Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lesson on Saturday

Yeah, I know I said dressage lessons were being put on permanent hold for awhile....but I definitely need to have a little structure brought into my sessions with G some days. I've been talking to Debbie on and off since our clinic with Mark Rashid, and she has been a really good sounding board. So the last time I saw her I set up a date.

What a great lesson. It was great for Debbie to see how far we've progressed since our last lesson with her, and she said it was obvious that I've still been working our shoulder fore, shoulder in and leg yields. G was being very responsive and happy with contact and the Rockin S Raised snaffle....woohoo. Debbie also gave me a pat on the back for searching until I found what was right for G. That made me feel good.

It was really really cold - 27 degrees. I generally don't ride when it's under 32 degrees, but now that I have a quarter sheet for G as long as he was warm I wasn't too worried. So we spent the first half of the lesson working 15 meter circles; shoulder fore and in; then leg yields in both directions; and then leg yielding to the left 3-4 strides, going straight for 3 and then to the right fo 3-4 strides. G was very responsive and I'm getting better with my half halts to shorten his stride while maintaining impulsion.

On to canter work. Debbie said that G has gotten stronger since she last worked with him and she was happy to see that my timing in the half halts had improved. So now its time to start to really collect the canter. First we needed an immediate response to my it. Second she wanted to see more lift in the transition...we got it; and then she worked with us on using the half halts to shorten the stride while still maintaining forward motion and lift. The first 20 meter circle was okay, but with each attempt it got better and better. G maintained his "cool" throughout the entire lesson. It was a pleasure to ride such a responsive and much softer horse yesterday. I felt like we made real progress in collecting the canter, and maintaining impulsion.

I've decided I'm going to take a lesson a month through the winter, as I do find the time spent is more focused and productive. Hopefully I can get some video as being able to watch yourself ride is a lesson all onto itself.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Whole Heart, Whole Horse

This is the book I ordered from Mark at Equine Affaire ~ it came in yesterday and I can't wait to get started reading! Of course with the holidays looming I'm crazy busy but I will find time soon to curl up and indulge myself. It's my first Mark Rashid hardcover and had him sign it: To "G", he who holds Kate's Heart. I thought it was appropriate ;)

From his website: The book covers subjects such as seeing the positive side of making mistakes, how to gather information from the horse, understanding how and why horses release energy from real or perceived traumas, how to reach the balance point between the horse and rider, the five components to developing softness in both horses and humans, the three components to becoming a leader the horse wants to willingly follow and work with, how to understand and develop boundaries, and more.

Such a perfect topic for me & G ~ Becoming the leader my horse wants to willingly follow and work with. After seeing how much has already changed by using his pick up at the mounting block, I'm sure there are a lot more arrows for my quiver!

Would make a really nice Christmas gift for the horselover in your family.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Busy Week

With the holidays comes time off from work! I started my Thanksgiving with the second love of my life...Mr. G. We had a wonderful 30 minute ride in the arena just working on relaxation and walk gait transitions and walk to canter. We then rode up at the track another 30 minutes basically doing the same thing. It still amazes me how a little thing like setting the tone at the mounting block has changed our rides, but they just keep getting better. I was able to get back there again on Friday but since it was raining we spent the 35 minutes indoors. I'm just loving this bit and the rope reins. And, I'm also loving riding in my ATH saddle on a regular basis.

Today I had the arena reserved for 12:30 and decided rather than ride we'd work on ground driving. I can't tell you when the last time we did this, maybe last winter sometime(?) Well, he was a real champ and by the third request for halt he was stopping dead square. I'm trying to keep my verbal cues to a minimum, but find that sometimes they're needed. He was such a good boy as we worked on serpentines, figure eights, and tear drops. He looked and felt wonderful in my hands. He did so well, I drove him out the arena doors and took him for a walk down the drive to the track. Sounds like no big deal right? Welllll , the winds were howling and gusting up to 50 mph. Crazy me, lol. He did really well until we came around the backside of the track and wind caught the soft sided horse shelter and it started flapping like crazy. BUT, the only reaction was he turned into a giraffe and side stepped three steps and halted on my request. I walked him forward about 20 steps asked for a nice halt and decided to end it on a good note. All I needed was for that shelter to take flight and have G lose it. It was almost better than the two days previous rides put together. It just felt soooo good.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a pretty nice day, but I know the trails are muddy (more rain this week of course) and I'm thinking he deserves a day to just be a horse! Maybe I'll visit at the end of the day and just give him a treat for being my boy.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

On The Trail Again....

High 50's sunshine, how can one resist? It's November right? We headed out with our friends Brenda & Shelby again. Boy is it one muddy mess out there. I'd hoped yesterday's warmer temps and sunshine would've dried it up more, but my hopes were for naught. BUT on the positive side, there were no bugs! And once we got to the other side of the highway we knew the trails would begin to be drier.

Both horses were nice and relaxed and it was just a glorious day to be out on the back of a horse. We had been out for a little over an hour and I had just mentioned to Brenda that what always surprises me is with all the horses that are on our street (there are tons of barns) I never have run into any riders other than a couple people from our barn. So we round the corner and G comes to a dead stop high alert! And here come two dressage horses down the trail. Beautiful warmbloods, but the riders seemed so out of place in the woods. Dressed in neat jods, vests, tall shiny black boots, everything "just so" and here I am in a hunter orange helmet and vest; chinks I said to them it was funny that I was just mentioning never seeing anyone else out here, and they mentioned there was a horse trailer at the boat ramp and a few horse and riders, who were dressed like me. I wasn't quite sure what that meant, lol.

So on our merry way toward the boat ramp - the river was pretty high and the breeze was a little brisk off the water. But I was trail riding and nothing was going to ruin it for me. We got to the ramp and were standing for a minute when we saw three riders/horses come off the other trail into the clearing. They waved at us, so we waved back. Yep, they were all dressed like me. They were wearing hunter orange vests, lol. We decided to head back since we'd been out 1.5 hours already and immediately both horses went into "I'm going home mode". We both spent time trying to soften - working circles, serpentines,etc. G began to breathe, Shelby continued to jig. However, the moment we got back into the woods, she stopped and started walking along. Brenda believes that its a Thoroughbred thang....ya know, see an open space immediately want to run. I don't know if that's true of all Thoroughbreds or not, but I'd like to believe that you can change the mindset of any horse IF you find the right tools for the particular horse.

We're on the final long stretch for home when we hear quads coming up behind us. Most guys out there will turn when they see horses or shut down until we're out of sight. Well, one quad turned around and other proceeded to slowly follow us down the trail getting closer and closer. I kept turning my head and shaking it like "what gives"? Both G &  Shelby were really good and I was pleasantly surprised that neither one of them got spooky, jiggy or out of sorts. At this point they were probably just happy to be closer to home. After 5 minutes, I finally stopped G and I turned around to face the quad. It immediately stopped and the helmet came off. Here sat a 14-15 year old boy. I asked "do you know about trail etiquette in the State of Connecticut?" He shut off the quad and said "no". I explained that in Connecticut horses have the right of way on trails over quads and bikes. I went on to explain a little bit about horses being prey animals and that usually when something comes up behind them they think it's going to attack - in this case we're lucky that our horses didn't do something dangerous like rear or buck. He said "I'm so sorry". I said "no its okay, you didn't know. But going forward when you're on a trail like this and you see horses, the best thing you can do is shut down or turn around until we're clear of the trail". I went on to say that had he stopped in the beginnning I may have tried to find a spot so we could move the horses off the trail so he could slowly go by, but I had thought he was just being belligerent so I was holding my ground. He was so apologetic, so I tried my best to let him know we understood that he didn't know, but now that he does we can all share the trails. So as we gaited down the trail he sat and waited. When we got to where we go straight the other trail continues off to the right, I waved him on. I waved back, started up and we could hear him slowly come up the trail. I had expected him to open 'er up, but he was respectful. Brenda told me later I did a really nice job of handling the situation - she thought I was going to yell at him, lol.
We got back to the barn and rather than take G to the track to continue working, which is our usual routine, since he came home in a relaxed state of mind, he got to be untacked right away and turned out to graze. It was a nice trail ride and another successful day of communication with my boy.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Equine Affaire - November 12, 2009

I set out early so I could try and get a good parking place. I managed to get there at 9:00 and parked in the fourth row right next to the road in. It was wonderful not having to walk a mile to the entrance!

