Monday, February 28, 2011

Horse world expo

I'm back! I spent the last few days at Horse World Expo and had a blast! I watched clinics and presentations by Colleen Kelly, Jane Savoie, Tommy Turvey, Guy McLean, Nick Karazissis and Liz Graves. I shopped my heart out and bought a new helmet, trimming apron, trail reins, and lots of food that was completely bad for me.

Guy McLean, have you heard of this guy? Well I hadn't. In case you have no clue who this guy is I'm doing you a favor with this video:

This guy was amazing! For one thing he has the most incredible horse named Spinabbey that can canter in place, and not just canter in place- he can do one-tempis in place! And he can canter backwards! Seriously astounding little horse! Yes, that's a lot of exclamation points but that little horse deserves them.

I also had no idea who Colleen Kelly was, but I attended one of her lectures and was really impressed. She's a dressage instructor who really emphasizes biomechanics- she had a great demo where she showed how she could unseat a rider with one finger. Fortunately she then showed how to create a more stable position. I wish I could link to her website but it seems to be down.

I watched a trimming demo done by the folks from the Institute of Applied Equine Podiatry.  This school was started by an ex-farrier who started learning about hoof function and came to the realization that with the knowledge he had gained he couldn't put shoes on horses anymore. They do clinics all over the world that are reasonably priced. Unfortunately his trimming method is based on the farrier hold, since my horses HATE that I won't be attending any of his clinics, but if your horses don't mind it this school could be a good resource for you.

I have to relate a story to you: have you heard about the Equisense EQ Enhanced Tack? The model horse wearing tack fitted with sensors to analyze your riding position? It was there so I decided to sign up and get an analysis. When I showed up at my time slot, Colleen Kelly showed up for a last endorsement shoot, so I was informed that I was being bumped. But then they decided that first they were going to interview her in front of the "horse" and they wanted there to be a lesson in the background- so I was ushered on. It was a very interesting experience; I highly recommend it. Anyway, when my lesson was finished they asked me if I'd do an interview on what I thought of the experience. While I was talking Jane Savoie sidled up next to the interviewer and listened in. I mentioned how the analysis showed how my hands weren't even and I was able to understand why Coriander wasn't comfortable with my contact. At this point Jane entered the interview and said how great it was that I found that out since correct contact is one of the hardest things to learn. Then she shook my hand! What a moment!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why am I risking my neck again?

I know at least one of you is out there wondering why I'm trying to ride Gwen. Considering that last year I suffered a bad injury falling off her and that I already have a great horse to ride, what's my motivation? Well for one thing if something were to happen to me, as she is right now she'd be dog meat. If she's to stand a chance in that awful scenario then she has to be ride able. Fortunately she's finally registered (Three Shades of Gwen- thanks so much Wolfie for the Best Name Ever!), but it's been shown over and over that registration alone isn't enough to protect a horse.

Public service announcement: Register your foals before they're yearlings, folks. It saves a lot of hair pulling down the road.

But aside from that compelling reason, I'm trying again because I think she wants me to. Raise your hand if you just rolled your eyes because I'm anthropomorphizing my horse, but I really believe it. For the past couple months when I've taken Coriander out to ride she's looked at me with a rather pleading look on her face like, "why aren't you taking me?" I'd look her in the eye and tell her that I wanted to but that I was too scared to try. Did she understand my words? I doubt it, but she might have understood my intent.

I present this tidbit of information as my proof: In the almost 30 times in the past three weeks that I've mounted and dismounted her, not once has she stepped away from the mounting block when I started to swing a leg over. Someone might say, "well that's because you're holding her still." Nope, not at all. I keep a finger on the leadrope or the reins to make sure they don't slide down but I have never put any tension on her face to get her to stand still. She does that all on her own. Sure, the clicker training helps, but I can't use clicker training to make her do something she's afraid of. She's shown me that over and over. (If she or Coriander didn't stand still at the mounting block I wouldn't get on. At this point that would be very strange behavior for them and a sure sign that something was wrong.)

So what do you think? Should I expect men in white jackets to come looking for me or what?

Friday, February 18, 2011

A tip of the nose... and the bum

It's been beautiful here for the last few days, sunny and warm! Yet yesterday there was still too much snow to trail ride. Oh well, I decided it would be a good opportunity to work on a few of Coriander's training holes. Not only can he not stand still under saddle, I also don't have any influence over his hindquarters. With that in mind, I hopped on Coriander with the bareback pad and worked on moving that butt.

What I found out is that there's a delicate balance needed between rein and leg to get that elusive stepping through with the inside leg. I don't know if this is correct or not, but I really exaggerated how far back I held my inside leg, trying to make it as obvious as possible to him that I wanted the hindquarters over and not the shoulders. It took many repetitions and a lot of careful timing of clicks but I finally got that step. Once you feel that, it really becomes obvious just how powerful that step is. No wonder it's central to all facets of riding.

