I don't want, and ignored his cries. I rode him in the ditch beside my gravel road which is worrisome as sometimes people throw junk and you can't see it in the tall grass but it was easier on his feet. We took what I used to call the "short ride", down my gravel road, turn right at the street, cross Buchanan and down the dead end. It's about a mile or so, and I thought it would be a decent short work and get something done without eating the day.

For the heck of it, as we are striding along, I jump in my saddle and yell "boogie, boogie." I thought the danged Painted fool was going to buck me off. He threw up his head, startled, skittered forward . . . geez Hawkeye, all that for that? So, I boogie boogie'd him a lot, til it was annoying but not worrisome. Then, I slapped a mosquito on his neck and he jumped at that. More slapping. Rump, my legs, his neck. I've done some of this stuff before, but you have to complete a thing to have it done. That might sound really obvious, but if you start something with your horse you have to make sure you are not leaving them in doubt, (quitting while the horse is still bothered leaves them in doubt and makes it worse next time). Hawkeye is what you might call a left brained horse. His responses are more on the inside until they leak through on the outside in a big way, and it's easy to miss when he is bothered. Today, the change I was looking for was for him to get okay in his skin regardless of what I was up to, up there. He's not a spooky horse regarding what's going on in the world around him, it's his rider he's learned not to trust or listen to, and that's what I have to fix. Slowly but surely I am getting to the bottom of what is going to be a heck of a really nice horse.

By the time we were ready to turn back down our lane, I did not feel we had made enough progress. He was still leaning through my leg, in the direction he wished to be going (how i got a hella bruise on my shin courtesy of a tree from him a few weeks ago at Stone Park), still leaning heavily on his bit, and still crying for company, although not as much, that. The highway overpass is about a half mile down the road the other way, so we struck out for that. I was not thinking on trying to ride him under it. That thing scares me when the motorcycles and semi's rattle over it, and I am always fairly sure my horse will lose it's mind, scrabble madly about, either fall down on me or run me into an oncoming car or some such disaster. Such a thing has never come even close to occurring but that doesn't stop me from thinking about it.

I am tired of him wandering about and we start riding boxes and I am picky about moving his hip out of the way before he makes the turn and crabby about him falling through his shoulder when he thinks he's heading for home. Hawk gets his feelings hurt more than his ribs, but he does run into a spur a time or two, or ten. He runs into his bit and finds out he has to back himself out of the problem instead of turning into a bent spaghetti noodle behind the pressure. We do this most of the half mile. It takes awhile. Now we are riding some sweet ovals around bushes, I am setting his feet on a path, left here, right there, move your hindquarter Hawkeye, soften and back off that bit, atta boy. Whenever he leans on his bit, I catch him and hold until he softens and shifts his weight back. The very instant I feel that about to take place, my hands go from iron to butter, rewarding his try and teaching him, over and over again, how much nicer it is to be light . . .

We get to the bridge. What the heck. We ride under it. He's a little worried, but more about the tire marks on the street than the stuff crackling overhead. I have to sing myself through there to stay loose and okay in the saddle. We mess around on the other side, ride a box or two . . .dropping your shoulder into the homeward side really makes more work for you, Hawk . . . and come back through, zero incident. As usual, I am more scared of the overpass than the horses ever are . . .

Coming home, we get to lope some. We are far enough away, and he's not chargey. I have to hold my phone pouch with one hand as the velcro is shot . . . Hawkeye, don't you dare buck . . . He really hasn't offered to, except when he got a little hoppy at Stone Park when I wouldn't let him go tearing off with some other riders, but I watch him close. He doesn't offer to, now, either, and we have a nice lope up the way. We still have to back and soften a couple of times on the way home, but for the most part, when I reach for a soft feel, I get one from him and he can hold it without dropping his whole front end on it. His ears are up, and he's quiet. He has more to think about, just now, than where his buddies are . . . It's a nice change. Hope it sticks.

Teri's Sadie mare went down the road today too. She's a talented athletic little thing, and I'd love to put some reining training into her, but that isn't really what Teri needs me to do. They are going to sell this mare and the best thing she needs to know how to do is carry people nicely out in the world. I have enough handle and ride to feel safe on her, so it's out we go. Not too much bothered her, and we did some of the same softening and backing when occasionally she'd trot through my hands and attempt to take matters into hers. Coming home, it was head down, loose rein, felt nice. Big ole apple picker truck comes rattling by, it's worth an ear but that's about it. I am feeling good about her and tomorrow, we'll go further.

Slippin was the rock star today though. Top of her class last year, she's headed there with a bullet now, too. Bridled her up, pretty easy, just had to let her move her feet first, and then ask her to bring her head down to me. I never chase them to bridle, never ever ever. Did her usual groundwork with her halter, letting her wear the bridle and remember what that feels like. Slippin is like a good dance partner, doing groundwork. She had a little worry to her, and that worried me. Not that I thought she was going to do anything out of control or naughty, but I want that happy, open look she can have when she's having fun with what we are doing. I slowed WAY down, did some "friendly" work, slapping the stick and string on the ground, til she could stand and let that happen, sent the string all around her body, and waited for the lick and chew. Not so much. Hmm, worry lines and unhappy face still there. Hmm. I walk away from her, casually swinging the string in a figure eight in front of me. She follows hesitantly at the end of the lead. Pretty soon there is no tension there, and I can feel her feet freeing up and her body getting loose. I hear the big lick and chew, we are there.

Riding her today was a BLAST! This smart little horse remembers so much of what I taught her last year it isn't funny. Hip over, shoulder through, from the saddle, did some friendly from up there and that got the feet moving. Okay. Let's trot around a little then. She was moving good, so I slapped my leg, just a little. Sure enough she picked up her lope. Scared her a smidge, and I let her pick her trot again. Around we go and I ask again, she picks it up and we lope and trot around the pen. I bend her to gently bring her to a stop, as she's getting on the worried and scooty side. We turn, go the other way, walking, then trotting and pick up the lope again. There's some fear in it, it's a little grabby and not smooth, but at least she doesn't want to buck her way out of it. I was 99.9 sure she wouldn't, it's just not her. Trotted some more til she felt okay, then brought it back down. I went looking to see what all she remembers. Pivot on the rear, really quite nice, not much sidepass but a few lateral steps . . . tucks her nose and backs up sweet. Not bad for third ride in almost a year . . . Biggest and best change, in her, though, were the sweetly relaxed forward ears and the nice way she greeted me when I got off, head turned in for her atta girls. That's what I wanted to see.

The grulla mare, who I adore, and once again, did not ride, came clear across our grove when I called her name. I am so gone over this mare, it's ridiculous. Just the look on her face when our eyes meet is change enough for me, with her. I do plan to ride her again, tomorrow, though :-)

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