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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label longeing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label longeing. Show all posts

December 22, 2014

The Air Of Heaven…A Horse’s Ears…You Know How It Goes

Uh, no, THIS is my sacred duty, mom...
Yesterday, I rode.  Three simple words, yet in the context of the past year, an extraordinary thing.

The time has been there, & I learned (& even mostly followed!) the #1 rule of farm ownership:  ALWAYS RIDE FIRST.  But there have been so many other energy-sapping things… 

With my favourite weather site promising “abundant sunshine,” yesterday I gathered two red geldings & called Amazing Neighbour Vanessa.  I may have magically draining soil, but Encore is still healing from his ass tear (yes, if you missed the brief mention, my talented horse actually strained his gluteus muscle) & even with studs, I worried about him slipping in our saturated fields. 

In addition, because he cannot have me getting complacent, he has knocked the inside of a front leg AGAIN; we’re keeping an eye (& the magic creme) on that one.  I am grateful a thousand times over for Vanessa’s continued generosity with things like all-weather footing.

Solo's first stud tapping...
Those Familiar Motions

Yesterday, I swept brushes over chestnut backs that were definitely missing some tone, picked mud out of under-used hooves, dripped iodine into soggy frogs (just in case).

Yesterday, I smoothed the velcro on ankle boots, cinched girths on saddles & surcingles, wrestled half-chap zippers over fluffy fleece breeches.

Yesterday, all three of us smiled as we made the brief hack down the fenceline in a bright, swinging walk (although only one of us knew that there was only sandbox torture in store).

Two Horses At The Same Time?  
(honk if you get it...)

Vanessa is all about versatility, keeping horses’ minds & bodies fresh & well-rounded, a philosophy that meshes perfectly with my own.  Hence the handy highline at one end of the arena, where I could tether one beast while I worked the other.  A two-for-one deal:  exercise AND great practice at standing tied while your buddy does things at the other end of the arena, which is possibly more fun than the spot under the line.

Duh, mom, TRAIL BIT!
So it was that yesterday, Solo watched as I suppled Encore under saddle with David’s words in my head: “Let the circles be the gymnastic exercise.” 

Encore responded with tongue-lolling annoyance, because “Mommmm, this is the trail bit, NOT the dressage bit.  How am I supposed to work under these conditions??!”  Like many abusers, I was asking him to work in the harshness of a Myler Comfort Snaffle instead of a HS Duo

*insert eyeroll here* 

Nonetheless, yesterday, my chunky Thoroughbred softened with each change in bend as we worked 10-m figure-eights.  As directed, the focus was “slow is ok, be round across his topline as he heals, we’ll bring forward back later.

Yesterday, his left lead canter was back to feeling like a canter, instead of a washing machine, & he stayed soft & quiet as he hopped over a 12” cavaletti in a steady rhythm.

But he can teach you all about vienna reins!
And Mr. Shiny??

Yesterday, after trading places, Solo managed to swallow his anxiety about the long lines (this is the horse who took four years to trust longeing enough to do it normally) & not  only accept the contact of the outside line, but CANTER on the lines.  It may seem tiny, but this is a huge achievement for him, as I trained him primarily in a round pen for that type of work.  The lines are new to him & he remains suspicious of long ropes around his legs.

Yesterday, I led home two horses after they stretched out tight backs, worked out bored energy, & rediscovered the spring in their step.

And you know what?  I was sore this morning, but I think there was a little something extra in my walk today too.
Can we head back towards this?

June 21, 2014

Please Press Pause

June Sunset (Small)
Taken from the tractor seat...
Letting the diesel idle, I pause the tractor on a berm in the top pasture.  It’s that quiet intermission when the sky holds its breath as the treetops cradle the last wedge of setting sun.  There’s a marked contrast between east and west; the latter glows in warm orange as the pond reflects a silver version of the same scene and the darkening pines set off the beauty of the painted clouds. 

Off to my left, though, the eastern sky has less placid thoughts.  Bulging piles of pink thunderheads rumble between strobe flashes of cloud lightning.

In between the two – there is me.  Me and two grazing horses, each with an ear cocked to the storm, should it decide to change direction and chase them to shelter.  Tonight, though, the front holds its course, withholding water, but consoling us with a cool wind to dry out the sticky air.  I never want to leave this moment.

If only that were possible.  But I can close my eyes and sneak back there in my mind once and a while.  In the meantime, responsibilities await.  Some are fun (build farm stuff!), some are not (read federal register notices!), most lie in between (find vanishing fishes!).

Horse Things Still Happen

Fenceing Sunset
No more poison ivy rubbing!
To my great incredulity, there is progress in some areas (hey, this is rather a feat these days!):  I have finished fencing taping off the main portion of my lower creek pasture so the horses can enjoy it complain that it's itchy out and there are bugs. 

Encore is back in work, errrr, well, let's use that phrase lightly, shall we?  Look, I sweat A LOT, and when it's 80% humidity at 8 pm...  But he's had a couple very nice long-lining sessions (once we were clear that yes, you do have to go forward even though you are in one of your pastures) and the rest of my focus has been on trotting/cantering hills and small obstacles in a balanced rhythm and some bareback lateral/transition work to build his hind end back up.  That butt strength is his critical and most difficult training need, just as aerobic conditioning was for Solo.

I just might give myself permission to take one lesson as a gift to myself in hard times.  Dangit.  Now that I've typed it, Encore is in his paddock right now, looking for something poky or a rock with a usable edge.  Or a stick.  Or a clod of dirt.  *eyeroll*

Are any of you managing to get in some ride time in the burgeoning sweatbox???

May 18, 2013

There And Back Again

It feels like we’ve been away.  Lost in some nebulous pocket of time where we’ve been bouncing in circles, up and down the emotional roller coaster for so many hills, I've lost count.

He's sound!  Not sound.  Oh wait, yes, he's...oh, maybe not.  No, he'll be great!  Or perhaps...no?  Yes?

It's exhausting  to contemplate.

I scrambled madly, struggling to pick up pieces of Encore falling apart and stick them back in proper order, all while trying to be five other people at once.  There were thoughts coming at me from all directions, tugging me back and forth between hope and despair.

Everyone should own a horse.  It makes so many of life's other aspects seem so easy!!

Since our field season at work is well and truly underway, I won't have a regular schedule for quite some time.  As a result, once I decided to rest Encore a bit more post-Longleaf, I did mostly long lining and slow, brief schools during the sporadic intervals when I could squeeze him in.

April and early May, with their many trips and the whirlwind of Southern Eighths 3DE, came and went and finally, I had a couple weekends to myself and the resolve to nudge my horse back into some real work again.

What I found when I picked up my reins was a horse who had not only processed and finally accepted the contact thanks to the lines (go figure, that Holder lady was right), but one who felt like a horse again, instead of cobbled together parts, when he was doing it!  I was too tired to jump up and down, but when I'm not riding like an idiot, I get off my horse with a smile these days.

