Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Day Of Lessons


Getting ready to head out yesterday, I layered up good. The promised high of 50-something was not looking likely. No matter, it’s unseasonably warm for our part of the world and I have young horses calling my name (even though they are probably quite blissfully unaware of that particular fact . . .)

Climbing into my new to me 97 Grand Prix, I smile wryly to myself. It’s fire engine red, a cop magnet if ever there were one. I quickly scope out the cruise control features.  How I came to own this particular car could be a blog all of itself but that would divert us from the important subject: horses!  Still, it makes for an enjoyable, affordable ride over the 25 miles between here, and there.

Grand Prix

Seeing Royal throw up his head, point his ears at me and amble over to the gate is probably not going to lose it’s thrill for me for the length of our lives together.  Having my dream horse live in my pen, against what were some really crazy odds . . . it’s a bright spot in my life and I savor the feeling of it, against the dark days that will creep in as a necessary part of life as I know it.

Where ya goin, Ter

I catch them all, as is my habit, not-as-wary Riata (good way to start) fat, fat Junebug (holy cow, she needs a diet and a JOB) and even old Jewel, the mostly retired 28 year old boarder horse.  Standing tied is a good job for a horse, and they all get their turn when I am around.

Junebug, otherwise known as Kate Moss 

Grooming is taking on a different aspect for me. My friend, Charlie, who owns Shady Lanes Ranch in Council Bluffs, has the highest grooming standards for getting a horse’s back clean of anyone I have ever known. Saddling for him is an aerobic exercise the equal of any gym master’s routine! Since I have Competitive Trail Riding on my nearer horizon, I am working to implement habits in my daily routine that will serve me well, once I attempt the sport. Grooming is a huge part of that, and I am notorious for knocking the mud off the saddle-y parts and rock and roll. This will not do. With Charlie’s rumbly voice in my head (it was a crowded place yesterday), he was the first of my instructors to show up and start issuing commands only I could hear. “Get ‘em clean! No, not like that, I mean CLEAN!”

Saddling Riata, I am workman about my business but paying close attention to her reactions, how she shifts her weight, rolls her eye, flicks an ear and takes a sudden breath. All these things tell me what she is thinking about what is happening to her. She is one sensitive filly and I have to be careful not to let her train me to be afraid to do anything around her for fear of upsetting her. Turned out, to get where we needed to go, she had to get upset. And learn from it, and move on.

Riata 12-30 soft eyes

Doing my groundwork, I still don’t have that long level topline from Riata. Her head is up, muscles bunched in neck and hip, she looks like a carousel horse. Not as good.  Her eye is not as big but it’s still not soft, not quiet. She has troubles in there.  I work at getting her to stretch and relax, so that all four corners of her reach equally. it’s almost there. Almost, by the way, is NOT there at all.

Later, as Riata is pitching pyrotechniques, rearing up and pitching herself away from me, I am so very much missing Corie and her camera for the action shots . . . the before’s, and we are going to have some after’s, too, doggone it!

Another whole blog might be around what I have discovered (yes, discovered) my habit of quitting. It’s old and it’s deep. If something is very hard, it’s pretty easy for me to walk away and find something more rewarding for my time (in my perception.) Riata was for sale about 50 times yesterday, with all the rationalizations behind it that would make sense to any casual onlooker. (Colleen that is NOT you).

One horse would be so much more affordable . . . I only have a certain amount of time, why not put it into Royal, my dream horse . . . and so on. Not to mention, I am too young to die, just yet!

I put the long line on her halter as Riata would get worried, escalate, blow up and pull away from me on the 12 foot line. This got very routine for her. Uh no. We are not going in this direction either. If I were being paid to ride her, I would work it out so I am going to pretend that’s what is going on here. I am going to work it out.

On the long line, she is surprised to find out she cannot escape and she goes back to work.

We get to a place I think we can quit and I leave her on a post to soak. I have a frown between my eyes, I am not getting through to her and I don’t know why.

It’s the spotted horse’s turn. Ground work for him is a preflight check. Do we have all parts moving equally on both sides? (Buck)Check. Back you in a circle?(Peter) He doesn’t see the point but is starting to understand that sometimes, with me, you have to work. Actually, Royal, in your new life with me, you will always have to work. It’s still just news to you.

I am a little concerned getting on him. The last two rides have not been easy at all, and I want to get this horse in a different direction than what it seems we are heading, also.  Once again, he stands like a rock to be mounted, wow, is this really not a fluke? He gets it? Stands on a loose rein and waits for me. Nice.

