Saturday, September 13, 2014

Lessons with a new Trainer/Instructor

Our new barnlord and I got to talking and she wanted to know more about the lessons I had taken with G in the summer.  Since she doesn't have a trailer I made an inquiry to see if Mike would come by her farm for back to back lessons, but he told me he doesn't travel.  It's unfortunate since we're on his way to the highway to go home, but it wasn't meant to be.  I went through my mental list of trainers and remembered watching Katie Hill of Field Day LLC working with a few students at a barn where we both boarded.  I always liked her style, and we used to have some great conversations on horsemanship in passing.   I found her on LinkedIn and after a few conversations set up lessons for me and Linda.

Katie didn't disappoint.  She was still the same relaxed, down to earth, patient to the max person I'd remembered.  She started our lesson by walking along side us as G warmed up and relaxed asking what it was I wanted to accomplish with G.  My answer was simple.  For now, I just want him to be happy with contact on a snaffle and use his abs and topline correctly. 

Without the structure of lessons or workouts, most all of our riding has been on the trail.  And, I have to admit that in G's new relaxed state, I haven't had to be so aware of what my body was doing, and bad habits crept back in.

We worked through October last year and we picked back up again this summer.  Doing long and low work.  Asking for connection and leaving him be until it was broken.  Being patient and allowing him to make mistakes, and be quiet in my corrections.

We've been doing a lot of tedious but rewarding work.  Riding on the lunge line without stirrups or reins, relying on my seat to spiral in and out.  Doing exercises in the saddle to find balance, and mainly doing more with less aid.  We did make lots of progress between fall and summer and Katie said it was evident.   This past lesson we worked on turn on the haunches and turn on the forehand around a square.  It really helps me work on my inside/outside rein and pay closer attention to my seat.  G never seems to disappoint.  The softer I am, the softer he becomes.  It has taken me way too long to fully realized exactly how much I was standing in his way of being a soft horse.   

What I love about this simple work is that I can practice it all out on the trail in a western saddle as well.  Unfortunately, summer is almost over, and before we know it daylight will disappear at the end of the day and we will have to suspend lessons until next year.  The one downfall of not being at a barn with an indoor arena.  But it too teaches patience :)

My happy boy.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Another New Beginning for G

It has been way too long since I've updated our blog.  There have been some changes, and a lot of transitioning, once again. The barn we thought would be heaven, was not.  Bad management.  We left and found another backyard situation, no pasture - individual dry turnouts, but no cuts, scrapes, or fights.  In mid May we were informed that the barn was going to be closed to boarding :( I was very disappointed, as G was getting great care, and we liked everyone.  We started our search once again, and a friend of the current barn owner found out about this little backyard situation where we would be the only boarder.   We went and checked it out and it was a great situation.  Awesome price, great facilities and pastures, and G's two herdmates during the day are both gaited - one Walker, one Spotted Saddle Horse.  Yes!  It is soooo nice to ride with other gaited horses again.

The situation is perfect.  G has his own grassy paddock at night with a run in shed covered in front half way across and shares one fenceline with two Alpacas, and one with his two buddies who have a dry paddock where they can go under an overhang and into a wide aisle of the barn for protection.  Each horse has a stall, but they're only put up in extreme weather conditions.  So far, they've only been in once when we had a pretty horrific thunder storm.  During the day all three horses are turned out in one of two pastures.  The grass isn't overly lush like it was at the barn I that hought was perfect.  I'm happy to have something in between.

The first few days G was a bit frantic being alone in his paddock at night.  When the boys went around to the front of the barn he would lose sight of them.  He wasn't bad if the Alpacas were out, but when they disappeared into their barn, G got a little unglued.  Thankfully the barn owners were understanding and put up with his whinneying for a few days.  Within a couple of weeks he was at least not screaming for his buds.  He'd still pace at the fence a bit, but every day it got a little better.

Now after 5.5 weeks, I show up after work and he's in his shed happily munching his hay.  He doesn't care that the boys are no where to be seen.  The barn owner says he loves his run in and spends alot of his time in there in the evening.  Since he has been stalled at night for the past 10 years, I think he feels comfortable being in a structure.  He certainly treats it like his stall cause that's where he does all his poops and pees overnight lol.  Though I have to say the past week, we've found more piles outside then before. 

