Monday, June 27, 2011

All the time in the world

I asked Gwen to line up with the mounting block on Thursday. She said thanks but no thanks. That was okay, I was kind of expecting it anyway, she was traumatized by the bucking episode too. I brought her out on Friday and she was a little... erm... unfocused, so I started with some Connected Groundwork exercises. I found something interesting when I went to do the heartgirth press (pressing with my whole forearm behind her front leg), on her right side she immediately walked away from me. On the left she stayed and bent around my arm. Curious, I massaged the inside of her front legs and her armpits- the right side felt swollen and tense compared to the left. I asked her to line up with the mounting block again and she was happy to do so on the left but swung her hips out on the right. I don't know if she tweaked something or if I hit her on the way off but she's definitely sore on the right side. I'll wait until she's feeling better before I try to slide on again. She'll let me know.

Kate G. came out on Saturday and showed me how to start her with ground driving. We started with a long leadrope attached to the halter at both ends. Using my dressage whip we asked her to go forward and turn while we were at her shoulder, gradually we added another lead rope and moved our way back until we were at her hip. She did fabulous and finally started to understand that I meant for her to follow her nose. We'd been having a bit of a misunderstanding before where she thought she could just turn her nose but continue moving off in another direction. That had a lot to do with how we got into the bucking situation. I didn't feel comfortable debating this issue from her back so I'm glad to have found another way.

Sunday I got hammered by a frack-a-lackin migraine (grrrr) but fortunately felt good enough to go out and play with her today. She did a great job of remembering the lesson from Saturday and we were able to pick up where we left off. Here's another benefit of ground driving: Even though she wanted to stop every three steps and graze I insisted that she keep moving, walk forward, and turn. That was another thing I was worried about debating from her back- I let her graze while I sat on her for a long time just to get her comfortable carrying me around but eventually I have to get more demanding than that. It's good to know that she won't get upset about it when the time comes.

And... guess what? I even ended up all the way behind her at one point and she was still listening! We might be ground driving for real sooner than I expected. Time to drag out the lunge lines!

I feel like we're starting back at the beginning again, but that's okay. For one thing: Every time we have to go back to the basics, they'll just get that much stronger. For another: I'm not in a hurry. She's seven now; with any luck I'll have at least 20 more years to play with her and get her trained. I've got all the time in the world.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Keep on keeping on

I put the saddle back on Gwen Saturday. She was fine about the pad and fine about the saddle

(interesting side note: I had put the saddle down with the pad upside down over it so the white, fluffy side was visible. Guess who spooked at it? White things are probably always going to be a problem for her. No white horse trailer for me.)

but when I reached under her for the girth and pulled it up she started walking away from me. It would seem that the girth is the main issue- whether she got bruised from jumping around or if it was the feeling of the girth that inspired the bucking in the first place, I don't know. She did eventually stop and let me tighten it up, though I left it a little loose, and then I backed off and let her stand around wearing it for a while. She went straight into chill mode so after a few minutes I grabbed my target and went to see if she'd follow the target over the stream.

Not a chance. She was quite cute about it actually. She followed me until she saw where I was headed and then just stopped and said, "it's okay, you go on ahead, I'll wait over here," and stood off to the side looking all dejected. Coriander, in the meantime, thought it was great fun. Unfortunately he wasn't the one that needed it.

I went back to the barn and swapped the target for some baling twine and used that to lead her over the stream- I wanted to give her a chance to buck and get a little silly but I didn't want her to step on a lead rope and jerk on her face while she did it. I needn't have bothered, she was perfect. We walked down to the water very slowly, stopping after each step, until we finally took one step over the water. We did this a few times in each direction, speeding up until I we built up enough steam for her to take a little hop over the water.

No bucking. Hmmm...

I guess it's time to go back to getting her to target over the stream and see if we can build up some more speed. I feel like I'm in a really weird place right now- I WANT my horse to buck so I can tell her that's what I DON'T want. Strange.

We're also learning how to lunge in preparation for ground driving. Lungeing makes me physically ill so I've been avoiding it up to this point but it's time to suck it up and do it anyway. I'm going to try it Hempfling style,  walking a smaller circle inside the horse's circle, and see if that helps a bit with the nausea and dizziness I feel. Either that or get some Dramamine.