I headed directly to the Equissentials booth so I could have them work up the repair order. I've worn my Jods so much over the past 5 years that I've actually wore out the deerskin on both my seatbones. I'd also made a small cut in the fabric just above my right knee. I was told no problem with the seatbones, they can put two big deerskin stars over the worn areas - at no charge I might add. However, I decided I'd really like a leather horse head to cover the hole on my leg, and that cost me $15. so with $10 shipping; the repair was only $25. Not bad, especially since I love these jods so much.

I then headed over to Mark Rashid's booth so I could personally thank Mark and Crissi for helping me find the right answers with G. When I took Mark's hand and said I want to thank you so much for helping us; he said "no thank you for coming to our clinic". I thought that was real nice. Anyway, I gave them a quick progress report on how well he's doing with the Rockin S Raised snaffle, and our trail ride last weekend. I told him I knew that we still had a long way to go, but the small progress I've already seen gives me high hopes for our future. Since I had a clinic to get to I told them I'd see them later in the day.

First up Bill Ormston, DVM out of Dallas Texas. Topic: Equine Gait Analysis - How to Determine if your horse is moving correctly and how Chiropractic can help. He basically started with a quick little lecture about how all movement begins with standing, and if one cannot stand efficiently, how can one walk efficiently? Them I kinda got a little lost with Gluten and glucose and how it fuels the muscles in the legs, etc. But in any event, he went on to talk about how in order for a horse to walk it uses all of its tendons, ligaments, mucles, joints and bones. The ribs, back, neck, head, tail, abs, legs, etc. etc. etc. and went on to talk about why we always have to address the whole horse. In most lameness cases that he sees, the actual injury is rarely in the legs, but in the pelvis, back, neck. shoulder. Like humans, horses compensate for injuries in other parts of their bodies. Joints: joints only get nutrients through movement. Its why vets will tell you when you're horse is diagnosed with arthritis that the best thing you can do is keep it moving. When working with arthritis in the joints, the only thing that can help the joint at that point is the use of antinflammatories and not necessarily in a drug format. There are lots of great natural products now on the market to help ease the pain. Glucosomine/Chrondrotin will only help the healthy joints; not those already damaged. Stress: This is the number one cause of insulin resistance in horses. When a horse stresses, it releases glucose into the bloodstream.
When a horse is under continuous strees it releases corticosteroids which in turn keeps the glucose levels high in the bloodstream. High levels of glucose will continually release insulin into the bloodstream. One major cause of stress can be as simple as a horse standing in a stall that only has one exit or window. He said that because horses are prey animals they truly are always looking to see that they have "a way out". If a horse can mentally only flee in one direction, it can stress over it. He recommends that if people don't have a window in their stalls that they put one in. Just enough so the horse can see out. I thought this was extremely interesting. Bill then brought in two horses and had us watch as they walked and turned and then stood them square so we could try to determine if the horse was short striding and or looked out of whack. Both horses were short striding in the hind and sure enough when they were stood square you could see that their pelvis's were both out of alignment. Unfortunately he ran out of time so he didn't get to discuss how to find a qualified chiropractic doctor; and I didn't have time to go outside and watch him realign these two. Oh, he did mention that he never ever works on a horse inside or in a stall, as he wants the horse to mentally feel like its not trapped and to be able to move away from him rather than "over"him.

Next up Larry Whitesell: In Hand Work to Improve Gait - Improving Collection & Balance to Obtain Gait without losing Relaxation. Larry did an introductory chat about disspelling the myths of gaited horses - lots of stuff I knew so I won't go into here. Since its getting late, I'll post my notes and then come back and add thoughts.
  1. Once a hose learns to be balanced it will do the gait it is genetically bred to do...period
  2. Engagment of the hind end is the ultimate goal and without it, you don't have gait....period
  3. You want your horse to have a nice soft consistent bend: Nice easy lateral flexion in the axis/atlas only. STOP OVERFLEXING YOUR HORSE! When starting a horse its okay to ask them to flex back to your knee. HOWEVER, if you continue to do this over the years, your horse will learn to only flex the base of its neck.
  4. The key to relaxation is found in the axis/atlas. It's also where you find resistence and tension.
  5. You need to teach the horse to release their brace through the reins; recommends doing in hand ground work. Asking the horse for small releases from the bit; working shoulder in from the ground.
  6. Horses cannot rotate their pelvis and reach under themselves if their backs are inverted. It is virtually imposssible.
  7. Do not drill ground work. Only use it to teach balance and collection and to teach them to relax in the axis/atlas. (I do this by working in a square - four times in each direction).
  8. You have to get your horse past elementary school before you get him to college. If you're forever overflexing and repeating exercises used when first training the horse, you will never get your horse to college.
  9. When asking for your horse to walk off, you want them to walk off at the speed you want. You also want them to push off with their hind end. In order to do this, you need to ask them to lift their abs, which in turn engages the back rotates the pelvis and engages the hind legs. This one I’m a little on the fence about. Although you can get a horse to lift their abs by using your heel or a spur, you are only eliciting a reflex response for that brief moment as you walk off (think about when a doctor hits your knee with that rubber hammer) the horse lifts its back and walks off; however, the abs will then go back to where they were. In order for a horse to use its abdominal muscles properly, the horse needs to have a strong hind end with the ability to rotate its pelvis, which engages the abs and over time the abs get strong enough to fully engage the hindend. So although asking the horse to lift its abs isn’t a bad thing, it’s not what gets the abs working on a regular basis. Build the hind end and the rest will follow!
    I truly enjoyed Larry & Jennifer. Larry has a good sense of humor and likes to engage his audience. He is on a mission to try and dispel all the gaited horse “myths”. I just hope those who do believe in all the garbage got the message. For those who follow Larry Whitesell and say they don’t do dressage? Think again. His riding principles and ground work are all based on classical dressage training.
Larry and his really nice Paso

In between clinics I did some shopping - mostly all for the G-man and stopped at some booths to talk to clinicians. One of my favorites was Rick Lamb, real nice guy. For some reason I expected him to be a little "lofty" lol. I bought his "Human to Horseman" on CD's so I can listen to it in the car while commuting and also a book for hubby (terrible, I forgot the name of it!).

After lunch which included sweet potato fries and fried oreos for desert...did someone say fried? ummm yummm I headed back in for some more clinics.

Next up was the Visible Horse with Susan Harris....Anatomy in Motion understanding the biomechanics of equine gaits. This was very cool. Not sure after seeing this if I'll ever put together my visible horse model that hubby bought me a few years ago (jeeze, I think I better do this). Here are pics of the model...tendons, ligaments and muscles on one side, bones and neck muscles on the other...

I was only able to watch 30 minutes of Larry Whitesell’s next clinic “Improving Your Gaited Horse with Work Under Saddle – Creating a Calmer, Safe Horse by Increasing Collection & Engagement. Larry truly is a man on a mission and he has a tendency to get a bit hung up on a topic – akin to a rat terrier with a rat in its mouth, lol. Since some people weren’t at the morning session, he tried to catch them all up to speed on the “myths” of gaited horses. No need for shanked bits; special shoes; feet on the dash board; seat pressing hard into the horses back, etc. etc. etc.

It was apparent that as he had promised in the morning, he and Jennifer had worked with the three riders as their horses were getting softer in the bridle, and yielding better. The Paso was really nice – she and her horse had worked with Larry at a clinic prior. The two Walkers (who seem to ride in these clinics every year) both were ewe necked, braced and couldn’t gait. Any time they were asked to gait, the black horse paced, and the white horse didn’t appear to change from a walk, lol. Sad in a way. Especially seeing that one takes dressage and the other has worked with Liz.

