Thursday, November 24, 2011

Back to Basics

In my search for all good things horse I sometimes find myself wandering a bit far afield. How do I know? Things start to go inexplicably wrong. At first I have no idea why. Then, when I go back to my first teacher, the horse, I get my answers. If I am open and paying attention, they will always tell me what is troubling them.

Subject at hand right now is my lovely grulla filly, Riata. Brief history, I bought her at a sale last March on the rebound from what I thought was losing Royal. I picked up a horse that seemed gentle, good minded and had a striking color. The thought behind the purchase was that this was one I could mess with a little, and if she didn't trip my trigger, her color alone assured that I would not lose my money and she was in the bank in case Royal did somehow manage to come back onto my horizon.

Day one, she was cautious and wary, but allowed me to catch her, do a little groundwork and I called it good. Day two, I could barely so much as put a hand on her before she spun and tore wildly away. Day three, I build a little pen in the arena that was her temporary home, thinking to lure her in with hay and then do the round pen work I do to help horses learn to face up, hook up and allow themselves caught. She follows me in, no luring involved, and in fairly short order, I have hands on, and she is sinking her head into my arms and we are having a moment . . .

Busy with my Spring book, she goes where all my horses go, straight to the back burner. I pull her off to ride a day with Kerry Kuhn when Purina brings him to town. I know the filly rides, walk, trot and canter but I don't see what happens before what I saw happen. She was jumpy and goosey enough, I thought, maybe something . . . We get through the gooseyness at the clinic with a TON of sacking from me in the beginning. She gets gentle, accepting and I ride her all day. End up on cloud nine. We both know what we want from each other and it looks like a wonderful partinership is in the making except . . .

back to back burner she goes. Then, I move my horses this summer and she promptly gouges a hole in her side and is laid up for almost two months. Riata gets handled every day with wound cleaning and again, she is gentle, accepting, friendly and trusting.

So, why the purpose of this blog? Because something happened. I am still not real sure what. I rode her in Peter Campbell's clinic as I blogged before and we ran into trouble there. She had learned really well to not be bothered by things flying around her, and had also got pretty stuck and lazy about her responses. The cowboys want their horses to MOVE when they are told, and I do too, so we really got after it. I want to make clear I am not blaming Peter for our problems. It is solely in me, my timing, my not being in sync with my horse. I was hard on her, at times, looking for that amped up response, and if I had been where she was, I could have cued her in a way that she understood. I don't think that happened. From what she tells me, there is no way. Riata is confused . . . when to stay, when to go, and what happens if she messes up? Now we have sullen and withdrawn or goosey and ready to blow. Great.

Riata came home from the clinic not wanting much to do with any of us. Walt who is my old business partner, made mention of what a changed attitude she had and not in any good way. She was sullen, did not want touched, flinched and ran away when she was reached for. She had started bucking when saddled the week before the clinic. Total mystery to me, who prides myself on being able to read my horses, and proceed at their pace to get where I want to go with them in an efficient, timely manner.

Saddle fit is an issue. I have had to use a much tighter cinch, front and back to keep the saddle from flipping up in back and ending up on her neck. Not just this saddle, but a bunch of them. In this process, Ri has become very girthy, and last night, I notice several things, one of which is a healing cinch area from the ride last week. Reaction to the neoprene? Fungus? Dunno. After me not being there for almost two weeks, she is gentler and friendlier than she was last time I saw her and rode her around the lake. She approaches me but as I step towards her, the head comes up and the eye widens. I slow down. AND THEN THE LIGHTS BELLS AND WHISTLES GO OFF IN MY HEAD. I need to slow the f*ck down. Pardon the language or don't but that's the case. I have been in a hurry with this filly almost every time I have handled her. I have not sought the relaxed attitude, the gentle trust, that is the first thing I do with each and every one of my training horses. That is not established through hugs and pets, but through exercises in which there is release at the right moment and only enough pressure to get the job done. Yes, what Peter said. I didn't learn that there, but I did forget it, some. This does not mean poke around, pussyfooting so as not to upset my horse. This means REALLY reading her and going at her pace. I can ask for more but I have to aware and not blow through thresholds on the way to some place I think we should be. This is kindergarten stuff for me, but sometimes I think I am way smarter than I actually turn out to be.

I do some walking work with her, getting Riata to stretch and reach equally with all quarters. A tense horse really cannot reach under themselves and allow this to happen. There is a cause and effect of relaxing the body, relaxing the mind, relaxing the mind, relaxing the body. As her stride loosened up, her eye remained soft and dark, calm, unconcerned, I knew I was back on the right track with this pretty young horse.

