Sunday, May 27, 2012

Super quick update

Gwen cantered under saddle for the first time yesterday- and I'm here to talk about it!

We were trotting uphill in the field across from the pasture when she spooked a little at a bird in a tree. Instead of flying sideways she just picked up a canter. I let her go for a few strides before I brought her down from a trot. Let me tell you, it was lovely. She was smooth and round and everything that I knew she'd be.

I did not ask her for it so I didn't reward her. I'm not ready for her to think that cantering is great and she needs to do it all the time. But when we're ready- she's going to be brilliant.

Also, she's learning lateral movement.

We're making progress!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Your arms belong to the horse

Sorry I've been MIA for a while, it's been a rough few weeks for me here. Don't worry, the Quarters are fine- I just had to work through some stuff.

Two weeks ago the Quarters and I got a long, intense visit from classical dressage trainer extraordinaire, Katie. I asked her to come out and help me find a way to get Coriander to stop bracing so hard against the bit (among other things).

Who? Me?
The first thing we did was find him a new bit. Due to her amazing Jedi powers the very first bit Katie put in his mouth made him pretty happy. So this is his new bit, a Herm Sprenger aurigan something-or-other bradoon. I had no idea a thick, singled jointed snaffle would make him happy but he's the expert on his own mouth so there you go.

His new bit
We then worked on flexions, jaw (mouthing the bit) and lateral (getting the neck to bend side to side with the poll high and the head vertical). These are great and I've incorporated them into our pre-ride routine. BUT the biggest breakthrough for us happened after I was mounted.

Have you ever heard that when you ride your arms belong to the horse? In case you haven't heard this- it refers to the fact that in gaits where the horse needs to move their neck to balance, like the walk and canter, your arms need to follow that movement. I thought I had following hands but I really didn't, especially when we were turning or bending. As soon as I asked for either of those my arms stopped moving, and Coriander immediately braced against them.

Katie spent quite a bit of time bringing my attention to that and helping me fix it. At one point we were walking in a circle, I wiggled my fingers to ask him to flex- which he did- and then I very obviously followed his head with my hands. Coriander immediately relaxed and telescoped his neck.


So that is the secret! I've been really working on this for the past few weeks, because he's green his head is all over the place but I've been concentrating on following him wherever he goes, exaggerating my movements trying to keep a constant, smooth contact where the rein never slacks and then snaps him in the mouth. We're making progress, slowly but surely.

Following hands, folks. Following hands.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A video from my mentors

One of my mentors from the Oregon School of Natural Hoof Care, Nancy Ash, recently put together this little video (sorry, I can't get it to embed). The man doing the trimming, Dave Fitton, spent many hours with me going over exactly how to trim the bars. His knowledge and guidance were invaluable, so I'm very excited that I can share this with you:

"I've posted a new video. It will be one in a series of four taken with my Android telephone camera at the Klamath Falls Packing Clinic, where Oregon School of Natural Hoof Care had a booth. We go every year: Cheryl gives demonstrations and we invite people to bring their horses for a free consultation. This year April, one of our students who now trims professionally, trimmed a previously foundered pony, part of the pony ride string. We also helped the owner understand how trimming would help her little guys and comped her a book so that she can keep her 25 ponies in good shape.

"Dave Fitton helped a Klamath Falls roper whose beautiful paint gelding has been off and on lame for several years. He was advised to nerve the animal to relieve some of the pain created by his diagnosed "navicular syndrome." The roper trims his horses himself and was following the advice of his vet to keep the heels higher than we advise. The next step was nerving, which the owner was reluctant to do. He'd read up on barefoot trimming and decided to give it a try after talking to Dave.

"This video, the first of the series of four, gives a clear view of how to hold your knife when trimming bar and bar off sole. The entire series shows what we mean by the "whole horse trim" we teach at the school. Dave doesn't limit his advice to the hooves as he explains how the impacted bars are affecting the entire horse and how to proceed with getting the horse back to soundness and into mild competition after the trim.

"The video doesn't have the best lighting, as we were in direct sunlight with an audience and were more concerned with letting the owner see than in taking the video. But you get a good idea of what we teach and how we treat our horse and human clients at the school."

Happy viewing:

The second video is here:

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tough love

When I got Gwen almost three years ago, she was wilder than a march hare. It took 10 minutes to get a halter on her, and once I did leading her was like flying a kite or trying to reel in a marlin. She'd spook at everything and then try to bolt, constantly, and the only thing on her mind was getting next to her brother at all costs. Because of that, I adapted a certain way of handling her (including clicker training) to help her learn she could be comfortable with me, that she could be safe with me.

The thing is, she's not that horse anymore- but I've been treating her like she is. I've been letting her get away with what seemed to me like little things that added up to something big. Like walking off without my direction and swinging her hindquarters around instead of halting square. It took an outsider looking at the situation to say to me, "you've got a submission problem."


That totally blew my mind.

But she was absolutely right. I have not stepped up expectations with Gwen's progress, I've still been walking on eggshells around her for fear that if I ruffle her feathers she'll blow up like that wild thing she used to be. The thing is, by NOT laying down the line I've been making it more likely that's what she'll do.

It was pointed out to me that since she's a flighty, nervous animal who is incredibly insecure, she needs me to be in charge to feel safe. But because she's a mare, she'll test me. If she steps over the line and I don't step up, she'll get nervous, and then she'll get scared, and then she'll be gone.

Of course laying down the law doesn't mean I have to get nasty or aggressive with her, I just need to correct her when she makes a decision without me. If she takes a step I don't ask for, I need to put her back. If I'm riding and she tries to fixate on something, I need to move her body so she can't. I need to ask her for more, lots more, to keep her busy and to keep her mind from wandering. A Gwen that has her mind on me is not a Gwen that's spooking and bolting across the countryside. That's the Gwen I want.

It's time for me to help my baby girl grow up.

I've been too busy to take any photos of the Quarters lately, so enjoy this dandelion instead.