Because Away Again is away again again again again again.  Hmmm, I might have left out an again or two?

In the post-game analysis, I can see that his back and hind end were not strong enough yet for the intense work he did at Becky's.  We were so close, but as hard as I worked to bring him back after my knee surgery, I fell just a bit short.  Hence his back flare-up, causing soreness, which I can tell you from my own experience, just begets more soreness!  I am glad I made the decision to re-inject when I did and very glad I was able to pull up the blog archives from last year to remind myself of the healing timeline.

Which brings me back to now.  Given the aforementioned time pocket in which I had plenty of time to think.....mmm, just about everything to death, I did manage to clarify our path forward, armed with a much-beefed-up understanding of what Encore's body needs to be great.

Returning soon to theatres.  Except with even sexier neck.
We focus now on building topline and hind end strength and lateral suppleness.  I ride bareback and spiral and leg yield and pivot and bend and unbend and re-bend to get the closest possible feel of my horse's back and feet beneath me.  We powerwalk hills, stretching forward and down while moving the hind feet up up up.  I continue work on the lines, which become a more and more sophisticated tool as I get more practice.  With trial and error, I've gotten the right feel and better body control and been able to graduate from asking him to step into contact to teaching him to lift and bend the base of his neck and his whole spine (REALLY REALLY haaardddd, says he!).  I'm still playing with the best rein setup for that and he has only mastered a few steps at the walk that were truly great, but it's an excellent start.

Encore has had a year and a half now to mature mentally to his new life and job, as well as giving his rider time to clamber up the learning curve, complete with spectacular backslides.  It seems like such a long time ago and it seems like such a short time ago that I was explaining that poles were for going over and necks were for flexing and there was indeed a gait between trot and gallop!  So it feels pretty damn spectacular to be discussing fine-tuning transition accuracy and lifting that back to the next level.

Oh, and it should amuse you to know that it took me until I was done writing this entire post before I got my own unintended pun in the title.  *facepalm*

March 16, 2013

The Becky Diaries: Day 5: Long Lining

With each day of surreally amazing experience and knowledge streaming in front of me, my brain gets progressively more loopy (a terrifying thought, that it becomes more loopy than normal).  It feels a bit like Cookie Monster with a funnel down his throat -- "me love cookies, but me can hold no moooorreee..."

Friday morning brought several not-to-be-missed items on the schedule, so I mashed real-world duties together quickly and scurried out to resume dutiful creeping.

Up first was a 5 year old mare, a lovely dapple grey named Greta who had come with severe contact avoidance issues, including backing and signature mare fits like mini-rears and insistance that such feats were simply not possible.  She was assigned to long lines and then a short schooling ride, so I had particular interest in watching the process again, given that Encore and I would perform it later this afternoon.

Suffice it to say, Mme. Greta does not appear to have contact issues anymore!  She did a lovely job and Becky was kind enough to talk me through as she worked.  The long lines had helped her along to a real  horse breakthrough and in the pen and the consequent ride, she looked steady, duly educated, and confident in her new abilities.  Becky helped her figure out the right choices by many kind words and pats along the way.  I got even more excited about our later lesson.

Up next, I volunteered to be "pole bitch" for two gymnastic rides.  First was RJ, whom Becky described a rogue novice horse that she was beginning to consider keeping, as he reminded her of a young Comet!  I'd met him in the barn a few days earlier -- an adorable chestnut gelding with a white blaze and a huge, goofy personality.  I am sure that whoever grooms for her would be THRILLED if she finally brought along a brown horse...

I don't think he's a rogue anymore...



Then came Teddy (Can't Fire Me).  He is such a neat horse to watch, with a very professional attitude and a "what would you like from me?" demeanor.  Oh, and he can jump a little too.



Standing a foot and a half from the line, I really got a feel of how much power and pace you have to bring to a 5' jump.  Watching, it often appears as if the horses are just rocking nicely along.  When you are close enough to feel the breeze as they pass, it becomes clear that a massive amount of energy has been created, compacted, and channeled to fuel these big jumping efforts...and make them look easy.

Much to a tired Encore's dismay, his moment had arrived.  Becky watched me longe him briefly to get a feel for how he responded to my body language and how he worked on the line (thanks, buddy, for throwing in that belligerent kick; your opinion has been noted...and ignored).  Then I turned him over.

She started him on a straight line setup to get him use to the line contact.  Her system is not dissimilar to vienna reins, but allowed you to push them up into a steady contact and "ride" them with a live connection from the ground.

The warmup setup.


He quickly figured out what was being asked (although not without some comments of his own) and it was time to move on to the real work by adding a bit of leverage to help him find his shoulders and open his topline.  Junior was trying very very hard the whole time; I was really quite proud of his efforts!

Working setup.


After Becky worked him a bit, she handed the lines over to me, at which point I proved that I can even hang on the left rein while on the ground -- hey, we all have to have skillz.  It was surprisingly difficult (look, uncoordinated people can own it) but I was amazed at how much softer and "rounder" he felt in the contact.  No more brick mouth!  Becky felt confident that this would really help him understand the contact and how to relax and really swing through his back and body, so we will DEFINITELY be taking this one home (and practicing where no one can see me trip and fall).



It took a lot of focus to balance the feel on both reins and not crowd him too much in the bridle all while pushing his hind legs ever forward.  As we finished, he gave both Becky and I quite the look as he stood immobile, praying that if he just didn't move, it would be over:  THIS is my easy day???  Bless his golden heart, he got many pats and snacks and went home early to nap.

Next we'll have another XC school, only this time, we'll be riding with a lovely friend of Teddy's part-owners who I've had a blast talking to the past few days.  She has a gorgeous, catty little firecracker of a mare and I look forward to the fun!  It will also give Encore a buddy out in the tiger field, which will help him immensely, and give him plenty of breaks so he only has to work in short spurts.  Monday will be his day off; hang in there, buddy, we are almost to sleep day!

June 14, 2012

Equine Psychology And The Meaning Of It All

This will be a long one.  Hopefully it will not fall into the TL;DR category, but my brain has been busy in last 48 hours and we've made some exciting progress.

So now, I'm going to tell you what the meaning of it all is.  The meaning of life?  Ha, no, I am sorry, as a biologist, I must inform you that life itself has no meaning other than a fervent race of genes to survive amidst a sea of incomprehensibly random events.  I know, the truth hurts.

Rather, consider, what the meaning is behind all these tricks we do, all these little steps and coercions and coaxings that we present to our horses in the name of "training."

A friend of mine, a horse trainer for decades, encapsulated it in two words:  horse training is directing choices.  You have to think, to plan, to set a horse up to succeed and to find the right answer to your question.

Every step is a fork in the road.  If you choose the wrong fork, I will pelt you mercilessly with water balloons.  It won't hurt you, but it will sure as heck be annoying and soon you will miserably concede that you went the wrong way.