The board is really reasonable, the only extra is we pay for his grain.  She orders it with hers, and on delivery I write a check for our bags.   The other things we're responsible for is to keep his paddock/runin clean and when they go away one week in the summer and on weekends between December and March, we feed 1x a day.   She has a friend that does the morning feed, so this works well for me. 

G seems to really have gotten into the new routine and seems much more relaxed than a couple weeks ago.  Tonight I decided to take him for a ride down the driveway, down two driveways and out to the river trails.  We only did a 35 minute loop, but it included a return ride on the road.  Usually on the way home is when he gets antsy, but tonight he stayed foused and calm.  It was the best solo trail ride off a barn property in the past 10 years.  The weather was aboslutely perfect, and so was Mr. G  - its doesn't get any better.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Training the Vaquero Way

The one thing I quickly discovered, the difference between a horse trainer and a riding instructor, and fortunately, Mike is both.  I understand that at one time he refused to work with people because he couldn't understand why they just didn't "get it".  Apparently he learned over time how to deal with people.  Maybe not as good as with horses, but he seems to be "getting it" lol.  He reminds me a bit of Mark Rashid, as he breaks it down to its simpliest form.  In my first under saddle lesson he told me that I would have to justify why I did everything I did in riding my horse.  Why do you hold continual contact, why do you not release?  I was like, can't we just start over?!?  He said, "well that's basically what we're going to do." The first change was he had me put G in a 3/8" single joint snaffle with large loose rings.  
So for our first lesson under saddle he just asked me to take G out on the rail and "play".  He then started asking why I was doing "this" or "that".  He asked me to halt and we chatted for 10 minutes.  He asked me to go out again and ask G to break at the poll and lower his neck.  So I started doing what I would normally do in my dressage lessons and he asked me to stop.  That's when he told me that you can't teach someone to write in cursive, if they haven't learned their block letters properly - we're throwing out all the stuff you've learned and starting anew.  G needs the basic basics, and I'm going to show you how to do that (oh great).  

His first observation of G, and after discussing some of the issues we've had over the years, was that G still didn't have full trust in me as his leader.  Basically, because without realizing it, I haven't been able to keep his focus.  As we were walking on the rail he asked me to pull back on both reins until G gave, not just by stretching out, but by breaking at the poll.  The moment he did, he had me throw the reins away.  I was like "what?!?".  He said "in the beginning, you gotta make the release reward big so they understand it more easily."  So the first lesson was asking for G's face, and working on bettering my release.  

The second lesson, Mike asked how we were doing, what we'd worked on. and I was happy to tell him that for the first time ever, I was able to ride my horse on the trail in a snaffle and had an incredible ride. I kept working on focus, and G stayed relaxed.  We also had a ride in the open arena at the barn, where the neighbor was running a backhoe in the adjoining woods, scraping gravel/rocks, and pulling up stumps - noises that would've turned G into jelly.  We had the best ride in the arena, we'd ever had that day.  I kept my focus, and G kept his.  It was such a simple thing.  But that said, I would never have used that much pull on G's face to ask for his to soften.  But Mike said it has to start somewhere, and with some horses you really need to grab their attention.  Pressure will lessen in time; but at times I may need to remind him with more.  Mike says G has a good mind and a lot of heart.  He told me I was lucky, as a lot of the horses G's age that he starts over, they aren't quite so agreeable to the new "feel".  

So now Mike asked me to come 8' off the rail and go straight.  Not 10' not 5', but 8'.  I turned where 8' looked to be and walked G straight to the short end.  I'm proud of myself.  Yep, nice and straight. Mike was like "so what the heck just happened?"  I'm like, "what do you mean?"  He responded "I mean, you just walked a straight line, but why wasn't G focusing on you - why did you stop asking for his face?"  lol, really....I did?  Yep.  Mike told me not to worry "you all do it" he said.  Do what?  He said, focus so hard on one thing you forget the thing you just perfected over the past week.  Duh, yep, I remember feeling the same way when I first started dressage lessons - talk about feeling inept.  So we worked on focus, while being asked to do other things.  He told me to go play, so I did.  I came down the long side and started leg yielding over to the rail.  He yells over "what are you doing?" and I responded.  He shook his head and reminded me that I need to stop doing high school moves...right now we're mastering elementary school.  I said "well, I wanted you to see that he is capable of it".  His reponse?  All horses are capable, Kate, but are we capable of asking correctly so that the horse is relaxed?  Uhm, maybe not.