In case you aren't familiar with Klaus Hempling here's a short video that shows a bit of his philosophy on lungeing. Take note of his posture- that's something I've been trying to improve on myself.

I also have to learn how to ground drive. Kate G. is coming by this weekend to help us get started, meanwhile I've started doing some research. There's a good intro here that I like and Kate from A Year With Horses has a nice post about it here.

Anyone have any pointers they want to share? I'm open to everything right now.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Don't worry, I'm fine

Okay, I figured out what my problem was and why correcting him for that behavior bugged me so much. It had a whole bunch to do with me and my past experiences and blah, blah, blah... nobody wants to read about that. So- moving on.

Gwen bucked me off yesterday.

See, that's why I made that the title of the post. So you wouldn't immediately start worrying. I really am fine, just a few bruises, of which I'd have a lot fewer if it weren't for that *&%^$# western saddle!
Evil hunk of leather
All you western riders can say what you want about english saddles, but if you're coming out of an english saddle it lets go of you gracefully. If you're coming out of a western saddle, especially over the front, that %$^&;* thing decides it needs to get in a couple punches of its own. Ouch.

That mare can BUCK. I could take Gwennie on the road as inspiration for rodeo broncs everywhere; they would stand there and watch her in awe. I have not been bucked off in years, despite the efforts of many, because I somehow have the uncanny ability to stick through bucks. Not hers. That mare goes UP! and she keeps going. I stood up and dusted off and she was still bucking. It was impressive.

So what happened? I hopped on her in the pasture without locking up Rocky, that's what happened.

What's that? You want more detail? Well, we were having a grand 'ole time, Gwen really felt like moving yesterday so we ambled up the hill away from the herd and towards the barn. I was asking her for turns every once in a while. She was happy, I was happy, riding her walk is like riding on silk. It was great. And then Rocky decided to ruin the party. She came up while we were heading toward the barn. Gwen felt like she had to get away from Rocky, which meant going over the little stream and heading for the barn. I tried my darndest to get her headed away from that little stream, because I knew full well she'd jump it and if she jumped it she'd start bucking. When it's between me and Rocky, Rocky wins, so Gwen went over that little stream. She jumped it, started bucking, and I hit the dirt.

I did not get back on her. I know that breaks all the rules and that now she knows she can buck me off, etc., but I'll just have to see how that shakes out. She wasn't bucking to get me off, it was a reaction to how the saddle felt when she jumped. She really doesn't mind having me on her back, having me up there means she gets attention and treats, which is pretty cool. I also have never overstayed my welcome on her back, between those things I don't foresee bucking to be a big problem of hers.

Of course I could be wrong... As her punishment I pulled the tack off without giving her any praise or affection and then I got Coriander and did some groundwork with him right in front of her without giving her any treats or attention at all. He did great, btw, he's learning how to pick up his shoulders and not lean into circles.

Anyway, current game plan is to put the saddle up on her again and get her to do some more dynamic movement. I realized yesterday that she's never bucked with the saddle on and now I'm wishing she had, that way she wouldn't have been so surprised by the feeling. I'm also thinking it's time we learned how to ground drive, that would have helped a lot too. When I really needed control of her nose and hips I didn't have it. That was bad.

Oh yeah, and that *&^%&* Rocky is getting locked up from now on.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A response

I started writing this as a response to Muddy K's comment but it got really long so I decided to make a post out of  it instead. You asked a good question that I hope I understood correctly. Here's my answer to the question I think you asked:

I didn't like having to do this with him, it doesn't sit well for me to use negative reinforcement. But when I asked myself if I would be comfortable asking someone else to ride him- with him just deciding to run off whenever he pleased- I wasn't. It wasn't safe and he was escalating. Visions of him bolting across the hillside were swimming in front of my eyes.

All I want him to do is wait for me to say okay before he transitions up; when he transitions up without me asking for it he has to circle. I could just ask him to halt but I'd probably have to pull on his face to get it and I don't want to do that (he's been ignoring my seat aids too). What I'm trying to do with the circling is get my message across with the least amount of punishment. When HE finds the stop we stop, I don't keep pushing him past that point to add an exclamation mark. I've never found that making the horse move past the point where they want to stop just to "make it your idea" works very well for me. Been there, tried that, decided not to buy the t-shirt.