If you chose the right fork, I will instead walk quietly with you hand in hand, the sun warming our backs in a companionable silence.

When presented with these options, unless you are heinously stubborn and just want to prove a point (i.e. if you are pony, a mare, or simply a pain in the ass.  Or me.), you will quickly (or if you are Solo, eventually) choose the quiet sunshine over endless irritation.

Equine psychology itself fascinates me -- what on the surface seems to be a basic herd animal is actually, upon further exploration, a personality with complex, unique behavioural patterns with whom, if you take the time and effort, you can build an amazing relationship that will change your life forever.

What brings me to all this esoteric pondering today is a 15-20 minute session I spent in the round pen last night with Encore.  Like Solo, I have no idea how he was started or how many owners he has had.  Because he was a racehorse, I can make some educated guesses and based on what I have been told by CANTER and what Encore himself tells me, his trainer was a good egg and he has not been beaten or mistreated at any point during his life.

Not my round pen.  I wish.
This was only his second visit to the round pen.  Let me tell you how much I love round pens:  perhaps my favourite training tool, I haven't had access to one for three years.  But it was invaluable during my early years with Solo and building our relationship.

With Solo, though, in the pen I was dealing with fears and anxiety.  A three-year stint of "I promise I will not beat you with a whip EVER."  Defeating blue tarp terror.  Showing him a leader could be a benevolent friend and partner.  As a result, he gave me his whole heart and trust and we have never looked back.

Encore is different.  In our first session, it was clear that he had no concept of round pen work, it was just a small circular paddock to him, around which he trotted randomly while watching the other horses over the fence.  I felt him out, introduced him to the very basics of changing direction and stopping at liberty, noted his marked resentment toward the longe whip, and left it at that.

Last night, I focused on one goal:  you will not move into the pressure of my aids and you will stay out on the rail ALL THE WAY AROUND the pen.  He likes to trot the rail on one half, then cut across the other half on a dividing line between me and the rail.  If I push him out with my body, he just gets mad, pushes back and rushes by.

Now, I know how to round pen a horse.  I know how to train a horse to give to pressure (about which Encore is excellent in hand) and I know how to read a horse's body language.  I know how to wait the horse out and achieve the important "join up" moment in which the horse has recognized and accepted that you are, in fact, in charge and he is willing to concede the point and trust your leadership.

Yeah, pretty much like that.
But his belligerence about staying out of the center had me a bit puzzled.  He clearly did NOT respect the pressure of my aids and pushed right back.  And when I say pushed back, I mean he pinned his ears, wrinkled his nose, dropped his head and let fly with bolting bucks of rage like a rank two-year-old, both back feet pointedly flying in my direction at about my head height.  This is the equine equivalent of saying, "Lady, go f*ck yourself."  Not exactly what I expected from the doe-eyed pleaser and an obvious red flag that our partnership was not quite there yet.

One of the ladies riding in the ring next to us commented, "Oh my, doesn't he feel good tonight!"  I laughed quietly and said, "Well, he is certainly throwing an impressive temper tantrum!"  I am quite sure that to everyone in the arena, it looked like I was simply standing there while my horse frolicked around the pen, instead of the complex psychological dance that was actually occurring.

My response was to do nothing.  I simply stood still and maintained my body language of "I don't care how you do it, just keep moving forward in the direction I tell you."  I didn't have the longe whip this time; after a conversation with lifeshighway about a stallion she used to own and a lot of thinking, I decided to just use my longe line as a throw rope.

Horse is not thrilled with request.
After each bucking fit, he would return to the rail and trot quickly, head pointedly turned to the outside in case I didn't catch the fact that he was giving me the finger before.  Then, halfway around, he would swerve and cut off the end again.  I would take one quiet step towards his ribcage and swing the end of the line towards him about a foot; even these small aids were very clear to him.  This would set off another fit of bucking fury back to the rail -- he quite pointedly resented my assertion that I wanted to be the clear leader of the partnership; I wanted more than just him mostly going along with me simply because he is a kind, workmanlike type of horse.

This continued for about five minutes.  I admired his cat-like athleticism, but stayed completely nonreactive to his antics and just kept him moving in either direction I wanted with a simple step or a tiny swing of the rope.  Sometimes he would try to change direction on his own, another attempt to push back at me, which requires a quick response of cutting him off and keeping him traveling the way I chose.

Then, somewhere in his clever little brain, the switch flipped.  In the course of four strides, he sighed, his trot slowed and relaxed, his nose dropped and he conceded the point by continuing quietly on the rail all the way around the pen.  I quickly praised him profusely while keeping him trotting.  He dropped to a walk, chewing and flicking an ear towards me and I let him, accepting his relaxation by releasing a little bit of pressure, showing him that yes, he made the correct decision.

Photo by horsecentric.  I hope she doesn't mind me using it, it's an excellent example of submission from her great work with her horse.  I will remove it if requested.
I changed his direction and lifted him back to trot.  He pinned his ears for the first few steps, then his eye softened, his head dropped again and he agreed to trot quietly around the rail, even splashing through a puddle.

I waited; I wanted three things:  I wanted chewing, I wanted the inside ear locked on me, and I wanted his nose on the ground.  I wanted him begging to be allowed back in my herd.

Always a smart one, it didn't take more than a few minutes before I had them all and I quietly said whoa and removed all pressure by turning my back to him and staring at the ground.  He turned, walked up, then stood beside me with pricked ears, expectant, but unsure what would happen next.  I walked around his body, running hands and line over him.  Then I asked him to follow me at liberty in a few small circles, which he readily did.  But when we stopped, he dropped his head to snatch some clover, breaking his attention and showing me he wasn't quite done.

Not me.  White clothes around horses is crazy.
I drove him softly away again, getting another ear pinning and a wrinkled nose, but they were half-hearted now and his trot remained slow.  It didn't take more than a few laps before he showed me he was ready and I let him come back in.  This time, I could walk around him and control not only his head, but his hips and his feet with my eyes and body without touching him.  I could pivot him on the forehand or back him up or lead him forward in a circle and he stayed focused on me without my touching him or using a rope.

This was mission accomplished and it both thrilled and fascinated me.  While my sessions with Solo had been about luring an anxious horse into trust, this had been convincing a confident, sassy horse to accept and give over his body control to me.  Two different horses, two different personalities, and two different dances, but both partnership negotiations successful thanks to one small pen.

This won't be Encore's last session.  We will repeat it a few more times and each one should get shorter.  You may ask, why bother?  Just ride and train him.  To me, the psychology IS part of the training.  The partnership I want with my event horse includes his mind, his heart, and his trust.  This is the best way I know to acheive that, so I consider it an indispensible step in what I hope will be a long and fruitful journey with this continually surprising, ever-intelligent, unfailingly curious, and always wonderful horse.

