Friday, May 28, 2010

What shall I name her?

Now that June is rapidly approaching it's time to get the wheels turning on registering Gwen. But I'm having creativity issues on what her registered name should be. Help please?

When I daydream about Gwen's future I see myself showing her in dressage and hunter rings. That may never come to pass but I'd like to plan that it will, in which case she needs a decent show name. Which might as well be her registered name.

Quarter horse names usually include some element of their forebears' names. Gwen's parentage is Extensive Bouquet x Shade of Conclusive. Famous sires in her bloodlines include Conclusive, Impressive, Poco Bueno, Zippo Pine Bar, Leo, King and, of course, Three Bars.

When I send in the papers I get six name choices that can only consist of 20 characters including spaces. I've got a few ideas but none that I'm really married to:
  • Blazing Gwenevere
  • Blazing Gwen Bars
  • In The Pines
  • Flowers For Gwen
  • Lady Gwenevere
Do you have any ideas? Her registered name wouldn't necessarily have to include Gwen, Gwenevere, or even that spelling of the name (which I chose because it's easier to spell out for vets and farriers).The only other suggestion I've gotten is Bone Breaker, and that was from Paramedic Fred who I met during my recent ride in an ambulance. Har har, Paramedic Fred.

In case you need some inspiration, here's a reminder of what she looks like:

Thanks everybody!

BTW- Coriander's registered name is Ima Handsome Mr (which he is).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

One week left!!!

Time for a quarters update!

Coriander has decided to be a champ at Grownups are Talking. I can now get a few steps away from him and he stands like a stone. He also caught on to targeting pretty quickly. I was a little worried the day I introduced it to him because he didn't seem to get it, but I went back the next day and it was like he had a lightbulb moment,  "Oh, you want me to touch that thing with my nose. Why didn't you say so?" Silly boy.

I've started working with Gwen over a ground pole, preparing her for free jumping (thanks for the pointers Golden the Pony Girl). I only had to get her to step over the pole using the target twice before she figured out what I was looking for. She now happily steps over the ground pole, she'll even stand straddling it to get her treat. She's also teaching herself to keep her feet clear and not hit the pole. She stepped right on it with a hind foot twice, which was pretty awkward for her, but after that she made sure to pick her feet up nice and high to get over it.

I'm so impressed with my girl. Last fall she flipped out about ground poles after she just clipped one with her hind hoof and it made a noise. It took me weeks to get her near one again. Now she's stepping on the darn things and it's no big deal.

Last night both the quarters got to work on standing still while being hosed. It was around 90 degrees here yesterday and my poor horses were covered in salty sweat crud so I figured they'd appreciate getting cooled off. Neither of them are good about the hose, so whenever they stood still I'd click, put the hose down and give them a treat. Coriander caught on pretty quickly, Gwen not so much- but she did manage to stand still for a little while so progress was made.

I turned them out for the night while they were still dripping. I wish you all could have seen them, they took off galloping all over the pasture with their tails in the air like arabians. Galloping through the pasture with wet skin after a hot day must equal bliss.

Anyway, I've put up way too many posts in a row without pictures so here you go. It's been a little difficult to get pictures lately, Coriander has figured out that I'm a human vending machine so he's all over me in the pasture. Most of my pictures have been turning out like this:

After he tries to mug me he stands guard, so then all I see is this:

But I can outsmart him, I took this picture right under his nose:

One week left until the syndesmosis screws come out!  Yahoo!!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

So you want to be a horse trainer

I'm sure we've all heard the saying that everyone who interacts with a horse is a horse trainer because every interaction we have with a horse teaches them something, good or bad. I'm reminded of this every time I go to put Gwen's halter on after my barn owner has handled her. Instead of eagerly pushing her muzzle into the halter she hesitates for a moment, double checking that it's me. My barn owner unwittingly teaches Gwen to avoid being haltered just a little bit every time she interacts with her. This is why I do my own horse handling as much as possible (For clarification my barn owner is not mean or aggressive but she uses a chain on my girl and Gwen doesn't like that one bit.).

