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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label schooling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label schooling. Show all posts

May 18, 2019

Progress And Setbacks

Because you can't have one without the other, at least when it comes to horses.

As I mentioned in my last post, Echo recently got a pretty big chiro adjustment.  Twice in a week, actually, because it didn't hold the first time.  I did notice some initial improvement, but there are some lingering issues that I sure wish would just quit.

He's still a little bit puffy around that side of his SI & when I was riding him last week, I could definitely feel that he wasn't quite comfortable back there.  The feeling would come & go at the trot, but was most noticeable when he swapped behind twice on his right lead canter, which he's never done before.  Nothing like a new thing to make it harder to wait & easier to worry.

See, not a waste
I talked to Dr. Bob & gave Baby Monster the rest of the week off, in combination with some bute for the inflammation & Dr. Bob's Magical Steroid Creme that he concocts.  We're supposed to give it one more week & if it doesn't improve, we'll reconvene. 

Yeah, yeah, mantra.  I still hate waiting.

I don't think it's anything huge, the adjustments were pretty dramatic.  It does bother me a bit that he still feels uncomfortable with certain things.  But I also know that the unevenness was going on for a while, so those are big muscles that have to be retrained & retoned to do their job in a different way.  I'm pretty squarely on the worry seesaw, so am trying to be patient & not imagine too many nightmarish scenarios.

Trying.

In positive news, y'all, this horse looks really good.  Finally!  He's 99% shed out & his summer coat shines like a new penny.  I can no longer count his ribs from any angle & am at long last able to reduce his rice bran helpings.  And...there are muscles!  And a neck!!!  The vienna reins are such a wonderful tool for this, if you aren't familiar with them, you can read our primer on them here.
Getting even sexier
Under saddle, he's now working easily for 40 minute stretches, sometimes a little longer, without brain dissolution.  Yay for aging (I don't get to say that very often)!  Our skillset now includes:
  • Working on a steady contact & able to bend (mostly) through our body both ways at walk & trot,
  • Up & down transitions W/T/halt are prompt & balanced, no bracing in bridle, back stays up,
  • Confirmed lateral aids for basic leg yield at the walk, they exist at trot, I think they'd be better if rider was a little more organized about them,
  • Turn on forehand (one step at a time) with minimal fussing (this was very irritating for him for whatever reason),
  • Picking up both canter leads correctly without a ground pole (I think, haven't had too many tests yet),
  • W/T/C in a steady rhythm with reasonable balance, while remaining light in the bridle,
  • Jumping small x-rails & logs with no rushing,
  • And we are dang ground pole champions -- with sproing!
Showing that ground pole who's boss
This may not seem like a lot for 15 months, but I'm pretty happy with it because (a) we had a lot of other body challenges to deal with & (b) this has been what HE was ready for.  I want to do a separate post on that topic, but it really is different for different horses.  I also work my horses in my top field -- there are slopes, uneven footing, clumps of grass -- but I welcome these challenges because it helps me a build a stronger, more balanced partner in the long run.  If he can maintain himself on a bumpy, downhill slope, he will find a flat, boring arena so easy, he won't even have to think about it.

I've also spent a LOT of time on basic details, having learned from Solo & Encore that any training holes will always catch up later.  Things like maintaining balance in the down transition to walk without me holding him together, like freeing up & gaining control of each individual leg so I can move it where I want, like making sure a half halt gets a clear & instant response in every gait.
Plus lots of this for strength & well-roundedness
Spending time on these not-very-exciting details now means that I don't have to backtrack later.  It means that if I need to leg yield out in canter to get a better line to a jump or rebalance a gallop on course or teach walk-canter-walk transitions, the building blocks are already there to make my life safer & easier.

Now I just need his bum (well, the top of it) to chill & be happy so we can get back to it!

April 14, 2019

Baby's First Lesson & Other Stories

Echo the Baby Monster has been busy -- sometimes even with things I actually want him to do.  More often, eating, more eating, finding ways to annoy both Solo & I, then eating some more. 

