Friday, April 29, 2011

Relaxation

Pie and I had a nice solo birthday trail ride - it was a lovely day (for a change) - in the 50sF with some sun and not too much wind.  We went further than he'd gone before by himself, and he was nervous at points, but well-behaved.  Good birthday Pie!

After I turned Pie back out, I brought Drifter in - he was nervous without any other horses around.  I free-lunged for just a moment, and then he was OK and I was able to ground tie, groom and tack up.  At some point, Charisma came into the ring to be ground tied and groomed - he was very interested in her but well-behaved.  We did a lot of work at the walk.  He started out bracing again, but we worked on it for a while and got some decent softening.  But it was softening without being soft, if that makes any sense - for true softening to exist, the horse has to be relaxed and he wasn't relaxed.  I'd like him to stretch down and out for the contact rather than carrying his head and neck so high and "perfect" - his face is vertical and he's not pushing on the bit but he's nervous and carrying a lot of tension.  There's no point in doing trot work until we get this issue cracked - the faster pace will just increase the tension.  After we worked for a while, I got him working on an almost loose rein and he began to relax a bit.  He doesn't neck rein, so steering was a bit iffy on a loose rein, but I think he's able to steer just off my legs and eyes.  After than, we went back to the softening work again, and there was a bit more relaxation and reaching down.

Then Charisma left the ring - screaming by Drifter and a loss of concentration - but we kept working for quite a while and he was able to get back with me and we got some nice moments of almost relaxation, including some nice walk/halt transitions.  We stopped there - good Drifter!

Then I took Dawn out for a spin in the sidepull.  She's not as soft in the sidepull as she is in the bit, but we managed some decent walk and trot work, including transitions.  Relaxation has been a big challenge for her as well but she'll now stretch down, all the way to the ground, at both the walk and trot.  Her trot today was very forward and engaged, but still mostly pretty relaxed.  She's come a long way - her normal level of tension is much reduced.

I had a nice conversation with our chiropractor/vet about Drifter's possible hormonal issues - she's an endocrine specialist.  She says if he doesn't show overt sexual behavior around mares (which he doesn't - he's just extra friendly and attentive - lots of nickering and noticing mares), he's unlikely to be a rig, or cryptorchid, and that doing the (expensive) testosterone testing is likely to be a waste of time.  It's more possible that he's a bit over active in the adrenal department (some geldings are this way), which can mimic the effects of testosterone.  This could also explain his nervousness.  She'll take a look at him when she's here next Wednesday - she does the sedation for our dentist Mike Fragale - and there may be some supplements that will help him out.  I didn't think he was a crypt - he's not mouthy at all and is actually pretty sweet with people once you establish boundaries.

Pie at Five!

Today Pie is five.  He's exactly the horse I wanted when I embarked on the great horse search, although since he's only five there are still some young horse moments.  But he's a fine, fine horse - great mind, sound and built to stay that way.  Getting him was one of the best horse things I've ever done.  It's hard to believe I've had him for only six months - I feel like I've known him forever - but we've managed to get in over 75 rides in that time, which isn't too bad considering our weather conditions and lack of an indoor arena.

Here are some of my favorite pictures of him.

I got this picture from his prior owner, who had him from the time he was a weanling in Montana - he's the only horse I've ever had where I've got a baby picture, and he was one cute baby:


This picture is from his vet check when I got him, and shows the "Pie face" that he puts on when he's annoyed:


Here he is on the day he arrived at our barn after an 8 hour trailer ride:


Ears from the same day:


His head with its curved profile - my husband says he's handsome - rugged even - and I have to agree even though its not a conventional pretty face:


And some pictures of the sweet expression he usually greets me with:



Happy birthday to a wonderful boy!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dawn Struts Her Stuff and Drifter Says He's Lonely, and Norman!

Pie had a well-deserved day off today.  It rained on and off for most of the morning, but in the afternoon it decided to stop for a while - before it starts up again tonight into tomorrow.  I'm surprised we're not all growing mushrooms, it's so damp.

I had p.m. feeding duty this afternoon - our p.m. lady is on a well-deserved vacation.  I brought Dawn in first and groomed and rode her in the arena. It was wet and somewhat soupy, but not deep or slippery (thanks to the long-suffering husband's dragging effort earlier in the week).  Dawn was in the sidepull again, and her softening work at the walk and trot was much better.  We worked on getting some bend to the right - some progress but not a lot on that - I think dental and/or chiro will be required before she can do that well - and also on our walk/trot/walk transitions.  She did very well and was relaxed and soft.

Drifter got a work session after I brought all the horses in and fed.  Sugar was in the ring as we finished our lungeing work - some trotting with lots of changes of direction.  He was very focussed on the mares today - they're all either in heat or coming into heat.  I mounted up and he was very forward.  Sugar was trotting, and then she did some cantering - he thought it might be a good idea to gallop after her, but I told him that wasn't what I wanted - we did a lot of small circles and serpentines to convince him.  Eventually he was able to stand on a loose rein and just watch her go around.

And then she left the arena and went out on a trail ride - horrors!  He was alone, bereft.  Much screaming ensued, and many small circles and serpentines as I showed him he didn't have to have a complete meltdown.  After she was completely out of sight we were able to do some decent walk work, with lengthening and shortening of stride, and also a bit of trotting.  He was still very tense and never really relaxed, but he learned he could survive a mare leaving his domain and still do a bit of work without losing his mind.  We did some more standing on a loose rein - he's learning to appreciate this and is more and more able to do it.  After I dismounted and haltered him, we stood around at various points in the parking lot - I'm hoping that he'll learn that he's safe with me and can just stand there no matter what else is going on, and I think we're making some progress on that.  Relaxing is still hard for him, but I was proud of him for coping and being able to do some work.  When I brought him inside the barn, what did he do but nicker to all the mares?  Clearly a lady's man.

And here's a happy Norman pony trotting through the pasture down at Paradigm Farms - I do believe he's actually chewing as he trots:


Every pony should get such a grand retirement!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Overloads and Do What You Can

Today was one of those days where it was important to be flexible and work with the horses you have today, making sure expectations don't override reality.

It was windy and on and off rainy today.  Pie and I had about a 40-minute trail ride and were attacked by small children - at least that's what Pie thought.  As we were coming down a trail, all of a sudden there was group of about 25 third and fourth graders coming back from working at the organic farm - the local school does quite a bit of that.  Pie, when I first had him, was scared of small children, I think because he'd never seen one before.  He now likes children, at least if they're in small numbers and well-behaved.  This school group was a horde, and they were jumping, and running, and shouting and shrieking.  I pulled Pie over to the side of the trail, and we stood there for a moment as the first group of kids passed us.  Then there was more shrieking and running - there were teachers but they didn't do anything (perhaps the school needs some horse education).  Pie did what any self-respecting horse in possibly mortal danger would do - he spun and bolted.  I stopped him after about two leaps - he was in the sidepull but stops easily, and turned him and we kept moving in the opposite direction as the remaining kids - a worried horse that is moving is easier to deal with than a worried horse that is standing still.  Once we'd passed the last of the children, we turned and followed them for a couple of hundred yards - following something scary often makes it much less worrisome.  Then we turned and went on our way - he calmed right down and we had a very nice ride despite the wind.  Good Pie!