After that success, it was time to work with Gwen. I didn't post this but I mounted her again Sunday using the exact same routine I used last time with the same results: an outstanding mare! This time I thought, "what the heck?" and put the sidepull on her. At first I just mounted and sat while she contentedly ate her hay (Yes I'm still using hay to keep her happy, I'm watching out for my butt here.). It was wonderful to sit there and enjoy the warm temps while she happily sighed and chewed away.

When I was done soaking her in, I dismounted, remounted, and then very gently pulled on the left rein. There was a bit of hesitation, which I think was due to the hay, and then her nose came around. Click treat! I then repeated on the right side, well the poor girl is so stiff on her left side that she preferred to back up rather than tip her nose right. At least she has no problem moving back while I'm on her, right? I kept a little tension on the right rein and just waited until I could see her eye, then I rewarded her.

How do you western riders deal with that saddle horn? I had to lean so far forward to give her treats on the right that I had that thing right in my diaphragm. Ouch. We've gotta get that left side loosened up.

I kept it as low-key as possible and she did great. For me, the challenge is going to be keeping every request I make of her as clear as possible so she doesn't ever get confused. I do not want to be sitting on a confused Gwen! With that in mind, in the upcoming posts where I talk about her training and anyone has recommendations, worries, or questions please comment. I'm going to need all the help I can get.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The whole story

Okay, looking back I think that last post was a cop-out. Here's the whole story:

I got the Quarters from my Dad (thanks Dad!) who used to be heavy into showing quarter horses. Gwen and Coriander were the last foals out of his champion halter mare and when he bred them he had high hopes about their future show careers. Unfortunately things didn't go as planned. As skilled labor in the construction industry, he was hit pretty hard by the Florida housing slump. He also lost two very promising horses in tragic accidents, one in a stall and one in the middle of the show ring. He hasn't said so but I can tell those events were pretty heartbreaking. Without the money to pay for their care and without the heart to keep working with them, the Quarters languished.

I first saw Gwen when she was a yearling in 2005, and though I declared immediately that she would be mine someday, it was another four years before I was in a place where I could take care of her. In the meantime she remained as wild as a march hare. Due to her wildness, and the fact that her brother was languishing as well, we decided that both horses would be brought up to live with me. The idea was that I would have a horse to "use" while I tamed the wild beast. (In hindsight, this was the best idea ever. I don't think I'd have been able to make any progress at all with Gwen without her brother. He's our rock. And he's totally awesome.) Keep in mind that at this point Coriander had only been sat on and at least five years had passed since that last happened.

Getting them to NY was an ordeal in itself. I thought I had done a thorough job finding the right transport for them but I hadn't. The woman I'd decided to work with was not only ridiculously late, she also showed up all alone. When she finally arrived, Gwen wouldn't get on the trailer. Period. Comes out this was for the best. I had specifically told this woman that my mare was wild and that once she was on the trailer she needed to stay on it until she reached her final destination. Despite that, this woman was planning on unloading them overnight in Virginia; there would have been absolutely no way she'd have been able to get Gwen back on that trailer after that. My $400 deposit was flushed down the tubes.

Fortunately my Dad was able to borrow a stock trailer that Gwen could be herded into and up to NY they finally came. I wish I'd started my blog in August when they arrived but, as it is, I only started writing about them in November. Nevertheless, most of our progress is documented here. The only parts missing are how it used to take me 10 minutes to get a halter on Gwen, how she used to rear coming in and out of the stall, how she used to make me dizzy when she'd spin in circles around me, and other bits of crazy. I also never wrote about how I started Coriander, but it was such a snap that it might not have been that interesting to read anyway. Now you all get to read about Gwen's baby steps and Coriander's refinement, so I think that makes up for it.

I think my Dad made the right decision giving me the Quarters and I sure hope they agree: I love them more everyday.

My belated valentine

This photo documents the actual moment that I fell in love with my Gwenevere.

It was love at first sight. I promptly declared, "she will be mine. Oh yes, she will be mine."

And the rest is history (and future).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hello bunny

I thought you all might enjoy seeing my little bunny buddies. There are usually 4-5 of these little guys around every time I visit my horses. Poor little things have had a hard winter and they've been eating the horses' leftover hay to get by.

When I went out to feed the horses last Wednesday one of these little guys was sitting on a flake of hay in front of the bales nibbling away. It didn't move when I walked past it to get the hay bags. It didn't move when I brought the bags back and cut off the ties. It didn't even move when I shook the old hay out of the bags. It was so brave that I was half expecting it not to move when I walked right past it to grab a bale of hay. Of course it did but it waited until the very last moment to do so.

This little bunny was only 4 feet away from Coriander and me, obviously hunger is doing quite a bit to overcome fear. I expect I won't be able to get anywhere near this close once the snow melts.

