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We Are Flying Solo

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

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 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.

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 steps.

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.

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."

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!

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.

(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.