Knowing that, how do we become good horse trainers? To paraphrase Alexandra Kurland, "be creative." Think you are creatively challenged? Guess what, there's help for that.

Epstein's Four Competencies to Improve Creativity
  1. Capturing = When you get an idea write it down immediately. There are no stupid ideas that don't merit being written down. The point is to capture the idea as it comes to you and evaluate it later.
  2. Challenging = Put yourself in situations where you may fail. Failure forces you to change tactics and you need to be creative to do that. (If only the American school system would embrace that, anyway...)
  3. Broadening = Expand your knowledge base. Don't be afraid to look for helpful information in a place that may seem completely unrelated to what you are trying to accomplish. (My husband found out how to fix his knees by watching a Deb Bennett horse conformation video with me, true story.)
  4. Surrounding = Let your environment influence your creativity. Ever feel like you can't do this, that or the other because you don't have the perfect indoor or the world's most beautiful stalls? Take it as an opportunity to "think outside of the box." 
 Think in terms of puzzles and riddles. Start as simple as possible, easier for your horse- easier for you, and gradually increase the difficulty as both of you get "smarter." And you will literally get smarter. That's the cool thing about brains: the more you challenge them, the better they get.

PS- I realize that the orange is kind of hard to read, Blogger won't let me change the color for some reason. Grrrrr...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A little structure

The first concept I got out of the clinic was structure and direction for my training.

Alex outlines six foundation lessons for creating a good equine citizen. I'm going to be intentionally vague about them, if you want more information go to her website, The Clicker Center, and purchase one of the books or videos (If you're really nice I'll email you some more info, I just don't want to splash it all over the internet on her.).
  1. Targeting = teaching your horse to touch their nose to a target. This is a great lesson because there is so much you can do with it.
  2. Head Lowering = I've mentioned this before, it teaches the horse emotional control.
  3. Backing = teaches the horse to respect your space.
  4. Grownups are Talking = essentially teaches the horse to stop mugging you for treats; is the first lesson for ground tying.
  5. Why Would You Leave Me? = teaches respectful leading skills.
  6. Happy Faces = rewards the horse for looking pleasant (like having their ears forward), important because people react positively to horses that look pleasant.
So now I have some short term training goals. I had already started Gwen on 1, 2 and 3, now I just need to add 4 and 5. To be honest, number 6 doesn't really apply to my horses, I can't remember the last time I saw them pin their ears and look nasty. They are both very pleasant characters.

I've already started incorporating lesson 4 with both the quarters. After I groom them I take them off the cross ties and we work on Grownups are Talking. Gwen has picked up on this much faster than Coriander, but she was never as much of a mugger as him anyway. I plan on making this a regular addition to grooming time.

For the next week and a half I'm going to concentrate on teaching Coriander targeting and getting Gwen really good at head lowering. This already involves backing so we'll have that one covered too.

After my screws come out on June 1 we can start working on Why Would You Leave Me. I'm very excited about that one, I hope it creates a significant difference in how Gwen leads.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Alexandra Kurland Clinic

I'm back from the three day clinic jam-packed with information!

Here are some logistics in case you want to attend one of Alex's clinics:
  1. You can't audit it. You either sign up as a horse participant or a non-horse participant. Alex actually prefers that first timers don't bring a horse.
  2. Half the day is spent over round table discussion, the other half is watching  handlers work their own horses (with Alex occasionally stepping in).
  3. Bring a notebook, you are going to want to takes TONS of notes.
  4. Expect to be asked to think and contribute to the discussions.
 First I have to say that my experience at this clinic will probably be different than most. All but one of the other participants have been doing this clinic with Alex three times a year for about 10 years now. Since they are all quite advanced, a lot of time was spent discussing animal behavior theory. I felt a bit like I was sitting in a college lecture hall, it was fascinating but probably beyond most newbies.