Then I tacked up Dawn.  It started to rain a bit just as we were getting ready to leave the barn and go to the arena.  We stood in the barn door for a minute and when it eased up we went out to the arena and I mounted up.  Within a few minutes the heavens opened up and it poured.  Dawn is a horse that hates getting rain on her face and head, and it was raining hard.  I jumped off and we hightailed it back to the barn - she trotted along with me.  I put her in her stall for a minute, and after a bit we were able to go back out.  We worked on our softening work at the walk - she was in the sidepull - it was too soupy in the arena to trot - and also reviewed our lateral work - turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches, since that's what we could do.  She did very well.  Then I rode her to the gate, leaned over and opened the latch - I've never done this with her before - and rode her out the gate and down the path next to the barn and back into the parking lot.  This is the first time I've ridden her outside the arena, and she was very good although it was only 50 feet or so.  My younger daughter used to ride her on the trail all the time, but also had to deal with numerous incidents of bolting and bucking.  Good Dawn!

As I tacked up Drifter, the wind was really picking up and by the time we went to the arena it was howling - I'd say the gusts were over 30 mph.  He was clearly nervous.  I did bridle him and we did a bit of in-hand work, but it was clear conditions weren't good to ride him - he was just too worried about the wind.  I felt no need to force the issue - we have time - and found some things he could do well.  We did a lot of circling and giving to the bit - I just kept his nose tipped towards me and even if he were inclined to spook he couldn't run into me.  We also did some backing in hand.  Then we moved to the parking lot - I kept the bridle on - and we did some standing around work, mixed with some circling when he needed to move his feet due to the high winds.  He did very well with this, and I think is beginning to find that standing with me is comforting.  He was glad to get back into the barn out of the wind, and was quiet on the cross-ties as I untacked and picked his feet.  Good Drifter!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Another Great Day With Horses

It was supposed to rain today, but we were spared until late in the day, so I got in three good rides.  Pie and I had a nice hour and a half trail ride with Scout this morning - Scout walked but Pie had to do a good bit of trotting to catch up - his stride is shorter than Scout's - we probably trotted half the total distance.  Scout and Pie even braved the tree-trimming crews who were using chain saws and up in buckets sawing off tree limbs close to the barn.  Good Pie!

In the afternoon, I had good (no make that great) rides on both Dawn and Drifter.  I rode Dawn in the sidepull - the modified Dr. Cook's wasn't working for us.  It took her a while to get the feel of it - there was some bracing initially at the walk but after a while it clicked in for her and she was able to soften very well consistently at the walk, and we also got decent bending in both direction.  Her trot work was very forward, but we did get some good softening there by the end as well, as well as some walk/trot/walk transitions.  Her concentration was also very good - there were lots of distractions including people working in the community garden. Good Dawn!

Drifter and I had a very good work session after bring in and feeding time.  We only lunged briefly, then I bridled and mounted up.  It was if a switch had been flipped - his walk work was really excellent from the first moment, very soft and relaxed, and the trot work was much better - we were able to put together some really nice continuous trot sets with almost consistent softness.  He's relaxing a bit now at the walk and beginning to stretch down a bit, and that isn't quite there yet at the trot, but there was almost no bracing today even at the trot, and his ability to concentrate and work were also admirable.  We did a bit of standing around work outside the arena after our work session, and he was much more able just to stand still with me and look around rather than fretting or being spooky. Good Drifter!

Now, what could be finer than a lovely April day (low 50sF with a bit of wind) with three fine horses!

A Tale of Three Necks: Straight, Stiff-as-a-board and Gumby

Yesterday, Easter, was a really beautiful day here - 50sF with a bit of wind and on and off sun - so I managed rides on all three horses.  I really enjoy riding different horses - I think it helps me learn and not get stuck in just one way of doing things, and it's also interesting to compare and contrast their ways of going, natural tendencies and how they respond to what I ask.

Yesterday, what I noticed was how different they are in how they hold and use their necks, and what that says about their balance, posture, softness and where we go next in the work.

First up was Pie.  We went out on the trail for about an hour and did a lot of trotting.  We stopped along the way and looked at things - Pie enjoys doing this and seems to systematically take everything in.  When we were trotting - I had only the lightest contact on the reins - we were in the sidepull - he volunteered stretching his neck and head down on a couple of occasions - his usual way of going at the trot if I'm not directly asking him to soften is with head somewhat high.  I was delighted by this stretching down - I think it means that all the softening work we've been doing is beginning to take and that he's starting to feel that a softer posture with a more relaxed top line may be more comfortable.  The softening work is somewhat hard for him, because his neck is very straight on the top line and relaxing that into a curved top line is physically hard work.  But I think he's beginning to get the idea of softening and its benefits.

Next was Dawn.  The last time I'd ridden her was April 7, but she seemed pretty mellow (for Dawn), so I saddled up and off we went without any preliminary lungeing - she was in the "modified" Dr. Cook's with the fuzzy noseband (I attach the reins to the rings on the noseband instead of the crossover strap rings).  She was somewhat bracey, although I did get some softening at the walk.  When trotting, she was more braced and also somewhat inclined to rush, so we did circles to help her with her pace regulation.  She was able to soften, although not as well as when she's in a bit, as long as we were going straight or bending left.  And she's not tending to do the "curl up" anymore - this was the focus of our work last year - to get her to stretch to the bit rather than falling behind it, and therefore to use her whole body correctly.  When turning to the right and attempting to get a right bend, it was like riding a piece of lumber - she was really struggling.  She hasn't had a chiro treatment yet this year, and I'll bet there's something going on in the first couple of neck vertebrae that's not letting her bend her neck to the right and also soften at the same time - both the joint between the skull and the first vertebra and the joint between the first and second vertebrae have to be able to move freely to allow her to do this.

As an experiment, we did some flexion work to the right while halted - she could do this to the right although it took a little bit of effort, but softening and flexing to the right at the same time just wasn't possible.  I'm planning to have chiro done on all three horses after our dentist visit on May 4, and I expect that will help her out quite a bit.  She's also been showing some increasing discomfort when chewing, which could be her tongue (she cut it quite badly back in December which is why I'm not riding her in a bit right now) or a dental issue or both - I'm hoping the dentist can give us some answers.

Then Drifter got a workout.  This was, I think, my 12th ride on him.  We only lunged for a few minutes to check his attention to me - I expect we'll drop that from our routine pretty soon as his concentration and ability to come back to me after being distracted improves.  I'm still getting to know him, but I would say that he tends to be a bit of a gumby horse - he freely bends every which way but that doesn't mean anything's connected to anything else - I suspect he may have done a little too much lateral flexion work - I'm not a big fan of that exercise for that reason - I do a little bit so the horse gets the idea but not more than that.  But the good thing about softening work is that you can feel the difference between a horse that's softening and one that's just flexing the neck without softening the top line back to the tail or engaging the core.  With Drifter, at the walk we're working on him stretching down and relaxing while staying soft, so the front can be connected to the back - the difference in the quality of his walk is noticeable.  With that modification, his softening work at the walk is pretty good, although not yet 100% consistent.

We've only just started our trot work.  We're working on pace regulation - not rushing (he's Mr. Speedy and thinks he has to go everywhere fast, which may be due in part to his personality and in part to his prior training, particularly if he was a barrel horse) and straightness and focus at the trot.  His "gumbiness" presents some issues when I circle to help him regulate pace - he can turn on a dime so tends to rush through this too - sometimes we have to do numerous circles before he understands that he doesn't have to zip around the turn but just turn in a relaxed manner.  We did manage some decent softening work at the trot for several steps at the end of our ride, where he wasn't just contracting his neck but actually relaxing and reaching - his trot became instantly amazingly elevated and driving from behind - he's got a lot of potential because his gaits can be so good.  I stopped there, jumped off and praised him greatly.

