Monday, April 26, 2010
The clinic in Lincoln was just the best time. I sent out the photo link to all those hundreds of photos and figure, since that might be daunting to wade through, plus it's hard to know exactly what you are looking at, if you have not attended a clinic of mine, what you think you see may not be what's actually occurring :-)) All things are taught with a process and an end goal of softness and fluidity under the saddle, and there are steps to take along the way or you may end up somewhere, totally else!
We had seven riders, the youngest being a 13 year old girl, the oldest, well I am not saying, LOL! The 13 year old has more miles under her belt than many adults and several of the adults were either brand new to horses or just returning to their childhood roots. The seven horses ranged from chartreuse green to the bluest of true blue, a really nice bunch of horseflesh.
I teach essentially the same things in all of my clinics and lessons. The paths we take may vary, techniques might change from horse to horse but the principles of gaining the horse's respect, the promise of instant release from pressure as the horse seeks the right answer . . . those things do not change. Gaining these skills in a friendly, controlled environment can mean all the difference to whether or not your trail rides go as planned or have mishaps, disappointments and scary events added instead. (see the May issue of Saddle Up magazine for my article on Trail Safety)
We had issues of horses who didn't really want to or understand how to freely move their feet, and ones who seemed to want to move them too much. I taught the riders how to send their horse from the ground, doing exercises that might look like lunging but are very far from mindless circles, round and round. We watched for all four corners to be reaching equally. A horse with brace in his body will travel crooked and getting the brace out of the body relaxes the mind as well. Fixing that can be a major solution to many problems a rider might think totally unrelated. Getting the horses to respond lightly on the halter was another task that involved teaching the handlers how to start soft and firm up as necessary. The release needs to come as the horse STARTS to make the change, if you wait til the change is done, it's too late. That kind of timing can only come with practice and observation. I think my students picked up very quickly on what they needed to do, and the generally easy looks on the faces of the horses tell you we were on the right track.
When we did run into some stickiness, here and there, I was able to step in and show what works for me. I do not claim my timing and feel are perfect, far from it, but I was able to get the horses past their hard places and could show one horse it was okay to give and work away from his buddies, another horse carries a lot of tightness in his body which results in chronic bucking behavior, another tends to want to sleep through her days, plopping her feet roughly into the ground, and when we were able to bring the life in the body to the feet and into the mind, we created a much prettier picture than we started with!
It was really fun working with some folks who have been to a couple of my clinics and are very dedicated to taking this stuff home. For those guys, it was mostly a matter of fine tuning, and introducing a few ideas I have just learned, myself, and they were off and running. It was equally a joy introducing these concepts as brand new ideas to some of the other folks who got to find out their horses really do appreciate it when the rider is the leader and the horse doesn't have to worry about being in charge. It's a big responsibility, you know! It's not about the struggle of "showin' 'em who's boss" but rather letting the horse be assured that when you say something, you mean it and have the ability to follow through. A boss mare who pins her ears but then does nothing to rebut a challenge will quickly lose her spot. The one that has the ability to firm up will rarely ever need to use it.
We played with obstacles, not because we think we will find mattresses on the trail and need to be able to cross them but because that particular object provided an excellent venue to erase doubt's in our horse's minds about our ability to send and ride them over things they may not think, on their own, is the absolute best idea. Every success built confidence, horse in rider, rider in horse, and prepares the way for more success, out in the world, using these same principles, pressure, release, good sends, rewarding the try, knowing when to firm up and knowing when to sit and wait. Again, the details will change and there is no way to simulate every single type of situation a person will run into on the trail, but when you have the principles in place, you and your horse will be able to smoothly handle whatever comes your way, no leaping, balking, sticking or whirling required!
Thinking about the late Tom Dorrance's poem "To Slicker Break A Bronc" we did slicker training, and all our "broncs" came around to thinking nothing of the flapping yellow thing. Might have been a different story, had we been caught in the rain, five miles from the trailer and just tried to unfold and wear one. . . .might have been a long walk home for some of us!
I taught the class the hip over, shoulder through exercise, of which there are many variations. I like it best when I don't take the arc out of the body of the horse and I ask them to rock back on their hindquarters, lifting the front and bringing the shoulder through while yielding away from me. This has really helped my horses not be heavy in front, as they all used to be, once upon a time. We did that manuever from the ground and worked on it from the saddle. We used one of my favorite exercises, the barrel game, to see how well we had those pieces. That game also provides excellent spook therapy when you use your line or the horse's stirrup to knock one down while the horse comes around it. They get pretty used to the idea that sudden, unexpected events can take place without having to have any kind of catastrophic reaction! The tight horse learned to bend and I don't think he bucked, even once, the second day all day long. Lots of good uses for these games and exercises!