There were even some (internet) famous people there.  I met Marjorie, who is the mastermind behind; and Katie, who has some great information on clicker training at

I'm going to break up what I learned into a string of posts- I don't want to slam all of it up at once, it would get REALLY long. You'll have to bear with me.

My overall impression of the clinic was that it was an excellent use of my time and money. Alex is very approachable and she really knows her stuff. If you think that clicker training is something you want to pursue then I strongly suggest you try to attend a clinic. The schedule is here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Recovery: week 8

I just realized that I didn't post a recovery update last week.  In short, I'm doing pretty well.  I had a doctor appointment on Monday where I got yet more x-rays taken; according to them my leg is doing just dandy. They gave me one of these things on the right here. It's supposed to allow me to wear a regular pair of shoes but it's so darn uncomfortable and its shoe destroying capabilities are so high that I'm just going to stay in "Das Boot" until the surgery on June 1st.

What is "Das Boot"?  It's what my husband calls the clunky contraption I'm gimping around in now.  See- this is my foot:
This is Coriander seeing if "Das Boot" is edible:
Most definitely NOT edible Big Brother!

So far so good, only two weeks to go!!!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Someday farrier visits will be old hat

But not just yet.

The farrier was out yesterday, the last time he came out was the day I was operated on.  Since I wouldn't be there I just asked for Coriander to get a trim. I wasn't comfortable about Gwen getting worked on when I wasn't there. So as you can probably imagine she really needed a trim by yesterday.  For safety, and to ensure that all her feet were done, I arranged to have the vet sedate her for the farrier. (This is only Gwen's second all-around trim ever.)

I got to the barn right on time and found her already sedated and the farrier on the third foot.  Freaking early vet!  She was good for the two feet I was witness to, though I was told she was twitchy about her left hind- the injured leg, which doesn't surprise me one bit.  I'm going to try foregoing the sedation during the next trim, hopefully she was awake enough to remember that everything was fine and that the farrier is nothing to flip out about. That would make the third trim the charm!

Coriander was naughty. He was bad about that right hind again, trying to pull his old falling over trick. Maybe this time was his last ditch effort to see if it would work?  Because it didn't. I hope he gives it up permanently from this point on.  The farrier didn't seem too worried about it.  He says that my boy isn't scared of getting his feet done, he's just impatient. Any tips out there for teaching a horse patience?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Any knitters out there?

I had the overwhelming urge to make a quick post about this as soon as I saw it.

Connemara Pony knitting pattern
Isn't it adorable? It's a free download for Knitting Daily members, it's also free to sign up.


Friday, May 7, 2010

The demand to calm down cue

In anticipation of next weekend's clicker training clinic (YAY) I've started working with Gwen on the "demand to calm down cue." Theoretically, once I teach her this cue I'll be able to get her to calm down quickly in stressful situations.

Fortunately I got to the barn today before the rush so I was able to work with her in relatively quiet conditions.  I took her just outside the barn door and kept to the concrete pad where there isn't any grass to pull her attention away from me and where she can still see her brother. I'm going to wait until she's got it down before I take her away from the barn (by then I shouldn't be gimping anymore either).

A little background on this lesson: The demand to calm down cue is a training tool from John Lyons.  It essentially teaches the horse to give to pressure, with the side benefit of helping the horse achieve a state of relaxation (from the endorphins released when the head drops).  You can read an in-depth explanation of how to train for it here. Alexandra Kurland takes that lesson and refines it through the use of the clicker.