Next up Mark Rashid – Achieving Effortless Transitions: Understanding and Applying the Correct Aids. Had I not participated in his clinic recently, I may have left. He is very much like Liz Graves in a large format, in that he gets so involved with the rider/horse that he’s working with, that what he’s doing gets a little lost on the audience. He starts out strong, but once he gets going, if you don’t know firsthand what he’s doing you ask yourself “I don't get it”. A few people around me got up and left and I did hear them ask this question. But he did start talking about proper transitions and how the cadence of the horse’s footfalls is the key to getting them. He believes you need to always know where your horse’s feet are and when they’re ready to leave the ground. Why? Because this is when you ask a horse for a transition...when the foot is ready to leave the ground. Once in the air you cannot influence it’s movement. So how do you know? While riding your horse think about your inside leg and the horse’s rib cage. When your leg swings out the horse is bringing its inside leg up and forward, when your leg swings all the way back in, your horse is lifting its inside front leg up and forward. Mark’s way to remember it is simply IN FRONT – OUT BACK. Other ways to feel it, are in your hips. When your inside hip rises, the inside hind is coming up and forward. When the hip drops the outside front is coming up and forward.
For transitions it was all about feel. Mark asked the rider to count in her head the horse’s footfalls at the walk 1-2-3-4 as she went around the circle a couple of times. Then he asked her to start thinking 1-2, 1-2 for a trot transition. He asked her to feel the rhythm in herself and only ask with a leg cue if the horse didn’t pick up the trot. Sure enough, her horse picked up the trot. Then the canter, think 1-2-3 1-2-3 and only ask with a leg cue if the horse doesn’t pick it up. If you think the footfall beats and pretty much chant it inside your head, your body translates the rhythm to the horse. It was pretty cool. The rider couldn’t believe her horse was transitioning so well. Cassi, Marks wife, was working with the other ride at the other end of the arena as Mark worked – then they switched. So very much the same as at their 2 and 3 day clinics.
He did ask the audience if anyone had questions after each rider (they switched teams twice I think). I think if he would engage his audience a little more say like Larry Whitesell or John Lyons, he would have a bigger audience. But if he is like Liz (and I think he is) he's there to help the horse and rider so the audience is secondary.

Breathing is extremely important in the equation. You should always exhale on the transition. The exhale should last 5 strides, the inhale 4 strides. He recommends “The Breathing Book” by Donna Farhi.

When a horse starts to brace, please DO NOT PULL ON IT, DO NOT BRACE, DO NOT TRY TO SHUT DOWN THE HORSE. Begin working circles and serpentines, the more brace, the smaller the circles. Change the horse’s way of thinking. You want relaxation, not a horse bracing and/or standing still.
3 keys: Speed ~ Direction ~ Destination: If you don’t give it to your horse the horse will take it away from you.
I did pretty good as far as shopping went. For the most part everything I bought was for G’s benefit, not mine. I got a new beanbag bit warmer; peppermint molasses treats; Farrier’s Fix ; Likit refills (almost gone already); Horseshoer’s Secret – got a good deal. For hubby I bought an Australian beeswax waterproofer for his boots and a book (ssshh that’s a Christmas present) and for me I bought a hunter orange helmet cover and ordered Mark Rashid’s new book Whole Heart, Whole Horse....they didn’t arrive before he left for the Expo so he’ll sign it and ship it to me; and Rick Lamb’s Human to Horseman on CDs.
Friday November 13, 2009
Today hubby was able to join me and it was nice to share the day together involved in something we both love....horses. We started out the morning by running to the Young Building to see Larry Whitesell at 9:30. As we arrived they were just coming into the arena. Larry started out by asking how many people had not been there on Thursday, and there were a lot of raised hands. So Larry repeated quite a bit of what he talked about on Thursday, as like I said he is on a mission to dispel all the myths of how you have to ride a gaited horse and all the special equipment you need to do it. Which was okay since Zeke wasn't with me on Thursday. Zeke enjoyed Larry, and appreciated his sense of humor. This morning they worked very briefly on getting the horses soft in the bridle from the ground and then began under saddle work. Jennifer was asked to gait her Paso around the arena and then perform shoulder in and haunches out. This grey Paso has amazing gaits and did these dressage moves beautifully. Here's Jennifer taking a minute to enjoy - doesn't her smile say it all?

Again I was disappointed in these two Walking Horses as they were both very braced. They did begin to soften as they were worked a bit. Larry asked the women to take their horses out to the rail and get them into a nice working walk. Then he asked them to gait. The black Paso went right into a nice gait, I think it was a Corto. The black Walker immediately started to pace, which in turn made the rider brace and bring him back down, and the white Walker never got out of the medium walk. Larry asked the black Walker team to work on going from the medium walk to its gait, and if it paced he said to allow him to for at least 5 strides or more and then calmly ask for him back to the medium walk. He said that many gaited riders are afraid to allow their horses to blow past their intermediate gaits so they shut them down. He said the unfortunate part about this is that you're telling the horse you want it to walk, not gait. If you are forever shutting it down when it speeds up, what does it tell the horse? It's like when you reinforce your go forward aid with a dressage whip and if your horse canters or speeds up faster than you like, you bring him down immediately. You want the horse to learn to go forward on cue. Why stop the horse from doing what you've asked it to do? Obviously you don't want your horse getting too strung out or working it for long in an inverted frame, but you do want forward with speed.
After working this a bit they started to get better, and the horse started to relax a bit more. She got him into a nice step pace here and there. The white walker? Well, he never came out of a medium walk....not even a good flat walk. I'm beginning to believe that people in the Northeast really have no clue and this is why Walkers in particular get a bad rap. I saw these two horses later in the breed demo, and with the addition of another horse that was not relaxed under saddle, with a very braced rider, they gave what I considered a poor demonstration. There were four horses in the demo that were wonderful and I can only hope that people saw the good, not the bad. To me, when you do a breed demo don't you want to showcase the best of the best? If a breed is supposed to be calm, relaxed and smooth, why put a horse in if it's not? Sorry I digress. That was about the extent of the Whitesell clinic this morning so we moved on.
We checked out some vendors and decided to go have lunch before the afternoon clinics. Rather than subject ourselves to the regular fair vendors we walked over to the Storrowtown Tavern; a 300 year old tavern that sits in the historical section of the Big E, which neither of us had ever been in. What a treat! It was a little on the pricey side, but the food was fantabulous! I had a chicken pot pie with the moistest largest chunks of chicken I've ever seen, with a perfectly flakey crust. Yum, I'm getting hungry just describing it. We'll definitely go back there as a treat. We want food ~ We want food....

We headed over to the Better Living Center, which is the largest of the Big E's buildings. We stopped at Mark Rashid's booth as I wanted to get some pictures since I wasn't able to capture any good ones in the coliseum and never got a chance to get a picture with him and Crissi in NH. Luckily they were there, as well as Timo (the NH clinic organizer) so we were able to accomplish one mission! Left to right, Mark, Crissi & Timo (the three amigos)

Then add me in the middle (the rest of the story will follow shortly I hope!)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monday November 9, 2009

Tonight after dinner I went to the barn and decided that rather than ride I would do some in hand work with G. We worked on lateral softness and backing. I think G is finally "getting it" and I believe this Rockin' S Raised Snaffle has made all the difference in the world. Although his first response is to lean against it when I first ask him to yield laterally, as I keep my intent steady he softens. Each time his response comes faster, and softer until he's licking and sighing.

I sure wish it weren't getting dark out so soon as I'd really like to get him out on the trail by myself to see if we can replicate the great ride we had on Sunday with company. Supposed to rain Saturday so it looks like Sunday is the day. Wish I could catch ride tomorrow morning before Equine Affaire, but the first clinic I want to see is at 10! Bummer :0) yeah right, how can going to Equine Affaire be a bummer?!?!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sunday November 8, 2009

Okay, Brenda says I need to update my blog so here goes!!

Ahhh [heavy sigh] we finally got out on the trail out behind the farm on Sunday. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, sunny and around 65 degrees....such a pleasure for November. We went out with a fellow boarder and her TB mare S, who just so happens to be one of G's fence mates and current gal pal.

When we got to the bridge G decided he wanted to back away from it. Such a surprise since the last time we went out he crossed it like it wasn't there. After several attempts and refusals, B got down off her horse and said "I'm walking across". Okay, G will follow S and we did. When B mounted back up she said that S started baulking at G's first refusal and thought that G might've been feeding off her. Maybe, but it's done so can't dwell on it.

