Sunday, June 29, 2008

Spin 'Til You Barf!

I'm ready to delve into the turn on the haunches. Be warned, in my world, I'm talking about what I call a spin or turn around. I wish my pictures would come back from the Palomino show. I have a photo of my yellow mare spinning that I think you'll get a kick out of.
Once again, I'm pulling this out of my head, a combination of what I've been taught, what I've read, and what I think.
A spin is different from a roll back.
In a rollback I'll be moving Hilda in a straight line, maintaining a lot of forward. I'll ask for my Whoa. (I'm a Whoa'er not a Ho'er)
When Hilda stops I will rock her back over her hocks, open my inside leg, turn my upper body in the direction I want Hilda to go, apply outside leg pressure, and off we go through the turn, into the opposite direction.
Basically I'm doing a half turn, just like in horsemanship.
Hilda will depart out of this half turn over her hocks at the same speed we went into it. If she was loping when I first asked for the Whoa, then she will depart out of the turn at a lope. If she was trotting, we will trot out etc.
I do a lot of gait variation in practice, it creates a slight wait in my horse, and helps them stay calm through their run downs.
A correct roll back has two parts.
1. Run down and stop.
2.Roll back and depart in the opposite direction.
A good stop should leave Hilda rocked back over her hocks, so all I have to do is turn and go.

A spin or turn around is a forward motion. Remember this. It is vital.
This should take days, weeks or months to teach, depending on where you and your horse are at. Give lots of rests, releases, and quit for the day sooner, not later.
As always I use two hands to teach any maneuver.
Before I start to teach this maneuver Hilda will walk, trot, lope on the correct lead, all on a loose rein.
She can turn on the forehand without anxiety.
I can guide her with my inside rein, and contain her shoulder slightly with my outside rein.
Hilda knows to move into my open leg.
She tries to stay balanced between my reins and legs.
I can move her hips to the left and right with leg pressure.
Hilda is balanced enough to trot a twelve to fifteen foot circle, upright, with even cadence.
I am balanced enough to sit upright, my shoulders level, not looking down. My inside leg is at the cinch for support, my outside is pushing lightly at the back cinch. I have my weight evenly balanced on my seat bones. Hilda appreciates this.
Try this exerxcise at the walk if you have trouble feeling where the forefeet are going. At the walk only you can look down at her shoulders. The point of her inside shoulder will move into the turn first.
When you're both comfortable at the walk, you can move on. Quit looking!
I start her spinning from the trot.
I trot a straight line, roughly 10 feet or so. My seat bones are evenly balanced.
I will drop my weight to my inside seat bone.
My inside leg will come off Hilda.
My outside leg will push Hilda, from the calf, back by my back cinch.
My inside hand will ask for the turn.
My outside hand will restrain Hilda's outside shoulder enough that I only see the corner of her inside eye.
When I start my turn, my hands are not low by my hips, they are at the middle of her neck, the reins about 4 or 5 inches off her neck on either side.
When Hilda begins the turn I'll put my outside rein on her neck, and the inside rein will be guiding her, with up to a foot of space between her and the inside rein.
Since Hilda knows to try to keep herself centered underneath me, she'll seek a way out of the knot I've put her in.
I won't jerk, pull, or increase pressure. I'll wait.
My outside leg and hand have created a rock solid, immovable wall. My inside hand, inside seat bone, and open inside leg are her invite to turn.
Hilda will set her inside hind leg, and begin to turn, her outside front crossing her inside front.
That will place her evenly between my hands again.
When I feel even the first step, I'll release, and we trot off.
There's your first stepping stone.

If Hilda rocks back on her hind end, I'll kick her forward and try again. If she's too far back on her hocks she'll cross with her outside behind the inside front. It's important for her to stay forward and get the sequence right. If you can't feel it, get a friend to watch for it.
Never get mad when your teaching a new maneuver. Never, ever, ever.
I want Hilda to be interested in what I'm doing.
I want her to figure her way out of each knot I create. She can't do that if she's worried about getting thumped on.

Now that Hilda can trot off straight, understand my shift in weight, turn those first few steps, and then trot on, without getting worried, I'll start setting up squares.
I'll trot forward about 10 feet on a loose rein, set up my turn, get enough of a turn for a right angle, release, trot forward on a loose rein, set up again, etc.
I'll keep at it until Hilda and I are creating pretty, even cadenced squares, all over the place, in both directions.
Release, and forward, are the key words here.
Hilda likes to move, and she just loves that release. The only time she feels restraint is when I gather her up for the turn.
She is learning to seek that turn when I gather her up. She realizes the faster she correctly
makes that corner, the quicker she's moving forward on a loose rein.
If Hilda is getting stressed about this, I'll just make my squares larger, say 15 feet or so. I will still hold my hands solid and steady until she finds the turn. I'll come back down in size when she's ready.
I will begin to make my squares smaller, as Hilda can handle it, until we're going maybe 5 feet before I ask for that turn.
That's stepping stone number two.

