Friday, January 29, 2010

Winter's not over yet

That two week reprieve from the frigid weather was apparently just a tease, we're back down to the single digits at night. Brrrr!

Clicker training has been progressing. I've been trying to switch it up and not work on the same thing everyday. I don't know if that's the right way to do it or not (let me know if you know better), but I don't want her to get bored. Keeping that in mind, the next day we went back to the outdoor arena and worked on leading. Well, stopping actually. We stopped facing the barn, facing away from the barn, at the end of the arena furthest from the barn... By the end of it she was starting to anticipate the whoa and stop when I stopped my feet. Which is exactly what I want- she got extra praise for that.

Next night was targeting on something NOT in my hand. I put the target all over her stall and then stood on the opposite side before I asked her to target. She caught right on, smart little bugger. The only one that was a little hard for her was when I put the target on the floor and asked her to touch it there. She kept trying to just wave her nose over it and still get credit. Sorry dear, no dice.

Last night it was much too cold and windy to take her outside so I started training her to ground tie. That's going to take a while. First of all, she's started mugging me for treats now (I'll have to go a little backwards and teach her to turn her head away before I give her a treat), and second my timing isn't quite right for getting the response that I want. I think I might be waiting a bit too long to click her for the behavior I want. I touched her shoulder, said "stand" and took a step back. Almost every time she would immediately turn her head towards me when I stepped back. Hmm, I think I need a new strategy. Suggestions?

I haven't forgotten about my boy. Bit training is on hold until the temps come back up. I feel like it would be really mean to try getting him comfortable with the bit when it's cold enough for his tongue to freeze on it. So he's just been getting scratched in his favorite places when it's too cold to do anything else. He seems to be pretty happy with that.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bursting with pride

Today was farrier day and I was nervous. I couldn't help it, farrier day has been touchy for the quarters. Every time I've had him trimmed, Coriander has tried to fall on the farrier, and Gwen has only been trimmed once and it still super anxious about picking her feet up (Well, technically twice. But the first time was before I got her and was completely traumatic for her so I don't count it).

I called the vet and made an appointment a week ago to have Gwen sedated for her trim. So while the farrier was trimming the other horses in the barn I sat and waited for her... and waited... and waited.

Finally I could wait no more, I pulled out Coriander first to buy some time. He was so good. He didn't even pull his feet away and showed me that worrying about him falling on the farrier again was stressing over nothing. Excellent. I'm sure that particular trick will emerge again someday, but getting through once without even an inkling of it was fantastic.

The vet still hadn't shown but I decided to pull Gwen out anyway. She's not too bad about her front feet so I asked him if he could try to do those, but if she got too upset and he couldn't that was okay. She did try a half rear once when he was working on her left front but after that she settled down and let him finish both feet without further issue. The vet still hadn't shown, but the farrier looked at her hinds and said she hadn't had enough growth to need them trimmed anyway (I guess hooves grow slower in the winter). So we left her at that. Overall it was a positive experience for her and I couldn't be prouder of how she handled herself. My little girl is growing up!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Gwen's new torture device

Well, it's not new and I wouldn't call it a torture device, but Gwen probably will. It's a Crosby Torino and I bought it off ebay. How could I buy a saddle off ebay you ask? I popped my Crosby Lexington on her back one day and it fit her, then I made a template of her back and took it to the tack store. The brand new $1K Crosby medium tree fit her too. So I figured that a Crosby medium tree made between now and 15 years ago when my Lexington was made would fit her. Well, more hoped.

I'm worried this doesn't fit her. It can't sit up any higher than that because it'll pinch her withers and interfere with her shoulders, but it looks like it sits really far back (of course I could be thinking that because I've gotten used to seeing my barn owner put her saddles way up on her horses' withers). I'll see if I can get some better pictures later in the week. If it doesn't fit her I'm not out much and I can just sell it, but I'm hoping that looking at it under better light will improve its prospects.

Yes, that is a kids basketball hoop in the back. There's a resident 4 year old boy where I board.

After saddle fitting I took Gwen out for more target training. This time I was really pushing the envelope. Due the rain and warm temps the outdoor has finally thawed, so I took her out there and turned her loose. She loved the footing and took off galloping all over the place. She is a vision when she's moving: agile, quick and effortless. Twice when she was cantering down the long side of the arena she started swapping leads at every stride. My jaw fell, my horse was doing one-tempis all on her own for the sheer fun of it. I tell you what, if I can get this mare under saddle she might make me one hell of a dressage horse.