In mid-March, though, he survived his very first lesson!  It was a casual affair -- since I was pole-limited, I asked Trainer Neighbour to set up a variety of gymnastic exercises for us so I could continue building that hind end strength.  She created series of grids for him, including a couple of crossrails.  I'd been introducing him to some baby obstacles, so this was a nice next step for him to see some more colorful things.

Not sure we got enough engagement behind...
 He was surprisingly...slow.  I'm not sure if it was just the new scenarios or he was just very chill that day, but I've never before had to ride him with Solo-levels of leg.  He was very willing & attentive, though, & stayed soft the entire time.

I'm still counting this as uphill movement, LOL
My favourite part was watching him think & try all these new-but-not-quite-new questions.  This horse is so...earnest about this process, it makes me smile.  I apparently did TOO good a job teaching him that trot poles are for trotting, because his solution to the crossrail was this:

I couldn't stop giggling.  Neither could Trainer Neighbour.  Echo's little ears were flicking around going, What? I trotted your trotty poles, that's what they are for, right??!  If you want to see the whole "course," as demonstrated by sloowww baby horse, while humans cruelly laugh at him:

I really was very proud of him.  He was definitely exhausted by the time we got home, after that 30 minutes of intense training, hee hee.  But he continues to get stronger.

And we have sproing now!  After this lesson, I broke down & expanded my pole collection.  I hadn't found anything good in a ditch in a while, so I went to the hardware store & picked up 8 landscape timbers for just under $40.  A little white paint to maybe slow down the termites for four seconds & voila:
8' long, I like shorter poles to keep my steering honest
I'm calling it Echo's birthday present, he turned five on March 29th.  I continue to be glad I have taken it so slow with him, it really seems to be working for him.  Now that he actually has some muscle in the caboose, I can do things like trot down a slope without fearing for my life or teach him to do downward transitions without dumping on his nose.

We're still keeping sessions fairly short, too, as is key for baby brains.  I think we've had 2-3 rides in the past month which got to 40 minutes & I could tell we were at the absolute limit.  Which for Echo means the mental focus really deteriorates, he gets sloppy with his feet, & he just gets a little cranky.  Nothing dramatic, I get some angry ear twitches, head tosses, bit chomping, & dirty side-eye (rear-eye?).
Guilty party avoids eye contact
I appreciate his communication & I try very hard to respect those limits, balancing that with the incremental requests for progress I discussed in the last posts.  There is plenty of room to ask for more while staying within 30-40 minutes:  we're increasing the amount of trot work, asking for better quality transitions, engaging the topline, introducing lateral aids.

And of course, because variety is essential to prevent the souring of bright young things, I'm trying to take him out at least once a week on our trails, along with a couple days off weekly to rest muscles & prevent overwork of joints which are still developing.  Solo is loving the opportunity to get out on trails again, I feel him brighten as soon we step out.  I do too.

Ridiculous child loves the splashy
Solo sees your taunting...& he forgets nothing...

March 10, 2019

Don't Lose "Better" In The Quest For "Perfect": Part II

I broke this topic into two parts because my original post was so long that even I got bored halfway through.  But the following is the practical example of "eventer79 forcing herself to manage her expectations so her horse doesn't dread work," as applied to the Training Of Trot Poles.  My number one goal:  to recognize & reward the incremental steps of progress. 

Ribbon earned
Session 1

On the first attempt at trotting four poles, 5' apart, Echo trots the first two, then neatly canters through the second two, without touching any of them.  I say Good boy, great job going over them, but how about a little slower?

On the third or fourth attempt, he trots all four.  It's a little rushy, it's flat, & he clipped the last two.  I say GOOD BOY! You honestly looked for the right answer every time & you successfully trotted the trot poles!  You're a winner!!

Long rein, we walk, we quit.

Session 2

Today, he starts out taking the poles hell-for-leather, grabbing the bit for a run because it's a pretty day & he feels good.  I say I DIDN'T ASK FOR THAT, WHOA!  Thank you.  Now, about these poles, I just want you to trot softly.

