Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Competitive Trail Riding

After reading about the American Competitive Trail Horse Associations' attempt to set the Guinness Book of World records for the most trail riders to be in the saddle at the same time, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to look into the discipline a little.  At the show we did in Vermont a couple years ago, we attempted to do a trail obstacle class, which has similar obstacles, just not set on the trail.  It was a good experience and thank goodness the judges were really patient with us - but it was the first time we'd ever done something like this and  G had never seen a mail box that close and personal....."you're going to open that black hole and take stuff out, and then put it back in...hmmm, not likely" I imagine he was thinking to himself.  I did manage to get the mail but had to hand it off to the judge as G wouldn't sidepass to that box again.  

Anyway, it really looks and sounds like a lot of fun....trail riding (my favorite thing) combined with obstacles, which I think would be good for G's head and building on his trust factor.   So today I became a member of the ACTHA and signed up for the "Ride for the Rescues" on June 13th.  This is being held in just about every state in the nation - Rhode Island is combined with Connecticut, and I think North Dakota isn't holding one.

Here's a link to info on the association and the ride:   ACTHA Ride for the Rescues

My friend (and fellow boarder) Trish used to do Trail Obstacle classes with Warrior and just so happened to bring all her obstacles with her to the barn (thanks Trish).  So tonight we met after work and set up a couple of things to start G's "fast-start" training for obstacles.  We set up the gate (using two stanchions and a rope); the dreaded mail box; the "L" with ground poles in the arena; and we moved the wooden (flat) bridge out so we could walk over it.  

One of the things you generally have to do is to dismount and mount from the right side of your horse.  This is something I never really did with G.  I would place my foot in the stirrup and let him get used to the weight and me on that side, but back then since he didn't stand still for mounting I never felt confident enough to swing my left leg over (bad lower back keeps me from doing this quickly).  So I decided I might as well start our training at the mounting block.  The hardest part was getting G to walk up to it with his right side.  We have a really nice high wooden block in the outdoor arena which allowed me to bring him around it completely.  On the second pass he stopped when I asked.  I put my weight in the stirrup stood for a few seconds, took my foot off and tried again. No movement.  I swing my left leg over and.....G stands perfectly still and I can't believe how easy it was.  Good boy G.

I walked G around all the obstacles and let him get used to seeing them and decided we'd start with the rope gate first.  Looked easy enough, NOT!  G was a bumble head.  He's always had issues with sidepassing up to an object and this was no exception.  Trish was on Warrior and she talked us through it.  Basically walking G as close to the stanchion as possible and asking him to stand.  Then move one step closer, and another, and another.  Of course as we'd get closer he'd move his hindquarters over.  Even holding my leg behind the girth on his outside didn't matter.  He wasn't going to stand sideways to this "object".  After about 5 minutes I got him close enough to pick the rope loop up off the stanchion and he immediately took 3-4 steps back. I kept hold of the rope and tried my best to remain focused and calm (easier said then done).  I walked him forward and began rubbing the rope on his neck; bringing it up and over his neck; flapping it around a little; just tying to desensitize him to it. After another 5 minutes I got the rope back on the stanchion.  We tried this a couple more times, I managed to get the rope off, walk him through, but couldn't get him to back up to the stanchion so I could replace the loop.  I think I dropped it a couple of times, so I moved G over to the other stanchion and slowly gathered the rope back off the ground.   He started getting a little more than nervous at this point.  As Trish said, he really didn't know what I was asking him to do, and he certainly had no clue what the obstacle was about.  So we moved on to the next item.

The dreaded mail box.  Surprisingly on the second attempt I was able to open the box, remove the umbrella inside, replace it and just as I was closing the door G side stepped away.  The third attempt was better; the fourth attempt was worse.  Let's move on.  At this point between the heat and nerves G was pretty sweaty so I moved him out to the rail and we walked, gaited, and walked some more.  He was pretty keyed up. 

When he relaxed a little, we started on the ground poles set up in an L pattern.  The goal is to back your horse through the L.  The first few times we walked forward through them so he would get used to them.  Then we tried backing up just one side of the L.  It's interesting to me how a horse that can back straight without barriers, backs crooked when there are poles on the ground, lol.  We tried several times, and even tried to make the turn, but each time we went over the poles and a couple times knocked them out of whack. 