After she got her gallop on, I pulled out the target and got to work with her still loose. She actually paid attention to me. Whoohoo! I'm really psyched about that. She was all alone, not another horse in sight, and she was composed enough to touch her nose to it every time I said "target." She wasn't standing still but she was listening and that's all I'm looking for right now.

Coriander also got his second dose of the bit tonight. Still doesn't quite have the hang of it yet, so I'll give him time.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Look who's wearing a bit

Sorry about the cruddy pic quality, the point and shoot doesn't do well inside the barn. Yes, I have bit keepers, I just wanted to make sure they wouldn't make the french-link sit badly on his tongue.

I'll let him eat with it in his mouth for a few more days, then I'll take him out and start the Michael Schaffer exercises with him.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Whoa means stop your feet

This concept has been very hard for Gwenevere to grasp. Until now I don't think she's ever really stopped her feet while being led. When I would stop, she'd just circle around me. If I tried to tug on the lead to get her attention, she would get upset and start jumping around.

Enter clicker training. For the past two days we've been working on whoa. I've only been walking her around the barn at this point but she's making huge improvements. Here's what I did: keeping her on a loose lead, I stopped my feet and said "whoa." Then I stood there, if she circled around me I did nothing, I didn't tug on the rope or say anything other than whoa and I didn't move my feet. If she stopped her feet, even for a split second, I clicked and gave her a treat. It took a couple times but she really started catching on. My goal is to get her to anticipate the whoa and stop her feet when I stop mine. Right now I don't have enough of her attention to get that but I think I will soon.

So far clicker training has been a success. I've noticed a distinct softness in her now when I take her out of her stall. Where before she was very anxious, almost hysterical, now she's willing to wait, she moves slower and she doesn't ram her shoulder into me anymore.

Today I switched it up and tried targeting with her while she was loose in the pasture. She was a superstar. Then I brought her into the barn and groomed her. I've been slowly working on getting her to pick up that left hind foot for cleaning, and today she finally let me. This is the first day that I've ever been able to clean out all of her feet!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Leaning tower on horseback

I've been motivated by the Fugly blog to post a training for riding tip that I've found invaluable:

I started with my current trainer last February. It was maybe my third lesson with her when she looked hard at me and said, "you lean a LOT to the left."

"Huh," I said, and then I went home and thought about it. I've had a couple of different trainers over the years, both huntseat and dressage, she's the first one who's ever said that to me and she was completely right. I remember that I used to find myself trying to jerk my saddle straight during trail rides because it would always slide to one side. It never occurred to me that the saddle slipping was my fault, obviously it was.

Now that I knew I had this problem I was determined to fix it. Fortunately for me, I work at a college with really good physical therapy and exercise science departments. I happen to know a professor in those areas that rides dressage, and I asked her for advice. She told me that muscle imbalances in the body could be the root of my problem and that I should ask my personal trainer (another perk of working at this school) to help me find out where those imbalances were.

So I met with my trainer at the gym and we found the root of my problem, one leg was noticeably weaker. So how did I fix it? I changed how I use the weight machines. If you use both legs, the stronger leg will compensate for the weak one and the imbalance will remain. I now use all the leg machines one leg at a time. I started doing one legged squats and step-ups with an aerobics block. The point being to really isolate each leg and get them to be evenly muscled.

It worked! After only a few weeks, my lean was greatly diminished and I was sitting squarely in the saddle. I know I'm not the only person with this issue, so I'm passing this along in the hopes that I can help someone else. Paying it forward!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Winter Diversion

Regularly scheduled horse-centric programming will return tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Trot work

I was bound and determined to ride today. I didn't ride Sunday or yesterday, so today it was going to happen. Unfortunately it's been snowing and freezing so the outdoor arena is too icy to ride on, we had to work in the indoor.

Neither I nor Coriander like to work in there. It's really dusty, it's really small, and the footing is yucky on the back wall - but it's way better than not riding at all. We made do and got some quality work in. He even trotted over a ground pole for the first time. He ticked it nearly every time we went over it, so I've got some work to do on managing his stride. Going to the left, he wants to dive to the left over the pole. He goes quite straight to the right. The right side is his stiff side so that might be why it's so easy for him to fall in on the left. I have to remember to stay on top of him with my left leg. We also had the usual problem of keeping him in gait, especially in the back where the yucky footing is. He really didn't want to trot through it, he kept trying to dodge it and stop, though I don't really blame him. It forces me to keep riding with intent instead of being a passenger, so it was good for him and me both.