The third lesson he added forward momentum, while asking for G's focus/face.  Easier said then done, especially having a horse that has always wanted to raise his head when asked to step it up.  So now we've got two dimensions....focus and momentum.  One of the things I like is that Mike likes to give a horse a mental break while he gives the rider something new to think about.  I like that he makes me think and understand why the simplistic approach works so well; think about what I have been doing, and why I should be doing it another way.  So we worked on this several times during the week between lessons, and one session we actually got some nice strides of running walk with his neck level....get your motor running...ruuuugh ruuuuugh rruuuugh, G sings as he hits his lick.  

Lesson #4 last week, we spent the first 15 minutes showing Mike that we could focus and have forward momentum....well, it comes and it goes.  But Mike praised us both for the progress we've made since day one.  Okay, what's next?  Let's add turning.  Now in dressage, turning for me was all seat and the upper body twist so that my hands stayed pretty level, and the inside rein coming slightly back helps cue the bend/turn.  Ahhh, heck no.  Mike said, "we don't want the head to turn, we want the neck and body to turn.  Bring that inside rein out and toward your knee."  ACK! What? Take my hands "out of the box?" "Kate, why are you holding the contact?" he yells over, "because that's what I've been taught" I respond.  "FORGET WHAT YOU WERE TAUGHT, ask him to bend, when he does, release the contact, tell him thank you"....okee dokee Mike, after all, I'm a 58 year old women, so the memory is going anyway, shouldn't be a big stretch to forget what I've been doing the past 40+ years.   After a few attempts, I'm feeling like I'm plow reining, but sure as anything, G is bending head, neck and body.  Big smile on my face, again I'm feeling happy with us.  Mike yells over "what the heck just happened".  "I'm turning" I said.  "Yeah, but what happened to G's focus and momentum?"  ACK!  So he tells me to play (meaning, go make circles).  I go into the middle of the arena and start doing 20 meter and 15 meter circles.  He yells over "no precision, I want to see squiggles in the sand". "Oh, you want me to do serpentines?"  "No, Kate, I want you to make random turns all to the right, when you get that side perfected, will start on the left".  What, no serpentines?  So we made squiggles, and lots of them.  Mike came in and said to take a break.  He then started talking about the difficulty people have in becoming 3 dimensional riders and why.  I'm thinking, "what the heck is a 3 dimensional rider?" He explained.  He said that the human brain, breaks down all processes into steps, and that in many cases we become so focused on one or two of the elements, that the third falls by the way side.  Whether it be the first, second or third step, doesn't matter.  The key to learning is to stop focusing so hard, and to feel.  Okay, so we ask for focus, while we ask for forward momentum, and we turn.  So what do you do if you don't get focus?  I lose momentum to get focus, and stop turning.  NO NO NO!  Do not sacrifice the forward momentum or the turn for the face, continue to turn, continue to ask.  Ugh.  But I want it to be right!  I got the "you all do it" speech again.  I asked Mike if he would mount up and show me how it should be, as I'm a visual person.  Maybe I'll "get it" by seeing the master do it.  He obliged.  The best part was to see that G didn't respond right away to him either, but by the 3-4th request he was turning with great bend.  Here's Cowboy Mike up!

I mounted back up (from the ground for the first time in ages!) We did a couple more turns, these were much better, so we ended on a positive note.  I spent the next day working on focus, forward momentum, and turning.  We warmed up for 5 minutes, worked for 20 and cooled down for 5.  It wasn't all pretty, but I got it done.   

As we reassemble the puzzle, piece by piece, it will hopefully become a work of art when we're done.  All I know is I'm enjoying the heck out of Mike, and I feel G has made more progress in four lessons, than we did in all those years of dressage lessons.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Wait, Who are You, and What Have You Done with My Horse?

Really?  Who are you?  

Today we started out with breakfast at Town & Country before driving over to the farm to pick up G for a trail ride.  He was out in the far pasture, so I grabbed a wrapped peppermint just in case I need enticement.