We alternated with this similar exercise, apparently far more exciting
We scale back, approaching at a relaxed walk, halting immediately before & immediately after the poles.  The third or fourth attempt, he trots through on a very soft contact, then picks up an exquisitely balanced, very slow canter after the last pole.  I let him have four soft strides, then sit up & ask for a down transition with my body.  He obliges like a pro.  I say Great job staying soft in the bridle & not rushing.  Even though I didn't ask for canter, thanks for being polite, willing, & obedient.

The next attempt, he trots through on a soft contact & after the poles, when I sit up, he immediately hesitates for a breath to see if I want him to stop.  He is still flat-ish through the poles & the rhythm speeds up a bit to allow him to keep his balance.  I say GOOD BOY!  Great job staying soft & listening, while trotting all the poles!  You're a winner!

Long rein, we walk, we quit.

Session 3

He trots through the poles on the first try, but rushes quite a bit, clunking the last two pretty hard & bracing through his topline.  However, he does stay in trot after the poles.  I say Good job trotting!  How about thinking relaxing thoughts.

The next approach, I do a half-halt through his body a few steps out, then think the most yoga-breathing, stretchy, lifting, slow thoughts I can think of.  Ears focused on the puzzle like mini-homing beacons, Echo trots through a little slower, feeling a little less like he's rushing out from under me, with only a light toe-tap behind.  I say Great job!  Enjoy this mini-stretch break on loose rein for an excellent effort. 
He quickly learned to love the stretchies
After the stretch break, one more attempt.  This time I let him approach from a trot from father out (I had been just asking for trot ~4 strides out until now).  I focus on staying super soft on the reins & quiet with my body.  He trots through, stays soft in the bridle, & while he is still somewhat flat, his rhythm has almost no appreciable change, even though I feel him want to go.  He cocks an ear back at me & wags his head after the poles, his way of letting out youthful energy when he knows he is not supposed to speed up.  I say GOOD BOY OMG GREAT JOB! Excellent work trotting & waiting!  You're an amazing winner!!!!
Of course I winner

Long rein, we walk, we quit.

That's where we are now.  We don't have sproing, BUT we have:
  • a rhythm that's about the same as our approach,
  • trot with a soft contact,
  • ability to transition down to walk or balanced halt afterwards, &
  • we don't brace our back & sewing-machine our legs through puzzle as fast as possible.
Even more importantly, I'm not pulling on his face, I'm not shutting him down, I'm not fighting with him.  He's not hearing, "No, that's garbage!"  Obviously, he can't understand my sentences, but I'm rewarding each time some aspect, any aspect, improves.  From his perspective, he is being:
  • encouraged to try different solutions,
  • rewarded with happy voice & rests, &
  • given an end to demands...
...when he finds a solution that was better than previous efforts.  This motivates him to hunt for Better with every request, because he knows it is the gateway to pleasant things.

Better.  That is the brick upon which we must build our staircases to success.   

Not Perfect.  Perfect is a mirage, tempting us into quixotic quests, in the course of which we trample the blossomings of Better into oblivion.  And like all mirages, we discover that the dogged & inflexible insistence upon what we THINK should happen only leads us in fruitless circles or worse, dead-ends, chasing something that doesn't even exist (wait, this metaphor is sounding suspiciously similar to dressage tests...but I digress).
Resist the temptation
What did your student do Better today?  Have you remembered to give him a sticker for his efforts?  Even if he didn't get the right answer to the original question, award him with partial credit for getting it wrong differently than he did last time.
      
I figure at the very least, this will dissuade him from plotting my demise next time he sees me.

Everybody wins.
Ok, human, I let u live another day

March 6, 2019

Don't Lose "Better" In The Quest For "Perfect": Part I

Echo continues to make clear to me the importance of recognizing progress as a true journey, not a single leap.

An equine student is just like a human student:  you may have an over-arching goal, but in order for your student to keep working towards that goal without souring, you have to hand out plenty of stickers & extra credit along the way.  Echo reminds me that is doubly important when dealing with young things.  Trust, confidence, enthusiasm, try - these are fragile items.  Handle with care.