We headed out toward the river with S in the lead and G calming walking about two horse lengths behind her. This is a far cry from the last time we went out with another horse, where he wanted to be right up behind them. His head is down, relaxed at the poll and just a nice relaxed walk. Once we got up toward the highway underpass, G and I took the lead cause its a scary place according to S. G really wanted to let S lead, but I pushed him forward until the trail widened again and then walked side by side. What a glorious day and it was so nice to ride with B again. I think the last time was close to two years ago!

When it came time to turn around they both did their usual "woohoo, let's go home - head up - high alert" mode. I simply stayed relaxed and just asked G with slight squeezes on the reins to slow his tempo. Meantime, S is jigging like crazy and B is trying to calm her down by talking. It made me think about how I used to respond to G when he got jiggy - I always thought talking would calm him. I started asking Brenda questions we started conversing again. Next thing you know S has stopped jigging and we're walking back to the barn. Ah, relaxed riders = relaxed horses. Don't get me wrong, we're walking at a nice pace...we're just not jigging; G's not losing his brains; and it felt good!

So what was different about this ride from my last ride where G wouldn't stay relaxed?

  1. We were with another horse - even if she was jigging and nervous (why G didn't feed off this surprised me as nervous horses usually cause him to react)
  2. G was in his Rockin' S Raised snaffle bit
  3. I was riding with reins crossed in one hand with consistent contact the whole ride
  4. When he did get keyed up I asked him to lower his head and walk
  5. I didn't try to calm him with words, I stayed relaxed and focused on talking to B
Mark Rashid said, when I begin to ride G as consistently as I work with him on the ground, then I will begin to have a different horse. So what did I do consistently this ride that I haven't in the past? I rode him with one hand the whole ride. I didn't switch from neck reining to direct reining; and I didn't change the amount of contact. I kept a nice steady feel with his mouth.
In watching the boring video of me walking G around the arena while talking to Mark about me & G, I noticed that everytime I put the reins in one hand so I could "talk" with the other, G would immediately relax at the poll and lower his head. Not rooting or pulling at the bit, but seeking the contact. Wow, after all this time of trying to find the right contact; the right bit; was it so simple that G was simply trying to tell me that he didn't like direct contact with two hands? Cause anytime someone rode him with two hands, he would fight contact. He'd be on again off again, head up head down. Didn't matter whose hands - Claudia, Deb, Lisa, me.
My conclusion is that its a combination of the bit which is more comfortable in his mouth and allows him to relax at the poll and riding with one hand. For now, this is how we will ride. Dressage lessons are pretty much now on permanent hold and will be replaced with doing more work in hand. How can one be consistent if they are continually switching from riding western to english? Direct reining to neck reining?
So as far as under saddle goes, this will be the one way we ride going forward.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tuesday 10/27/2009

Went directly to the barn after work as I had booked arena time at 6:30 ~ G was a muddy mess when I got there, so between washing hooves and scraping away the mud I was lucky to get in there on time.

I decided since I was primarily going to work the walk that I’d let him eat his dinner. I've found if he knows he’s missing dinner he has a hard time focusing on work. He is without a doubt the most food oriented horse I’ve ever met. I sometimes wonder if it’s because they are on such a consistent schedule that when something is slightly amiss he gets agitated. I know my dogs start getting a bit more than antsy if 5:00 comes and goes without the food dishes being filled.

G picked me up at the mounting block – he’s doing very well with this. I asked for him to soften – repeated this about three times until I felt him release and mounted up. He stood still but then started getting antsy. His mind was in forward gear! So I dismounted and we repeated the exercise. This time he really softened (I think I’m starting to really see the difference between light and soft) and so when I mounted this time I didn’t need to hold the reins or request that he stand still, he just did. Good boy.

We start out by doing serpentines on and off the rail around the arena in both directions. He really is getting in tune to my seat cues now and it feels great not having to use any rein with exception to asking for a yield to the inside. I alternate taking up contact and then allowing him to reach forward and down, which helps stretch out those muscles. Once we were warmed up I tried to simply work on keeping his hind end engaged at a nice medium walk – pure four beats – in a soft frame. As I asked him to pick up his gait, his first inclination is to raise that head and hollow out, so I went back to the walk, we did some shoulder fore, haunches in, leg yields, worked our square pattern, and then I asked for a canter in both directions on a 20 meter circle. Once cantered, when I asked for him to pick it up into a flat walk I got it in a soft frame with impulsion. Around the arena once in both directions and we went back to walk transitions. I believe the canter is what truly stretches him out.

Back when we first started cantering on 20 meter circles G had a hard time balancing. He now feels wonderful – we’re getting lift on the up transition and he’s beginning to drop his hinny and soften on the down transition. The problem now however is I can’t keep him in the canter on the straight any more. Why is that? Anyway, we ended our session backing up and he did a darn good job of staying straight the length of the arena. I only had to use my legs twice to straighten him out. So we ended on a good note ~ he got his peppermint when I was done untacking him. All I got was a sticky hand :)

Friday, October 23, 2009

The True Horseman?

So what is it exactly that makes one a true horseman? Is it the opening of the heart mind and soul to the horse? Is it the resolve to take as much time as it takes to learn something? Is it working a horse without the use of force or pain? Is it having the patience to wait it out when your horse doesn’t “get it”?

I didn’t have the opportunity to own horses when I was younger; but spent my lifetime dreaming of the day that I would have a horse of my very own. I spent countless hours on hack line ponies and horses; spent more countless hours on the back of wonderful ranch horses in beautiful majestic mountains, Navajo tribal parks and the Arizona desert; I pretty much rode every horse I could get my hands on from an early age. Does this make me less of a horseman because I haven’t trained a horse from birth? Or because I didn’t own countless horses looking for that “perfect” mount?

I think a true horseman is someone who is willing to open their heart, mind and soul to the betterment of the horse and the rest of the questions I outlined above. Plus I think a true horseman understands that it is a never ending journey. Destinations don’t matter, the journey does – it’s a quest to be a student of the horse. It's about taking what you learn and paying it forward as Liz Graves loves to say. She is a true horsewoman; she has all the qualities and is so giving of her talents. I can only hope to have 1/2 her horse knowledge before I die.

I knew when I bought G six years ago that he would be a challenge ~ not a horse most people would recommend to a new horse owner, but I felt having good basic riding skills and what I considered good horse sense, we would in the end be a good fit for one another. He hasn’t proven me wrong yet. The patience I didn’t have, G brought to me. There was no other choice. Undoing the damage that was done before me was more of a task than I thought. I’m sure someone of Liz Graves or Mark Rashid’s talents could have turned him around faster, and this is where the experience of a true horseman comes in. Its not that I didn’t try as hard as they would have; or showed G any less patience then he needed. It just took me longer to find the answers to my questions. The fact that we’re into our sixth year and just finally “getting it” together I know is well beyond many people’s capacity for patience. But I now know that I have it! I knew the minute I met G six years ago that he was a special horse with a big heart and I was willing to take however much time was needed to find our communication and become a team. Let the journey continue....questions I got!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rockin S Raised Snaffle Bit

I made a decision today to put dressage lessons on hold for a little bit and simply work on G's softness and my leadership with him under saddle. So tonight I brought the dressage tack home and took my western tack back to the barn - totally opposite of what I generally do come late fall. But since I'm going to be pushing G to the limits of frustration (I'm sure) I prefer to have the ATH saddle and bucking rolls....just in case :)

After dinner I went to the barn and tacked G up. He was a little hesitant to open his mouth for the bit (kinda back to his old ways) but a simple tickle to the corner of his mouth and he said "AHHHH". We started at the mounting block and G lined up perfectly the first time. And then I went to put the reins over his head and his butt stepped over. Okay, round two - DING! He lined up perfectly again but this time I didn't ask him to step up so far so I was able to put the reins over his head without him moving. I brought the inside rein up toward the saddle horn and held. He immediately braced against it, so just as Mark showed me I held fast and waited til he released. Really released. No "okay I give, oh wait no I don't, changed my mind - ha ha". We repeated this until he released and relaxed. Once he was there I mounted up and we stood there for a good full minute before I asked him to move out.