Next?  I took him back out to the rail and was asking for some bending when I realized G had gotten his tongue over the bit.  So I got down fixed him up and we went back to doing a little arena work before calling it a day.  Oh but wait!  What about the wooden bridge Trish and I sweated over moving to a flat spot?  Can't let that go to waste.  We both tried, me from the saddle, Trish from the ground and G wasn't going to step foot on this flat bridge.  "What on earth would I do that for?" I'm sure he's thinking.  Well so much for "fast tracking" through training lol.

The barn owner is going to let us set up a few of the obstacles on the other side of the barn so I don't need to dismantle them each time we use them.  On Trish's advice, we're going to tackle one obstacle at a time each day I ride.  Take one step at a time; breathe deeply; and not get frustrated that G doesn't quite understand what I'm asking.  Maybe in about a week or week and a half, we'll try them all together.  Phew, who thought trail obstacles could be so hard? 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Big Butt Hill

Well that's what Trish and I have nick named it as we figure go up and down this 2x a week and by the middle of summer we'll have horse's with big butts. Well Warrior already has one of those, but its in his genes, lol. I took Ozzy out with G again on Saturday and it was a wonderful day!

Starting the decent....

Looking back up, it continues up and to the left through the Christmas trees....

Ozzy romping..... (and yes the grass really is that green!!)

About an hour out from the barn. I found some small trails that run through the woods between fields - they look like someone hikes through there, not big enough for quads. There's a lot more terrain to investigate further north and northeast. I can't say it enough. I love this place!!

I stopped to let G graze and Ozzy decided to join him

And back down the other side to the farm

Monday, May 17, 2010

My Very Own "Breyer-Style" Horse

A wonderful woman and acquaintance from a gaited horse message board recently found her hidden talent in scuplting horses in clay. After seeing a couple of heads/busts that she did I knew immediately what I wanted her to do for me. I've always loved this picture of G, mainly because it is such a different picture than the high headed/slab sided horse that came to live with us 6.5 years ago. He's filled out physically and has definitely relaxed mentally.

I'm so excited that she has begun the process and sent me the following pictures to show her progress in making my Breyer horse come huh?


Friday, May 14, 2010

Dressage Lesson with Val

Tonight was our first hour lesson with Val (the new barn owner).  Wow!  She had me using muscles I haven't used while riding in a very long time.  After warming G up, we had a small discussion about my goals with dressage, and whether I wanted to trot G under saddle at all.  I told her that he lunges at the trot and we've done pole work on the lunge, but I've never tried it under saddle.  So, she said since she planned on doing poles anyway, let's give it a whirl.  As we approached the poles I went into a two-point position and urged G forward.  Walked the first two, trotted the last two.  We managed to get four strides of trot in both directions so we moved on to leg yields. 

I'm finding working with G in an outdoor arena is a little more work than in an indoor.  There are a lot more distractions so I have to be vigilant and keep him focused on our sessions.  Birds flying through, landing on the rails, cats & dogs walking by, horses being hand grazed, etc.  It's really good though as its teaching us both how to stay focused on the task at hand.  Leg yields weren't his best, but I discovered (through Val's eyes) that I wasn't softening my hand on the inside rein.  Once I made that adjustment, we got a few nice cross overs.  The little nuances of leg and rein aids is amazing.  Having someone who pays real close attention to my hands/elbows and legs is awesome.  After leg yields we moved onto the canter.

One of the other adjustments Val made was in my seat.  I have a tendency after years and years of being a western/trail rider to allow my pelvis to rotate back slightly.  Once I made the adjustment and sat straighter and stayed aware of my "triangle" throughout the ride it made a huge difference.  At the left lead canter my thighs were burning!  Hadn't felt that since way back in my jumping days either.  On the 5th circle round I brought him back to the walk and said "oooowww - my thighs!"  Val smiled and said "good, that means your sitting properly now".  Thanks Val, NOT!  No actually, this is a good thing as it will help work the right muscles and hopefully help me in losing some weight.  Since I started riding a gaited horse I don't get the same workout as I used to.  I think trotting over poles will also help in that regard.  Between the two I was sweating last night and it wasn't that warm!