November 29, 2011

Vacation's Over, Baby

Thank you so much to all of you who have participated thus far in the 2011 Fix Solo For Christmas Sale!  I have a bunch of things stacked up to ship out this week when I can get the address labels made.  There are still some fun things left, should you find yourself in want need, including reins, dress sheets, a riser pad, girth, bit, and crupper! 

Meanwhile, I have been trying to recover from driving 1200 miles to Kentucky and back this weekend.  Zzzzzzz....eh?  Oh yes, recovering.  Not quite there yet.  I made it out to the farm last night to take care of my boys and longe Encore.  I assumed after four days off, he'd be a bit wild with unspent energy.

Not so much.

He's in a new (giant) pasture with Solo and Solo's BFF, Danny, now.  He was forced to break up with Pete as Pete decided that Encore was most entertaining when used as an oversized tooth sharpener/punching bag.  Not cool, Pete.  So Pete found a new buddy in Big D, who doesn't take sass from anyone, and Encore was turned out with his teammate, Mr. Shiny himself.

He freaking loves it.  And while I'm happy that he's happy, it has had some unexpected consequences.  After hooking up our longeing gear last night, we headed up to the arena.  Where I proceeded to longe my lovely, forward, willing, sweet, nappy, dead slow, snippy, pouty TB. 

Neener, neener!
I was flabbergasted (I really just wanted to use that word).  He pinned his ears and struck out with a front leg when I pushed him in the trot.  He flat refused to canter more than a handful of strides each way.  I worried that he might feel colicky (of course, I envisioned him dead within 12 hours, sigh) but he had pooped and his belly was gurgly and he ate hay and drank with gusto.  It appeared that he was in a full tantrum that he could not be out in Happy Pasture with his new friends, so there!

My horse had gone and ruined himself in four days!

In good news, I rode him tonight, despite the cold wind and rain (you get desperate after five days off), and he was lovely.  It's odd though, he always starts off beautifully, puts himself on the bit, carries himself in a lovely rhythm and just feels amazing.  Then, the more we work, the more inconsistent he gets.  It's almost as if he says, hey, lady, I did it already, what's the deal?  But we had some actual yielding to the leg at the walk without rushing (OMG!), and finished with some good canter rhythm each way and some excellent stretching at the trot, so apparently he was done mourning his lost vacation time.

Thank goodness.  I was not a fan of nappy pony.  I shall not miss him.

September 22, 2011

I'm Afraid Of Good Things

There, I said it.  Because I have to admit, the magic of Encore scares the hell out of me!

Are you on crack, crazy woman? you query incredulously. He's a great horse, full of promise and potential, enjoy it!

Psssh, I can't afford drugs, I have horses! That detail aside, his awesomeness is exactly why he terrifies me.

I longed him today, his second longeing session (we'll not count the bolting gallop-fest that was his pre-purchase exam longe initiation). He politely walked, trotted, and cantered in both directions on a perfect circle. In vienna reins. All on voice command. And automatically switched directions when he halted because I showed him how one time.

See, in my world, this horse is too good to be true. He has a perfect mind, he is perfectly built, he is perfectly trainable, he is perfectly rideable, he has a perfectly professional attitude. He's like a damn unicorn -- absolutely amazing, but not something you'll ever find in your own backyard.

Therefore, I tiptoe through the barn almost afraid to watch him move, sure that he will go ridiculously lame or drop into a deadly colic. I am certain that there is no way the universe would EVER allow me to have a horse like this without some form of serious repercussions that I cannot possibly guess at.

I do remind myself that he still needs a lot of work. His feet are in need of some dedicated rehab; he's quite underweight; neither muscle nor balance are in very good supply and he breaks into a sweat after five minutes of work. So we do have a long road ahead of us and there WILL be speedbumps.

I think I just need him to have a good, old-fashioned idiot day, to just freak out about something ridiculous or do something incredibly stupid and assure me that he is not a hallucination from Fantasy World, but instead a real, flawed, and fully attainable creature who is not lying in wait to crush my soul when I least expect it.

In the meantime, however, I am having a freaking BLAST with this horse -- my barn friend stopped and looked at me the other day. "I don't think I have ever seen you smile so much since I have known you," she offered. "You've had a grin on your face all week, I had no idea you could be that happy!"

So, Jessica, Allie, Suzanne, mum, trainer in Delaware that I don't know, universe -- I am scared out of my wits, but I love it -- THANK YOU.

June 12, 2011

Killing Time While Broken

I don't take being grounded well.  I mope.  I pout.  I whine.  I generally make myself a nuisance to those poor souls who for some unknown reason consent to befriend me.  I am sure they breathe a sigh of relief when I drag myself home to flop about the house and complain to the cats, who stare vacantly at me, wondering when I am going to shut up and scoop more food.  Even the lizard can't seem to summon up a modicum of sympathy, cold-hearted wretch that he is.

But it's not all melodramatics and depressed sighs; there are still tasks to attend to. Every day, Solo gets a deep muscle massage accompanied by SoreNoMore. I can see the rippling spasms travel along the muscle fibers as I compress them with the heel of my hand against his vertebrae. He cocks a hind foot and twitches his lip -- apparently digging into those painful knots feels just as good on his back as it does on mine.

Yesterday, I put him on the longe line and set the vienna reins on the lowest rings of the surcingle to encourage a low, round, stretchy outline. He went really well and it lifted my spirits to watch his muscles work under the rice-bran-shine of chestnut coat. Keeping him fit is my biggest challenge right now; lifeshighway has ponied him out again this morning -- I have not seen any ambulances fly by the house, so I must assume it was uneventful.

There are even spots of fun! Friday evening, I taught lifeshighway and the irrepressible Pete how to do gymnastic ground poles. Now, Pete's attitude towards poles and anything resembling jumping is that it is a complete waste of energy and surely there is a perfectly good path to go around every obstacle. However, he needs to build his haunches and topline and stretch out his legs for racing, so I gleefully planned a few grids for him.

Pete has impeccable balance and is a quick learner so once he was informed that he DID have to continue moving forward, even if there was more than one pole, he picked up his feet and agreed to comply. We finished with him bouncing cleanly through four canter poles set on 10' centers -- not bad for a short little guy! I couldn't keep the grin off my face watching lifeshighway find the rhythm and discover the fun of gymnastics!

Carolina summer is in full swing and the heat blazes down, although we are supposed to see a break this week. If my body and Solo's will cooperate, maybe I will get lucky and be able to sit on him. Meanwhile, I fantasy shop for prospects that I cannot afford to board and wait impatiently for the cash fairy to make an appearance already!

June 3, 2011

Yay, I Love Spending Money!

Did you notice the sarcasm font?

Oh, Solo.

See, I get a little crazy when I can't ride. Ok, I get a lot crazy. I get all balled up inside like a coiled up spring in a too-small container, all bursting at the edges with frustration and other pent-up emotions.

I longed Solo last night and got some beautiful work at the trot and canter. He fought me a bit on the left lead canter, but this isn't unusual.