Gwen's progressing on the target training, she's proving how smart she is. Yesterday we worked on it outside of her stall and in front of Coriander's. I got her to turn her head, lower her head, and take a step to touch the target. Today I upped the ante. We went just outside the barn door and worked on it again. Initially it was a little hard to get her attention but once she touched the target with her nose and got her first treat she was right with me. We did more head turning, head lowering, and I even got her to take 3 steps forward to touch the target! I think she even enjoys it for more than just the treats, as if she's looking forward to the next challenge. This seems like to way to go with her for now.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Blue Sunday

... because it's raining and I can't ride :(

I realized I haven't posted a photo of Gwen's leg in a while. Here's what it looked like yesterday. As you can see the skin has grown back over the wound and there's very minimal scabbing left. It looks like the hair might grow back over most of it and she'll only be left with a narrow scar. Time will tell. I've been leaving it unwrapped when she goes out, I don't want the pads to get sopping wet in the melting snow, but I still keep it wrapped if she's standing in the stall overnight or during bad weather. If she were any other horse I could leave it completely unwrapped at this point, but not Gwen.

Clicker training is progressing. We've moved onto the next phase of training: targeting. I went to the crafts store last night and picked up a dowel and a styrofoam ball and made a target. Today I taught her to touch it with her nose. Fortunately she's the curious sort so that wasn't hard. I'll keep on with the target for a couple days. I'll see if I can get her to move her feet to touch it, or raise and lower her head. Then I'll take Gwen and the target out for little walks. Hopefully if she gets comfortable touching the target it will help her stay focused when she's away from the other horses.

I've been using the clicker to get her started picking up that left hind foot. I'm trying to keep her relaxed and let her know what I want all at the same time. You'd think she would know that I want her to pick it up like all of her other feet, but obviously horses don't work that way. I've also been spending more time touching her ears and belly, getting her ready for the saddle and bridle that she will someday wear.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Clicking away

As I was telling Wolfie last night in the comments, I tried the treat method to keep Gwen calm outside the barn and away from her brother. It worked fairly well, she stayed pretty calm and attentive. We didn't get very far before she started getting anxious, only to the front of the barn (about 20 feet), but no one got upset or started a fight. It felt like a win to me.

When I was driving home I though to myself, "gee, that felt a bit like clicker training." LIGHTBULB! Last summer before the quarters arrived, I got a book out of the library on clicker training horses. I scanned it into a pdf and saved it on my computer (maybe not that kosher of a thing to do) and bought some clickers. Then forgot all about it. As soon as I got home last night I dug the clickers out and stuck them in my purse so I'd have them at the barn today.

After I rode Coriander, more on that in a bit, I went into Gwen' stall with a pocket full of treats and a clicker. As soon as she turned her head in my direction I clicked and gave her a treat. Pretty soon wherever I moved to in the stall she was turning around to face me. I had her full attention! Clicker training FTW! I took her out, groomed her, and took her for another little walk. She got a click and a treat every time she stopped her feet when I said "whoa," with that method we got a little further away from the barn than last night. So far so good!

Coriander is doing great getting back into the swing of being ridden. We rode in the indoor last night. We did a little bit of trotting and then did a fun ground pole exercise that I learned in my last lesson. I set down two ground poles in the middle of the ring walking distance apart. We went around the outside, turned in and walked between them, then turned and walked in a circle over them. We did it in both directions. Even though he definitely has a stiff side, he turns very easily and isn't bothered at all about walking over ground poles. We're practicing up for those trail classes!

Tonight, since it's been so warm, we were able to ride outside. We did a little more trotting, just down the long sides while walking the short sides, trying to get those transitions a little better. Then I tested him a little. I wanted to see if I could get him to walk in a serpentine without using the rein aids. He did it! It wasn't textbook perfect by any means, but we made it all the way down the ring and back without the reins. What a good boy!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dr. Jekyll and Miss Hyde

In case anyone is worried, my finger isn't broken. There is obviously soft tissue damage in there though. I'm going to have a big purple finger for a while.