It was a great day with horses - we're expecting a lot of rain this week so who knows how much riding there will be.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Very Good Day

Finally we had a day with some decent weather.  This morning Pie and I had a nice hour long trail ride - it was very windy so he did a number of spook-scoots, but nothing too difficult - he was a good boy.  The only thing that really gave him pause was one of our neighbors whose garage opens on the trail was working in there with what I think was a drill press - a loud shrieking noise, that stopped and started.  Pie was having none of it - we could have turned and made another loop to avoid it but I was able to call to Tony, my neighbor, to stop the noise, and we made it by safely.  Very good Pie!

Drifter and I had a good work session this afternoon, after bring in and feeding.  I shared feeding duty this afternoon with Sugar's owner, and when I got to the barn, I was able to "whistle in" all the horses - they all came galloping from the far reaches of the pastures up to the gates, which was a good thing considering all the mud.  This time I put Drifter on cross ties to groom and tack.  He was very good, and was also good for foot picking - the right hind seems to give him the greatest trouble and I'll have to point that out to the chiropractor.

When we got to the arena, we didn't do our usual free lunging, but moved directly to lungeing on the line - he was good about that, with walk/trot/halt and changes of direction.  I mounted up and we did some figure work, and also some lengthening/shortening work at the walk, as well as some halting and backing.  We formally started our softening work at the walk and made it up to 7 soft steps in each direction.  I'd like him to do more stretching down - he tends to carry his head high and curl up a bit - so we did some loose rein work. We also did a fair amount of trot work, primarily working on speed regulation/not rushing using circles.  I was very pleased with his work and told him so - we got to spend a fair amount of time just standing still on a loose rein while Charisma worked, which he seemed to enjoy.  We did a bit of leading by the legs work in the stall afterwards, but he was fairly distracted due to Sugar leaving on a brief trail ride - we'll try more tomorrow. Good Drifter!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Feet

It's cold, cold, cold - wind chills around 30F - with rain on and off, and the wind was howling all day.  Yuck, yuck, yuck, what more can I say.  The horses were able to be out all day - we were spared the worst of the rain that went south of us.  But more rain and storms tonight, so more water.

Drifter and I had a good work session in his stall this evening.  He was just fine for hoof-picking.  Then we worked, using clicker, on him keeping his feet up for longer period.  We easily reached 10 seconds with the front feet and 7 seconds with the backs.  We'll add some time every day - we've got at least 5 weeks until the farrier is back, and as we go we'll add a "farrier hold", and a rasp and some banging and pulling.

We also did a bit of leading by the feet - he was confused by this at first but figured it out pretty quickly.  He was loose in the stall, and I looped a lead rope around one front pastern and applied a bit of pressure.  He looked concerned, and we stood there for a while, doing nothing together.  He happened to take a step, I think by chance rather than in response to the pressure, but he had done what I wanted so I clicked and treated.  He caught on - I was able to get him to lift the foot with pressure after a few minutes.  Then I repeated the exercise with the other front foot.  We'll do more with this, and also with the backs feet.

We've got time, and can take things as slowly as we need to.

Tomorrow's supposed to be better - almost 60F but with a lot of wind.  I may try to get Pie out for a ride in the morning and then see what Drifter and I can get up to in the afternoon (sorry, Dawn - the arena's too swampy for you).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Good and the Bad

Drifter was not very good for the farrier this morning.  He snatched his front feet away and slammed them down - or hopped, using the farrier as a "leg".  He snatched his hind feet away and cow-kicked.  We got the job done but it wasn't pretty - I'm not very tolerant of this sort of behavior.  The farrier and I agree that the primary issue was his impatience - he's fine now for my picking his feet but that doesn't take very long, and when you ask him to hold his feet up longer, he becomes petulant and fussy and acts up - just like a toddler.  He's also out with the herd now and there's some separation stuff going on.  We're going to do lots of work with feet and legs, including leading by the legs and also him holding his legs up for longer - I may use a soft rope to help with his.  Any ideas and suggestions are welcome.

Drifter and I had a work session this afternoon.  There was some "I'm away from my friends and I can't stand it", but we worked through it.  His concentration and attention were intermittent, but it was windy and cold and we need to be able to work more days in a row.  But the leading, lungeing (changes of gait and direction as I asked, not as he pleased) and ride were pretty good and he did everything I asked.  I tied him for a few minutes as an experiment - as I expected there was a lot of moving around and pawing but he didn't try to pull back.  We're going to do more of that to work on his patience - I wish I had a way to rig up a high line where he could spend time tied and fret and fidget to his heart's content until he figured out that it was a waste of time and energy.

Pie and I had a lovely 40 minutes or so trail ride.  It was getting progressively colder and windier, but he did great (he was also very good for the farrier, although I got a lot of "Pie faces").  Dawn was good for the farrier too, although she's been clearly uncomfortable for the last couple of sessions - perhaps some arthritis in her knees or shoulders.

Tomorrow we're expecting more rain - :(.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What Is Softness and Why Is It Important?

I got an e-mail from a reader asking what I mean by "softness".  Here's part of her e-mail:
As a dressage rider I have been taught to have a (fairly) firm feel on the reins when the horse is "on the bit", half halting, and recycling the energy from the hind to the bit and back.  But I am thinking you do not have that much pressure with the bit??  I am working with a horse who braces at times and "worry chews" the bit so we lose a good connection.
Softness, and softening, are words, and thoughts, I use a lot when I work with my horses.  But what is softness?  Over the years, my understanding of this concept has deepened, I think, which is not to say that I have the answers or that my understanding is correct - this is just how I think about it and I'd be interested in your thoughts - one of the advantages of the horse blogging world is the ability to access good thinking in all sorts of equestrian disciplines.

Softness starts with the rider - if the rider isn't soft, mentally and physically - including not being softy by carrying braces in body, mind or emotions - the horse will have great difficultly in being soft.  For example, driving the horse with the seat or legs creates braces that make it difficult for the horse to move effectively, and may cause the horse to brace against the rider. The rider has to also be able to offer the horse a soft place to find and to be, in order for the horse to be soft. Softness is a shared activity, a conversation, back and forth continuously between horse and rider.  Softness is physical, mental and emotional, all three together.  Although a horse that is soft will usually have a typical appearance - how the head, neck and body move and their posture - softness isn't really about headset.

The horse also has to be physically able to do what you are asking.  A horse with physical problems - ulcers, saddle fit, mouth issues (particularly poor lateral excursion of the jaw from side to side or bit problems), or lameness/soreness/chiropractic/foot issues, will not be able to do what you are asking.

One objective of softness is a horse that is physically able to move in the most effective manner, with relaxation of jaw, poll, neck and whole rest of the top line, and an engaged core that allows the horse to use its hindquarters to carry its body.  When you're riding, the feel of softness is unmistakable - the horse will lift its back and you can feel the energy and drive from the hindquarters, even at walk.  Even a horse standing still that is soft feels different from one that isn't soft.

A second objective of softness is a horse that is mentally attentive and emotionally calm and resposive - one of the best indications of softness is what I call the "Zen face", with no tension in the face, relaxed ears and a eye that's "looking inward" - here are some examples - the first one is Dawn and the second is Drifter:



In both cases, you'll note there's a soft, even curve in the neck and the poll is not the highest point (parenthetically, I think the idea that the poll should be the highest point is conformationally incorrect for most horses unless they're from one of the Iberian/baroque breeds and even then I have my doubts).  Drifter has a somewhat naturally higher head carriage than Dawn does - Pie would look different from both of them - every horse has their own natural soft position depending on their confirmation.  Drifter's in the earliest stages of his work, and I'd like to see a bit more stretching down which would result in a somewhat lower head position.