I had to get on him tonight. I HAD to. I'd tried to ride in the dressage saddle on Wednesday, but it hurt too much. So I hopped on bareback this evening. Not too bad. Definitely able to do more than with feet in stirrups, thank goodness. Don't tell my orthopedist. Hey, it's gotta be lower impact than walking!

A few transitions, ok, everything feels pretty good. Let's do a couple little jumps.

The bugger stopped. S.T.O.P.P.E.D. Twice. We rode through it (Damn, you stick good when you're jumping bareback. It's funny how having no options will improve your position in a heartbeat!) but I'm not happy.

This horse is not a stopper. Yeah, he stopped at VA, he was tired, those were looky jumps, ok. But a crossrail? Uh-uh. Something's not right. I can play mental games and say, well, last time he jumped, I fell off and we had to walk out of the ring so maybe it messed with his head a little.

Maybe. But that's an awfully complex argument. And it's a CROSSRAIL. And his left lead canter did feel a little funny and resistant.

So next on the agenda, after checking tomorrow to see if there is ulcer pain (psssh, not like he's had any stress in the past week of doing...nothing) call Dr. Bob on Monday and have him check everything out. Whee. Hey, why the hell not, I'm already paying my own medical bills, why not throw a vet bill in for good measure!!

I love horses. I swear. I do. Really.

Hey, at least Pete and Solo are enjoying themselves.

July 15, 2010

Fitting Up

There is no doubt Solo lost some fitness during his month-long break. I still don't regret it for a second because that weariness that hung about him in May is gone. But it does mean that conditioning is our top order of business at the moment.

Our first jump school in a month was on Saturday morning -- and my boy felt so good, he was flipping his nose in sheer delight. I think he would have jumped all day if I had let him, but his panting lungs betrayed him. A bareback hack on the pasture hills on Monday, some transition work on Tuesday, and a short (HOT!) session in the vienna reins tonight complete his week. Before I hooked up the vienna reins, I longed him on the side of a hill at the walk and trot to see if he could balance himself and maintain the rhythm downhill (he did!).  The fitness will come back quickly; I can already tell a difference from Saturday to today in aerobic capacity. Per Dr. Bob, 4-6 weeks will bring us back to peak, which would work out just right, should we decide to enter a Horse Trial I've been eyeing at the end of August.

On a side note, did you know that probably 90% of the time I type "horse," it comes out "hores"? Helluva typo.

What have you been doing with your horses this summer? Hitting your local circuits despite the sweat factor? Enjoying long sessions at the end of the hose? Swimming in the pasture pond? Gearing up towards fall goals? Share your stories!!

July 11, 2010

Vienna Veritas

Longeing a horse can be a very valuable tool for a variety of reasons.  I personally find it extremely useful for building a horse's topline and carriage, as well as developing gaits without me sitting on top messing things up, as I am wont to do.  It also gives you an eye on the horse that you don't have while mounted.  So it is in this frame of reference that I am going to discuss my favourite longeing tool:  vienna reins.

As a kid, I was taught to use side reins to longe (ALWAYS leather, ALWAYS the kind with donuts so they can give, thus were my commandments).  When I got Solo, we had longeing battles of our own to fight before we could even think about doing anything actually technical on the line.  But the time came when we were ready to learn about carrying yourself properly and in balance and so I duly purchased a pair of side reins.

And I discovered I didn't like them very much.  True, they kept my horse from sticking his nose out too far.  But they didn't prevent him from lifting his head straight up, they did not encourage him to go down and round, they somewhat discouraged him from taking contact with the bit (via the reins bouncing with each stride), and overall seemed to offer very little of actual use.  Discouraged, I packed them away in the trailer where they remain to this day.

About a year and a half ago, a dressage friend lent me a set of vienna reins to try.  In short, I loved them.  They fulfilled every promise the side reins had broken years before:  their soft sliding action encouraged my horse (who tended to be nervous and stiff while longeing, still fearing Scary Longeing Phantoms Of Lives Past) to reach down and softly mouth the bit and lift his back, they prevented him from throwing his head up in the air, and he could take contact without being jerked on.  I saw a steady improvement in the quality of gaits, especially Solo's trot, and it helped build a correct topline which then improved under saddle work.

Therefore, today I share with you your very own step by step guide to using vienna reins should their application fit your goals for your horse.  I must offer my thanks first to the S.O., who took most of the photographs on a VERY hot afternoon last week; the late day sun glare, floating dust, and non-functional autofocus on the lens all made for seriously tough shooting conditions.

Disclaimer:  Solo is a vienna rein pro and has an excellent whoa on the longe line.  If your horse has never worn them, please proceed slowly.  The first time he pops his head up and hits the rein restriction, he may get nervous or panic, so make sure you start very loose and acclimate him in a safe, enclosed environment.

Step 1:  Make sure your vienna reins are in good condition and the leather is well-conditioned and supple enough to slide easily through the bit rings.  The reins themselves look like this:

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Step 2: Apply gear to horse. I find it easiest to use a surcingle and the photos will show how to use the reins this way. You can also use them with a saddle and put the center loop over the girth between the front legs and run each side strap under either the girth near the buckles, or your billet straps for a higher setting.

For all longeing, I use a rope halter under a bridle (sans reins). I attach the longe line to the rope halter so (a) there is no bit pressure, Solo is on his own to figure out how to balance, etc., and (b) I don't have to do anything when we change directions.

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I apply the surcingle first. I use a pad under it in the summer so I don't have to clean the sweat off as much. I then drape the reins around the base of the neck like so, with the ring centered on the chest and the reins crossed over the mane.

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The center ring is then pulled between the front legs and buckled to the surcingle.

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I leave the reins crossed over the neck and run them through low rings on the opposite side, so they are held out of the way for leading and warmup (never engage the reins until the horse has had a chance to stretch and warm up his muscles).

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Step 3: Now I begin my warmup, which is some walk, allowing Solo to stretch down (his specialty) and get everything moving. Then we trot in each direction. I don't canter in warmup because my horse has issues. I keep him trotting until I get this trot, where he is stretching foward and down on his own, which tells me he is relaxed and warm.

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Step 4: Engage vienna rein! I unbuckle the reins on both sides (but leave the girth loop buckled). I start on the off side (the horse's right) and I draw the right rein up and out through the bit ring. (Sorry again about the dust and sun. And I have to brag a little, check out how he now lets me lean the longe whip on him. Come a long way from shaking at the sight of one!)

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Then I draw the rein back to the surcingle and through the ring of my choosing. We began with the ring lower than the one in the picture. Now that Solo has developed more, I use this higher one. The rein is twisted (bad me!) in the pic, make sure it lies straight so it can slide properly.

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Then the rein is drawn back towards the bit and buckled back onto itself. It takes some experimentation to find the correct length for your horse and his way of going. Here is Solo with both reins hooked up at working length. Note that I keep the longe line coming out beneath the vienna rein so it doesn't interfere (yes, now you have a crazy spaghetti of lines on your horse's head).