The next piece after that is lateral flexion in motion. We learned the basics for that, from the ground, looking for that straightness in the arc that shows the nose tipped in, inside hind reaching into the track of outside fore. I no longer teach just bending a horse's head and neck, back and forth. I have learned, if I want the feet to be aware of signals from the reins, it doesn't make sense to detach them by doing rein exercises that do not and are not supposed to, move the feet! I have seen many a horse run through it's outside shoulder, and most of those have been bent and bent and bent, so that when you pick up the rein, sure the head and neck come around, whilst that body, detached, continues on in the direction it was going, only now without it's head! I look for lateral flexion to take place while the inside hind is reaching up under, at first, it is at that one stride that I release, and later, I can ask the horse to hold that frame, bending, and then straight down the rail for a truly lovely picture of collection and self carriage. It's one of the neatest exercises I know, and I learned it from Missy Fladland who I cannot wait to ride with again, once her show schedule slows down.
At the end of the last afternoon, we played arena games, to help build, once again rider confidence in their ability to steer their horse not only from point to point, which encourages straightness and the very desirable goal of being able get point A to B with a minimum of direction and fuss, to group games. The group games addressed defensive trail horse issues, jiggy, speedy horse issues, pokey slowly never gonna get there issues, and gave the riders yet another set of tools to take home and build into their repetoire. Not I nor any good clinician I have seen says we can fix you or your horse in a matter of days or hours. The best we can do is show you some things that work for us, give you the pieces, the confidence and the ability to pick them up and use them. Then, it's up to you, the rider, to take it home, and THAT, my friend, is where the learning truly begins.
So, from the basics of having a horse learn to lead respectfully, taking responsibility for it's place by your side, it's willingness to stop when you stop, back up when you do, spook therapy, confidence building, obstacle training, trail safety and etiquette to some of the more advanced pieces of learning control, self carriage and collection, we covered a lot of ground over the course of a weekend! My next clinic is scheduled May 15, in Sioux City. We'll cover, in a nutshell, the basics of what we did over the weekend. I work to each rider's ability to try to give the best picture and possibilities of success for whichever piece of the puzzle is the one that fills the whole for you!
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Next up was Mocha. This is a good looking coming four year old that is the half sister to my beloved Slippin and Knosie. She is also the half sister to the bay bookends that are spending 60 days with me, as well. Because of an injury, she didn't get started when Slips and Knos did, but she's fully healed and ready to work now. In leading her around, I have noticed she tends to get sticky footed and dull when she doesn't really want to get along. I wanted to wake her up a little, get some respect and response, so I don't spend the next 30 days having to wear out my arms and heels, tugging and kicking her along.
Mocha is tall and wants to put that head of hers WAY in the air when she'd prefer to be left alone, too. In haltering her, she was blowing off my requests to bring that giraffe neck down to the level I wanted. Okay fine, let's work on that now, so it's not a problem later. One hand on her neck, another on the bridge of her nose, I work her neck back and forth, asking her to relax and come down. If she'd not been able to come through, or even took her nose away and left, I'd say, okay, go get her and start over. She didn't leave, and eventually the head came down. Very uninterested in acknowledging that halter, but compliant enough about having it slipped over her nose. Spang! Back up in the air goes the haltered head.
Okay, says me, let's work on that . . . I slip the rope behind her left front leg, and apply some gentle pressure. What ensues next is Mocha, trying to figure out what she needs to do to get rid of that pressure, and she tries a lot of things before giving me the answer I am looking for, which is lowering her head. Her favorite response is to turn her head to the left, run through the pressure and wind herself up in the rope until I am forced to let go. I pick up my stick and block that with a tap on the cheekbone until she holds it straight. Then, it's coming forward, running over the top of me. Nope, a tap stops that, toot sweet, as well. Is she being naughty? Heck no. She just does not understand what I want, and is trying to figure things out. It's my job to help with that. We hear "make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy." Too many people just hear that first part, including me, sometimes. I really watched for the slightest give, the hesitation that she was even thinking about lowering her head, and it really wasn't long before she had her head down to her fetlocks, slack in the lead, and her eyes soft. THAT'S the goal.