Now we're ready to get down to business.
Hilda and I will trot 12 to 15 foot circles to the left, with plenty of energy.
She is even between my reins, and my seat bones are evenly balanced.
I will pick a point in my circle, that I am going to use every time.
At my chosen point, I will drop my weight to my inside (left) seat bone, open my inside (left) leg, and guide Hilda into a spin to the left, pushing with my outside calf at the back cinch, my hands the same as for the square turn.
She may only get a step or two, she may go all the way around, she may just freeze and yell "Uncle!"
Don't worry, send her forward, and go again.
The goal is to get one solid turn around, her front feet keeping the cadence of her trot, and then
trotting forward back into her circle. That would be both ways.
You need to do lots of these. Lots.
Not all in the same day buckaroos and buckarettes.
As soon as I get that first good try, Hilda and I are going for a lope, no muss, no fuss, so she can shake off all that containment.
We might work on it again, might start another day. Depends on Hilda, her mind set, her athletisism, or her anxiety. Depends on me, my mind set, my athletesism, or my anxiety.
Some of you might shy away from using the same spot in your circle to start your turn around. I'm a big fan of anticipation. I use it when I'm first teaching Hilda a maneuver, whenever it shows up.
Anticipation is a good thing. I want Hilda to know that we are always going to turn in the same place so she starts thinking about it.
A horse only anticipates because they're trying to do what you want.
If they're trying to do the wrong thing, that's your fault.
Be kind in your correction, and just show them again what you want.
That's the next stepping stone.

When Hilda can really motor around, I'll begin asking for two turns, then three, etc.
I'll ask her to spin in different places in the circle.
I read once that a horse doing a spin expends the same energy as one lap in a collected lope around the arena.
I try to keep that in mind.
Now I want Hilda to try to spin from a stand still.
I'll take a warmed up Hilda, stand her in the middle of the arena, and set up my spin cue.
Drop my inside seat bone, take off my inside leg, and push with my outside leg. My reins will come up, inside rein tipping her nose in just enough to see the corner of her eye, outside rein supporting her, and I wait.
I'll let Hilda find her spin. It doesn't have to be fast at first. Just correct. When she takes a correct step or two, I relax, move her forward, stop, and do it again.
I'll alternate these two exercises until she starts clocking around pretty good.
Hilda will learn to increase the speed of her spin in correlation with the cadence of her trot in the circle.
That's the last stepping stone for beginning the spin.
When you can do all this stuff with your own little Hilda, let me know, we'll polish it up.
As always, good luck, and let me know if it works!
There you go Fugs, turn on the haunches, turn on the forehand, ala mugwump. I hope some of it applies to the VLC.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Horse Stories/Sonita/Chapter3