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Step 5: Move out! Usually, the horse will balk a little at the new restriction. You can see in the picture above, Solo isn't overtracking at the walk as he takes his first few steps feeling out the reins. I give him time to sort things out and stretch into it. Then we begin our trot work. It is common for him to start out not really tracking up at the trot either, as seen below, as he's still a bit stiff in the topline and hind end.

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Step 6: Work that topline. If your horse is good at transitions on the line (Solo isn't, he sucks at downward transitions to walk), you can use them. I use a spiraling exercise. As Solo maintains a trot around me, I slowly gather the line until he is trotting on a 7-10 meter circle around me. You decide how small you want to make your circle by watching your horse; bring him in until you see him just starting to struggle a tiny bit, but no farther. It's supposed to be work, but not something he will fail at. You don't want him falling over himself.

Yes, initially I got myself all tangled up trying to hold all that line at once, but you work it out. You can see in the photo that most of the line is in my hands and I'm just holding the whip reminding Solo to keep up the energy. I only have him do one or two revolutions at the smallest circle (depends on strength) before I let him move back out to the full circle.

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I am looking for two things during this exercise. (1) I want Solo to maintain his rhythm and outline and (2) I want him to engage his inside hindleg and reach under himself, crossing his midline to push and balance his body, like so.

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We do this several times in both directions.

Step 7: Success!! Here, you can see that Solo is stepping under himself much better. His back is lifted and you can see that his entire front end has elevated. His front left foot is still off the ground even though the back right has landed.

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This one shows you similar improvement at the trot. He's flexing his inside hock well and elevated his withers.

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Step 8: A wee bit of canter work. This is still a work in progress, but the vienna reins are helping him to stay a little rounder and to use himself a little better. You can see in this photo that even though he is not as round and active through the back as he was at the trot, he will still reach his inside hind leg well up under his body for a nice, balanced, engaged stride.

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Step 9: After a bit of canter, we get even more engagement in the trot work. Note increased impulsion, suspension, and reach in the stride and even more elevation of the withers and the base of the neck. Good boy!

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Step 10: After this, we are pretty much done. Solo's given me some nice efforts, his brain has been working a mile a minute and it's hot. I stop him, unbuckle the reins, and cross them back over his neck for the all important stretch and cool out. This is what I like to see:

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Lots of pats, lots of verbal praise, and I let him walk around for a few minutes while he stretches out his back and catches his breath. Then we return and disassemble.

So there you have it! This is our typical longe workout. Keep sessions short, I don't like to have a horse on the circle for more than 20 minutes or so. It's hard on joints and hard work for muscles so be fair in your requests. The exercises you choose to use on the line may vary depending on what you want to accomplish, but hopefully, now you have a place to start!

I hope you've made it through this lengthy treatise (now you know why it took me so long to post it)!! If you have any more questions, as always, throw them out there and I'll take a stab at them.

June 23, 2010

I Iz Not A Skool Horse

I iz a gallopy jumpy horse.  I iz a shiny shiny athleet.  Athleets do not do mundane things.  If'n you make me go round & round on the torture string, I will do my best impreshun of the Hunter Under Saddle shuffle. 

If'n you make me canter on the torture string, I will run back to my stall as fast as I can.  After all, there are treets & a nice wind-maker there.  NO torture strings to be found at all.

Thankz,
Solo

(Me back in)  Solo did in fact survive his school horse stint.  You see, since mum & I are going on our Grand Ecuador Adventure in September, mum has to get back in the practice of the whole sitting on the horse thing.  So Solo was assigned the simple task of complying with a longe lesson.  His most favouritest thing (insert sarcasm here). 

Despite his best shuffling, mum still managed to pull off a quite good demonstration of how to post properly (your hands don't keep you on the horse, people, don't post with them!).  I let her keep her stirrups, but I did take away the reins, so there was no temptation to balance on them.



Solo also wanted to make sure I did not forget how much he hates cantering on the longe line.  However, he did not succeed in escaping his duties & mum rode it out like a champ & proceeded to demonstrate that it IS like riding a bike -- once you're up there, it all comes back.

June 6, 2010

The Rider Has To Bend Too

On this lovely, steamy, simmering morning, I met with P for a longe lesson.  Or rather a lesson in which the horse mostly walked around while I did goofy things.  One of the BO's horses, Jeff, obliged to humour my floppings-about.  You can see how excited he was about this when I showed up (left).  He at least managed to feign half an expression of interest in the peppermint wrapper noise (right).  Solo gets reprieve from longe lessons since no one can longe him except me due to his longeing baggage.

P's tasks for us today: make eventer79 do lots of stretches in attempt to loosen up her perennially stiff body parts. We mixed equal parts putting Jeff on the longe and just letting him wander about. Nearly all work was done at the walk, after first demonstrating it at the halt. Stirrups were removed from saddle so leg could drape loosely around the horse and the rein was only held at the buckle, it could also have been looped through the bridle if the horse was on the longe the whole time (note: please keep a horse's longe sessions no longer than 20 minutes for the sake of joints). I believe I succeeded in demonstrating a good proportion of failure.

Challenge 1: Sitting up straight, legs long and soft, raise left arm and hold out with fingers extended in front of you perpendicular to your body. Bend at the waist/hips, stretching your lower back, keeping your eyes UP AND AHEAD and touch your toes on the left side. Or if you are me, touch your knee. Which you have lifted so you can reach it (it made me feel great when P says, "OMG, how does someone so young get so stiff and messed up?"). Then slowly sit back up. Repeat three times than switch to right side. The key: your lower leg CAN NOT MOVE.

Challenge 2: Sit up straight and extend both arms out to the side like airplane arms. Again, keeping eyes up, twist the torso so your arms go in front of and behind you and then touch the left knee with the right hand. Repeat three times in each direction, on the other side, touch the right hand to the left knee. Again, lower leg must remain stable. (P again offers the kind observation, "Geez, it hurts to even watch how locked up your body is!" That's me, 31 going on 60.)

Challenge 3: Extend your left arm out in front of you and point off into the distance. Lock your eyes onto your finger. Now rotate your arm slowly around your shoulder so your finger moves up above your head and then behind you, letting your eye follow your finger so your head and neck roll around and stretch with it. Again, 3x both sides. Still keeping that lower leg still?

Challenge 4: You can rest your hands on the pommel for this one, but don't use them to support yourself. Lean your upper body forward over the horse's neck, keeping the eyes up again, until your seat just comes out of the saddle. You know what to do with that lower leg. Then return to neutral. Now lie back until your head is resting on the horse's bum, letting your back stretch and relax. Use your abs to sit back up. Repeat 3x.

Challenge 5: Roll your head around on your neck. Be careful to go slow and let things stretch gently. At the same time, roll your feet/ankles in nice stretchy circles.