So here's the bit I didn't mention last night. After she ran off towards the barn I slowly meandered over to it, catching my breath and making sure I wasn't upset. Why was I only meandering after a loose horse? Because I knew exactly where she was going, I got into the barn and there she was standing next to her brother's stall. I walked up to her, unclipped the lunge line, clipped on the lead line and draped it around the post in front of his stall. She didn't move. This is the point where I just groomed her and massaged her.

I've been trying to find a cheap saddle to use for starting Gwen and last night I had a candidate in my car. I found this very nice lady through Craigslist who actually suggested I take the saddle home with me for the night to try it on her, without paying for it. So I've got this saddle for one night only so I really want to check it for fit. I picked it up and brought it over for her to smell, she wasn't bothered by it. I walked over to her shoulder and put the saddle on her back. Know what she did? NOTHING! Didn't even shift her feet. I moved the saddle around to see how it fit and then my barn owner came over and slid the saddle around to see how it fit. Gwen still did nothing. You know why? Because Coriander was RIGHT THERE.

This is why she's so frustrating to me. When my stepfather met her, he gave me this ringing endorsement, "sell her, crazy doesn't go away." But I don't think she's crazy. I know that if she's comfortable, she's a great horse with a good mind. If she's not comfortable, watch out. And she's only comfortable with her brother nearby. Obviously I can't keep her right next to her brother indefinitely, but I don't know how to get her comfortable away from him.

I've got a new idea I'm going to try tonight. I'm going to buy a big bag of horse treats today, just for her. Then I'm going to just walk her out of the barn, give her a treat, and walk her back in. I'm going to keep doing this and see how far from the barn we can get without her freaking out. It's worth a shot.

By the way, the saddle didn't fit. It was too long for her back and pinched over her mutton withers. Bummer.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Abject miserable failure

The day started out so well. I was super psyched about the cold spell breaking and planning a full week of working the horses everyday. I turned them out this morning and the weather was gorgeous. I got back to the barn after work and the temps were still quite comfortable. A great day to lunge the quarters.

I took Coriander out first and lunged him. He was a little rusty at first but generally really good. I'm going to keep lunging him on and off so he can learn the canter cue which will make it easier when I try to get it under saddle.

Then I took Gwen out. All seemed fine at first, she was at least walking around me, even though it was impossible to get her attention off the door. She was starting to cut the turns a little too tight so I took her back in the barn and got my lunge whip so I could have something to push her out with (sometimes poking her in the shoulder works). MISTAKE! We got back in the indoor, she spooked at something, and it was all over. Pyscho Gwen had entered the building. Me, being a complete frigging idiot, got in a fight with her. She would not stop, not even for treats, and then she started trying to jump on top of me. I tried throwing an elbow into her to get her off me, and she completely ignored it. She got more and more upset and hysterical until she finally pulled the lunge line out of my hands and high tailed it for the barn. I think she managed to break my finger in the process, which is my own stupid fault, I should have been paying more attention to keeping the line from wrapping around my hand.

What's the lesson here? As soon as I realized I had Psycho Gwen I should have thrown in the towel, getting in a battle only hurts our relationship. Then I have to try and repair the damage from fighting with her. For the next 45 minutes I gave her a gentle massage, possibly broken finger and all, until she finally starting putting her head down and relaxing.

Does anyone reading this have advice for dealing with an extremely herd bound horse? I cannot get her full attention, ever, even with treats. My barn owner says she's the clingiest horse she's ever seen. She throws a massive fit every time the horse next to her in the barn is taken out and she will literally climb the walls for as long as that horse is gone. It doesn't matter whether the horse is gone for thirty minutes or two hours, she'll work herself into a foaming sweat and rubs the hair off her neck until she's bleeding raking against the door. It's completely neurotic. So if anyone has advice I'll gladly take it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It was a balmy 27 degrees...

So I rode Coriander. I haven't ridden him since December 26 because it's been SO COLD I didn't want to take his blanket off. So today I had to strike while the iron was hot because after tonight the temperature drops back down to horrifically cold. Ugh, you know it's a rough winter when 27 degrees seems warm.

I didn't figure it was worth it to really work on anything with him except remind him again that he's a riding horse - I won't be able to get on for another week at least. I hopped on bareback in the mini-indoor and mostly worked on my balance. We did a couple walk/halt transitions and did a lot of turning and walking over ground poles. He was so good: no spooks, no bucks, no tantrums. How many green horses can you jump on bareback after not riding for two weeks with limited turnout and have that kind of ride? Not many.