It's pretty darn simple to do once you get the concept.  You ask the horse to back up as if they were inside a box (or a stall), by pushing their head to the right so they turn their hindquarters to the left and back in a circle.  Meanwhile you're holding the lead rope in a "tai-chi wall," your left hand is at the snap while your right hand pulls the slack out of the rope by the horse's shoulder.  This helps with bargy horses (like Gwen) that like to try to push through you with their shoulder, the wall keeps them off you.  Since backing up is hard work, the horse will eventually lower its head because it's easier that way.  As soon as the head drops you click and release. (Backing up is key for this exercise.)

Keep going like this until the horse learns that all they have to do is drop their head to get rewarded, they won't be backing up anymore.  Then you have to refine the cue.  Keep asking the horse to lower its head every time s/he goes to pick it up by putting tension on the rope.  After this you eventually ask the horse to lower their head all the way down until their muzzle is on the ground.  You can then ask them to move forward at the walk and trot with their head down.  After the horse has this lesson down pat you can start using the cue while you're in the saddle.

Sounds pretty good, eh?  You can use this to teach your horse to stand while tied, to lower their head for bridling, to stop freaking out when they're separated from their brother... Lots of things.

I worked on this with Gwen for about 5-10 minutes today.  Unfortunately I ran out of treats just as she was starting to get to the point where she was dropping her head almost as soon as I picked up the rope.  She's a little smarty though, it won't take long to get back to that point next time.

I'm hoping that Alexandra Kurland demonstrates this lesson at the clinic.  I watched the video (available through Giddyup Flix), but I'm sure she'll have more pointers in person.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Holy new boarders, Batman!

I got a surprise when I got to the barn last night.  Seven new boarders arrived in one day!  It seems they got kicked out of their old barn because the owner is selling the place. Needless to say, the barn was in a state of chaos.  People were all over the place moving their stuff in and rearranging this and that. 

Gwen was a nervous wreck, of course.  All that activity and all the new horses in the barn really put her on edge.  She loves meeting new horses and making friends but this was a little much for her.  Coriander just ignored everybody and looked around for more hay.  Thank goodness for my steady Eddie.

I'm not super keen on this development.  I stay at this barn because 1) it's super close to my apartment so I can visit twice a day if I need to and 2) 80% of the time I'm at the barn I have the place to myself.  I'm not good with change, and I'm not looking forward to having a bunch of people around when I'm trying to work in a calm, quiet manner with my nervous Nellie mare.  I guess I'll have to see how this goes.


Monday, May 3, 2010

I must be doing something right

I turned my horses out today for the first time since the accident, albeit gimpily.

When I pulled up the driveway to bring them in they were grazing all the way at the back of the pasture.  I thought "oh man, now I'm going to have to hitch my way across the whole pasture to get them."

Wouldn't you know, as soon as I parked the quarters started walking towards the gate. I got out of the car and Gwen started GALLOPING towards the gate. When I finally got there she pushed her (dominant herd member) brother out of the way to get haltered first.

So much for being hard to catch, eh?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Recovery: week 6

Week six has been a much better week for me.  I can now walk for short distances which for me means that I can groom my horses again!  Coriander is happy because I found a curry mitt that's gentle enough for his sensitive skin and Gwen's happy to be getting mounds of attention again.  She has really been a good girl, she's picking up her feet with a minimum of fuss and she even let me hose her off yesterday without any drama (It's been in the mid 80s here for the past two days, WOW early hot weather.)

About my boarding issues: I've had an offer from someone who can board my horses in a pinch if I need it which is making me feel a lot better.  I also went out earlier this week (warning profanity ahead) and bought my own damn shavings and put them in Gwen's stall my own damn self.  So now I'm feeling better about the stall issue too.  Plus this month my horses are in the pasture right next to the barn so I might even be able to turn them out myself pretty soon, no more water deprivation!

I was also able to sign up as a non-horse participant for an Alexandra Kurland clicker training clinic in the middle of May.  They said I could participate even if I'm still on crutches.  Woohoo!  I'm really looking forward to it.

Yup, my world is getting better one week at a time.

Here's some cute pictures of quarter horse tongues, "mmm licorice" they say.