The objective of softness is self-carriage, with the core and hindquarters doing the work and a horse that is listening and responsive and emotionally as well as physically soft.  Softness isn't just behavior or posture - it comes from the inside of the horse and is expressed on the outside of the horse.  A horse that looks unhappy or tense isn't soft.  A horse that is mentally and emotionally soft will be not just compliant, but willingly compliant. And softness is also about developing attention and feel in the rider - I've been learning about this for a number of years now and my understanding and ability to do these things continues to develop.  And softness is progressive - as the horse learns to be soft, it extends into more and more parts of the horse's way of going and even begins to show itself in the horse's movement at liberty in the pasture (Pie's posture in the pasture is being to change - there's now a slight curve in the top line of his neck when before it was straight or even a bit inverted.)

To create softness, there are two things I do.  First, I try to do as little as possible with my body - I want to be in and with the horse and allow forward movement and the lifting of the back.  Even in backing, the feel is forward (if that makes any sense to you).  You have to have forward to get softness - if the horse doesn't move forward well off a very soft leg cue, I immediately move to using a secondary cue (crop on saddle or my leg) to get forward - the horse should maintain forward when asked on its own.  No driving or pushing with seat or legs - that creates a brace.  Two of my horses (Dawn and Drifter) are naturally very forward and take almost no aids at all, while Pie is still a bit sticky - we're working on that and making good progress.  Forward is also essential to get straightness, which is also very important.

The question of rein tension is an interesting one.  I think many of us (certainly me), in many different disciplines, have learned to use our hands too much and to ride the head instead of riding the whole horse.  A horse can be soft with no rein tension at all, or with a soft, following contact.  If the horse is leaning or pulling on the bit, you've got a brace, and a brace in both horse and rider - braces usually have two participants - and that means that you haven't got softness.  A horse that has "curled up" and fallen behind the bit (or has been pulled behind the bit as in rollkur or the aggressive use of draw reins) is also not soft and is likely carrying its weight on the forehand - Dawn had this problem and we've made very good progress on it.  If the rider is pulling on the horse, the horse can't be soft (and the rider isn't either).  One of the hardest things to learn, I think, is not to pull - to create a soft spot without pulling, and to keep hands still and not fussing - if your hands aren't still the horse can't find the soft spot because there isn't a consistent one to find.

The two photos above show differing levels of rein pressure.  Dawn is moving forward and there is a very slight pressure on the reins - I try never to carry more than a 0.5 or 1 on a scale of 1 to 10 (where 0 is no pressure and 10 is the most pressure I could use) - it's just a whisper of pressure so there is a live communication between my hand and her mouth.  I could also ride her on a loose, draped rein where the movement of my hand would be communicated through a change in the drape of the reins or soft pressure on her neck - and she could still be soft.

In the photo of Drifter, the pressure is a zero - that's partly because we're backing and partly because he's just learning what I want.  At any gait, I put and keep my hands in a position where there's a zero pressure spot he can find - he's just found it in the backing picture so there's no tension on the reins.  A moving forward picture would show the same 0.5 to 1 that Dawn shows.  The soft position is one intended to result in a horse that is relaxed in the entire top line, using the core and lifting from the hindquarters through the back, and when that happens there's barely any pressure on the reins since the horse is effectively in self carriage.  Now with a horse that's just learning to soften and is still figuring out what you want or has a tendency to brace, there will be frequent changes in the rein tension as the horse finds and then loses the soft spot - my job is to keep my hands so quiet that the horse is the one changing the pressure and can always find the soft spot.  Also, the horse has to physically develop the capacity to carry itself softly - a horse that is used to bracing and not using its core will have to relax some muscles and use others in a way that isn't usual and this may be hard for the horse and may tire it during the initial work - this is an issue with Pie who came to me somewhat "upside down".

The question of half halts is another interesting one.  They are a form of momentary resistance to forward motion, asking the horse to change its posture to more effectively use its hindquarters.  That isn't wrong, but I rarely (really never) use half halts with my hands even though I was trained to use them.  I keep a very steady, extremely soft contact at all times. I don't use the reins to regulate speed or length of stride - I use circles to teach the horse to self-regulate speed and I use my seat to ask for changes of length of stride. (I do sometimes use inside leg to outside rein, for maintaining bend on circles and turns and encouraging the inside leg to step under, but without really increasing the rein tension.) What I do instead is do half halts with my seat - ever so slightly resisting instead of "going with" the horse's motion, but I'm not using them to ask the horse to change its posture or balance, I'm usually asking for a change of length of stride without a change of rhythm.  I also use my seat and breathing to signal changes in gait by altering the rhythm of my following of the horse's motion.  I also try to time my aids - breathing, seat and if needed a leg cue - to the horse's footfalls in order to cue when the leg needed to initiate the transition is in the air, in order to make it easy for the horse and in order to get precise transitions.

I don't know if any of this answers the reader's question, or makes sense to you - leave your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Yucky Weather

It's 32F and the wind chill is 23 and it's raining.  The horses are tucked into their stalls, and did manage a few hours outdoors before the rains came down.  Yesterday we woke up to over 2 inches of snow.  I've managed one day of riding out of the past 6, due to rain, or wind or just plain cold - the horses are pretty much shed out so are uncomfortable at these temperatures without clothing - not to mention how I feel about it.  Will spring ever come?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Softening Snaps Into Place and Using My Seat

Finally we got some weather that permitted riding - it got up to almost 50F although there was quite a bit of wind - steady at 10-15 mph with higher gusts.  We're supposed to have lousy weather for a few days, including some snow tonight, so I wanted to get in some rides on the only good day we've had for a while. It was my first ride on Pie in 5 days and the first on Drifter in 4 days - Dawn's been neglected for a bit because she's been in heat and it's been very windy, and (call me a wimp if you like) I don't usually ride Dawn under those conditions - she's spooky and reactive at the best of times.  She's also pretty well-trained and will come back into work pretty quickly once we put together a string of riding days.

First up was Pie.  We did a serious work session in the arena, which was amazingly not too wet to use, after he walked around with me to reset the cones and poles that had been removed for the arena to be dragged.  I had him in the ported Mylar snaffle.  Despite the wind and having been off for a number of days, he was positively mellow.  We worked in a serious way on our softening at the walk and trot.  It took him a little while to start consistently softening at the walk, and once that was there we moved up to trot.  We were working on adding soft steps - 3, then 5, then 7, etc. - with looser rein breaks in between, when all of a sudden it was as if he shifted over - he was able to soften consistently at the trot, just like that.  I find this often happens - the horse may be struggling with something for several days and then all of a sudden the logjam breaks and the horse figures out what you want and is right there for you.  It was a lovely thing to feel - he's often had a hard time staying forward and softening at the same time at the trot, but his trot was round, and lifting through the hindquarters, and just wonderful.  I praised him extravagantly.