Most of what I do is trail ride and sometimes we get in situations where I really need him to run these things by me so he doesn't get hurt. I'm not doing this to be punitive or controlling, I just need to him to get the message that he needs to get my permission. The last thing I want to do is kill his exuberance and make him hate being ridden- if I'd gone out today and he'd run off to the other side of the pasture to avoid me I would have written about it and warned everyone to never do this. Believe me, I was looking at him for signs that I'd done wrong by him, he's not shy about letting me know he's ticked at me. But he wasn't, he let me put the halter on like he normally does, walked beside me up to the barn like he normally does, let me tack up while he stood loose eating hay like he normally does, and when I rode him we only had to circle twice. Plus he actually stopped for clicks for the first time in weeks, he had been blocking me out to such an extent that he wasn't even stopping for treats anymore (This was quite distressing for me, I went out and bought the premium treats I know he loves and he wasn't even stopping for those- prompting some serious self questioning on my part.).

It's possible he could still be ticked at me or he could be accepting that I'm standing my ground and making boundaries, I'll probably never really know. What I do know is that if I need to do something to save my bones from getting busted I will. I can't afford to get broken again like I was last year.

Will he run off again eventually? Yes.
Will I fall asleep at the wheel and let him? Sadly I probably will.
Is there a better way to do this? Probably.
Do I know what it is? No.
If I find a better way will I use it? Absolutely, and I'll be sure to let everyone know so they can do it too if they want.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A monster of my own creation

I trail rode on a lesson horse yesterday. It was... um... interesting.

My lesson mates decided they wanted to do a trail ride instead of the ring lesson. That was not a problem for me- I'm much more comfortable out on the trail than in a ring. The issue was that the horse I was riding had no brakes, which became most evident when the trainer decided we needed to canter everywhere. The horse I was on got more and more worked up until I practically had to stand on the reins to get him to stop. I really don't like to have to do that.

I, of course, got all smug thinking that my horse is better than that. He stops when I sit back and pick up the reins. But then I remembered: Oh wait, no he doesn't.

He used to, but somewhere along the way I got lenient and started letting him get away with little things until finally he decided he didn't need to listen to me anymore. He started walking off without me asking him, trotting off without me asking him, and finally galloping off without my input. Worse, he'd started bucking when I asked him to canter. That is SO not okay.

But how do I address this problem? Even better question: How do I address this without alienating him? After all, it's my fault he started doing this. He was only doing what horses do- test the boundaries and push them as far as he could. I certainly don't want to punish him for that, that would be completely unfair. On the other hand, I have to do something about it because he's getting unsafe.

This is the part of horse training that nobody really wants to do, I certainly don't want to do it, but avoiding it is how you get into trouble in the first place. I want to work in cooperation with my horses but it takes two to cooperate; if the horse ain't listening I don't have anyone to cooperate with. I needed to prove to him that I was worth listening to.

What I want him to do is travel at the gait I choose on the buckle. If he wants to transition up he can suggest it and then I'll let him know whether it's okay or not. Right now he decides he wants to trot and just starts trotting, saying "la la la, I can't hear you."

Here's what I decided to do: Any time he rushed off without me asking for it he had to circle. I picked up the buckle in one hand, slid my other hand down, picked a point on his neck, and held the rein there until he gave to the pressure. Then I released and give him a chance to stop on his own. If he didn't, I did it again until he decided to stop. In the beginning it took quite a few repetitions before he started looking for the stop. When he found it we stayed in the stop for a while before I asked him to walk off on the buckle. Once he figured out that anytime he rushed off he'd have to circle he settled down and started listening.

Over all I think this worked really well, we got a canter without the bucking and a nice walk back to the barn without any rushing off..  He wasn't happy with me and I can't blame him for that, when you're used to getting your own way you naturally resent the person who changes the rules, but my mechanics weren't making him upset. And, as you can see from the post-ride photo below, this wasn't physically taxing for him.
certainly not dripping with sweat
For me there were two very important pieces that made this work: 1. the RELEASE and 2. NOT GETTING EMOTIONAL. Neither of these is particularly easy for me to do, especially the emotional part, but I desperately need to learn this. I actually have to thank Coriander for giving me the opportunity, this is something I need to get a handle on before I have to do it with Gwen. At least I can make a few mistakes with him and not get dumped for it.