Sometimes, wanting my horse friends and peers to approve of me and what I am doing gets the best of me. I want a spectacular riding horse that shows off the very best of what I can do. Yes, that is ego talking and it is not the best friend of the horse, or me or anyone. I am back to wanting the natural level headset of the horse that is carrying themselves correctly, that is totally at ease and comfortable with what I am asking. For me, it starts slower and builds up. I am no fan of the sour, ears laid back, stoney eyed look I see on horses that are tuned out and turned off, and I was putting that very look on Riata, every time I handled her. Done with that. Sorry, Ri.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sometimes Things Work Out

Many of you are well aware (some TOO aware, LOL) of the saga of myself and a six year old spotted Arabian gelding. No, Arabians do not come with spots, he's got some Paint in there, too, making those striking tobiano markings but he's mostly Arab. That is sometimes far too apparent!

I don't know what it is that happens when a person like me falls this hard for a horse. One. Particular. Horse. I am kind of like that, though. Fell for my husband the same way. Dunno. Anyway, I have been in love with this goofy horse since I laid eyes on him, and even though it sounds odd and maybe even a little sappy, he's got something going for me too.

We have been through hell and high water, but it looks like finally things are working out for a retired horse trainer and a young, high spirited gelding that thinks pretty much all the time and any time is play time.

When I haltered him up today, I breathed deep into his dusty neck, letting all the love and the "you finally belong to me, kid" energy I was feeling flow into him. I can't say he felt and understood all that, but he dropped his head and we had a . . . well, it was a snuggle moment and that's about all you can call it.

My friend, Kara Mehaffy was on her way over, we were riding the trails at the ranch today. I drove the wrong vehicle, leaving the one at home that had my saddle and gear stowed in it, so was borrowing a ranch saddle and hoping she'd have an extra bridle.

Royal and I had the best day. He was mellow and easy going. We rode all over the place and then went down to the indoor arena and played on the jumps and used the ground poles as sidepass obstacles. Another friend of mine had made a comment about him not respecting my leg and I thought, now that you do belong to me, we will be fixing that shortwith. Not by "harpooning" (thanks for that phrase, Peter!) with my spur, but by using the correct aid at the correct time with the correct amount of pressure to get the job done. We worked on sidepassing, and had to break it down, first hip, then shoulder then both. Then, worked on bringing the hip over to make a corner . . . We are going to a HAUNTED Trail Challenge tomorrow (money will exchange hands if I stay on, all day, I have no doubt. They think I am pure crazy, back at the ranch) and we practiced a few things to make as good a showing as we possibly can. We got real decent at communicating with one another. Maybe you can imagine my joy as I ask him for a step, one step, not three or half a dozen, and he takes that step and waits for his next instruction. We are not at all what we are going to be but we have made a heck of a fine start. Our relationship will become ever more subtle and refined, and we will venture into many things, Trail Challenges . . . Dressage . . . Competitive Trail Riding, and you know, even though Riata is the Quarter Horse, we will have to introduce Royal to cattle, as well. We will trail ride and camp with our friends and hit the occasional friendly Cap City horse show. There is so much in store for us!

Kara and I had such great days with our sweet young geldings. Her horse is a little younger than mine, but has also had a couple of years off in the middle. We are having a lot of fun, introducing them to things, polishing and working on what they know. I have discovered Royal loves to jump (and not just when he is spooking sideways!). We loped some decent circles or circle-ish patterns around the jump standards, and when we were out of sync about where we were going, it was surely comical, but when we were together . . . completely magickal.

Royal has an issue about being mounted. I have even had people hold his head as I didn't have time to work through the issue before we had to go do our jobs. I never do that, but it's what we had to do. Today, we went to the mounting block. Five minutes later, he is standing quietly, reins down on his neck while I mount. I won't go into the detail of what I did to help him with that, but there are exercises. It didn't take much'a nuthin' because he trusts me and I hold that trust as a very fragile, perishable precious thing.

We blew through a jump, toward the end, and I got down to straighten and set things right. I left Royal's reins looped around the saddle horn and walked away. Indoor arena, where could he go? His neck relaxed and level, he never took those soft eyes off me as I walked around, putting back to rights the different ground poles and whatnot we had messed with during our playtime. Kara even rode away, taking his buddy to the other side of the arena to see if he would move. He looked at them, a little alarmed, but his feet did not stray. My throat got tight, and I got a little misty as I walked back to him, greeting him with soft touches and thanking him for being my willing partner in this deal.

We aren't looking to win anything tomorrow at the Trail Challenge. Going strictly for fun and an opportunity to get my lovely boy out and about. Traveling with Kara and SenSay, a pair I think we are going to have just a ton of fun with in days ahead.

I am on cloud nine tonight. It's been a long road, and there have been lots of not-easy parts, but as a lot of people have said, this horse and I need each other. We have gifts for one another and I am so darned happy we are going to get to make this work out. Things do not always work out, not for horses or people. But, sometimes, they do.