I love using the rope reins simply because you can easily hold them softly in the hand rather than the feeling that I need to "grip" the rein. Maybe this has to do with the fact that I have big hands, I don't know. G was relaxed from step one. Maybe every 10 steps or so I simply had to squeeze my pinkie and ring finger on the inside rein to remind him to relax at the poll. Toward the end the reminders came fewer and farther apart. We worked on backing. I find that when the arena is "choppy" like it was tonight he doesn't back up as freely as he does on solid ground, like outside or on the outdoor track. But backing came easier and freer with far less resistance on his part. I think we're both starting to "get it".

I was never a big believer in a bit being a cure all, and I'm almost afraid to say this outloud, but the Rockin S Raised Snaffle is G's bit. After all the different bits and bitless rigs we've tried the past 6 years, this bit is a real hallelujah event in our lives. I realize that we still have a long slow road ahead before we tackle his confidence issue on the trail; but it brought tears to my eyes tonight to feel and see how relaxed G was under saddle. Since I'm not supposed to look down, I instead kept looking at his profile shadow on the wall. Not only did he feel great, he looked great. His ears kept flicking back listening to me and at one point looked like they were getting a bit floppy. G with bunny ears! No way!

I was going to send Mark & Krissi an email thanking them again for all their insight and coming up with the concept of this bit (and of course marketing it) but I think I'm going to wait until I see them in person at Equine Affaire in a few weeks. Then I hope to have hubby take another video of G at the walk and then put a before and after video together. I think everyone will be surprised at the difference....heck I am and we're just getting started!

Tomorrow is another day.....a new beginning.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Saturday 10/17/09

Headed to the barn late this morning to ride G in his new Rockin S Raised Snaffle. I had reserved the arena for 12:45 but a lesson was running a little late so I decided to ride G outside for a few before heading indoors.

Well G did a great job at picking me up at the mounting block and he stood still for me. I picked up his reins and he wanted to walk off. So I asked him to stand. Easy right? Not. Here comes the red farm truck down the center drive with Sue standing in the back throwing lunch hay. Aha, it's lunch time and as usual if its feeding time and I'm asking G to work he wants to throw a tantrum. Oops, there I go again. G is acting out because..... no making excuses for his poor behavior so I asked him to back up. Not a happy camper. I could feel his frustration mounting, but I held fast and continued to back him up in a circle until I got some softening. Since the truck was rolling toward us and the barn I decided I'd take him around back and head into the arena.

Once inside I dismounted and went to the mounting block and asked him to pick me up. Not so good as outside. "The hay truck is here mom, I wanna eat". Such a spoiled child. I kept my resolve and on about the fourth attempt he relented. I then asked him to soften by closing my hand on the rein mid way up his neck. This took about 5 minutes before I got a release. Okay not so bad. So I mounted up, sat and got myself situated and asked him to walk off.

Up, up, up. G's ears were forward and he was very up and ready to go. So this tells me I didn't change his frame of mind at the mounting block and should've spent more time on softening. I only had 30 minutes so I took him to the centerline in the arena and started backing. We had to traverse the center line back and forth twice before he let go of the bit and softened. I then gave him a little more rein and asked him to walk along the wall. Much more relaxed at the poll; but every once in a while the head would pop up but I simply vibrated my ring finger on the inside rein and he softened. We did more work on backing; stopping in a soft frame; and walking walking walking.

So far I'm really pleased with this bit and how G is reacting to it. Far more responsive with far less cue. To have him back with me simply closing my hand on the reins and thinking back just amazes me. A horse that wouldn't back for "you know what" now backs in a more relaxed frame. When he gets going, it feels so cool to feel how his hind end is working. So now my two Herm Sprenger bits are in the hands of a fellow boarder who is going to try them both out this week. We just happened to start talking bits and she mentioned that she had tried an HS and her horse liked it so she was going to go buy a new one. Great timing! Hopefully one will be sold by the end of the week and the other I can hopefully sell to one of our prior trainers. This will make DH very happy! Buy a new bit, sell two!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mark Rashid Clinic

As expected the Mark Rashid clinic was worth every penny. My expectations were mainly to have Mark give us an assessment of G (his personality type) and what I can do to gain more of his trust on the trail. G is such a great horse on the ground, is soft 99.99% of time time, yet he changes to a different horse under saddle. Anyway, before I get into specifics, I'll post pics first New Hampshire was gorgeous. I'd forgotten how beautiful it is, especially in the fall.

Here's Captain Jack Sparrow (lol). I tried to find a treasure chest to go with The Black Pearl theme, but the skull was the best I could do for a pirate ship.
A view of Deer Creek Farm from one of their hay fields. This is a gorgeous place.

A view from the barn

G's outdoor home away from home

Our home away from home

Asking G to pick me up at the mounting block
Teaching G to let go of the bit

Mark working with a student on working with energy from your core. Fascinating stuff. BTW Joanna, this Haflinger is sporting an About the Horse ranch saddle. It's a #2 bar customized to fit. This gal tried just about everything including treeless. Mark said the difference in this horse from the last clinic they participated in was super. Nice saddle.

Mark is an extrodinary horseman and just amazing to watch work with both the rider and horse.

Mark's assessment of me & G ~ G is (as I've known) highly sensitive and fearful - especially noticeable under saddle. Mark starts off his session with you by asking you to tell your horses story. I gave the basic details. 6th owner in 5 years; first horse (probably not the best choice); issues on the trail when turning home; improvement over the years - going from a spinner bolter to simple shoulder drops, etc. Mark would ask questions as I talked to get clarification. I felt like I was with a therapist rather than a horse trainer, lol. He asked me to mount up so I took G over to the mounting block, asked him to move his haunches over (toward the block) as he generally doesn't want to line up straight to the block. I mounted got my right foot in the stirrup and walked off. As I was walking G around the arena and going by the auditors, G noticed Timo (the clinic organizer) laid out in a recliner chair wrapped up in a bright white and black blanket.

I felt G tense, then he started with the head tilt and giving it the hairy eyeball. He dropped his nose and I could tell he wanted to investigate, so I let him. So I continue on and Mark asks "do you always let your horse go where he wants?" and I'm like "what? - oh you mean the blanket?". Well, G is spooky by nature and I figured if he wanted to check it out now rather than when Timo decides to get up in the middle of the session, he'll know it's human and not something out to get him and spook half way across the arena". Mark chuckled. Now I should mention that Mark is sick with some kinda bug...coughing sniffling, you could tell he was not feeling good, but somehow he still had a sense of humor. "So do you always let him do that". I said no, it depends on the situation. He started asking me questions about G's behavior during ground work and I told him 99.99% of the time he's relaxed and compliant. He asked if I was pretty consistent in what we do and how I ask from the ground and I said yes, I believe so.....

So lesson #1. Sensitive fearful horses lack self confidence and they require strong leadership. Strong leadership comes from consistency in EVERYTHING and being in control of each and every situation. If a fearful horse is left to its own defenses it will worry, it'll spook, it'll stop listening to its rider. I talked a bit more about G's history and our beginnings - spinning bolting, me hitting the ground etc.

Lesson #2: He said, it's okay to understand a horse's past, and its okay to make mistakes along the way, the key is that you don't beat yourself or your horse up for past mistakes - you are where you are today, move forward from this place. Secondly, don't make excuses for a horse's bad behavior or non compliance. Don't use history to explain away training issues.
Mark said one of the best ways to begin teaching horses softness and compliance is through backing. A resistant or fearful horse doesn't want to back up easily as it is relinquishing control.

Lesson #3: In backing there is no pulling on the reins; no leg pressure. It is simply intent, combined with closed hands with contact to the bit, and release when the horse softens. In the beginning, Mark had to take the reins from the ground and ask as G didn't quite understand this "no leg aids" concept. Mark backed him in a circle and there were times you could see the fear in G's eyes and he would lock onto the bit and he would grunt (the same grunt he has when he gets frustrated), Mark worked past it until G unlocked, and then got soft. The movement in the saddle became smooth. It was amazing to feel what it is supposed to feel like. So first you connect your core; close your hands on the reins; and think back. It's as if you are linking up two nervous systems to where your thought becomes their thought. But if your body or your horse's bodies are "locked" then there is no connection. So you open up the line of communication through the reins. You don't "over think" connection, it is a feel. If you are stiff, your horse will be stiff. Also, when backing make sure your legs are off the horse. In order for a horse to back properly, they need to be able to move their barrel. Otherwise, they have trouble using their hind end properly. Oh, and he told me that he's found that many gaited horses back up in four beats rather than in diagonal pairs which is the norm in trotting horses. Both my equine massage therapist and instructors have thought G had a problem because he doesn't back in diagonal pairs. I'm so glad to hear its common.