Then we did a little bit of canter work.  His preference is to always take the right lead canter, and he struggles a bit with the left lead.  When asked to take a right lead canter, he takes it easily.  Left, not so much.  With the left lead, I need to be sure to set it up correctly to help him and be sure my position is correct - by changing the rhythm in my mind from the 1-2 1-2 of trot to the 1-2-3 1-2-3 of canter, timing my canter cue to coincide with his outside hind leg leaving the ground so he can plant it and initiate the canter, and remembering to exhale as I ask for the departure.  I also think the stiffness/crampiness on the right side of his neck may be making it harder for him to take the left lead - I'll continue to work on massaging that.  After our arena work, we had the reward of a short trail ride.  Very good Pie!

Then Drifter was up.  He really didn't need to free lunge after a couple of minutes, so we moved to some lungeing and didn't do that long either - I just wanted some nice trot work in both directions which I got. We groomed and tacked up - I need to work with him on staying ground tied while tacking as he tends to fidget (we aren't tying yet as I want to work him through some of his pulling back on the lead issues before we do that).  We did figure work with the cones - the bracing and rushing at the walk are almost gone, although we're not 100% of the way there yet - we're close but when he's a bit distracted he sometimes starts a bit of bracing.  He got to a good point on this - he knows where the soft spot is now and tries to find it and stay there, and did some nice soft backing, and we did a bit more trot work.  His upward transition is very nice, but on the downwards transition the brace tends to reappear, so we worked a bit on that, using turns and circles to help.  We also did some very nice lengthening and shortening work at the walk off only my seat (I either allow (medium walk), enhance (lengthening) or restrict (shortening) with my seat to get different length steps), and also did some halt work with seat cues as well.  He has a really nice walk, and the lengthening was lovely.

I was delighted with his progress, and told him so - good Drifter!  That was my 10th real ride on him (not counting groundwork, leading work and standing for mounting work) and so far I'd say that he's coming along really well - the bracing is starting to disappear, his focus and work ethic are improving with every session - I think he's actually enjoying our work, he's making good progress at listening to me and following my directions as to speed, direction and destination without trying to take matters into his own hands and his leading and ground manners are greatly improved.

Now when it rains and snows and blows for the next several days I won't feel so bad after these good rides.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Like a Lamb

The past several days have been a no-go for riding - very high winds which I don't enjoy - and now we've got rain with the wind.

We're almost out full day on grass - some of the other owners have already done this, but I've decided to go a bit more slowly.  Dawn is at least somewhat insulin resistant, and Pie and Drifter's status is unknown.  I prefer to be cautious, so my three had to spend some time in their stalls this morning while the others were out.  I did turn Pie and Drifter out together early in the morning - Drifter needed to move after being in the stall last night although he was somewhat more calm this morning than he's been.  Then I came back an hour later with the intent to bring them back in for a couple of hours.  All the others had been turned out by then - it was an owner turn out day.

Leaving the pasture to come into the barn, which involves leaving the herd, can be hard, particularly for a new horse.  But it's an essential skill for the horses - we're on all-day turnout and they need to be able to come in for things like vet visits and also if you want to ride before bring-in time. Both Pie (although he sometimes momentarily balks in protest for a step or two) and Dawn lead in well, although I have to be careful when leading Dawn in because the other mares tend to gallop up behind her.  Sometimes, due to the configuration of out pastures, you're talking a walk back to the barn of up to 300 yards or more.

But I've never asked Drifter to come in from the pasture before except at normal bring-in time when all the other horses are also coming in and near the gate.  I wasn't sure how it would go - I was pretty sure I'd be able to get him in even if he protested but I was hoping for better than that.  All the geldings were far from the barn and he was grazing with them.  I went out and haltered him and asked him to come.  I got one or two brief balks - I just took a step to one side and kept going and he followed me.  After that he came with me very nicely all the way to the barn.  He did call (scream would be a better word) once or twice and look over his shoulder, but he never crowded me or tried to turn around and go back to the others.  I was very proud of him - even though he was a bit worried he was able to do what I asked, and do it well.  When I led him back to the pasture gate when it was time for him to go back out, he led very well and stood for me to take his halter off, then walked away before trotting off to join the other geldings.

Every time he's able to successfully do something like this together with me, it reinforces our working relationship.  Good Drifter!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Big Difference

Drifter made significant progress today both in the herd and in his work.  He was still guarding the fence line in the morning and keeping any gelding who approached away from "his" mares, but he was much less aggressive about it.  Here's a picture of him with his "best girl" Dawn:


Poor Fritz really wanted to be friends with Drifter, but got driven away any time he got close.

When the geldings went out to pasture, Drifter momentarily got left behind, but galloped after the others. He did haunt the fence line closest to the mares, but they were a long way away - more than 50 yards, and basically ignored him.  At bring in time, he was at the gate closest to the mares, seeing if he could push it down with his chest - he almost succeeded - we may need to tie it with lead ropes to secure it, at last for the next several days.

But overall, he was much less agitated in the pasture and enjoyed some time out grazing.  All the other geldings managed to roll in the muddy puddle in the pasture - Pie was plastered with half dry mud when he came in.

Drifter led much better coming in from the pasture.  I put him briefly in his stall to chill while I put out our gear in the arena.  When I took him out to the arena, I only had to do a little free lungeing before he was ready to work and came in to me.  We did some leading work around the cones, groomed and tacked, and then he had to deal with the horses coming in from pasture.  We did a bit of lungeing, but he was quite attentive to me and we didn't need to do that for long.  Then we bridled and did a little in-hand work - turns on the forehand and backing - when both Charisma and Sugar came into the arena - mares in heat!  He was extremely well-behaved, even for Sugar trotting and cantering and Charisma lungeing.  And then Sugar left on a trail ride - he had to watch her vanish into the distance - we did some more leading work to distract him.

Then I mounted up and had a great ride.  We worked on our figures with the cones, and the bracing and rushing at the walk were pretty much gone - very good considering the distractions.  Then we did a bit of trot work, with transitions to walk after each short trot line.  He's still bracey at the trot, but I now think that'll be pretty easy to undo with some turns.  His backing was just beautiful.  I was delighted with him, and told him so and untacked and took him in for dinner.  Our p.m. barn lady texted me later that he was excellent leading out to the paddock for the night (Pie's opposite).

In thinking about it, considering he was in isolation up to a few days ago, the introduction to the gelding herd was almost like coming to a new barn and it's not surprising that he was agitated.  He seems to be starting to calm down, and the more I work with him the more he reminds me of my old boy Noble, who was also nervous and very interested in mares.  Of course Drifter is himself, with his own unique personality, but if he turns out to be like Noble, I will indeed be fortunate, and I think there's a good possibility that's what he's going to be like in terms of his willingness to work and responsiveness.

Good Drifter!

A Little Bit Calmer

Last night when Drifter came in from turnout, he was wringing wet - all sweated up from a combination of anxiety and activity - and the temperatures were only in the 50sF.  He didn't want to leave the herd, though - to get him in I had to ask him to make small circles around me all the way down to the barn.  Once in his stall, though, he settled down a bit and ate some hay and his dinner - although he was wet he wasn't hot anymore.  I gave him a good rubdown, which he seemed to appreciate as he was itchy.  I didn't work him, as he was clearly close to exhausted. After feeding time, he went outside for the night with Pie in the paddock opposite.  He was a little bit nervous at first, but settled down pretty quickly to eat his hay.