In positive news, Gwen led calmly up to barn and ate her dinner in a relaxed manner while the rest of the herd was completely out of eyesight. That was a pleasant surprise, she's never done that before.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

For my fellow bitless fans

For your viewing pleasure.

Uta Graf riding Le Noir bitless:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Jaw flexions

As promised, here is some video of Coriander's jaw flexions.

Of course there are multiple ways to do this, I'm using this method because it directly translates to single rein riding  mechanics. This is my process: I put up a "tai-chi wall" with the rein, then I steady my hands while putting a little pressure on his mouth, and then I wait for him to give his jaw. When he gives the jaw I click and immediately drop the reins. The release is key, if you don't release the horse will just stiffen up and brace against you.

You can see right at the beginning of the first video where I should have clicked and released but didn't. Coriander certainly noticed, he gets a little grouchy when he knows he did something click-worthy and doesn't get clicked. Then he got totally distracted by the horses across the way- they're what he's staring at so intently. At one point I waited two minutes for him to relax his jaw. Lucky for you I didn't include that video, it's more boring than watching grass grow, but I did want to mention it to prove how patient you need to be sometimes to get a response from your horse.

Notice how his mane flips over to the right around his poll? His neck is crooked, he always carries his head a little to the left, which makes jaw flexions to the right a little more difficult for him. I'm considering getting a chiropractor out to look at him but I want to work on the jaw flexions a little longer before I do that. How cool would it be if they straightened his neck out?

Monday, June 6, 2011

The grain-free experiment

Remember when I said that learning horse nutrition was going to be my next adventure? Well I've had a bit of a crash course in it since the Quarters moved last August.

The two horses that they moved in with, Butch and Rocky, don't get any grain- they eat grass in the summer and hay in the winter and that's it. When I moved the Quarters in they adopted the same diet, from August to April they didn't eat anything other than forage.

After I wrapped up my hoof series I began some preliminary nutrition research at and started learning about mineral deficiencies. As soon as I knew what to look for I started seeing signs of it all over the Quarters. Coriander's mane and tail showed drastic sun bleaching and his coat just didn't look right. Plus his frogs JUST WEREN'T GROWING despite repeated oxine soaks and No Thrush treatments. Gwen was even worse: her hoof walls were losing integrity and going SPLAT, she wasn't shedding and her hair coat had developed hooks at the end. Not good. Not good at all.

What I didn't realize when I stopped feeding them grain is how mineral deficient upstate NY is. The grass and  hay they were eating was markedly deficient in trace minerals like selenium, copper and zinc. Want to know what your area is like? You can check the average NGS geochemistry by county in the US here.

It was time to get some minerals into the Quarters, but what was the best way to do it? I'd been reading barefoot trimmers rhapsodize about the benefits of California Trace, and decided to give it a try. When it arrived I measured out a serving in my hands and fed it to the horses. "Oh, what's this?" They said. "Nom, nom, no... PHhhbbttt!" So much for the company's claim that horses love their product. I tried mixing in some anise seed powder to make it more palatable (they love licorice), but they weren't fooled. It appeared I needed to find something to mix the CA Trace with so they'd eat it.

I recalled that Gwen had done well on my Father-in-Law's "Cornell Mix," so I decided to get some of that. When I went to buy some we ended up talking about pellets and I ended up leaving with a bag of Nutrena Empower Balance too. I don't really understand how it works, but that "Cornell Mix" makes coats shine like mirrors and helps keep weight on hard keepers. The Nutrena feed is specifically designed to supplement grass diets and has pre/probiotics in it to support their digestive systems.

I've been feeding these three mixed together since the beginning of April and have noticed marked improvements in the Quarters. Coriander's frogs have FINALLY started growing and his coat looks better than ever (and feels like crushed velvet). Gwen finally shed out and her coat is looking good as well, even better, her hooves have improved immensely. You can actually see the line where her hoof wall has grown in better and tighter since I added the minerals to her diet (Amazingly she's been rock crushingly sound the entire time, I don't know how she does it.).

