Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween show

An adorable girl with a sparkly horse
A fairy girl on a fantastic pony, O Henry
Beauty and the Beast
A bee in the flower garden
Scout as Prince Charming, he jumped a course with that crown on!
Mira as The Yellow Brick Road
Cody as a bubble bath, he dropped balloons all over the course!
My favorite: my friend Carrie and her horse Hank as a big game hunter and the African safari
So how did we do?
We won our class!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Soft as soft can be

That was Gwen last night, she seemed to really want to get out and do some work with me so instead of riding last night I paid some attention to my girl. We worked on disengaging her hip and stepping over with her inside hind. I used the sidepull and a little hand pressure on her barrel for this to simulate a little of what it would feel like for her if I were riding. I'm hoping that the hand pressure will translate to leg pressure so she's not surprised or annoyed by it. She's very light to hand pressure already so I'll need to be very careful to only use as much leg as I need with her while riding. It's good to figure this stuff out on the ground first.

I'm also building her "whoa." I put steady pressure on both reins and release when she starts to back up. This took a while at first, she didn't pull against me but she did spend some time thinking about it and trying to figure out what I was asking for. I was only looking for a weight shift back at first which I think helped her catch on a bit quicker. Once she caught onto that she started taking a whole step back even after I'd clicked and released the reins. Good girl! This is something I want her to be doing immediately when I put pressure on the reins. Safety first and all that.

Speaking of that, we also did some work with the mounting block. She's beginning to associate me standing on the block with being asked for head down, now she starts putting her head down while I'm stepping up on it. Perfect! That's just what I want. She was so soft and relaxed last night that I even starting swinging a leg up again, not over her but I did pick my leg up and rest my knee against her. She was perfectly fine with that. I think I could have actually gotten on her last night if I'd wanted to. My newly found sense of caution kept me on my own feet though, I definitely want someone else to be there when I get on her again. In the meantime, I'm going to up the ante on her a little. I bought a 35lb bag of cat litter to put on her back, we'll try it bareback first and then with a saddle later. I don't know if that will make much difference but I'm going to give it a try anyway.

I've been trying to get Coriander a little more comfortable with the show venue on Sunday. We went for a ride in the indoor again Wednesday and will do so again tonight. He was a little less comfortable in there on Wednesday, which I thought was odd considering there was only one other horse in there with us. I'll have to see how he does tonight. I do know that we need to do a ton more ring work at the trot, our steering seems to disappear once we get out of the walk. I don't really blame him though, trotting in the ring is something we haven't done a lot of. Before I moved them I could only ride him for 20 minutes at a time due to Gwen's meltdowns, therefore I never felt that I could get him fit enough to do much trotting. That's going to change now though! Poor Coriander has no idea that I have trotting, trotting, and more trotting planned for him.

Too bad daylight savings is right around the corner, all that darkness will put quite a dent in our training progress.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thoughts on horsemanship

I recently got a copy of "True Horsemanship Through Feel" by Bill Dorrance and I am loving it. This new addition to my (sizable) library has made me think that I should expand my "Gems from Alois" posts to include other notable quotations. So here we go, my first entry in "Thoughts on Horsemanship."

Misuse of the Lead Rope

"I disapprove of jerking or snapping that lead rope because the horse doesn't have an opportunity to feel of you if you do that. That valuable connection with the horse is lost between pulls when a person gets to sort of jerking on that rope for one reason or another. And that sort of jerking motion is usually connected to emotion in a person that isn't the best. We could call that frustration. When a person is acting like this, a horse doesn't have a chance to get with them, because the feel being offered isn't there long enough to have any good meaning for him. His guesswork and self-preservation will start to figure into things because that jerking will kind of upset him mentally. It comes so quick and fast. The horse can't be sure what it means when a person's feel is excessive and then gets replaced with a full release, and then comes in there again so sharp and so fast, over and over again. I've seen people do this. Some people might think by doing this they're getting something accomplished, but the horse isn't set up to understand what he's supposed to do in response to a feel like this. He isn't geared for this in his thinking.

We want things to be real clear between a horse and the person handling him. We want to stay away from any mix-up for the horse concerning force or fear, so your feel must be applied in a way that he can understand, without any part of force or fear coming in there. Some people might need some time to think over this subject and I'm in hopes they do, because this is so important to the horse. It's also real important to the person's future with any horse.