This morning I brought him in from the paddock to the barn to eat his breakfast.  Although he clearly wanted in, he led perfectly.  Pie came in too.  After feeding, Jill and I turned out the horses.  She had the good idea of turning all the other geldings out first, partly so they could get a good drink before Drifter got out there - we don't think he's keeping them from drinking as a dominance gesture, it's more that the water tank is located right next to the mares.  We also waited until last to turn the mares out as they seem to get him into guarding mode - Dawn's still in heat and now Sugar is too.  Drifter led up to the dry lot perfectly, but the odd thing was that when I went to lead him out of his stall, he was very reluctant to leave it, even though Fritz was calling for him from the dry lot - it took some urging on my part to get him to step out into the aisle.  Once he got started he was fine.  I think he found yesterday very stressful, and the stall is one of his "safe" places, as is his paddock.  Although he appears to be the alpha of the gelding herd, he's a bit unsure of himself, too, as I had suspected from the degree of his aggression - a good part of it was defensive.  It'll be interested to see how things develop.

Once he got out there, he did sniff noses briefly with Fritz and Fred, and all that happened was very small "acknowledgement" grunt/squeals.  Then Drifter took up his position on the fenceline with the mares and started nibbling grass.  When I left the barn, the other four geldings were grazing very close to him, and he only moved one away - much less aggressively than yesterday - if they tried to approach the mares.  I'll be interested to see what he does at grass turnout time - does he go out with the geldings or try to stick on the fenceline with the mares?

With tonight's feed I'm starting him on a different calming supplement - I've been giving him magnesium oxide but now I'm going to try the MMX supplement also from HorseTech - it has magnesium oxide and also B1 and tryptophan (the same stuff that's in turkey and makes you sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner).  If it helps him calm down a bit and relax, that'll be good.  And I'm going to try to work him a bit in the late afternoon - this is a time he's used to working so that'll be familiar.  I think once his routine is established, he'll be more comfortable.  I'll all for breaking up routines and moving a horse's work time around so they learn to deal with different situations and don't become routine-bound, but Drifter needs to feel a bit safer and more certain of what's going to happen to him before I need to do that with him.  He needs some good, calmer work experiences to build on.  I'd like to move towards doing less free lungeing with him first and moving directly to working, but I'll only do that in stages as he's able to do it - he'll let me know.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

More Herd Dynamics

This morning, Drifter went into the dry lot with the geldings for the first time - we're still on limited grazing hours.  There were fewer fireworks this time, although Pie did manage to get himself kicked in the side again (this time by Drifter), when he wandered up to sniff noses and try to be friendly.  At one point, Drifter was off by himself and the four other geldings were clumped together looking at him.  Drifter spent most of his morning on the fence line with the mares, and driving any other horse away who came near the mares, whom he'd apparently adopted as "his".  Fred clung closely to Fritz and Pie and Scout stayed close to each other.  When I went back and checked, the other four had crept closer to Drifter and everyone was nibbling grass shoots.  His location on the fence line probably kept the other geldings from drinking during the morning, as the water trough is located in the corner on that fence line.

At noontime, I went and brought Drifter down to the arena for a little work session.  Getting him from the dry lot to the arena was a bit of an ordeal.  Although he greeted me at the gate, once we were leading to the barn and arena he was pretty agitated and wanted to go back.  I managed to put him for a bit into a small paddock and did some free lungeing in there for about 15 minutes until he was willing to come to me.  Then we led to the arena - he was still wanting to be out of control and I had to be very big on a number of occasions but we got the job done without my being mowed down.  Once in the arena, I let him go, he galloped off and we did more free lungeing.  It was probably a half hour before he settled enough to pay attention to me instead of the other horses and do a little work - he was panting and sweaty although it wasn't that warm.  I was pretty warm myself - our arena's big enough that I got plenty of exercise keeping him moving. We lunged at the walk and trot in both directions, and then we did some leading work.  I decided that was enough for that session - I could have tacked up and ridden but decided to defer - we could have done it but I didn't want to push my luck and I also wanted him to know that doing the work brought him the reward of getting back to his herd.  If I raise his stress level, I need to bring it back down again - he needs to learn that this is the result of working with me. We led back to the dry lot, better than we'd led out but still not easily - he kept trying to pass me and I kept bringing his head back in line, sometimes getting pretty big to do so, and maintaining him at an arm's length.

Interestingly enough, Fritz was waiting for him at the gate and nickering - maybe Fritz is glad to not have the responsibility of being alpha anymore.  When the horses went out to pasture, he was somewhat confused by the mares heading off in their pasture.  When the gate to the geldings' pasture was opened, he did at one point try to go to the lower pasture and herd Pie back up, but Scout came out to greet him at a trot and he veered off and came back up.  He also went nose to nose with Fred, who was at the trough, and there was no squealing, but then Fred's not a threat to anybody.  Fritz spent some time cantering around with Drifter - apparently Drifter has a fan.

It seems that Drifter isn't just defending himself but wants to be the alpha, and it looks for the moment as though he's succeeded.  And he wants to guard "his" mares - none of whom he's actually met.  It'll be interesting to see how this develops.  I did expect a spike in his herd-boundness when he went out with the others, and that's what's happening now.  We'll keep working a bit at a time and I know things will improve although our work may be more difficult for a while until he settles down.  The fact that he seems to be an alpha with the other horses also means that I need to be very strict with him about doing our work correctly - he may have a somewhat dominant personality as well as having babyish behaviors.

I may work some more with him later or I may not - I certainly want to get in a ride on Pie on this beautiful day.

Monday, April 11, 2011

No More Baby Stuff

Drifter and I had a marathon work session this afternoon.  By the time we were done, we'd been working for well over an hour and a half.  My objective going in was zero tolerance for baby stuff.  I was going to expect him to act like a grown up horse, and I was going to be very clear about exactly what I expected him to do so there would be no questions.  I went and got him from the pasture, and we started our work right there with leading.

My requirements for him when leading is that he stay an arm's length from me at all times, and that his head stay pointed towards me - no passing me to one side, or turning his head away from me and popping his shoulder towards me.  I've been slacking a bit lately on being consistent with my requirements and his leading has gotten worse as a result.  Behind me, at an arm's length; on turns, he's to wait and follow me at an arm's length - no cutting the corner or getting ahead of me.  We got there; parts of it weren't pretty.  Every time his attention would stray or his head would turn, I would ask him to bring his head back in line - most of the time it didn't take a lot of pressure, a couple of times I had to get pretty big.  Every time he started to creep too close, I made noise and when necessary, bopped him in the nose with my hand.  He got the idea pretty quickly.  Once things were going better, I would stop and praise him whenever he halted nicely at an appropriate distance.  This wasn't easy - it took a good ten minutes of work to get him to that point.  No exceptions, no allowances - those are the rules and he's to stick to them.

Here are some photos of leading showing what I mean - these are from after our ridden work session as we were doing a review when things were a bit calmer, but they give you the idea of what I was after.




The other horses were still out in the pastures and there was a lot of activity - Charisma being groomed and then going down the trail, horses coming in.  It took a while for him to be able to focus - I had him loose and basically urged him to move until he decided that he could focus on me.  Once I had his focus, we did a bit of lungeing on the line - I asked him to walk, trot, halt and change direction as I directed - no baby refusals to move or trying to turn in and stop work, and I had zero tolerance for any sort of resistance or acting up - he pawed once and that got a big reaction from me and it didn't happen again.  The lungeing went pretty well.  Then we ground tied and groomed and saddled up.  I had zero tolerance for wiggling, fidgeting, or other baby behaviors like sniffing the ground or trying to pick the lead up in his mouth - this is a trick that his former owner seemed to like but that I find to be baby behavior that I want to eliminate.  He's to stand still for grooming and tacking, period.  He did well at this.  In all of this, with the exception of space intrusions, which did get a bigger reaction, all I did when he didn't do something the way I wanted was to just clearly and calmly keep asking for what I did want.