I flipped the stick and string over her back, letting her know things might fly around up there. She wasn't too sure that was a good idea, but she had already trusted me about something hard for her, and the first bricks of a foundation are being laid . . . Mocha moved her feet uneasily, wondering if she were, perhaps, supposed to go somewhere and might get in trouble if she didn't. We'd just been working on getting her feet lightened up, remember, so she was not out of line to ask that question, not at all. It's my job to make my body language and energy clear when they are to move their feet and when they are to be still and handle commotion. If I am not clear in my signals, how can they be expected to be clear in their responses? Once she can handle that, I take the lead around her middle and let her know there can be pressure there, too. I make sure she's good with that, front and where the back cinch will go. I always saddle with a full rig. You might not want a back cinch, but if you do, you surely hope whoever started your horse used one, or you might find an unexpected rodeo when you go to saddle up . . .
During this time, the saddle is setting in the middle of the round pen, and when she finally does express curiousity about the "dead cow" (Richard Winters, I like that guy), I let her and encourage her to check things out. The saddle pad is hanging over the rail, and I've let her look at that, too. I want my horses curious and interested in what's going on around them, not tuned out and then, therefore, shocked as hell when something DOES penetrate and get through . . . I rub her with the saddle pad. This might feel like grooming to her, I don't know, but she likes it. She's a little sweaty by now and would like to rub me back. Nope, that does not work out. I can come into your bubble but you surely are not welcome in mine. She gets educated about where her space ends and mine begins, not because I slug her in the nose, yell, kick my feet, stomp or anything like that, but there's a sharp, inconvenient elbow, a bump here, a knock there, while I go about my business. I am not making a big deal of anything, but she learns that it's better for her to wait for me to do the petting. Saddle pad is in place and there's all kinds of lessons learned for ms. Mocha, in the process. I like getting a bunch of things accomplished, when I can, there's only so many hours in a day, might as well make use of them.
Mocha is tall, the Billy Cook roper I think will fit her best is not light. I take it on the left hand side, under the pommel with my left hand, grasping the first skirt on the right with my right. I bring it back behind me, letting the filly check the saddle out, now that's it's in a different place, which she does, and I begin the swing, which ends with the saddle more or less gracefully settling into place on her somewhat surprised back. One step forward, she finds the end of the halter rope, and having learned a little respect for that, stops and waits. I go around to let down my cinches (I know, if I saddled from the right, I'd already be there, but I don't mind and my colts need to stand quiet for that, anyway). I tighten the cinch, I have learned it has to be pretty snug this first time, to avoid that saddle ending up around the belly which is NOT where it was ever intended to be! I snug, and loosen, snug and loosen, her ears flickering in concern, head raising. I lower it when it gets high. Heads in the air are not relaxed horses, and I want her feeling good about this entire process, so I fix the problems as I find them. She's quiet, I snug up the cinch (Ray Hunt said to go three times around, I usually do two, but if three, and there's a problem, cinch won't come undone, leaving your saddle in a possible broken heap on the ground, and your horse with a black marble in it's experience jar) and fasten up the back. I also have learned to not use a breast collar on this first saddle. If they do jump around a little, I don't want the saddle pulling forward, either, so I left the breast collar over the saddle where it lives when I am not using it.
Mocha sent off like I asked, walking calmly, then picked up a little trot. Much to her surprise, the thing on her back came right with her and it felt FUNNY! She humped up three or four times, nothing to write home about, no bronc score for anyone and this untalented bucking horse rider prolly could'a stayed on, just fine. Not my way though :-) After that, non issue, walks, trots, lopes both direction, and now it's her turn to hang on a tie post and watch the rest.
I detailed out this first saddle for this filly because I wanted to illustrate how you can get a lot more done than just setting a saddle on a horse, cinching them up and away you go. I wanted to make sure she could come forward off of pressure, move back off of pressure, have some respect for my space and get the beginnings of an understanding of when to move her feet and when she needs to be still and wait for direction. This sets up the rest of our training in a tone I hope to continue, smooth, uneventful and undusty!
The other colts, three year olds, both of them, were with me last Fall. They have each been saddled several times and were ready to ride when I got the plague and had to send them home whilst I either passed on or recovered and could bring them back. Fortunately for me, they are back!