...Those releases that are part of any jerking of the horse's mouth or head just encourage more of the thing that person doesn't want. This type of handling is very confusing for the horse. And, of course, a person who does this is confused about things from the horse's point of view. There's a need for concern in this, because too much of this activity can lead to resentment or fear in the horse, which is usually the cause of dangerous and unreliable behavior in those horses. It's unnecessary and avoidable. If people could remember that any jerking on the horse just erodes whatever confidence he might have had in the human before that, I'm in hopes they'll be willing to try something more fitting to him."

"True Horsemanship Through Feel"
-Bill Dorrance

Monday, October 25, 2010

Coriander: AQHA spokeshorse?

Coriander constantly impresses me with how cool he can be in new situations...

The stable next door moved their regular Friday night rides indoors last week due to the cold and impending darkness. Something I was actually hoping for since the show next Sunday will probably be held in the indoor. We've wandered through the indoor once before but we've never actually worked in there, and there weren't other horses running around, so I wanted him to get some experience before we were getting judged on it. So there we were, in the indoor with the stereo pounding and four mares for company, one of which was in heat while two more were just being grouchy, spooky and rushy.

How was my boy? Excellent. He was a bit of a tourist: he had to get a look at everything, he didn't like when the mares cantered past him, and he was a little troubled by the sound of sand spraying against the metal walls. But even when he wasn't comfortable about something all he did was stop his feet. He didn't fuss, spook or otherwise throw any kind of fit. When chat time started up, he was perfectly happy to stand around with the girls. I dropped the reins, he cocked a leg, and we just chilled. I couldn't have asked for anything better from him.

Everybody seemed pretty taken with him. Not surprising, since everyone who meets him is impressed by him: his handsome face, his calm demeanor, his overall presence seems to draw people to him. I always seem to get asked, "he's a quarter horse?"

I did a google search about quarter horse traits and found this:
"Quarter Horses are quick over short distances, sure footed and agile. They make comfortable mounts for trail riding and are dependable for all day farm work. The compact muscular silhouette of the foundation type Quarter Horse is unmistakable. With its calm, gentle and steady demeanor they are the ideal family horse or horse for the beginner rider. They tend to be ‘easy keepers’ living well off of good pasture or hay."

Yup, that seems to fit my boy. Though I'd only put a beginner on him under close supervision, I can see him being very frustrated with a beginner and just refusing to move. He's never bucked without a reason and only in three situations: when a horse inside the ring started cantering and I told him he had to keep walking (2 months under saddle), when a horse outside the ring started throwing a fit (the day after the previous bucking fit), and just recently when he started bucking at the canter (My stirrups were uneven since my broken ankle was too stiff to bend, when he started bucking I noticed that my ankle had regained a lot of flexibility- thus making me unbalanced. I evened out my stirrups and he hasn't bucked since.). He spooks at stuff, but never bolts and doesn't spook with company. But even with the spooking I feel perfectly safe riding him out on trails alone. In general, he's pretty great.

Hey AQHA, do you need a spokeshorse? I've got a good one for ya.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


In the past few days I've been finding ticks (!) on my horses. I've found 1 on Coriander and 3 (!) on Gwen. Nasty little bloodbags. My immediate fear was about Lyme Disease. That would be just what I need with Gwen, a disease that will make her even spookier than she already is. I fired off a message to my vet, figuring if I needed to get them tested for Lyme that I'd better see about it sooner than later. Fortunately she says that Lyme Disease isn't common to our area but to be on the safe side to make sure to check my horses for ticks everyday. Apparently the ticks need to be attached for 12-24 hours to transmit the badness. 

Well I know people who have dogs that have gotten Lyme Disease in this area so I'm still worried about it. Especially since I'm not sure I got all the ticks before they'd spent 12-24 hours in my horses. I can't do a full body check everyday. Plus I didn't know that ticks hide out under horses tails, I haven't even checked there yet! My vet also told me to get a fly spray with permethrin to fight the ticks so I went out today and got a giant bottle of XXX strength bug spray with TICK KILLING PERMETHRIN ACTION!!! Take that you nasty things!

Needless to say I'm going to be on watch for the next few months: symptoms of Lyme Disease include fevers, lameness, muscle soreness/stiffness, and personality changes. They'll probably be fine but it's best to be careful in any case.