Before I mounted, we did a little bit of work on backing softly in hand:


Then I mounted up - again I was looking for him to do it right, no allowances for almost right - this is really much more about me being clear and consistent than about him.  He did very well - here's a sequence of photos showing what we did.  In the first photo, I'm sending him around the block again since he didn't line up correctly:


He's lined up pretty well here - I don't steer him, I expect him to do it on his own - but I'm asking him to take one more step forward:


And up I go - two things to note about this series of photos - there's no pressure on the reins at any point - he's standing still by his own choice - and he's a bit distracted: I don't care as long as he's able to do what I want:




Then off we went on our ridden work.  I was looking for a nice walk, without bracing or rushing - any time there was any bracing or rushing, we circled - we did lots of circles for a while:




Finally, he began to relax a bit:


We threw in some halts and backing from time to time - again no bracing was the requirement - this back is good but not great - he's only letting go in the upper part of his neck, not the lower part:


The quality of his walk was improving and the softness was beginning to come through:


Note how much better this back is than the previous one, which wasn't bad:


Over the poles:


The picture was beginning to get much nicer:




At the end, I asked him to walk softly and nicely around all the cones and away from the gate to the middle of the arena - he tends to want to finish at the gate as I expect that's what he's used to - where I would halt and dismount.  We were interrupted by a brief episode of screaming for the other horses and some circles until he could focus again, but we got there.

After I dismounted, I had him follow me and we did a little refresher on paying attention to staying out of my space - he should be able to do this whether he's on a lead or not:





I was very proud of him and told him so - we made a lot of progress together in just this session.  Good Drifter! (And many thanks to our wonderful p.m. barn lady for the pictures - I rarely have a photographer.)

Fireworks

Drifter got to go out with the gelding herd on grass this afternoon. Prior to that, he'd done some nose sniffing while in his stall and over the fence - he did a lot of bellowing and striking and this morning when I had him sniff noses with Fritz - I was standing well clear - Drifter bellowed, reared and struck, taking down one fence board.  I expected there'd be some fireworks at turnout, and there were.

I turned him out in the big pasture - it's about 6 or 7 acres so plenty of running room.  Scout went in next - there was an explosion of screaming, rearing, striking and double-barreled kicking, mostly initiated by Drifter.  Here's a couple of examples of what was going on - I didn't take many pictures as I was watching too closely:



I think the little guy was somewhat scared - when his rearing, striking and chest-crashing didn't scare Scout off - Scout has about 6 inches in height and several hundred pounds on him - he reverted to wheeling around and kicking.  No contact was made.  Then Pie went in - there was a three-way melee of rearing, striking and more chest-crashing, and more kicking - the only contact was when Scout kicked Pie in the ribs by mistake - it was a glancing blow and didn't do any serious damage.  Scout and Pie then galloped off to the far end of the pasture. Then Fred and Fritz went in - they immediately galloped off to the far end of the pasture to join their buddies, ignoring Drifter who had stayed by the gate.

Drifter loitered by the gate - Charisma's paddock is right there and I guess she was a familiar face.  At one point he did canter out to the far end of the pasture to visit the two groups of horses that were grazing out there.  There was more squealing and striking when he met Fritz, but it was less violent than the first encounters, and there was no kicking.  Then Drifter cantered over near to Pie who was grazing.  Pie ignored him and pretty soon Drifter cantered back up to the gate.

I managed to force myself to leave at this point after checking all the combatants over for injuries.  When I came back later in the afternoon, there were still two camps - Drifter was at the top of the pasture next to the gate and the rest of the geldings were clumped together at the bottom.  At one point, Fritz made an incursion into neutral territory and Drifter actually ran at him and chased him down the fence line back to his group - Fritz is our putative alpha, so it'll be interesting to see how things develop.  New horse introductions are always scary, although there was a lot more action with this one than with prior horse introductions I've done.  Although Drifter was in a small herd of three horses and a mule in his old home, I don't know how much experience he has in herd situations.  I expect he'll find his place pretty quickly, and perhaps a friend which should help him settle in.

And later in the afternoon, Drifter and I had a serious, long work session - there'll be another post along shortly with lots of photos.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Drifter Shows Me Some 'Tude

Drifter's an interesting personality.  He's not particularly dominant, but is very used to getting his own way - I'd describe him as a spoiled horse, but not in the sense that he wants to rule the roost, more in the sense that he's so used to calling the shots that he's doubtful anyone else should and is cautious about giving his trust.  He likes people when they feed him treats and let him do what he wants, but when you ask him to do something he doesn't really want to do - lunge longer than he'd prefer, walk a pattern longer than he'd like or hold up a foot to pick when he's distracted, he's apt to have a little temper tantrum.  I expect that mostly got him what he wanted, and he's got a short attention span at this point, so that's why he does it.  That's pretty much what I mean when I refer to him as acting like a baby - this is stuff baby horses do and he's almost 10.  I think with a little guidance he'll get past this stuff fairly easily.

He really needs to get out into the herd - he needs the discipline of the horse herd to give him his footing - he's been isolated for over three weeks now and it's hard on him.   I'm going to talk to our vet tomorrow and see if she'll give us the all clear to turn him out.  This will help him mentally - horses need other horses in a herd - although I expect he will become temporarily somewhat herd-bound - we'll deal with that as it arises and it won't last.

Today, when it was so windy, he had some big spooks while we were leading - a couple of times he came uncomfortably close to running into me although he didn't, which I give him credit for.  When he's worried, he tends to want to be close, which is the exact time I don't want him on top of me - I think he'd climb in my lap if he could.  We'll work out the proper distance and rules with time, but I was pleased that he didn't jump on top of me.

A couple of times I got some "attitude".  Drifter shows annoyance by swishing his tail, or sometimes by pawing.  When we free lunge, he likes to try to determine when we are done by turning in and facing me, refusing to move away again.  I'd like to be the one that determines when we're done - I went and got a lunge line so I could hook him up and request him to move around me at a trot in both directions before I decided we were done.  He did it well so that was OK.  I expect he'd had to set the terms of when he was done with his last owner, so that's what he expects to have to do.

At one point when I was asking him to back out of my space - he was at liberty - he pawed at me and did a half rear when I moved into his space - that got a big reaction from me with lots of noise and motion.  When the horse moves into my space or makes any gesture that is at all aggressive, I move quickly and with a lot of noise into the horse's space until they give way.

We ended on a good note today, but riding wasn't advisable as he was very unsettled due to the windy weather and the impending storms  - I think the horses can sense these things.

Snowblowers and Ladders and Beach Balls, Oh My!

It got up to the low 80sF today - this is far above normal for us this time of year.  Big thunderstorms are coming in tonight and then temperatures will be back to more normal 50s and 60s.  It was cold and raw as recently as yesterday morning, so the change is pretty dramatic. It's windy, too, but that doesn't feel so bad with the warmth.  I considered giving the horses baths - they're all pretty grimy from the winter - but decided not to as they're not finished shedding out yet.