We are going to work circles out in the pasture. The importance of a good, soft, fluid circle at all three gaits is another blog, all of it’s own. Suffice to say here, it was a job for us to do, to give us focus and take my mind off my jitters.

I will tell you, when I am nervous, I cannot ride for shit. Pardon the language but it’s the total truth. Jose’s voice “I want to see your neck, please. Put your shoulders down please. Do NOT look down, PLEASE!” Colleen, talking about the importance of rhythm and relaxation to prepare a horse for the more advanced maneuvers. Matt McLaughlin, helping me with poor unfortunate Hawkeye, and the difference some simple exercises made in a horse that had never learned to carry himself properly . .  .

We are at a walk, Gretchen in my head reporting how keeping the frontal plane straight improved so much for her. I do that, and my horse ceases to wander around the field. We have a circle.

‘No pony ‘leeping!” Jose again. I sigh, ask for a better walk. Royal jigs, bounces his rebellious head against the bit (yes, I am back to the snaffle. We may revisit the halter issues but it was not the day for it, for me) I tighten my fingers in response, and he bumps my hands impatiently, asking for release. Nope. You release to me, big boy, I tell him. Find it. You know where the softness is . . . I will help a horse that is just learning to give to the bit, releasing to them at the slightest try to encourage and build confidence in them. This horse, whoever started him so nicely  taught him that. He is ready for bigger boy lessons.

I ask him for some bend, using my inside leg back to encourage the hip to come up under. Missy Fladland taught me to shift my weight to the outside seat bone (rail) to prepare a horse to make a turn by bringing the hip under and pushing from behind.

As my instructors instructed and I focused on riding, my skitzy loopnut young gelding stopped glancing to the mares back at the barn. The jigging disappeared, the neck bowed gracefully and the reins were on a soft light contact of his choosing. Brenda Messick is in my head too, with the Centered Riding techniques she is learning and being really gracious about sharing on her yahoo chat list. As I work on me, my horse improves.

We trotted circles, once that felt good, we went back to the walk and did the figure eight exercise Matt taught me, counterbending through the center and releasing into beautiful, perfect arcs (yeah, well that’s the goal and it DID happen when I set him up right, not so much some others . . . ) to circle back the other way.

I forget who all has been after me to lope every ride. I kinda didn’t want to. What if he bucks? Dang it, Terri, COME ON! Just freaking ride your horse, already! I sigh some more, loosen those shoulders, once again up around my ears, and gather him up. Royal lengthens his trot stride in anticipation. No, buddy, that’s not what I want, we don’t transition (prepare for the transition, oh yeah) from a pounding trot. 

He’s nicely collected, I put my outside leg back and tentatively ask for a canter (Jose in my head NO NO NO! Ask for what you want, and GET it! Your horse must know you mean it!). Deep breath. Okay. I put my leg back, and tell Royal with my weight and hands, canter.

Gorgeous baby doll rocking horse canter. I forget this horse really has had some very decent education somewhere in his life. We lose it, as I fall apart in my happiness (sorry Jose) and pick it back up again. Focus.

Both directions, so dang pretty! I am really missing Corie now! I would love to have some shots of him working like that . . . I will keep them in mind for the days we don’t get it as good as there will probably be some.

All the good stuff with Royal happened under saddle. Here is the new trick I taught him, or maybe just a lucky shot as he was rolling the sweat off SmileRoyal's New Trick

Back to Riata. She looks better, hasn’t been flinching away from me for awhile now. I think I am going to ride her just for a few minutes and then head for home.

Do the preliminary groundwork to loosen her up from standing. I am thinking, again, most people watching would think she was fine. She wasn’t. There was trouble in her eyes, a refusal to see me out of the right one nearly at all, and tension in her body.

I get her to look at me out of both eyes. Get both ears. This is old stuff for me but somehow I tend to forget anything I used to know when I learn a new thing . . . 

Standing in the stirrups, I let my toe touch her side. She is still cinchy, and she grunts and tightens. I am up and down a few times. Move the stirrup on the off side. Again, I think a lot of people would have said, Terri just throw your leg over and get ON!

This time, the voice in my head that said to wait was right. There was no one home at the house and taking a dicey ride when all by yourself is just poor judgment. Stepping down, I held the stirrup in my hand and let it drop against her side. Riata just stood for stirrup slaps and all that not five minutes earlier.