I got a bridle for Gwen today in the mail, quarter horse size. I tried it on her to see how it fit. I left it mostly undone so I could adjust it on her (without the bit), she wasn't too keen on all those floppy bits of leather coming down over her face but she finally relented. I was a little worried about buying her a bridle, she's got such a tiny head I didn't know what size to get. I was surprised that I had to let the quarter horse sized bridle almost all the way out for her. Hmmm.

Then I decided while I was playing with bridles to introduce Gwen to the sidepull. I put it on and took her out to the mini-indoor to work on giving to pressure. It's hard to work with a horse when you only have 20% of her attention at any given time, the rest was completely focused on the barn. Despite that, she did figure out that she's supposed to turn her face away from the pressure and not fight against it. She didn't rear or have a mega flip-out. I did feel like I was dealing with a teenager though. She'd kind of ignore me for a few seconds and then turn her head all exasperated. Like she was saying, "fine, GOD. I'll turn my head. Quit nagging me, can't you see I'm trying to pay attention to the barn? Sheesh." She is 5, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised to get some teenager behavior. I'm happy with what we accomplished though, she got it and next time we work on it she'll be better.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Horses Wearing Plaid

The title of this post was kindly provided by my husband.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Snow Babies

So the temperature across the country has been about 20 degrees less than ideal. I think we can all agree on that. The quarters have been cooped up in the barn for a couple days due to the Siberian temps and the wind. Tonight, after I got out of work, the wind had died down and I snuck the quarters out for a little while.

Tonight you wouldn't have known that they've lived most of their lives in Florida. Right outside the barn door there was a chest deep snow drift. You'd think at least Gwen would have a little freak out about it- but guess what? They both plowed right through it without hesitation, even Gwen. Moments like that give me real hope that there's a sane, dependable horse hiding inside all that nervous.

Then they had a ball in the pasture. Coriander, of course, had to roll in it and turned himself completely white while Gwen just ran around bucking and kicking and having a grand old time. Sorry, no pictures, there was just enough ambient light for me to see them but not enough for the point-and-shoot I carry around with me. Hopefully I'll be able to turn them out tomorrow morning and I'll try to get some pictures then.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome 2010

It's been 5 months since the quarters were loaded onto a stock trailer and brought up to NY from Florida. A lot has been accomplished since then.

-When he arrived, Coriander had only been backed maybe 5 times and had no idea what leg aids were. Now he very willingly walks and trots under saddle and steers almost completely from my leg and seat.
-Coriander has improved greatly on letting the farrier work without falling on him. He's now had his feet trimmed twice as many times as when I got him.
-When I got Gwen, it was very difficult to even put a halter on her. Now I can walk into her stall and put her blanket on without tying her and she doesn't blink an eye.
-Gwen wouldn't pick up her feet at all, now all I have to do is tap her front fetlocks and she picks up her feet for me. I can now pick out her right hind hoof, I'll get the left one when her leg is fully healed.
-Gwen has been introduced to vets and has learned not to freak out about needles.
-Both quarters have had their teeth done and it was completely trauma free.

I'm very fortunate to have found a great barn for boarding my horses that's also 5 minutes from my apartment. Through my barn owner's connections I've gotten a great, patient farrier and well-skilled, patient vets. I've learned some good stuff about barn and pasture management that I'm definitely going to use when I get my own place. Plus my barn owner is a great huntseat trainer. My riding has improved quite a bit under her instruction and I hope to be jumping full courses in the summer.

I wish I could be further along with Gwen by now, but obviously her significant leg wound has had a huge affect on that. But she's almost healed so now progress can be made!

My goals for the first half of 2010:

-Start teaching Coriander seat aids for tempo this month.
-Introduce Coriander to the bit before April. I have a nice, french-link, full cheek snaffle that I'm going to start him in.
-Start Coriander cantering under saddle before his 10th birthday on April 1. This is completely weather dependent, it needs to be warm enough for me to ride him and get him ready for it.
-Start lunging Gwen with a saddle in February.
-Start teaching Gwen rudimentary steering from the ground with the sidepull in February, or possibly sooner.
-Teach Gwen how to free jump on the lunge in March.
-Introduce Gwen to the bit before April.
-Possibly back Gwen in April.
-Have Gwen walking and trotting under saddle by June.

I'd also like to try to show Coriander in some halter and walk/trot classes this year, but since I don't have a trailer I'm not sure how that's going to work. I'll have to work on that.