I walked down the center aisle, called a couple of times, and he barely picked his head up.  I said the magic words "were you a good boy?" and he lifted his head.  I then started crinkling the peppermint in my hand, and viola, he walked over to me.  I slipped on his halter and off we walked.  This is new for me.  In the 9 years I've owned G, all the barns required horses to wear halters while outside.  The new barn likes them naked...and naked he is, no halter, no fly mask.  Mister I can't stand to have flies touch my face, is so happy eating real pasture that he really pays them little mind these days.

I grabbed the grooming tote and what used to take me 30 minutes to do, took 10.  It is such a pleasure to have a clean horse when I show up at the barn.  No mud in these pastures, and he loves to roll in the grass.  Horsie heaven, it is.

So I open one of the doors to the trailer (slant load) and thought optimistically that I would try to see if he would load without having to open it all up like usual.  Since the peppermint got his attention in the pasture I grabbed another one out of the kitchen.  I walked into the trailer with lead rope in hand, peppermint in the other and asked him to step up.  He stood and looked at me.  I crinkled the cellophane.  He stretched as far as he could to sniff at the prize.  I stepped further into the trailer.  I asked him to step up.  And, he did.  What?!?!  We're loading at the barn, which you never want to leave and you're hopping into the trailer?  Okay, I'll take it.  He walked over to his corner feeder, and was happy to find some fresh hay, num num num.  Off we went.

Hubby came along as my support team.  We rode off in one direction, he went hiking off in the other.  Both of us with cell phones in hand should one of us need the other. 

Before heading out, I did ask him to take a picture of our newest t-shirt, which has become all the rage with the GHS members.  It's a simple design, but packing such a powerful message.....

What a gorgeous morning.  It was warm, but it hadn't gotten hot yet.  Nice breeze, some blue sky and puffy clouds.  We didn't see one other horse in the 2.5 hours out there. 
 G made friends with a black lab, two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, a 2 year old girl and her 6 month old brother.  All the kids on the playscape started waving and yelling "horsie, look at the horsie" so I waved back.  Horses are such great ambassadors.  Who doesn't love a horse?  Oh yeah, the hiker that just stepped in the fresh pile of G's manure, lol.

The streams are lower than normal, even with the good rains we got earlier in the month.  But, a couple were deep enough in spots so G got wet up to his chest.  I think he really enjoyed just standing in them today.
One of the things that I've been really pleased with is the new hair care product we've been using the past few months.  I don't use it as often as recommended, so I can only imagine how great it would be if I did.  G's mane was always dry, and the crest always had broken hairs.  Well, after using Mane-ly Long Mane & Tail Conditioner and Polisher, there are no more broken hairs, his mane is much more silky, less tangled, and the best part is its actually getting longer for the first time in 9 years!  
One of the things G was always known for was his desire to go home and stop working.  If we turned around on a trail, there was always a discussion on the speed at which we would travel.  I would say walk, he would say gait.  The argument usually continued for 15 minutes or so.  Today, we rode on the yellow trail, which the last time we tried to traverse, couldn't because of the storm damage from October of 2011.  I think it was late May or early June.  Well, the summer help worked their magic and trail is open again.  We got about half way down it when I looked at my phone and realized that we had an hour to get back to the trailer, and we had been out for 1.5  I turned G around AND.....he walked.  Slow and relaxed, happy as a clam.  Who are you?

When we got back to the trailer, hubby was taking a little snooze in the truck, but wonderful man that he is, had the haybag back on the side of the trailer, the dressing room open and the mounting block positioned just right should I want to use it for the dismount.  What a guy!

G was happy to munch on more hay as he cooled and I brushed him down.  When he was cooler and took the lead rope and walked him to the single open back door of the trailer, walked in said "step up" and lo and behold, G followed me into the trailer, first time, no stopping, no questioning, arguing, natta!  When I came out and shut the door, hubby said "I can't believe he walked in with no discussion".  Yep, just hopped right in.

What a good boy.  But who are you and what did you do with my horse?!?   

I'm not sure if its the new lifestyle he has at the new barn, where he's out when he wants to be, and in when he chooses, or no grain, just wonderful pasture, or is it the small dose of Mag-lite he gets in his 1/2 cup of forage extender?  Hard to tell, but at this point, I'm not going to question it further, I'm just going to enjoy this wonderful horse of mine!