She blows like a steam cannon. Head down, all fours off the ground, hair pin bow in the middle of her back. She bucks so hard she grunts with effort and she really gets after it.  I let go of the mecate line but I keep her moving until she quits bucking and darting around like a damn wild mustang. She faces up, front legs wide spread,nostrils flared red, ready to head for high country. Get on with you then, I said, and she had to move again. We don’t have a round pen, just the paddock at the barn and I keep her away from the tied horses so we don’t have a wreck.

It’s not good until she comes to me. When she starts hunting me, I release and walk away from her. First time, in ages, she comes with me. Now the head is down, in a different way. A change . . .


Halter goes back on, long line attached and we go to work. She tries to pull away and run out, but I don’t let her. I keep her moving until she can. You reach the brain through the feet and by the time we called it quits, she was loping both ways in a decent manner. It seems to me we should be past this, but this is where we are.

On the goosey

Now. Riata is licking and chewing. Her head lowers as I lower mine. I stretch my neck and invite her to follow me into relaxation. It takes some tries but then she does. She backs softly at the lightest ask, comes forward without fear. She walks cooling circles with the topline I have been searching out for weeks.

A change-2

I rub and rub that sweaty head and for the first time since things have soured with her, she twitches her lips with pleasure at my touch.

It was a big day for lessons from my good instructors, even though not a single one was there in their body, they were all there in my mind.  Riata is not for sale, and Royal rides like a horse that might know something. I have deep appreciation for the incredible teachers I have had the honor to ride with.  It was a really good day.

Wet Saddle Blanket day

Wet saddle blanket day for Ri.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

On The Way To True Blue

You have to get past the chartreuse green.  That takes savvy (not just miles, but those too), wet saddle blankets, courage and perserverance.  I know these things, have encouraged many others along this path and started at least my fair share of young horses on their journey. Now, it’s my turn.


Over the years, I have always made sure I have at least one broke horse on the grounds. My “go to”, whether it be a for sale horse, or one that I was calling mine for awhile, there was always something to pony from, throw a leg over for a relaxing ride when I didn’t want to have to be on the top of my game every single second I was on board. Yesterday was a day when I could have used one of those good ole True Blues.

Ginger at the NHC Trail Challenge

Instead, I have . . . babies. One is six, but he is still a baby in his brain, and experience level.  Royal and I have had a very strange relationship. As my car parking horse, our priority was to get people parked in a timely manner and on the way to their hayrack rides. It was not the time to work out “issues.” Many a moment passed that I let Royal get away with this shenanigan or that one, refusal to do “whatever” or the occasional fit he would throw just to entertain himself when he was bored. I thought, son, there might come a day when we revisit these attitudes of yours and start filling in the blanks for you.  The horse cannot be blamed for the holes in his foundation and education.

In the lake, yeah!

Now, I own him. He has a new job. It’s called “putting your feet where Terri asked you to, and no other places.” Might be a harder gig for him, at first, than that other. The rules have changed. I understand it’s my responsibility to not be a jerk about that. Still, they have changed.

My other young horse, Riata, the three year old, has her doubts about our situation. She voted with her feet to leave me, twice, yesterday, at a headlong gallop away from me in a bullet straight line.  That is my report card for where we are at, in our relationship.  Again, there is no blaming the horse here. They are honest creatures and they tell you what they are thinking.


We talk an awful lot about horse whispering, but it’s pretty much never the horses’ whispering that we are referring to . . . Yesterday, I was thinking hard about what kinds of tones of voices my horses have to use to get through to me . . . Can I hear them before they have to escalate the message? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Last week, when I started with Riata, I took a lot of time to relax her body.  Her mind is very turned off to me. Hurts, as this was a horse that used to come to my call and follow me around the pen.  Now, she barely wants to look at me. Did I do anything grossly wrong? Not to my way of thinking, but I am not the one that gets to cast the vote for her, as much as I would like to. 

Before I saddled her, I played ground games. I pointed at a join in the fence and asked her to put her nose on it. This is very different than asking a horse to put it’s nose on something it’s afraid of, I don’t like that methodology at all. This particular game is done from the end of the rope and requires the person to fine tune their signals to the horse, and for the horse to engage and really pay attention. Pressure, release. Hot, cold.  Ri would put her nose BY whatever I asked her to, she would not touch a darned thing. Royal, when we played the game, instantly stuck his nose to the object and would look at me brightly “what’s next? This is boring!”  Different horses. One as bright as the other but not wanting much to play with me.

Riata study

By the end of last Saturday, Ri was as warm to me as she had been in a long time. She saddled without bucking or undue tension. Did beautiful “falling leaf” (hip over, shoulder through, as I call it) patterns, and I put her up on what I thought was a very, very good note.