In other news, the barn next door is having a horse show on Halloween Day and I'm signing us up for a walk/trot class. There's a caveat though, it's a costume show: as in costumes are expected to be worn in every class. This will be interesting, Coriander's first show is going to come complete with capes and gowns and who even knows what else. Wish us luck!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Boots, finally!

What do you do if you want your horse barefoot but he doesn't have enough sole to stay comfortable? You buy boots! Unfortunately that's not as easy as it sounds.Especially when you've got a horse with a club foot.

You may remember me mentioning my Easyboot Gloves and liking them. Well... not so much. They just don't fit him. The last time I rode with them one of them came off twice. After the second time I was so exasperated I just snatched them both off and rode without. I got a fit kit (something I would have done in the first place if I'd known they existed) to see what size fits Gwen and discovered that the darn things don't fit either of my horses. Bummer.

So I looked around for a while. I perused the other Easyboot offerings but didn't really like them too much. I looked at the Renegades but found out from the website that they didn't stand a chance at fitting him. Then I found Cavallo Simple Boots on sale. I measured his feet and figured he'd need a size 2 so I went ahead and ordered them.

When I got them, sadly, I wasn't that happy. I knew they were the right size because they didn't swivel on his feet but they still had a little more play than I was comfortable with.On the plus side they didn't come off when I rode with them. I took another look at Cavallo's products and decided to try the Sport Boot. They fit a little narrower than the Simple Boots so I thought they would fit better on Coriander's funky feet.

Of course, I ordered the wrong size. When I discovered I needed to swap them I called the company just to make sure they would know what size to send me when they got my return. After waiting a couple weeks I finally got the boots again and found out the company had sent me the same size I ordered the first time!  ACK! Fortunately a call to customer service got the correct size sent to me quickly with return postage so I wouldn't have to pay shipping on the boots they sent me by mistake.

Phew, that was a bit of an ordeal! Fortunately his new boots seem to fit him really well, snug and without play. He seems to like them too.

Long story short: I've got a pair of size 0.5 Easyboot Gloves and a pair of size 2 Cavallo Simple Boots for sale. Both are lightly used and I can give you a good deal on them.Otherwise I'm popping them up on Ebay later this week.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I love clicker training!

I went to another clicker clinic last weekend. It kind of snuck up on me so I didn't post beforehand that I was going. I had a great time once again. I met a dressage instructor who does distance learning that I think I'm going to take some lessons with and I met a fantastic barefoot trimmer from Canada (All Natural Horse Care) that we convinced to trek back down to NY and put on a trimming clinic. Alex was great, she's so enthusiastic about how much the horses improve even in just the tiny little things that it's infectious.

Once again I want to encourage anyone interested in clicker training to try to attend a clinic. It's not just trick training or teaching your horse to pick up their feet, Alex's program really concentrates on making horses into balanced, supple athletes that are happy to work with their humans. She has a strong background in classical dressage and also incorporates a lot of John Lyon's work into her program. It's really an entire training philosophy.

My favorite thing about clicker training is how much it trains us humans to really pay attention to our horses. I mean really pay attention. When you start into microshaping and begin looking for tiny weight shifts or muscle contractions you really start to see your horse in a whole new way. You also learn how to spot when your horse is actively making a decision, more on that in a bit.

Anyway, fresh out of the clinic I was inspired to do some more groundwork with the quarters. Using cones as markers, we'd circle halfway around them and then back for a step or two. The goal of this exercise is to improve their balance and to get them to listen to a very light touch on the lead rope. Coriander was excellent, of course, he's already very light from our riding work. But when it came time to work with Gwen the most interesting moment to me came before I even got her to the cones.

I had set them up in the top part of the pasture and the herd was grazing in the bottom of the pasture, meaning the herd would be out of sight while we worked with the cones- a tough proposition for a herd bound horse like Gwen. As I was leading her up to the cones she stopped about halfway up the hill and debated leaving the herd. I stood in front of her with the slack out of the rope and waited for her decision. It took about a minute but she finally decided to go with me and we had a great session. She was a bit sticky at first but it wasn't because she was upset about leaving the herd. I don't know if I would have known to let her make that decision before I started clicker training, but it was obviously the right thing to do.

Another thing I really like about clicker training is how it brings out the playful side of horses. As I was walking out of the pasture for the night Coriander started following me- he still wanted to play. I took the opportunity to see if he would mimic me: I took one step forward and clicked when he moved forward, I took a step back and clicked when he stepped back. He caught on really quickly and soon we were doing a little two-step together. So much fun!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The elusive circle

I've finally deciphered it.