Mark asked me to dismount and to grab G's halter and lead rope. Once he was fitted up, he said "here's where we start you're leadership role". A horse has to understand its job in order to perform it correctly. A horse can't guess, it can only learn. So teach your horse how to count. Huh? He gave a great analogy about a teacher asking a little boy in the classroom what 1+1 is. The little boy said 6, the teacher said no, what's 1+1, and the little boy says 9. On and on it goes until the little boy finally answers 1+1 = 2. The teacher didn't teach the little boy how to count, she taught him how to guess. The same applies to horses - you have to teach the horse what you want - what its job is, you don't leave it to them to guess.

So, lesson #4. If you want to mount up you ask your horse to pick you up at the block (see pictures above). Mark walked G straight to the front of the block and he walked around and up the steps. Standing at the top he now directed G to his right and then brought him over to the block. (Edited to revise the following) G first parked (I didn't know he could do that) and lined up straight to the block. Mark's comment was "he's a smart horse, he gets it". Then Mark reached down to the halter and asked G to give by turning his nose in toward Mark's left leg. You could see G brace, and Mark was like "whoa, this guy is locked up from the base of his neck down to his nose". So he maintained the pressure all the while G is starting to try and pull his head away. It took several minutes before he finally gave to Mark. Mark got down and repeated. I think he did this twice and asked for him to yield maybe 6 times. By the last time, Mark said "there, he finally softened". I said, what made that different, it looked like the last time to me. He said you can see it in their eyes.

Lesson #5: Lightness comes from the outside of the horse; softness comes from within; and this you can see in their eyes. A horse can be very light yet never be soft. For instance, if a horse is worried; a light horse will continue to act out; a soft horse will continue to listen to its rider. So although G can be very light to the aids; he is not soft inside. It was then my turn to ask G to pick me up, and we did this several times. It was so neat to have him line up for me. Prior to mounting, Mark had me put weight into the stirrups a few times to make sure G wouldn't move. He didn't. So he asked me to mount up and G stood perfectly still until I asked him to move out. Mark said these are the fundamentals that are the building blocks for leadership. If you allow your horse to move out at will, you've given up your role. In order for a horse to trust you, you have to be a strong leader 24/7. Consistency, and teaching softness. So Mark's recommendation to me is to simply work on getting G soft at the walk, everytime we walk. Work on him being soft when he's being led; when he's standing still at your side. If his poll rises above his neck line, ask him to lower the head. As G becomes softer, and I become more consistent in asking for softness, the leadership role will fall back to me. Mark thinks at this point I should simply continue to work on softness and not move up into the gaits until G will walk consistently in a soft frame of mind without me continually asking for him to soften.

After our hour I went and continued practicing backing up and asking for softness with his wife Crissi. When we were done, both G and I felt really good about our 2 hours of work. I'm going to stop here, and pick up either later or tomorrow on the following day and other "pearls" from Mark.

I used to think I was being pretty consistent, but after Mark's questions and his assessment after watching us, I guess I wasn't consistent enough for G's personality. The thing is G is now very compliant going out on the trail, and as long as we're moving away from the barn we're good. It's when we turn from home that he immediately tenses up and starts jigging. There have been days where I've been able to regain his composure, but most days he still stays "wired". Guess they named him correctly Gen n Wired, lol. Some days using half halts works; other days turning him back out away from the barn; or doing dressage movements. I start with the half halts and work through the bag of tricks. Mark's theory about leadership and trust makes sense to me, and its been something I've felt for awhile now.

One thing I forgot to mention above is that I borrowed the Rockin' S Raised Snaffle from Timo to try out with G during our session with Crissi on Wednesday. As they described G did mouth it a bit when we first put it in, but within 10-15 minutes he got softer and stayed relaxed at the poll for longer periods of time. Unfortunately it was being used by another rider at the same time as our session with Mark on Thursday but he finished up about 15 minutes early so he was nice enough to bring it back to the arena for us to use again.

On Thursday we basically worked on the same things we did on Wednesday, but now it was more focus on keeping G soft; working on straightening out G's backing up; working on "intent" rather than leg/seat aids; finding the right feel; and stepping up his gait a little more. Early on in the session after working with G backing and he (meaning G) locked onto the bit, one of Mark's comments was that although the bit I was using may be the best of what I'd tried so far, he didn't think we'd found what G needed. G would take hold of it in between softening. I mentioned that we had tried the Raised Snaffle yesterday with good results, so when Rick brought it in and we switched over to the Rockin' S Raised Snaffle the difference was immediate, Not only could I feel him softening, Mark was observing G using his hind end more and reaching under himself. He felt better than ever before. When I began to step him up in gait and got him to soften Mark's comment was "once you have him soft consistently, this guy is going to be super smooth. I said "but he is smooth!" and he said "you ain't seen nothing yet". So that gives me hope!! Oh, and I've ordered a new Rockin'S Raised snaffle so stay tuned for some gently used Herm Sprenger bits for sale :)

One of the other things that got me was when G locked onto the bit and Mark was trying to get him to soften, G was really fighting the release to the point where I would've stopped as I would've thought I was frying his brain. But on the other side of the fight, came softness. Mark said that much of "the good stuff" is found on the other side of confusion and fight. He said that its obvious that G has other issues other than lacking foundation training (i.e. heavy training/possible abuse) so he really wants me to go back to baby steps and focus on him being soft, always releasing when I get the result I want, which will make him feel good about himself. Even when a horse is fighting or acting out due to confusion, if you stop before you get the desired result, you put yourself back to square one. In order for G to begin using his abdominal muscles and raising his back, he needs to be soft.

We continued using the raised snaffle while working with Crissi and she said that it was great to see so much improvement in both of us in just the one day. She noted that G was being softer longer, and that she could see I was working more with feel and intent than cues. The other thing that Mark pointed out is that I tend to look down at G's head. I thought I had gotten over that, but apparently not. He said if a rider looks at the horse's head, then the horse has no where to go. And the same can be said about breathing. When you work with intent and feel if you don't breathe then the horse stays still, lol. The first couple of times I asked him to back his feet were just planted. Crissi asked me if I was breathing, I let out a big breath and G started backing. We talked some more about his history and I told her about the barn owner from hell; and you could tell its a story she's heard before. As I was leaving the arena she told me that I have a really nice horse. Yep, G is a nice horse and I'm so glad we've found one another.

Other "pearls" from watching others are:
  • If your horse is bracing, it's because something isn't working right, and that something is usually "pulling" the horse via the reins or the rider being stiff and locked.
  • When taking your first step with your horse, the horse should step off at the speed you request. Ask for the walk you want from the first moment.
  • If your horse tends to counterbend (meaning he's walking to the left but looking to the right) direct the horse to walk in the same direction that he's looking and then bend back in the direction you were traveling. Horses that do this are disconnected (head from the body) and in a sense "locked". By directing him to follow his head and then return to the correct bend helps unlock the horse and reconnect them.
  • Don't overthink connection. It is all about "feel". Once you are centered, you think your intent, the end goal is to lose the aids down the road.
  • As effortless a horse moves in the pasture on its own, is how effortless he should move with a rider on board.
  • Always shoot for 100% - it doesn't mean you'll always get 100% but it is important to always strive toward it.
  • Leg aids should only be used to operate/guide the hind end and the front guided by the hands.
  • If you are locked, your body cannot connect with your horse; it simply creates a locked horse.
The martial art of Akido has opened up Mark to understand how important working from your center is in horse training and those same principles are what bring a horse and rider together to work as one unit. Watching him work with a couple of people on the ground truly fascinated me. When a person locks up you can pretty much knock them over with a feather. Once the person becomes centered and focuses on their core, you cannot move their feet. I really wish I'd had a video camera to tape these two sessions I watched as it was really eye opening. Once the video is processed I may hear some more words of wisdom or it may jingle up my memory, lol.