Challenge 6: Lift both legs at the same time from the hip out away from the saddle and hold for as many strides as you can. Don't push it -- if the hip muscles start to cramp, stop. Really feel your seatbones and keep the lower back soft and moving with the horse.

Challenge 7: Hold the pommel with one hand. Lift both legs slightly in front of the saddle, lift your knees and pedal like you are on a bicycle. Feel like an idiot yet? Then you're doing it right.

All of these exercises aim to stretch and loosen the lower back and hips so you can develop a loose and following seat. And I have a sneaking suspicion they also provide great entertainment for one's instructor.

When you have done these, there are two more you can do at faster gaits. You still have no stirrups.

Challenge 8: Hold the pommel with one hand and the cantle with the other hand. Pick up a quiet sitting trot. Use your arms to pull yourself down into the saddle while keep your leg as loose as possible without falling off the horse. Can you lift both legs off the side of the horse? This is your goal -- as it is should be your seat and your balance keeping you on.

Challenge 9: This one is easiest for me at the canter (and Jeff, he hates trotting). We just did two laps around the arena in each direction, really focusing on having the hips and lower back unlock and be soft and following. I accomplished this for, um, one stride at a time. My brain said soft, but my hip muscles said no way. This will be big project for me!

All in all, you want to spend no more than 20 minutes doing no stirrups work, whatever gait you are working it. This is the optimal time for strength and flexibility building. More than this and you are just fatiguing your muscles and creating soreness and tightness. Pain is a sign that you are pushing it too far and being counterproductive.

So, try the challenges and tell me how you do!

May 24, 2010

We Have Finally Achieved Normalcy!!

It only took four years.

You can read about our struggles to conquer Solo's abusive longeing past here. If you are not familiar with the story, it will help you understand why I led my horse back to the barn with a huge grin on my face today.

We have received an ungodly amount of thunderstorms over the past few days, everything is wet and I have two long days at work ahead of me, so I decided to just put Solo in the vienna reins and give him a longe workout. There was a ground pole up in the arena, so I just incorporated that into our circle to let Solo work out how to fit it into his stride on his own at the trot and canter, which he did.

And why is this so exciting? Because MY HORSE CANTERED CALMLY IN MULTIPLE CIRCLES IN BOTH DIRECTIONS. This is a BIG BIG BIG deal. Even when he was thrown off balance the first few times cantering over the pole -- he didn't get the distance right and ended up in a lopsided cross canter -- he broke to trot, I gave a quiet kiss and he stepped right back up into a rhythmic canter.

No bug eyes. No flinging self about. He had one nervous moment where he stopped, but I put him back in a trot and he calmly picked up the canter shortly thereafter.

And after cantering, no racing about in crazy trot, anticipating the terror of yet more canter! We calmly resumed a metronome of a trot, spiraling in and out from 5-20 m circles and I'll be damned if he didn't keep a perfect rhythm the entire time.


I try to be a good horsey, mom!

Modeled here (besides, of course, Mr. Shiny Pants' big fat cute nose) are also Solo's brand new fly boots! I had an old pair, the cheapie four pack that I think I got from Horse.com or somewhere, they were HORRIBLE and I threw them away. They sagged down around his ankles like worthless slouch socks (ah, 1986, how I remember your glory). I picked these up from Dover, they are "The Original Fly Wraps" and they are so far (ok, days used = 0, but we'll go with initial impression) soo much better! They do have plastic stays so they do not sag, nice velcro with stretchy bits for give, lovely fleece binding, and you can pick lots of fun colours! The set of four is still only around $40. These will go along way to reducing summer hoof cracking!

I am going to confess a little secret, I was, ahem, almost irresistibly tempted to buy purple ones (or blue, OMG, how am I supposed to resist our official colour!), but I had to give in to sensibility and stick with the nice, heat dispersing white.

January 5, 2010

Patience, Grasshopper

Riding & training are not always a linear, forward progression of learning. In fact, if they are, you should get off your horse & back away slowly because he is obviously not actually a horse & you may well have been sucked into a parallel universe.

Actual training goes like this:

Ok, horsey, this is what we need to do. Just...like...so.

Oh, good try, horsey, you've almost got it!

Hullo, horsey, are you still paying attention? Just one more try...

Crap, bad horsey! That is not even close to what I wanted!

Hey! You suck -- why did you just give me the horsey version of the finger??!

OMG, why did I even try this?? I give up, we'd better just do something else because this was obviously a terrible idea.

Ok, it's been a week since we tried that new thing, let's try it just one time.

Oh, horsey, that was pretty close! Good horsey, I take it back, you don't suck!

Yay, horsey, that was it!


(And here, a wise horsewoman walks away, but most of us try one more time & then return to "Crap!" and repeat many times)

It's so hard to find that balance point between pushing too hard & getting greedy for success & waiting until your horse is really ready & understands what you are asking. Since it is freezing ass cold, I put on 47 layers of clothing & just did some long lining on Sunday.

As you know, Solo can get panicky longeing/lining due to his past but has come a long way. Well, he was having a "bad horsey" day & when I asked for a little canter, he soon cross cantered, freaked himself out, & spun around backing up wide-eyed.

I have perfected the art of cursing at your horse very nicely so that he doesn't know that you are cursing his hide.

But I took a deep breath, got him moving forward at the walk & trot again, tracked him left (non-panicky direction) and slowly & patiently worked him up to canter again there, then went back to the right & finally got a canter without stopping & spinning. And there we were finished.

As P says, "Get to the hard side through the easy side."

Ohhhhhhhhhhh, but it's hard to be that patient. Especially, when you KNOW it's a skill they have done before, but they are having a "regression" day. It is crucial to be able to take that VERY deep breath & muster all available calm & patience to work through the bad moments.

And it is not failure to end on an easy note or a try & have a go again another day. You can't win a physical battle with a horse & he doesn't understand your frustration & chances are he's even MORE frustrated then you.

The recipe for success calls for simple, yet very expensive ingredients:
  • Patience
  • Calm
  • Fairness
  • Patience
  • Patience
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Sympathy
  • Did I mention patience?
And always be prepared for Those Days. You know the ones, where your horse appears to have forgotten all progress & is quite simply & wildly ignorant of your requests? Yup, those.

November 25, 2009

Small Victories, Pt. II

I decided to try a slightly different approach than we'd used before. I put him in a nice, forward, rhythmic trot and let him stretch down. Then, as usual, I kissed for canter. As soon as he heard the cue, his head shot up and he jumped up and forward for the transition and hit the vienna reins and got boogedy-eyed and went to fast trot. In the past, I have tried to push him through this into the canter. But this time, I rewarded the effort with a GOOD BOY and just stood quietly.

It's fascinating to watch horses think. And Solo is indeed a thinking horse. His trot was racy, but I could see from his worried eye that he knew he was supposed to canter but he was really nervous about it. I gave a gentle half halt on the longe line to encourage him to balance and just waited, because I know this horse and I knew he was going to have to make a decision to either slow and balance his trot or pick up a canter.