It's about making sure our conversations are dominated by "Yes!" Not a new topic for this blog, but a reminder that is always relevant. 

Think of it this way:  when you decided to learn how to ride, you likely had a vision of yourself soaring over a course of jumps or cantering a victory lap with a blue ribbon or trotting up to the summit of a mountain trail...all with glorious views.

You won...something...
But this is not a feasible skillset to learn in a week.  First you had to learn how to get on a large creature with questionable judgement.  Then you were expected to guide said fur-covered bag of opinions with squeezes of your legs & fingers, whilst balancing yourself over its bouncing spine.

I don't know about you, but I didn't execute those tasks with instant grace & poise.  Fortunately, my teachers were kind enough to exclaim, "Good job!" when I successfully posted the trot on request...even though I was on the "wrong" diagonal, my reins were flapping in the breeze, & the horse meandered drunkenly between the quarterline & the rail.
Details...

Taking heart from that initial success, I could then turn my attention to improving other items on the list, each in their turn. If, during that first trot, the instructor had instead bellowed, "That was garbage! You didn't steer the horse, your reins were a mess, the diagonal was wrong - that's not what I asked for!!  Do it again, & this time you better do it right!!"

If the 2nd scenario had been repeated each time, without stopping, when I didn't ride the posting trot exactly right...I never would have made it to "doing it right."  I would have gotten frustrated, discouraged, & would have soon given up this obviously impossible quest.  I probably would have developed some very unpleasant feelings towards the bellowing tyrant who expected me to both master new techniques & develop new strength all at once.

Our horses are no different.  Case in point:

I'm using trot poles as one tool to develop Echo's hind end strength, particularly to tighten & build his stifles.  Given the eleventy billion inches of rain, my steeper hills will not be usable for some time.

My "poles" are really an assortment of heavy duty PVC pipes found or scavenged, of varied diameters up to about 6-8".  I like the extra challenge they provide the horse in asking him to flex all his joints without my having to build extra pole lifters.  Bonus:  they fit exactly within my training budget of $0.

They even come in different colours
We began at a walk with the poles ~9' apart.  Echo being the clever creature that he is, quickly progressed to 5' spacing (this is my standard for a true trot pole).  My expectations were for him to walk through four poles (this is how many poles I possess), with an even rhythm, without tripping on them or kicking them out of whack.

This was achieved in about three to four sessions, primarily because I am not going to climb on & off the horse a bunch of times if I don't have to.  So I just introduce changes in each new session & I only spend a portion of the ride on them -- in a 30-minute ride (as calibrated to 4-yr-old horse brain), this is 5-10 minutes at most.  Keepin' it fresh.

As Echo locked in on the task quickly each time, as we built up from two, to three, then four poles, this is where it became CRITICAL to manage my expectations & reward incremental progress.
Random stills from one video of us are all I have so far - but he be tryin'
If you have ridden a fit horse over four sequential trot poles, you have felt that delightful sproing-sproing-sproing-sproing-yippee (yes, that is exactly the noise it makes, including human punctuation cheer) as the horse coils his leg joints & butt muscles collectively & gains an extra moment of suspension.

There was a part of me that set this feeling as my expectation, but I had to check myself, because guess what (this shouldn't really have been hard to guess) - Echo is not strong enough to sproing yet.  It takes a loooong time for a horse to develop the strength to have that kind of cadence & balance, which is generated through the powerful coil/release of muscular energy.  It would have been easy for our sessions to devolve into me simply telling him, "No, that wasn't perfect, do it again slower & just right," on repeat.

Had I done so, as his muscles got tired & as the demand got repeated again & again & again, he would have gotten frustrated, discouraged, & he would have developed some very unpleasant feelings towards the bellowing tyrant who expected him to both master new techniques & develop new strength all at once.