The filly, who I call Foxy, is quite a bit more skeptical than her brother. We spent far more time, working on hook up and getting her to even be willing to turn toward me when I changed direction in the round pen, rather than spinning her butt (middle hoof) and taking herself off, as she chose. Her attitude changed, from hanging her nose over the round pen, looking longingly into the distance, as she discovered that being with me is quiet and restful, taking off means moving your feet and working hard! She's got a lot of heart, and working hard didn't bother her all that much, which will be excellent for us, a bit further down the road. Once I got her coming to me, the rest was a piece of cake. If I had not solved that particular piece, it might still have gone well, I don't know, but resistance always shows up, and when it's later rather than sooner, it is NOT as good!
I did the same string over the back, around the legs, that I did with Mocha. I'd not take for granted just because she ended up saddling quietly last Fall, that we could merely pick up where we left off. Heck, I can't remember stuff I learned last Fall, pretty unfair of me to expect her to! With just a little preparation, she's wearing her saddle and it's again, uneventful and the dust has settled from our earlier go-round. I find a spot for her, and filly stands tied. (I am untalented at embedding images, they come in on top of the blog and I have to drag them down. It's too far for me to go, now, so you'll see the rest of them on the sidebar!)
HopScotch, the bay brother, is a born rockstar. He wants to get along, and with him, getting along is just taking a little time to let you know what you want. He joined up immediately, stayed soft and soft eyed through the entire process. Saddling him probably took less than 15 minutes, though you know, had he need more, I'd cheerfully have given him whatever time he required.
I played with the owner's three year old pony gelding,while everyone stood tied and thought about their day, or their hay, or whatever it is horse's dream of, while standing tied to a post. Probably being free and grazing on the nice grass springing up all around . . . anyhoo.
This is one of those cute, cute ponies, and he's a sweetie. Doesn't know a whole lot, which is fine, and that is what I am there for. Spent some time getting him to come forward off pressure, and back away from it. Trouble I see with most ponies, is people just expect them to get along with kids because everyone is small and why not? I really commend these folks for going to the extra mile for their pony and getting him the education that is going to set him to be a wonderful partner for a darling little girl. I am honored to be a part of that. My own Ringo . . . well, you guys have read about him, and some of our adventures together. I'd not be who and what I am today, without him, for better or worse! Ringo, after having to move his adorable little feet around, pretty willingly, really, also got to meet a power greater than himself, in the form of the tie post. There were a few temper tantrums, but he quickly learned that pulling on a rope halter is not nearly as comfortable as those wide nylon ones that give him plenty of base to work from. Tiny pyrotechnics turned into a pony standing, hip cocked, tail swishing gently, just like the big kids.
Great day at the barn, and if it doesn't rain me out, will be another one today. We'll work on all four quarters reaching equally, forwards and back. Getting that arc in the body with all things working as they are supposed to, leaves no room for brace. No brace, no buck. That's a good thing. And now, the sun is shining, the clouds have passed, hopefully in Plattsmouth as well as Omaha, and it's time to head for work!
Thursday, April 1, 2010
A lot of you have followed our adventures prior to and post the move to Omaha. We've been in three barns, with potential for others, have had praise, love, shame and doubt heaped upon our heads in relatively equal measure. It's been a exercise in maintaining equilibrium, that's for sure. The ones that matter to me, continue to believe in me, and that's what keeps me moving forward.
Back to the "we" pronoun. We taught a clinic in February . . . and took away a very valuable learning tool. It's too damned cold to teach OR learn a darned thing in February in Nebraska. Probably won't do that again!
Got invited to demonstrate Anywhere From Here Foundation Horsemanship at the Nebraska Horse Expo. All three days in the round pen, demo'ing attaching the feet to the reins. I don't think it was fascinating . . . A friend once said horse training done right is like watching paint dry, and I'd have to agree, the best of it is no dust, muss or fuss. It's done in small, subtle, simple pieces and the casual eye will miss it, even an experienced one like mine, unless the changes are pointed out, as they occur and the brain just cannot get to the mouth fast enough to get that done. I did the best I could, and the horse was in a better frame of mind on Sunday than he began on Friday, which, as much as wowing the crowd would have been nice, being right for the horse is always the goal. I met and spent quite a bit of time talking with Richard Winters, who is a really fine horseman and I'll be adding him to that list of names I study. Watched his excellent colt starting techniques and his demo on Four Part Harmony . . . it's entirely worth checking out.
