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.