Bc this is his face with almost no contact (ignore my out of shape issues)
I think this is a concept that is easier to recognize in retrospect, though, & a line that can be very, very thin depending on both the challenge & the horse.  I have to watch myself very carefully & make sure I don't get greedy, make sure I don't fall into the trap of "one more time, surely he'll get it just right if we go one more time."

What does this look like in practice?  Well, that's part II...

December 27, 2018

A 4 Yr Old Is Not The Same As A 6 Yr Old

Y'all.  Not even close.

You are permitted to laugh.  I do.

Encore was halfway through his sixth year when I got him.  He was a sensible creature with plenty of life experience, having put in three solid years on the track, but his brain didn't really completely mature until he was eight.  Only then did I feel like I had an adult horse along for the ride.

Shortly after bringing Echo home, I remembered that I had repeatedly muttered to myself during those two Encore years, "I'm never getting a horse younger than this."

Oops.

Don't get me wrong, Echo has a brain just as phenomenal as Encore (I'm just going to go ahead & apologize if the two 'E' names get confusing, I tried to find a different letter, nothing fit as well).  Quite possibly even better.  A prime example:

Because the shipper delivered Echo at dusk, I borrowed a stall from Trainer Neighbour for the night.  I didn't want to throw him out in a field where he didn't know the fencelines in the dark.  And to the shipper's credit, they had a rule that they would not unload a horse at night to pasture, for the safety of the horse.

The next morning, I walked over to lead Echo home.  This involved taking him through Trainer Neighbour's arena, past the chickens, guineas, mirrors, gravel piles, ground poles, lawn chairs, then on a short trail through woods along my back fenceline to my gate.
Echo discovers mirrors:  "Is that a new friend??"
I got about halfway home before it occurred to me that I was leading a still-technically-3-yr-old, who had just raced two weeks ago, who I didn't know, who didn't know me, through the woods full of crunchy leaves (had he ever seen woods with crunchy leaves?)...alone.

I had at least waited until Neighbour was home & she knew what I was doing, so she could come look for my body if I didn't text her within a certain time.

Fortunately for us all, Echo never put a foot wrong.  He was alert & curious, but perfectly mannered.  We arrived home without event. 
...alone...with a new baby racehorse

PSA:  Be smarter than me.  Bring a friend (employ bribery if needed).  I was lucky.

Echo has continued to impress me ever since with his intelligence, sensibility, & surprising level of self-assuredness in such a  young horse.  However, it is also VERY clear to me that he is still...such a young horse!

I've worked with young horses before.  But in my head, I guess I had these age bins or categories in which I expected horses to be roughly similar in terms of maturity.  As if there was some magical line where what I might expect from a 1 to 3 yr old changed to what I apparently expected from a 4 to 6 yr old.  

Who're you calling goofy?
All of you who have owned youngsters may now laugh even louder.

Surprise (to no one but me, probably):  a 4 yr old is still a BABY horse.  A very large, goofy, exasperating, hilarious baby. 

Just like every other creature, horses do vary as individuals.  I've certainly met 4 yr olds who were physically & mentally "filled out" enough to do grown-up things like be in riding lessons & go to horse shows.  It quickly became apparent that I had not purchased one of those.  Which was fine because my budget for horse activities is precisely $0.00.

So what's the difference?  These are a few things which stand out to me:

1)  His attention span for work maxes out around 25 minutes.

And it is surprisingly consistent.  Recently, I have been sneakily asking him to stretch that to 30 minutes.  You wouldn't expect 5 minutes to be a big deal, but it is, I can definitely feel that he gets mentally (& physically depending on the activity) tired at that point.

Walking AND trotting...IN A STRAIGHT LINE...is exhausting
Because he is an incredibly honest & intelligent try-er, I am always very careful not to push too hard.  I want to keep things feeling pleasant so he doesn't get sour & more importantly, so he never learns that he can't do something.  One of my core training philosophies is that I want my horses to think they are super-heroes:  I am always setting them up to succeed in training so that when we are faced with an especially challenging situation in the future, they will always try, because it will never occur to them that they might fail. 