In any event, if you have an opportunity to work with Mark DO IT! It was worth every penny. He's coming back for Equine Affaire in November and then he'll return to NH in June next year for week long clinics. I sooo wish I could afford a full week with him, but unless something radical happens at work (like a bonus) I'm afraid I'll have to wait and see if I can do a 2 or 3 day in the fall.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

On The Road Again....

Finally a new truck and of course I've already booked a clinic! Me & G will be working with Mark Rashid for two days in October. I am so psyched as he is my numero uno horse trainer. I just love his philosophies and his ability to read horses. I am extremely curious as to what his take on "G" will be.
Now to get G back into "trailer loading" mode. Hoping to take a short couple of trips to some dry trails soon. The trails out behind the barn are just a muddy wet mess. The river is actually higher than it was this spring after the snow melt from Northern New England. We can only hope for a beautiful picture postcard perfect fall! That's what has been my saving grace this summer as we really miss trail riding. Our last real trail ride was late April. Our last trip out we could only circumnavigate about an hours worth of trails. Okay no more whining from me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Just an Update

It's been awhile since I've been able to update. So much to do, so little time. Renovations on the interior of the house have been keeping us extremely busy, which has left less time to work with G.

I've begun taking lessons under saddle with Lisa. Her approach is strictly classical which is very different than the modern dressage teachers. With her its all about relaxation, everything comes in its own time. This seems to be a better fit with my approach to horsemanship, as I've always tried to work more on G's clock than my own.

The first few minutes of the lesson is made up of doing some in hand work to prepare him for saddle work. I think it really makes a difference in his mindset, as this past Sunday he was more relaxed than I've ever seen him. We're stepping back a bit from where we are with Debbie. She has us working on transitions, from walk to halt, halt to backing up, and then moving forward. All with the use of seat aids. I did have to close my fingers the first few times for G to understand the new seat cue (think levitating lol) but after the third or fourth time he knew what I wanted. The best part of the session was the fact that G took two steps backward without lifting his head. This is huge. G has always hollowed out to back up, but yesterday he stayed relaxed. Lisa asked me to reward him even if I only get one step. She wants me to work hard at praising him for staying in a relaxed frame regardless of what we're doing.

I'm also having to work harder on my seat and posture, as she felt I was falling behind the vertical just enough to possibly be hindering G from rounding his back more. Not haven been told this before, now with my frame in line I do feel like I'm slightly forward of the vertical, but when I went by the windows outside I realized that she was spot on. Now I need to practice the new seat at all gaits. I'm hoping our new found teacher will help me reach between G's ears so he'll understand relaxation and it will become second nature.

It was interesting again as Lisa asked if she could ride him to see if she could get a true shoulder in from him. She managed one or two steps, but found that he is stiff. What I saw from the ground was the same thing I see any time someone strange gets on him. He gets more hollow, braced, and appears to be waiting for the hammer to fall. Sj said she believed his issues are between his ears, and I do believe she's absolutely correct. There are certain things I have been able to overcome with him, but submission is the toughest. So time will tell. Looking forward to our next lesson in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lessons In-Hand

Tonight we had our first lesson with our resident Classical Dressage Queen, Lisa. Okay so she's not really a Queen, but since another border refers to her as the DQ in a snide fashion I now call her DQ, lol

I do love to watch her work with her horse both under saddle and on the double lunge. So I decided that I would switch off lessons between her and Debbie. We'll work with Lisa on "in-hand" work one week and with Debbie under saddle the next. Not sure how long I can afford to do this, but I'm going to try it for a bit.

Tonight was really educational as she spent the first ten minutes discussing the anatomy of the horse and the importance that relaxation plays in classical dressage. Nothing is done right now, it is done when its ready. I said "oh just like natural horsemanship, you are on the horses clock, they are not on yours". She laughed and said exactly. So we are both on the same wave length, which is good. She was happy to see that I don't use a flash band anymore nor do I tighten the cavesson. I actually keep it a tad loose. I've found this has helped G relax a lot more with the bit. Lisa filled the whole hour with lots of tid bits about classical dressage training and its importance in the proper training of the horse versus how its done in modern dressage. It solidified a lot of what I've read.

We worked on three exercises tonight, the first being one to teach the horse to relax in the bridle, drop the nose to the ground and learn to relax in that position. Here you stand in front of your horse and hook your thumbs into the bit rings. Concentrating on only one side at a time you hold one thumb steady as you close your other thumb in a slight pulsing manner asking the horse to give a little at the poll and to slightly turn the head in that direction as you continue to lower the head. Like a bend in the saddle, you only want to have a slight turn in. You then switch to the other side. Once we got that down I then walked backward in front of him and while doing the same exercise asked him to walk forward slowly. The key was to keep his head as low as possible yet relaxed at the same time. Then ask for whoa and to keep the head down and relaxed. Hah, not easy! Eventually we will ask him to back up with his head down. But this is great as this exercise helps stretch out and work the neck, back and croup muscles. It seems like a simple enough exercise, (edited to change wording) the analogy she used was it would be like a woman who walks in high heels all the time and putting her into flip flops. All of a sudden the muscles of the foot are being stretched in a different manner and it hurts. But in time, the more we do this exercise the more supple the muscles will become and the stronger his back muscles will be. It will become second nature for G to feel relaxed in this frame rather than where his comfort zone is today.

The next two were lateral exercises. Doing a square where I ask G to do a walking turn on the forehand for two steps, walk straight three steps and repeat in a square. We did this several times in each direction as well. The last was working on a circle and then asking G to sidepass two steps out of the circle and then back in. This was the hardest as we've never worked on side passing. G can leg yield and he can do a shoulder over, but putting the two together is a new concept. By the third time around we got a few good steps in both directions. We worked for an hour and Lisa was great at picking up my bad habits. Things that I didn't realize I was doing to counteract all the relaxation techniques I was using. Like when G would do something wrong I'd puff up and say "ack". His head immediately comes up and he'd brace. There were also times where I wasn't being careful about where the piaffe whip was placed and G like the good boy he was would do what I asked although I didn't realize I was asking, lol. So lessons for me will be all about more relaxtion. I'm almost thinking Tai Chi would be a good thing to take, as I hear it does wonder for focus and control (yeah like I can afford that too). Nope, horse comes first. Anyway, she also observed that he appears to be stiff in the neck mid point. And while we were talking and turned his head to me he both heard a good "pop". This even after I did neck stretches before we began our lesson. I think it's time for the massage therapist to pay a visit. She was very pleased at how willing he is and responsive. He has so much heart its no wonder he wormed his way into mine.

When people say that good horsemanship is a never ending journey, they aren't kidding. I've owned G for 6 years now and I find I'm still learning something new about him every day. I'm real excited about our new journey....dressage from the ground!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Back to the Bit

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated our blog. I’ve been busy doing a lot of scrapping, card making and working on the interior of our house. Anyway....

A couple of weeks ago I set up a lesson with Deb, but rather than me riding I asked her to ride G. I thought it would give her a better understanding of the lack of communication we’ve been having with the current bit. I have to say it was interesting to watch her ride him. At first you could tell he was a little uneasy – not only was there someone different on his back but there I was standing in the corner. Whatz up with dat? He quickly learned that when Deb asked for something he was to comply. But it sure was fun to watch him test her the same way he tests me. Definitely a challenging personality ~ luckily not a “mean” one.

She agreed that we needed to address the bit and see if we could find something he was a little happier in. So into her car’s tack trunk she went and came out with our first one to try. So I’ve been riding G the past few weeks in another Herm Sprenger KK snaffle. It’s basically the same as what we were using it’s just 18mm rather than 12mm. At first I wasn’t sure G would accept a bit this fat, but after mouthing it for a couple of minutes he settled right in with it.