I got to take a private lesson with ranking dressage rider Matt McLaughlin while he was staying at Chance Ridge in Elkhorn. That was incredible. I was very pleased I could keep up with his instructions, to some extent anyway. I'd get so focused on him (you think horses are herd sour, try people, HAH!) that I would miss my mark, or he'd give me praise when I got something done, and I'd beam, it would all fall apart and "Terri, that looks AWFUL, go back, do it again and don't let it fall apart this time!" I was using Hawkeye, my Paint gelding who tends to turn into spaghetti under pressure and I was really impressed with his try and willingness. "You'd have a better balanced horse if you were a better balanced rider!" Says Matt. Sigh. Hand me a tissue, I'm okay . . . But really, as another friend reassured, is that not true of all of us? When I am better, my horse follows suit. Yep. I can live with that. Nothing for it, but to continue to improve!
We (I am going to skip around like that, English majors, deal with it!) came to Omaha, six horses in our herd. I am now down to two, and only one of those came down from Sioux City. Ginger has earned her spot, even though Spring fresh Ginger would make a really nice roast, the one I have the rest of the year is priceless. She is rising to her job of clinic demo horse, lesson horse for beginning AND intermediate riders, and colt pony girl with calm and aplomb. Plus, she's not hard on the eyes and smooth as silk to ride . . . and she'll pack my husband (to whom she actually belongs) on those occasions he should desire to ride. (I have promised to give advice to him only when asked, unless I see his near and impending death . . . we'll see how that goes )
The other horse . . . a three year old AQHA gelding I picked up at the Woodbine Saddle Club sale in Avoca a couple of weeks ago. Halter broke two days before the sale, this young fellow has worn a saddle pretty much every day since, traveled the gypsy caravan and even had his first ride, a day or so back. This is my "no excuses" horse. He will have no baggage, save what I give him. He will be everything I can help him to be, and I hope we make the team I have been looking for, my entire life. I said so long to Hawkeye and Chica at that sale. I still have a hitch in my stomach, thinking about Chic. She landed well, I liked the guy who rode her off bareback, grinning at me while he rolled her back off the fence, getting along just fine. She's been my girl a long time though, and at least I gave her enough start to get through the rest of her life with success. Dunno about Hawkeye. I had him pretty jacked up, and he did not show well. Wishing you the best, Hawk, you're a good boy, underneath it all, wish I could have done a little better for you, but it is what is, and it was time to move on.
In my travels, the horses hung out at Chance Ridge (thank you Cindy and Burton) and I got to spend some time up in Blair at one of my best friend's in life's place. Colleen and I go back aways . . . late 80''s even. We have had our share of good times and bad and plan to have plenty more. We survive the wrecks and support the triumphs. She is truly what good friendships are all about, warts and all. We rode some, played with the colt and brought him further along, culminating in Colleen putting a very successful first ride on him before I made my next migration to our latest new home, the Log Barn Stable, down by Plattsmouth. Great place, check it out. http://www.logbarnstables.com/ .
About the dog . . . We also brought dogs along, from our acreage in Sioux City. Dogs that had a perfectly fine life, running the large mostly fenced yard (Zan) and now have to adjust to city living . . . They are doing pretty good, but the one who struggles the most is unsurprisingly, the Border Collie/Aussie cross, Axel. Young dog, lots of energy, he sees the four foot chainlink fences around our yard and that of our neighbor's as excellent agility obstacles and loves to go visit. This is not going to work out. Fast cars and city people make bad combinations for even a friendly dog. I have to be able to take him with me, or he's going to have a tough time here, completely not of his making and not remotely fair. We had a week of bonding (my heart closes quickly and opens slowly, it seems and Zan left large pawprints to fill) and we are the best we have been yet. There is nothing much better than the love of a good dog, and cuddling with him on the couch in Colleen's guest room was a highlight of my week, funny as that may seem . . .
Taught a clinic last weekend in Elkhorn at Chance Ridge. Polar opposite from the one in February and not just the weather. I went back to my commitment to make the change in the horse, show the owner the change and what it means and then introduce them to the concepts that made the change. There is no way, in the course of one day or even two that I am going to be able to give someone the pieces to a puzzle I have been putting together for over 35 years. What I hope to do is show some differences and light the fire of desire for a better deal for the horse than the one he showed up with. I saw the changes in the horses, and the owners did, too. I know they all would have liked to have gone home, able to do it all, but that is not the way it works. I have caused myself and others a certain amount of frustration, trying to short cut the learning process and now I smile and say, if you got a piece, you have more than you came with . . . come back for more. That's what I did and what I continue to do.