If we accomplish an accomplishment in less than 25 minutes, no problem, we stop early.  He gave what I asked for & I want to keep that bright, fresh edge to his energy.  Nothing dulls an intelligent, generous horse more than drilling.
Narrow as a board in January

2)  Equipment sizes are not final. 

Part of the reason I shopped with a horse size range is that I don't want (& can't afford) to buy all new stuff.  But even though Echo is adult-sized height-wise, I have definitely seen changes over 11 months & I can tell that he has yet to fill out horizontally.

He already had a bigger head than Encore when I got him, but I've still had to let out his bridle another hole this fall.  His butt is now sticking out of the spare 78" sheet that was a dress on him last winter.  Solo's old medium splint boots no longer fit & his feet have gone up almost 2 sizes.  Fortunately, my beloved HS Duo bit was a little big on him to start, it now fits just right.  No way could I afford to buy another one of those!
Ran out of sheet before we ran out of horse
3)  EVERYTHING GOES IN THE MOUTH! 

Everything:  Leaves.  Sticks.  Solo (this is not well-received).  My hair.  Sleeves.  Blankets.  Shed walls.  Broom handles.  Lead ropes.  Cross-ties.  Leg boots.  Brushes.  Any tangible object that can be reached.  Except apples.  Apples remain mysterious objects which smell really good but have an unexpected level of crunchiness & so cannot be trusted enough to chew.  Even when a human cuts them into pieces & rubs them on the side of his tongue to tempt him.  Also, humans are weird. 
IN MY MOUF!!
Along with that goes an insatiable curiosity.  Everything MUST be investigated, now!  That can be a really good thing, I like a horse who wants to inspect things that startle him.  I far prefer that over one who just tries to run away.  But there have been times where I'd like Echo to be a little LESS curious.
It appears you may need some help...
One day, I needed to trim off some plywood edges (which had been chewed by a certain Baby Monster) with the reciprocating saw.  Which is a very loud & very powerful tool.  Solo is used to loud tools, but I waited until the horses were done eating & had moved out of the shed.  After they left, I fired up the saw & started cutting.

I focus very intently when using this particular saw, as it has so much power that it could easily slip or jump if you wavered, leading to serious injury.  Did I mention it's also very loud?  And it echoes off the metal shed roof.  Flies were out, including many bitey ones, & I felt a particularly tickly one on my elbow.  I took my finger off the saw trigger & turned to brush off the fly...

AI HELPS U!!!
...to find that Echo was standing right behind me, nose on my elbow, fascinated to explore what the weird noisy human was doing with his chew wall.  I nearly had a cardiac event on the spot.  Aside from the fact that his face was so close to the saw blade, he did NOT have handy safety glasses.

He lived.  I lived.  And overall, I am finding this bright, inquisitive creature a pleasure to work with.  He is sensitive in all the good ways & attentive to even a slight change in energy, showing me there is yet another level of training finesse in which to challenge myself.  

A question for YOU, those of you who have spent time around young'uns:  do you have a favourite resource that deals specifically with bringing along babies in their own time?  How do you keep things varied & fun?  Are there things you wish you'd done differently?  Are there things you are so glad you did?  What would you add to the list of "notable baby differences?"  Please share in comments!

March 5, 2016

How To Get To Good: Be A Better Lab Rat


Encore & I always look like this. Ha.
You get on your horse, warm up & organize your various pieces & parts, & then you begin work.  Ask him to move forward, connect back to front, create suppleness & adjustability, aiming for the best you can create at both of your levels of ability.  Obvious, right?

We often even think of that process as "easy" in that we can say, "Sit up straight, apply leg, maintain steady, elastic rein connection, do that breathing thing."  And if we do all those things properly, our partner will reward us with a round, rhythmic canter, stepping up through his withers & pushing energy out through the bridle.

Stop me now if that works out for you every time.  Anyone?  Buhler?  Yeah, the devil's in the details.