I knew that the secret to riding a decent circle was in the weight aid, as in putting more weight on the inside seatbone, but I could never get a decent sized circle no matter how hard I tried. Whenever I'd ask Coriander to do that I'd either get a volte or a turn on the haunches. Both of those are good but they weren't what I wanted.

Friday I finally figured out what was going wrong, I was overdoing it. So I decided to try something different and, EUREKA, it worked!

So here it is, my secret to circles (which doubtlessly has been discovered by countless others including people reading my blog):
  • keep your spine straight- do not collapse a hip or drop a shoulder
  • look upward and into the circle, do not look at your horse
  • weight the inside seatbone slightly more than the outside one when the horse's barrel swings to the outside of the circle (when you feel your hip drop to the inside)
  • weight your seatbones evenly when the barrel swings to the inside of the circle
And voila! You'll get a circle without even touching the reins. It's like magic!

I imagine you can accomplish this just by putting more weight in the inside stirrup but I was riding bareback when I figured this out, thus the emphasis on the pelvis.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Bareback work

I managed to stuff my foot in a boot last night and clambered up on Coriander for a bareback ride. I've decided that I need to ride bareback a lot more: I need to work on my balance, my terrible habit of being too stiff while I ride, and I want to really *get* seat aids. I also want to be comfortable trotting bareback, right now I bounce all over the place and can only go about five steps at a time (there's that stiffness again), but I'm bound and determined to be trotting comfortably bareback by next year.

I also decided to incorporate clicker training into my riding every once in a while. I've never done that before but I want to start teaching Coriander how to do more difficult maneuvers than just go, stop, and turn and I can't think of an easier way to do that than clicker training. There will also be a side benefit- he'll get in a  stretch every time he reaches around to get the treat. Right now he's so stiff to the right he can barely grab it and tries to compensate by using his teeth; I had to be really careful of my fingers.

I mostly concentrated on our no-rein halt, getting bend while turning and a teensy bit of lateral work. I'm really proud of our halts, all I have to do is sit up tall and stop my seat and within a stride he's stopping soft and square. The interesting bit is that after I started clicking him for stopping he began to give me collected halts all on his own! He was tucking his quarters, rounding his back and raising the root of his neck- it was awesome.

I also tried for some real lateral work with an actual sideways step. I know that this is a particularly difficult maneuver so I was happy with just one step in each direction, mostly I just wanted to know if I was cuing him correctly (another reason for being bareback).

You know what? I'm going to veer off here. I've thought quite a bit about aids and training horses to listen to the aids. I've decided that the aids are actually a pretty simple concept: they involve using weight and pressure to best follow the laws of physics. The problem is that a simple concept doesn't always translate to simple execution. Execution is pretty darn hard actually, especially if the wrong aids have been sewn into your muscle memory for years.

Whenever I moved to a new place in the past I always made a point of intentionally getting lost. I found so many places and things I never would have found if I'd stayed on the same route all the time. My approach to horse training has been along the same lines. I try stuff and see what happens. I don't see myself as training my horses so much as allowing them to train me. They're going to follow physics no matter what I think I'm doing. What I ask for is what I get, even if I really wanted something different.

I knew I should have kept that physics minor, even if it would have bombed my GPA.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Contrary to popular belief

Horses do not melt in the rain.

Okay, so maybe it's not a popular belief, but I know a certain boarding barn where the owner sure thought they would, thus making me feel really awkward about turning my horses out in the rain. Now look at them, it's been raining for two days straight and I don't think they've been under the barn once. I've diligently been slogging out through the rain and mud (super fun in a cam boot, btw) to make sure they aren't cold but every time I get out there they tell me I needn't have bothered. They are fine, thanks very much.

Point made, quarters, point made.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Back in action

Well, somewhat back anyway. Thanks for your well-wishes everyone, I really appreciate them. I went to my orthopedist on Friday who told me that my foot should heal in only a few weeks. Comes out that the bone is only cracked and there isn't any soft tissue damage (other than a honking, huge bruise), so I'll be up and around a lot sooner than I thought. I'm currently stuck back in Das Boot but I'm not on crutches anymore. While I can't ride for a while I can do almost everything else, I'm really not doing that bad.

It was a beautiful day today and since I couldn't ride I did the next best thing- I took pictures...