On the right lead G was having a slight issue with his right hind.  Not sure if it was the pole work (way different for him under saddle) or the hill work we did two days prior.  I asked him to gait and had no issues whatsoever, but I still checked him when I dismounted and found his right stifle to be a little tight so I'm thinking trotting over the poles may have been the culprit.  We may need to do this in moderation and build back up.   In any event, it was a great first lesson and I think that we've reached another level in our training.  I'm excited over the prospect!

Tonight I'll go back and work the walk with him in relaxation.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Wonderful Weekend!

Started the weekend early by leaving work at 3:30 on Friday.  I'd made plans with Trish earlier to go on a short trail ride at 5:00.  Off we went along with her two Great Danes, Lily & DJ.  These two could be mistaken for ponies as they are soooo big!  They are also great with horses and stay on the trail too.  We had a nice walk through the woods and ventured down a side trail a little ways til we found a huge puddle (looked like a small pond) so we turned around.  We headed further down the trail and found that it leads to a huge open field where bird houses are scattered alongside a road to the north.  The trail continues along side the south side of the woods but we decided we'd save that for another day and turned around.  I found out later that this is a nature preserve and bird habitat.

Yesterday I had my friend and former farrier Diane come out to trim G and give me instruction on what I can do better.  G was overgrown in the hinds, which I knew.  Part of the reason I wanted her to come out as I didn't want to over trim it in one trim.  With exception to not being aggressive enough on keeping those toes back she said I've been on the right track and she really didn't think he needs to be shod up front.  She was pleased at how his overall hoof health is; even his frogs up front show a vast improvement from what she remembered.  So good news, I just need to roll those toes every 2-3 weeks.

This morning hubby was going to the work party a the gun club he belongs to, that just happens to be about 10 minutes from the barn.  So I convinced him to car pool and he dropped me off at the barn at 9:15.  By 10:00 G was tacked up and we were headed toward the trail with our new trail buddy Ozzy.  This time I didn't play or walk Ozzy before hand, which I think helped with his stamina.  The temps were low 70's and you could feel the humidity  beginning to build.  I decided to head directly for the nature preserve.  On the way there Ozzy stopped a few times in the trail and each time when I called he came.  I came across a few puddles and stopped G to give Ozzy a chance to drink and drink he did.  Once he got some H2O he was out running in front of us again.  

Oh my goodness is this area beautiful.  The birds are singing and breeze is blowing through the trees and I can't hear a highway, I can't hear cars, I can't hear anything but nature - my  horse - and my dog. We followed the trail and found that it leads into the woods again and has many little side trails that we will need to investigate.  The stuck to the main trail and found it comes out to a large crop field of some sort and there was a road on the other side of the houses about 1/4 mile off.   We turned around.

On the way back G was super relaxed and I decided to give Ozzy a break and walked G into a shady grass area and loosened the reins.  He immediately dropped his head and began to graze.  I asked Ozzy to lay down, and he did.  As G grazed moving a step at a time, Ozzy would get up walk 10' ahead of us and lay down again.  G was loving life.  In the past when I've done this on the way home G would grab two bites and walk off.  G was actually content to stay and graze.  I took the time to sit back a little and listen and watch the nature around me.  It was an exceptionally tranquil morning out in that field.  Listening to G's chewing, soft blowing, and the birds singing was music to my ears.  After 15 minutes I decided we should head back as I knew hubby would be back around 12:15.  

It was a leisurely ride back, probably the most peaceful ride we've ever had.  G has no tension or anxiousness about him.  Nor did I.  G never questioned my decisions on the trail and was happy to go where I pointed him.  I think the addition of Ozzy to our trail adventures puts both of us more at ease.  It's as if G views him as a member of the herd, and I view him as my protector.  I told hubby on the way home it was the best trail ride, start to finish, that I've ever had on G.  I truly think we've found heaven!