Solo: Master of Subtle Opinions...
On Monday, your horse decides "leg" means "let me show you my best llama impression!"  Wednesday, his response is, "Eh?  Did you say something?"  Thursday, your left elbow is convinced "steady connection" is best achieved by "death grip against my horse's locked jaw."  You're sorted on Saturday, wow, that canter felt great -- so when you have a chance to get on a different horse, you apply the same process...only to enjoy the Trot At Terminal Velocity with as much bend as a 2 x 4.

Fortunately, we have helmets to deal with the subsequent *headdesk* repetitions!  But what gives?

I posted a teaser quote from a current reading project, so now I'm following up on my promise for more.  Mary captures the individual approach horses require from us, even from one ride to the next, with a great analogy:

"Imagine that each horse, in his evasive movement, resembles one entrance to a maze, which has at its center the good movement we are seeking. With every horse we go on a unique journey & initially, in particular, the feelings he gives us & the difficulties he poses may be strikingly different. The knowledge we glean from one journey may only serve to confuse us on the next – at times we may even have to do the exact opposite of something we previously experienced as being a surefire way of getting us to the center."

Y U play hard to get, cheez??
My suspicions are supported:  our horses really do use us as experimental laboratory mice!  I knew I could hear snickering as I blundered about in search of that cheese with perfect bascule...

What I like best about her imagery though, is that it shines the focus on each ride, each journey, as a puzzle (there could be a puzzle-lover bias here, heh) instead of an assumption.  To solve a puzzle, we have to think about the process, breaking it down into progressive steps towards our goal of a nice transition or a balanced circle.

Mentally, this automatically puts me in the moment, listening to my body & feedback from my horse, then trying something different if we aren't at "good" yet.  At the same time, it subconsciously gives me the critically important freedom to do "the exact opposite of something" that I tried before, creating the opportunity to discover, hey, if I let go, my horse really doesn't run away.

BAM.  (extra hunter Solo for Lauren, hee)
Which I have far better luck with than my approach from past years, of "I did all the things, this is still sucking!"  Trapping us in a dead-end, repeatedly walking into the same wall, blindly hoping it will just fall down & present a full cheese platter.

Now I have a cheese craving, dangit.

February 7, 2016

Allow Your Horse To Believe In You

The concept of "belief" can at first sound nebulous, but in our riding, it directly translates to the essentials of trust and confidence.  In ourselves, in our partners, and theirs in us.

I've been picking away at a captivating book -- that speaks my language:  "The Natural Rider:  A Right-Brain Approach To Riding," by dressage and biomechanics author, Mary Wanless.  There is a long list of insights to discuss already & I'm only halfway through!

But one that continues to jump (pun not intended!) out at me speaks to both the foundation & the everyday process of training & schooling.  This is what we must carry with us in order to succeed in defying gravity in all its forms:


Yes, Solo once had a (exceedingly strong-willed) mane!  There are many layers of warm fuzzies in this blast from the past...June 2007, our clinic with Ian Stark (collected reports here) which took us to a brave new world. 

November 23, 2015

The Trouble With Horses

But Encore-face, impossible to not love...
Is that they're horses.  One minute you're on top of the world, the next, you're typing "NQR."

Also, never write about "winds of change".  They snicker & knock you down next time you walk out the door.

The silver lining is that change is, well, changeable.  I was disheartened last week when Encore was cooling out on the long lines...and started limping.  At the walk.  And post-grooming revealed stifle soreness. Again.

I tried not to go completely bonkers, after all, I've had plenty of practice. :/  He is out of shape & I had just asked him to really use himself,  albeit for a very brief session.

Work stepped in, I had to go flail around in mosquito clouds in the swamp, so he had a week to think about what he'd done anyway.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous when I climbed on today to feel things out & at least get a road hack in.  You want to know but you don't want to know, you know?

Exhale.

I kept our lines wide & straight in a brief W/T/C/hop over a couple logs warm up.  He started out with that anticipatory tightness that something might be sore.  But I just asked him to move forward through the bridle, & waited.   Not uber round & compacted, just connected to a soft feel & working over his back.