It was the magickal kind of day horse people own horses to have, full of soft eyes, willing feet, and strides gained.

Yesterday, I was not in the same mental condition as I was, last week. Some of the worldly stresses were hanging heavy on my shoulders and I Just. Wanted. To. Ride.

Saddling Royal, I wanted to put the snaffle bit back in his mouth. I know it bugs his wolf teeth, but I also know I have ridden him many hours in it and got along. What I did NOT want to do was deal with the issue of him not wanting to give to the pressure of the halter . . . A very important piece of having a broke horse. He doesn’t want to give to bit pressure either, by the way, so it’s appropriate we roll back and start where it begins . . . Fine.

Royal in Walt's Crates saddle

Buddy sour.  Not really broke enough that when the chips are down and it’s his will versus mine, that I have a lot of confidence he won’t just blow through the roof and demand his way. That challenge hung in the balance for us several times yesterday, just circumventing the 5 acre pasture while the mares cried for  him at the barn.  I could hear Ray Hunt, admonishing a student to stay just this side of trouble and worked hard to not let my fear make me become aggressive to my horse, and dive us headlong over the other side of that fine line. Occasionally, I was stern, I won’t let fear cause me to allow misbehavior either. It’s a tight rope, sometimes and feels about as comfortable.

Thank goodness the nature of the horse is to follow a leader. Royal argues, but when those chips did come down, he accepted my leadership without any real pyrotechniques and it all worked out.

Oh yeah . . . we worked last week on his unwillingness to stand quietly to be mounted. I didn’t think we’d made any real progress there, though he did stand for me, just didn’t feel that “ahhh” that I sometimes get from a horse that receives the lesson. Well, we might have argued about a dozen different things yesterday,but darned if he didn’t stand like a rock and wait to be asked before moving off. . . baby steps, but steps indeed!

Got annoyed with him bracing against the noseband of the halter when I asked for reverse. He backs up with a broken poll and a soft jaw, off the bit, this should be no different. I know better than to engage in a pulling match with 100o lbs of resentful horse. In the barn I go and I return with the dressage whip. We back circles from the ground. A light tap, here and there, when he’d spin out his hip and refuse to take straight steps, or when he’d raise that pretty head and brace those feet . . . and soon it was liquid steps wherever I asked.  Hmm, note to self, that good firm, kind leadership you want to teach people? Still applies.

I had already unsaddled but I wanted this from his back as well. To the mounting block we go and I jump on his bare back. Let’s just say he is no more a snot bareback than he is saddled. And, four fluid steps backwards, and I called it a day.

Looked at Riata. I had worked through her jumping in the air and blowing away from me across the pasture (damn, I am missing having a round pen! Gotta work with what you have though), had ponied her off of Royal, and while he was a butthead, she was steady eddy through that whole thing.  The lot was deeply muddy but it was time to ride. My friend, Colleen, mentioned the other day she’d rode a colt in kind of poor footing, because it was time to ride and that’s what she does. She had a though that it being a little slick might make him be a little more careful about the stunts he pulled. I liked that idea.

Riata has become kind of explosive in her objections and I took some care about getting on. I picked up and dropped the stirrups, slapped them against her sides while asking her to move (they will stand still for it, and then katy bar the door if things change while they are in motion, that’s an important piece, you guys.) Anyway, she passed all my little tests with flying colors. Get on, Terri.

I still don’t like this part, getting up on a horse I am not sure what the ride will be. Guess I probably never will. I got up and down, I think she mostly wanted me to quit screwing around and get settled. So, I did. Sat there quite awhile, and Ri waited patiently for me to ask her to do something.

Riata, Dec 11

We toddled around the lot by the barn. I am riding her in a rope halter as well. It’s not as rough as it is with Royal but she doesn’t come off the pressure perfectly either.  I start all my colts in halters and I don’t put a bit in their mouths until they understand this. How my two got so far down the path without me realizing we had to go back to this, I do not know. It’s another VERY important piece. They either give to pressure or they don’t. There is no such thing as “sometimes.” What “sometimes” means is that they are always doing what they want to do, it just happens to coincide with what you want to do, on occasion and when it does not, you will part ways.

It was not a glowy, feel good kind of day.  It was the kind of day you have to get through when you have young horses that only know what they know. It’s not their job to head for the library and study their lessons. It’s mine.  Whether or not I put the gaps in their education does not matter in the least. What matters is that I fill them, so that they can each rise to the tremendous potential that each of them possess, and maybe, so do I.