My horses have one of the best views in the county

Speaking of that, I was very excited to see that the forecast for the next week calls for temps mainly above freezing. Sadly that didn't include today. It was warmer at 28F, but there were bitter wind gusts blowing snow all over the place. I was planning on sitting on Gwen today but since her eyes were already bugging out of her head because of the wind I decided to forgo that plan. I'll have to see what happens tomorrow.

Can you see the snow blowing around?

One more cute story I have to add: I can see half of the pasture from the road when I arrive. Today I saw Gwen standing out by the windbreak with Butch and Rocky, Coriander was missing. I was a little concerned about that but was relieved to find that he was just being smart and taking advantage of the dominant horses being gone to eat hay under the barn in peace. I was just getting ready to bring him out of the pasture when Gwen came tearing up to us at full gallop. She blasted into the barn, slammed on the brakes with nostrils flaring, and immediately asked me to bring her out so she could eat hay chaff.

I guess I don't have to worry about her hearing!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Thoughts on horsemanship: Getting along

By providence I just happened to read these excerpts one day apart:

"I believe one of the reasons we're all [referring to all living creatures] able to survive together is that we have a basic understanding of one another. For instance, any animal that has been fearful will likely recognize fear in another animal, even if that animal is a different species. Any animal that has been angry will recognize anger in another animal. By the same token, I believe that any animal that has ever wanted to get along with another animal will recognize when another animal is trying to get along with it.

I might take that another step further and say that if another animal does not pose a threat, then the first animal might be able to act more like itself, showing its true personality, rather than acting in a defensive or aggressive manner. Basically, the animal can be who he is.

It seems to me that when that happens, a door opens for communication between animals of different species and, in some cases, even between animals that are dire enemies... It's not uncommon in the animal world for different species to interact and even teach things to each other - particularly when it may benefit both species on a long-term basis."

-Life Lessons From a Ranch Horse by Mark Rashid

"Here, we have a highly strung, nervous and sensitive animal [the horse], who has to be trained in a manner whereof he cannot know the purpose, and who has to be spoken to in a language which is, to begin with, completely unintelligible to him. Moreover it happens all too often that the particular human being who is to do the training, is himself a stranger in the use of the horse's language.

For the horse, most definitely, has a language of his own; all animals of the higher order possess a language, or rather a method of communication. It is simple and is based on the expression of feelings and intentions by attitude and behavior. Dogs possess this aptitude in a marked degree, which makes it comparatively easy to understand them, for us as well as animals of other species.

It is perfectly certain that animals of different species can understand each other quite well and can and do communicate amongst each other satisfactorily, provided only that fear has no part in the proceedings; that there exists, in other words, a degree of confidence. It is most important to realize these facts. They imply that we shall not be understood by the horse unless we possess ourselves, or acquire, the aptitude of talking to him by attitude and behavior; and even then we shall never succeed fully unless we do so in that calm and quietly determined manner whereby confidence is inspired."

-Dressage: A Study of the Finer Points of Riding by Henry Wynmalen

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The next step

I sat on both my horses today.

No, that wasn't a typo. I sat astride my Gwenevere today.

The day started with pulling Coriander out of the pasture and wading over to the indoor to work on circles (we both need tons of practice with those). After some solid work on his part, including not losing his mind when some snow slid off the roof, I brought him back home and pulled Gwen out for some mounting block work.

She had done really well with mounting block work on Friday so I decided to step it up a notch. I stepped into the stirrup and weighted it, she didn't care, so I stood up in it. She still didn't care. I repeated this a few times and switched sides. She still didn't care. I leaned over her back with all my weight. She couldn't have been bothered. Then I put my leg over the saddle and when she still didn't care, I slid onto her back.

She did pop her head up at first, but that's all she did. I immediately gave her a treat and dismounted. After taking a cry break, I sat on her again. All in all I slid on and off her 12 times today, 6 times on each side.

Sadly the event was not without casualties:

My treat bag got caught on the saddle horn when I dismounted. It was on its last legs and was a poor design anyway so I'm not mourning the loss. I think I'm going to make something more like a fanny pack next time.

I'm planning on doing the same routine with her a couple times a week for the next few weeks until she really doesn't care about me sitting on her. Then we'll try for a couple of steps. Meanwhile I'll still pony her off her brother and take her for walks by herself to get her more comfortable with the outside world.

We've taken the next step to making my girl a riding horse!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Extreme trail and other stuff

Does this look like fun or what? It's like a horse playground. (I recommend muting this)

Mark Bolender (the guy riding) built an entire facility devoted to extreme trail riding out in Oregon, find it here, the website claims that there are similar facilities all over the United States but darned if I can find where they are. If you live anywhere near this place, please go and tell me how it was so I can live vicariously.

I found another link through one of my list serves that is very enlightening, check out this page that shows you how to spot imbalances in your horse's hind feet. I did this with the Quarters and ended up running for my rasp. Yikes!

In other news, we got lucky here in central NY and missed most of this week's massive storm. I know many of you reading weren't nearly so lucky. Fortunately winter is almost over, the groundhog says so!