When he began to stretch down & swing a bit, it was a shared relief!  (Offer valid for the next 12 hrs only, terms & conditions may apply...)

I didn't ask more than about 10 minutes of moving out before we looped out into our road route, about a mile & change with some rolling slopes to walk.

It's (another re-) start, but such is the nature of our much-loved, yet maddening partners.  Circles both real & metaphorical & no predicting how small they'll be.

The goal & challenge will be to rebuild consistency - garnering what energy I can find & keeping my butt in the saddle so Encore has the strength he needs to support work & play.  At least until he thinks of a new trick.

Um, anyone want to ride a very cool horse while I'm stuck in meetings?

Scenery included at no charge

November 11, 2015

Catching Up: Like, RIDING HORSES!

It’s a tad squishy out, what with several inches of rain over the last 24 hours.  But the sun is warm & some of the grass is still green.  And my carefully guarded drainage sloughs & soils are hard at work already, drying it out for me & eight expensive hooves!

Storms make great sunsets though
There’s a lot to catch up on, both on these pages & in the saddle.  I commend the patience of anyone still clicking over to TFS.  One look at my annual post numbers over there in the right-hand archive tab reveals yawning gaps in our journey.

It’s not that there weren’t stories to tell.  More often a general overwhelm of the universe conspiring towards my demise combined with…well, who really wants to read, “I didn’t ride my horses because I’m sad & tired?

There are hints of change in the wind, though.  I’m not entirely sure of their direction yet, but I’m thinking that they’re the good kind.
 
To my shame, I have to admit that my riding muscles were actually sore after giving Encore a chance to stretch his legs on Sunday.  If that doesn’t tattle on me…  I was reminded, though, that vacations are always good for our partners.  They don’t forget what we’ve taught (good OR bad, heh) & more often than not, giving things a chance to settle in has brought us better results in the long run.

Encore: Please, admire at your leisure...
Encore Escapades

The Turf Beast has had quite a bit of down time, with intermittent bursts of exercise (let’s not go crazy & call it ‘work’), first to heal his X-Games injuries, then to wait for his rider to finish grubbing fish out of swamps through the fall (only THREE trips left this year, woohoo!).

While that naturally means we both get to rebuild muscle, all the buttons are still there, & once we start moving, it’s now only a few minutes before he is working over his back properly & staying elastic in the contact.

Um, super exciting progression from ‘llama/hackney cross impersonator locking the left side of his jaw’ that we started with.  It helps that I’m getting better at staying focused on how I WILL ride & remembering to notice that if my left shoulder starts aching, it’s probably because I’m hanging on to that rein like a climbing hold.

Psssh, with my eyes closed... By High Time Photos
 Because guess what:  your horse goes forward so much nicer when you aren’t blocking all of his energy with your iron grip.  You can have that earth-shattering tip at no cost!
 
Life on Solo terms: not the side of the fence I left him on
Solo Shenanigans

Solo’s been keeping my guilt active with his very special “I’m making a list of every time you don’t play with me” look.  He had his own vacation (or in Solo-terms, ‘horrific neglect,’ because somehow I have a horse who thinking eating grass & hanging out with his best horsey buddy is punishment), thanks to aforementioned ridiculous employer demands that I actually EARN my paycheck, as well as working out Weird Shoulder Thing.

While he is Member #3 of Muscle Rebuild Club, he assured me he was a solid, sexy, fancy stud both under saddle & on the longe last week (feel my awesome canter, mom, hey, let’s jump this log, did you see how awesome I was, yeah, check out this sexy canter, did I show you my badass canter?).

I couldn’t stop giggling (er, between panting) – I’d ask him to trot & he’d step up into his favourite canter instead, with that trademark spark in his eye & both ears cocked back at me to make sure I was paying attention.

Naturally, I’m rediscovering my ability to begin picking up (& searching for) pieces as soon as that nasty winter time change sets in.  But that’s ok; when it’s dark out, that's when you get to see the stars.
My Solo superstar