Gwen's left hind

Gwen's left fore

Here's a picture of Coriander looking awesome in his ungroomed shiny-ness.
It appears that genetics plays a part in this. Even though they're half-siblings, Gwen showed more acute symptoms of deficiency than her brother did. I wish I had a clue why that happened. Butch and Rocky haven't had grain in forever and neither of them shows the marked mineral deficiencies that mine did after only a few months. They may be helped by their breeding, Rocky is a mustang/morgan (I incorrectly called her a quarter horse a few months ago) so it's possible that her mustang heritage makes her hardier. BUT, her coat has barely any shine and her hair feels like straw. Butch shows a bit of shine in the picture with Coriander but he lacks the sheen that Coriander has and he still hasn't shed out completely. To help them out a little I bought a salt block with added selenium and other minerals for the pasture and hung up Gwen's old Himalayan salt block where they could get at it. They might get a bit more of what they need this way.

Obviously I still have a TON to learn about nutrition, right now I feel like I'm throwing everything at them but the kitchen sink hoping that they're getting what they need. To remedy that, I'll be taking Dr. Kellon's nutrition course over the winter and boning up on knowledge from Getty Equine Nutrition.

In short, the grain-free experiment failed completely. I feel awful that I did this to them and am keeping my fingers crossed that I didn't do them any lasting harm. My poor horses, they had no idea I'd turn them into guinea pigs...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A borrowed Classic

I happened to mention to Kate G. that I'd bought an Ansur and was waiting rather impatiently for it to arrive when she said, "Hey, I've got an Ansur Classic. Would you like to borrow it?" Why yes, yes I would.

The first time I popped it on Coriander I put a nice, think pad under it- to give him a little extra protection in case he needed it. I walked him over to the mounting block, put my foot in the stirrup and prepared to swing my leg over.

*First mistake: Putting my foot in the stirrup to mount.

It slid right down his barrel and I plopped back onto the mounting block. I got down, put the saddle back, and then just lifted my leg way up over his back and got on without the stirrup. We then ventured out to the back fields so I could get the feel of it.

*Second mistake: Putting a thick pad under it.

I felt like I was sitting on a skating rink, I just couldn't get that saddle to stay put in the middle of his back. The next time I took it out I put the thick pad away and got out one of my regular, thinner pads. This worked better but there was still some slippage. This time I determined that I didn't have the girth tight enough (I have a rather bad habit of riding around with my girth too loose. I reached down after cantering during a lesson a few weeks ago and found I could put my fist between the girth and the horse, whoops.) Can you tighten a dressage girth while you're sitting in the saddle? I couldn't figure out a way to do it so I left it alone and tightened up the girth more for the next ride.

*Third mistake: Using crappy leathers.

With the lighter pad and the tighter girth the saddle finally stayed put. But now I had another issue, I couldn't get my stirrups even. I think I adjusted my stirrups 5 or 6 times that ride until I finally remembered that I was using my cruddy, spare pair of leathers with a ton of random extra holes- there was probably no way I was going to get those stirrups even.

For the next ride I pulled my good leathers off the Crosby and put those on. Finally! I could get my stirrups even. Feeling successful, I decided to take Coriander out for a longer trail ride. Twenty minutes in my left knee started to ache. Then it started to hurt, ALOT. I had to pull my foot out the stirrup and keep shaking my leg out to ease the pain. That wasn't cool.

I've decided that the Ansur Classic isn't for me. It was super comfy under my bum but I think the lack of a twist was pushing my thighs out wide and putting too much torque on my knee, causing the pain. This saddle was really much wider than anything I'm used to sitting in. I also don't think Coriander liked it that much. He started taking off as soon as I settled in the saddle, something I thought we'd taken care of months ago. He'd also shoot off down the trail ALL THE TIME, especially when we were heading for the barn. This was something quite new for him. Either he really liked the way the saddle felt so he wanted to move, or he really didn't like it and wanted to get back as soon as possible so I'd take it off. It was odd, that's for sure.

The Classic on Coriander

The underside of the Classic = no gullet here
Fortunately the saddle I'm waiting on isn't built like the Classic. It has a twist, which I like, and a gullet, which Coriander seems to like, so we should be just fine. There's still the seven day trial period if it really doesn't work out, but I'm pretty confident it will.

Here's a bonus pick of Coriander playing with Butch, something they've taken up just recently. I need to bulk up on my super spy skills so I can get a better picture next time. You know playing horses- they stop as soon as they know a camera is nearby. I'm happy that he's got a play buddy, but I wish Butch would leave his fly mask on. There's now three missing fly masks floating somewhere around the pasture.