To me he seems more comfortable with the larger diameter mouthpiece and seems more content in staying on contact. Deb dropped off two more bits this past weekend. Both single jointed snaffles, one 14mm and the other looked like a 21mm. The later being too fat for Mr. G’s mouth. I tried the 14mm snaffle which was a stainless Kosteel bit and was surprised that he went okay with it. However, he wasn’t as content as he’s been in the HS bit. Argh...of course he likes the crème de la crème of bits. His nibs has taste like his mom.....champagne budget, lol.

We’ve got a lesson on the 29th so I’ll have Deb check us from the ground and possibly get her to ride him before the lesson is over. The weekend calls for sunny weather with highs in the 80’s! Egad we went from early spring to middle of the summer overnight! Hopefully we can get G to shed a little more before Saturday so we can get in a nice long trail ride.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's Spring...Trail Riding at last!!

Yesterday was just a perfect weather day, especially seeing that its March. By noontime the sun was out and temps were hitting 62. I loaded up my western tack and headed to the barn.

I double checked saddle fit first; something I like to do every spring "just in case". Good to go! I just recently trimmed G and trimmed a hair too short, so I put on his front hoof boots, tacked him up and off we went.

The dreaded bridge...what bridge? G didn't even hesitate for a moment. Good Boy!! We did have a few moments of "hey mom lets turn around here", but I simply did a turn on the forehand and headed back out toward the river. Did I say how I love dressage? It certainly has given me an arsenal of tools! We did encounter one quad and small bike and I asked G to stand off in the woods while they passed and he did his imitation of a piafe, lol.

I could hear more atv's out along the river so I decided to cut down a trail that I haven't been on since the first year I was there. It's usually flooded over at the end hence the reason I don't follow it. So we're following the trail and it kinda disappears. I wasn't sure which direction to take and because of the way the marsh floods I hesitated to go toward the river. I looked to the left and saw the corn fields up above, but we'd have to cross a little stream. Hey no biggie right?

Well, we descend and suddenly G goes from ankle deep water to chest high water. I'm thinking the stream bottom is not sand but mud. I encourage him onto the bank. Next thing I know his left leg is over his knee in mud. At this point I have to say I'm so proud of myself. Instead of panicking, I gave G his head held onto his mane and just let him do his thing. He worked himself out and up the bank to the field. I'm really proud of him, as I'm thinking he's going to buck when he gets himself out of this mess. Nope. BUT he was extremely tense. Since there was no grass to be found I decided to just let him keep moving. Once we got through this field we found that they had let the next corn field go to grass so I steered him over and gave him his head....yum yum yum. He spent about 10 minutes grazing and I asked him to move on. He was now much calmer. Still a little high headed since he knew we were headed home, but at least we weren't jigging anymore!

When we got back to the barn I took him up to the track to work another 20 minutes. It's our routine. Go home, get to work some more. He was gaiting so well, and we had more lift in the canter which was sooo nice. While I was untacking G, the owner who was sitting at the end of the barn yelled over "what do you have on his feet, bell boots?". I told her they were his hoof boots. Then she asked if I had ridden him on the track with them. I said yeah why? She said that he had more animation and looked smoother than she'd ever seen him. It was nice to have confirmation of what I was feeling! I think I'm going to continue to ride him in the boots...cause the canter was awesome. Did I say how much I love spring, oh wait that was dressage? lol.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

So its not me, it's the bit!

I asked hubby to go ride G tonight and Thursday as I have a zillion things to do between scrap projects and the routine stuff.

Well he came home a little while ago and said boy is he a gaiting fool with the Dr. Cooks bridle. My first reaction was to say "oh, you didn't want to try the bit" and he told me that he did at first and found that G just kept fussing with where he was carrying his head. After 10 minutes he went in and switched to the bitless and from there on he gaited his fool head off.

So I guess the good news is, it's not my hands (cause I know hubby has even lighter hands than me). Now the question it this particular bit and contact or is it any bit and contact? Argh...I guess I could just keep using the Dr. Cooks bridle, but G being G, I'm not sure I will feel 100% secure with him on the trail with it. But I suppose I could simply ride western on the trail since we neck rein and he has no problem with that bit? I'm just not sure how to proceed at this point.

p.s. Just wanted to update this. Turns out that hubby wasn't using the Dr. Cooks with him but the Liz Graves sidepull, lol. So either way he's telling us he likes being bitless!

Back to the Bit (kinda)

I haven't had much opportunity to keep my blogs updated (bad me). I rode G in the dressage bridle with the HS bit and it was like we were beginning anew.

He definitely is more responsive to light pressure as I work on flexion from the ground then before. I taped my reins to where he was the most comfortable with the contact as I wanted to be sure that I was keeping my hands in the same place so I could concentrate more on softness in my hands and requests. We just worked on walking and he was above the bit and behind the bit and just couldn't seem to be happy in between. So after about 20 minutes I switched over to the Dr. Cooks bridle and he just flat walked along with his head steady and his neck was a shaking. I'm beginning to think that it's either the bit we're using or he's just a horse that will never be happy with a bit in his mouth. I remember David from ESF telling me he went through about 10 bits before he found one G was happy with. However, I don't think I want to go back to that type of mouthpiece, as I think he has progressed past that at least.

At this point I'm going to continue working with him on the lunge line with the HS bit and side reins and see if we can find a comfortable place for him. I may even tap into our barn's DQ to see if she has any ideas. Since she brought her WB through his training she may recognize something that I'm missing. But at this point I figure some of the work will be easier without me on his back. We'll see.

Friday, January 16, 2009

What Happens to a Clean Horse?

Well its too cold here to ride, heck its too cold here to even go hang in the barn, so I'm occupying myself with my scraps and organizing the computer. I came across these pics and they made me laugh so I thought I'd share. I worked very very hard to get G this clean...

and then this happened.....

Whaaat? Gimme a hug mom....

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Just Stuff....

Wow, it still baffles me every time I type 2009 that time just continues to fly by. That means that hubby and I will be married 10 years coming up this September ~ hard to believe as the wedding felt like yesterday. Hey, is it unfashionable to have wedding pictures still on display 10 years later? lol, I guess it doesn’t matter as I smile every time I look at them, and hubby was just looking at the wedding album a week or so ago and reminiscing.

Speaking of time flying, Ozzie turned 7 months old this week! He’s now scheduled to be castrated on the 22nd (poor boy). I’m hoping it will slow him down just a tad. He’s getting so big (40#) and tall and he doesn’t have to do much to roll all 5 pounds of Buster over or knock Holly over as he bounds on by. Phew, he tires me out. I can’t wait for the time I can let them all have the run of the house cause I’m sure he pesters the dickens out of the other two.

Since graduating the beginner obedience in December, Ozzy and I are joining the Hartford Obedience Training Club, and begin the sub-novice class this week. Once you become a member its pretty cool cause you don’t have to go every week, just pay as you go. I’m going to try and get there as often as we can though as I would love to eventually do agility with Ozzy, as he’s so active and boy does he love to jump! I guess that’s why Poodles make such great circus dogs, lol. But he’s wicked smart and I’m going to need to do all I can to keep his brain and body occupied. He really looks forward to his morning walks regardless of weather. He now has a Pessoa dog blanket to keep him dry on these cold wintery days.

I ended up buying the Dr. Cook’s bitless bridle from “ride2glory” as he’s doing so well in it. I will probably not reintroduce his bit for another few weeks and when I do I’m going to use Mark Russell’s methods through his book “Lessons in Lightness”. I am curious to see if he will be more responsive now that he’s been out of a bit for a month. It certainly worked wonders for his responsiveness by taking away my leg for a month! I will continue to work on “soft” hands with the bitless rig and play with more obstacles.

We’ve been working with ground poles and weaving around barrels and cones the past few rides and it does help us both to have something to focus on within the arena. LF bought some nice cavelletis that we’ve been given permission to use. So in the next few weeks I’ll be starting G over the lowest height (there are 3 heights).

I’ve begun my weight loss in earnest again, as well as watching my cholesterol intake. I’ve really fallen off the band wagon since early November so its going to be a tough road, but one I need to go down for sure.

Managed to get a lot of scrapping done while on vacation as well as discovered a new scrapbook store. Watch out! What a fun place as they love to show you techniques when you inquire about them. I’m signing up for Valentines Day card class being held later this month; using Basic Grey papers (my favorite).

Anyway, that’s about it for an update. Happy New Year!