To my eternal surprise, he picked up a rather nice left lead canter. Only three strides and he broke. But I said GOOD BOY! And then I just waited some more and let him trot. No further cues, I just watched his eye and body. After another circle around, he volunteered yet another decent canter and held this one for an entire circle.

I was ecstatic -- I let him stop, gave him heaps of GOOD BOYS and pats and rubs. I boldly decided we needed to do the right lead as well (right lead is much scarier for him on the longe). It was a fine line -- it's easy to get greedy with success, but since he had volunteered the canter and it had been notably NOT rushy, I would give it a go.

Again, my pleasant surprise was exactly the same result in the other direction. I kissed once for canter. He came up, hit the reins, scared himself a little, but I rewarded the try and let him think about it as he trotted with no further cues. Much more quickly this time, he offered a nice right lead canter all the way around the circle. At which point we quit, I praised him approximately 40,000 times, rubbed him all over with the longe whip (our habitual post-longeing desensitization reminder that longe whips do not bite), and went in.

It may seem a tiny thing, but for Solo to offer a somewhat decent canter on his own on the longe if a giant step indeed. It's been three years in coming, but time and trust and patience and baby steps bring us ever closer to success.

I am very proud of Solo.

Small Victories, Pt. I

I lean into him and lay my head on his back as he munches sweet grass hay. My ear on his fur, I can hear the echo of his teeth grinding through his body as I inhale that subtle aroma next to the skin that is uniquely equine. His body warmth spreads into mine and we sigh in unison, content and quiet.

I am very proud of Solo. Last night, I decided to embark on a longeing session to slowly ease him back into work after his big effort on Sunday. I have discussed our longeing issues and the 3-year journey to conquer them here. Vienna reins and surcingle assembled, we walked up the dark hill to the arena and switched on the floodlights. I never know what will happen during a longeing session -- but I know it will always require thoughtfulness, patience, and quiet encouragement on my part.

Solo warmed up quietly at walk and trot, then I threaded the vienna reins through his bit back to the surcingle. I longe off of a rope halter beneath the bridle so I can switch directions back and forth without moving anything and I leave the bit alone so Solo can work things out on his own.


Solo demonstrates here, only we didn't use the saddle last night. And it also appears we didn't use the rope halter that day, maybe it was in the wash.


I put him back in a trot and did four or five spiraly circles in each direction, waiting for him to reach out and down to the bit and relax his back. When he did, I brought him back to a walk.

He was quiet and obedient and his eye stayed soft, so I decided to try out a canter. I harboured a little trepidation -- BO's arena is not fenced in, so should Solo decide to cut and run, I had to rely on his urge to return to the safety of the barn. When he DOES canter on the longe, it tends to be rushy and leany and after about ten strides, he stop and wheel and face me, but I figure each time, it's one more chance for me to prove to him it won't actually kill him.

It would be a moment of truth...would the BO see me, dragged face down on the hill at the end of a longe line tied to a galloping red panic, slide by her office window?

August 27, 2009

Work, work, work, OOO CLINIC!

We kept practicing. Slowly longeing became less about torture and Solo became less convinced that I would beat him to death. We could walk and trot in both directions, with and without side reins!! He was still reduced to a quivering, blowing mess by the sight of a longe whip and canter was out of the question but...baby steps.

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Oh yeah, I'm still watching you closely, lady...
I also stumbled upon, of all things, a Parelli Natural Horsemanship clinic not too far from me. Yes, yes, I hear your groans, but just wait a moment. All these programs have, at their heart, some very useful tools. I also thoroughly investigated the instructor, Carol Coppinger -- the only female four star Parelli instructor in the country -- and she came with GLOWING reviews, even from the skeptics.

It was my first winter with Solo -- we were getting to know each other but I still felt like something was missing. So I sent in my check, loaded up (with some difficulty to be discussed later) the trailer and drove out.

IT WAS FREAKING FREEZING-ASS COLD. On the way home afterward, my truck blew a radiator and broke down late on a Sunday night in the middle of nowhere. Did I mention it was FREEZING-ASS COLD??? But it was also an invaluable experience. Carol first had us team up to play horse and get a feel for how the horses view our cues and some feedback from other participants on how clear our cues actually were.

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Look, honey, I'm a prancing pony!
The next day and a half were spent putting it into practice both on the ground and in the saddle with our horses. What impressed me most about Carol is that she truly understood what the POINT of it all was, which is clear communication and a good baseline partnership with your horse, on which you can build other training. She emphasized multiple times that "I don't give a damn if your horse can do a perfect Sideways or Circle, what I care about is that he understands what you are asking of him, i.e. moving his feet as directed. Once he gets it, MOVE ON."

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We both listen intently.
It was REALLY neat and rewarding to see Solo watching me, thinking, trying. You could almost hear him going, "OH! You finally figured out how to talk to me!" I, on the other hand, really struggled at first with being clear with my body language. My signals were muddled and as a result, my horse was muddled. Carol wasted no time taking me in hand and showing me how to be clear, fair and consistent to my horse!

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Not that way, THIS way!
And what a difference it made. Those two days did more to cement the relationship that Solo and I were building than anything I had ever encountered before. I saw little value in the higher levels of the program, they just had no application to what my goals were. BUT that initial level of effective groundwork really changed the way I looked at horse training, at communication with our partners, and would stick with me forever. I still use the exercises today as a refresher of "hey, yield your hindquarters" or "please keep moving until I tell you to stop."

So thank you, Carol, for your insight and patience! And for all you Parelli-haters out there, just remember, hate the playa, not the game. Because at the core of the game, there is much truth. And that truth is a good many useful tools I keep in my horsey toolbox that came to me in an easily accessible format!

August 22, 2009

Circles of Doom

I had been told by the seller that Solo "didn't longe" because she had let another girl work with him and she had spun him in circles and hit him with the longe whip. How you could hit this horse, I had no idea.

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(Sexy halter courtesy of Sunset Halters, you can make any colour you want!)


Ok, it's just a fear issue, I'll just take it slow then. This was my oh-so-confident assessment.

I merrily snapped the longe line onto our (awesome) new rope halter to keep things simple. We started out in a rough semblance of a circle-ish-like shape at a walk to the left. It was ugly, but it seemed ok.

"How about a little trot?" I asked.

"Mmmm, ok, I guess maybe, but I'm keeping my eye on you, lady," he replied.

"Ok, how about we switch directions and track right?"

"Unggghhh, I'm not so sure about this," he warned me with a look.

"It's ok, it's just going in a circle-ish-like oblong shape!" I assured him.

I asked him to trot. My calm, quiet, placid horse suddenly reared up and back at the same time, ripped the longe line out of my hands and ran off to the other side of the paddock, where he stopped, trembling, in the corner.

Oh shit. I had just discovered that we had our work cut out for us.