Pie and I had another good long ride this morning before things got too warm - it was already in the upper 60s when we left the barn.  We were out for about an hour and a half, and did lots of trotting.  We encountered a number of interesting trail obstacles - who needs to build any? - we found plenty on our ride.  First there was the snowblower that someone had parked in their driveway right next to the trail.  Not so bad so far - Pie doesn't usually care much about equipment.  But this snowblower was running wide open - I guess they were using up the gas to put it away for the summer - and it was incredibly loud.  Earplugs would have been nice.  Pie was somewhat alarmed - we were heading towards the barn at this point and he wanted to turn around and head away from the barn to get away from the noise.  I dismounted and led him by this - he was clearly nervous but was well-behaved.  I remounted a ways down the trail and we continued on.

Then there was the tall aluminum ladder leaning against a tree next to the trail.  But wait, there was more - a child swinging in a tire swing.  And yet more - there was a man in the tree, lying on a high limb working (I think) on hanging another swing from the tree branch.  As we passed by, he was asking his children if they knew how to call 911 in the event he fell out of the tree (!).  Pie coped well with this.

And then there was Drifter screaming - he was out in the pasture and clearly unhappy about being so far from the other horses.  He screamed, Pie screamed back, the other horses screamed, you get the idea.  We kept right on going, although Pie would call from time to time.

And then there was the lady playing in her back yard with her wildly barking dog - she was throwing a purple beach ball for the dog to chase.  She kindly held the ball while we walked by, which had the additional benefit that the dog stopped barking.

Maybe there should be a suburban version of a trail class?  Pie and I could do that.

* * * * * *
Later in the afternoon, Drifter and I had a short work session, mostly doing a bit of lungeing - he was very nervous and spooky due to the high wind so I opted not to ride today; and Dawn's in raging heat so she's on a break for a few days - some mares are easier to cope with when they're in heat than others.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Two Rides

Today I managed two rides.  Pie and I had a solo trail ride of almost an hour, with quite a bit of trotting.  It was chilly and misty when we were out.  He started out somewhat resistant - there was a bit of head-shaking, I think due to our riding in the morning which we rarely do - but after some serpentines and some halting and backing he settled down nicely and we ended up having a very good ride, with a number of loops towards and then away from the barn.  At the end of the last loop, I took him through my backyard (it abuts the trail), past the bird feeders and the lawn furniture and between my house and my neighbor's house - complete with woodbile with blue tarp.  He did great - the only thing that gave him pause were one lawn chair, the flagstones edging the driveway and the dark blacktop - but he went right on by when I asked.  We went that way to go visit the group of people (all people I know) who were working that morning on pruning the "edible orchard" - fruit trees and berry bushes - that's in the center of my cul-de-sac.  Pie got a few pats and treats, and we turned around and went back the way we came.  This time he wasn't bothered by any of the suburban yard stuff.

Later in the afternoon, I rode Drifter - the sun was out and it was quite a bit warmer.  The ring is still very wet with standing water in places and the footing isn't great, so we just walked.  It was just as well - I couldn't free lunge him first and he was somewhat antsy and bracey, although we ended better than we started.  He did get to go up to the arena fence and great a family with small children who were working in the community garden.  The goat was out and about, and he had to look at that a bit, but was pretty good about it.  I'm hoping that if we can get the bracing at the walk and rushing resolved that we might get in some trotting pretty soon, but the weather has to cooperated and we're supposed to be getting storms tomorrow.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Out of Gas and Drifter Pictures

Yesterday, I managed to ride Dawn and Drifter.  The weather wasn't great - we were supposed to get into the low 50sF but only made it into the low 40s, with a sharp wind and no sun - the wind chills were in the 30s.  I almost didn't ride but sucked it up and rode.  Dawn was hyper-alert and very up - no wonder considering the conditions.  We did more figure work, mostly at the walk.  She was very compliant, but on edge the whole time.

Drifter and I got in a good work session.  For once, he really needed to tear around the arena first to blow off some steam.  There were lots of distractions - strollers, children, Canada geese in the community garden next to the arena (!), the goat receiving visitors, and even a car alarm (!!).  And it was cold and windy.  He was pretty tense and spooky, but managed to settle well enough to do some good work on his halting, speed regulation at the walk and straightness and steering.  His halt is also much improved - no bracing at all.  After I untacked, we stood in the parking lot for a while until the other horses came in - he coped with the others galloping up and milling around in the pastures before bring-in time.  And there are a few pictures - see below . . .

Pie and Fritz, who were the last two geldings to come in, got in a kicking fight just before they came in.  Fritz is a (soft) alpha and I think Pie is making some moves on him.  Pie had gotten into the corner by the gate - some of our pastures are badly designed and have the gates in corners nearest the barn - a recipe for bad things to happen - and Fritz backed into him and started kicking.  Pie kicked back, but luckily no serious injuries, just some hoofprints on butts.

I was out of gas and didn't manage to ride Pie.  I may try to get in a ride on him this afternoon if the rain we had overnight eases off -  Dawn and Drifter are getting the day off because the arena is a soupy mess.

But I did manage to get a few pictures of me riding Drifter - they were taken by our p.m. barn lady with her cell phone, and it was pretty dingy out so they're blurry, but they give a general idea of what we've been up to.  The more I ride Drifter and the more I watch him move at liberty, the more I'm liking how he's built and how he's using himself, even as out of shape as he is.  He's pretty much completely given up pulling on the bit at the walk, in turns and in the walk/halt transitions - I've made sure he's got a soft zero pressure place to be and also have made sure never to give him a release on a brace.  I look like the Michelin man - I've got many layers on.

Here we are standing on a loose rein for a moment - he does stand well, even when nervous:


Here we're making a turn to allow him to self-regulate his pace - notice that I'm purposely not putting any pressure on the outside rein:


Here's a more relaxed turn around a cone:


Completing a turn - I like how he's stepping under with the inside hind leg:


I love his expression, straightness and overall look here - and note one of my habitual unevennesses - I tend to put my right heel down farther than the left one, and it also looks as though my stirrups are a hair uneven, although I appear to be sitting straight and my knees are even - I'll switch those stirrups today.


We'll try to get some more photos soon with a real camera.

When Drifter went into the barn, I had the p.m. barn lady lead him in.  On the first time into the stall, he stopped and she circled him, and he went in.  She led him back outside and back in again and he went right in without a problem.  Good Drifter!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thursday Morning Photos

I've been so busy working with the horses that I haven't been taking many photos, and when I'm riding I'm usually by myself so no photos then either.  But this morning when I was at the barn to fetch Drifter in from his grazing in the far pasture (he's up to an hour now and the other horses are up to two hours; by the time they're turned out together he'll be mostly caught up), I took my camera.  It was fairly foggy, and quite chilly with a bit of wind.

Charisma was skeptical:


Dawn was trying to watch me, but she was so sleepy she could barely keep her eyes open - that's Sugar on the round bale:


Fred, our senior gelding at age 25, was annoyed by Pie's harassment:


Pie goes for one more nip:


Fred played with Pie for a minute - that's Fritz in the "keyhole":


Pie, of course, had to come up and say hi:


When I went out to get Drifter, he greeted me:


By the time we got back to the barn, Dawn was even sleepier - that's Misty in the background:


Pie's head had disappeared into the round bale:


Scout, as usual, was photogenic:


The geldings and mares held a brief conclave - from left to right that's Fred, Misty, Dawn, Fritz and Sugar:


Drifter watched with great interest from his paddock across the aisle:


Pie and Scout were hanging out:


And decided to roughhouse:






There were dueling muzzles across the aisle - first Dawn:


Then Drifter:


Fritz is always friendly:


Drifter was very interested in what I was up to:


And had to come for one last scratch:


If the rain holds off, I'm hoping to get in some more riding this afternoon.