The idea behind scar massage is to stop the newly formed scar tissue from attaching to the muscle beneath it. Scar tissue is very delicate, the skin around it even more so. Gentle, stimulating massage will keep it flat, and help prevent a big, tight, gnarly mess from forming.
It also feels great.
Sonita would be lulled into a doze when I worked on her leg. For half an hour every morning, I would sit on a bucket, rub a gob of Eucerin hand cream around the wound, and go to work. She would stand with her nose resting on my shoulders, hip cocked, and grunt with pleasure. Every now and then she would flip my hat off my head.
I'd pick it up, whack her with it, and put it back on.
"Nobody messes with my King Rope cap." I told her.
Sonita would toss her head and roll her eyes, but nothing would convince her to step away from that massage.
The rest of the day Sonita dedicated to raising hell.
She had decided the barn was a good place to be. She liked it inside. She also decided that the horse on either side of her needed to stay out.
She would lunge at the bars separating the stalls, teeth bared. She would squeal and spin around in circles, sending shavings flying.
She began to kick the walls.
Leg or no leg, Sonita began training.
We had a wonderful tie wall in our indoor. It was solid with heavy, oiled wood planking, and reached up seven feet. A sturdy ring was bolted in about six feet up, every ten feet or so. The horses couldn't get hurt. They couldn't reach each other. They couldn't chew. It was a beautiful, patience training machine.
I would start each morning tying out my first three or four horses of the day. It's a habit I still maintain.
I would ride through them, and return them to the wall. When I finished, I would put them up, get my next set, and so on.
If I had a horse being fractious on the wall, they would stay tied until they relaxed, and I would put them up.
Being a baby, Sonita's only job was to stand tied.
I would longe her a bit, get most of the stink off her, and then tie her.
I keep a close watch on my babies. All they have to do is stand quiet for maybe five minutes, and I put them up.
Sonita stayed on the wall for hours.
She would fuss, and buck in place. She would strike at the wall repeatedly. She would whinny and holler at the other horses as they came and went.
As I led them up, she would pin her ears, squeal, and strike.
She would sweat buckets. She never seemed to tire.
If she did by chance stay quiet, for even a minute, I would get her and put her up.
As soon as I put her in her run she would start her whirling dervish routine.
"She's a busy little girl." The Chief said.
"I know, I hate this." I replied. "A two year old has no business being tied all day. She really should be out in the pens."
"We can't go there, she'll be jumping her way to Teller County."
"She seems even wilder when I put her up."
"Have you tried keeping her with you?"
"I don't want her tied all the time Chief, she'll go nuts."
"Go nuts?" The Chief always looked like he was about to burst out laughing when he talked about Sonita. "I'd say we're there."
"Why don't you put her in one of the holding pens?"
At the end of our arena we had two small pens made out of panels.
"Don't you think she'll jump?" I swung a nervous look at the pens. They didn't look sturdy enough. Or high enough.
"Give it a try." The Chief encouraged. "Panels are easier to replace than my barn walls."
I got a bucket of water, a little hay, and put them in the pen nearest the door
As soon as Sonita quit squirreling on the wall long enough to take a breather, I put her in the pen.
She spun around once, looked out the door, looked at us, and quietly went to munching her lunch.
It was the most peaceful I had seen her since she came to the barn.
"She just wants a little company." The Chief said. "She's lonely in her run."
Smart guy, the Chief.
Sonita began teaching me the fine art of compromise.
If she stood quiet for a few minutes, I would put her in her pen. She would happily spend the day watching me work.
Slowly, she learned to stand for longer periods of time.
I started to saddle her. The promise of spending her day lazing in her pen made the process fairly painless.
I worried about exercise. I was afraid I would slow down her healing.
I also realized that working her in the arena was a lot less stressful than exploding and charging around her stall.
I added some turn out in the arena after I massaged her leg.
I was studying John Lyons, Ray Hunt, and Monty Roberts pretty intensely at this point in my life.
I began playing with her loose in the arena.
She was the smartest horse I had met in years. I worked on my body language and hers. How do I move her away? How do I get her to come?
Sonita seemed to get into it as much as I was.
She learned to circle me at a lope. Sonita was never much into the slower gaits. She moved sound and sure with only a slight shortening of her stride. Her bad leg seemed to be healing well.
I had her working round at the end of the arena. No round pen here folks. Just me and my girl. She was impressing me more every day.
She learned to come when I called so fast, and so hard, that I decided my horses should learn to wait for me to come to them instead.
Sonita would come flying at me with those wild eyes, pinned ears, and flashing front legs, at roughly 1000 MPH. I realized she was only doing what I asked , but that chicken mu shu kept flashing before my eyes.
To this day, all my horses stop at least ten feet from me and wait until I walk to them. "Join Up" my butt.
Sonita was an enthusiast. I started teaching her to move her nose away from my finger when I tapped her muzzle.
At this point she wanted to stay with me once I stood by her shoulder. She would swing away from my tapping finger, but only a step or two.
I followed her nose, she kept stepping.
Pretty soon, I was jogging around the outside of our circle, and she was executing a perfect, inside hind planted, spin.
If I went the other way, she would follow.
This would also unleash her inner Doberman. She would flatten those ears, lower her head, and fly after me. I would run like hell around that circle.
It only took a turn or two before I would be laughing too hard to run any more.
We'd stop, she'd snort, and ask for a pet. It was the coolest thing I'd ever taught a horse to do.
When I look at in in retrospect, I realize she was the one in the middle, and I was the one running around in the circle.
I'm not entirely sure who was training who. Sonita, on the other hand, knew exactly what was going on.
At that point in my career I couldn't train a horse to spin like Sonita was if my life depended on it.
I had more horse than I had ever come across. I was hooked. I just needed to figure out what in the world I was going to do with her.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Horse Stories/Sonita/ Chapter 2

Before I get into Sonita, I need to ask you guys something. Will some of you actually try my training tips, and then tell me if they work?
I can see them in my mind, I can teach them if you're with me, and we're both on a horse.
I have never tried to write down how I train.
In my head they're perfectly clear, but I don't know if that means my written version of TOF makes any sense.
Talk about a writing exercise!
If you guys find holes in my sequence let me know, please! I'll try to fix them.
Thanks.

Sonita/Chapter 2

I got another call from the Goober.
"That filly crawled out of my round pen and went over the barb wire again. Her leg is really torn up. I'm bringing her out today."
"Wait a minute. How bad is she?" My heart was slowly sinking to the vicinity of my stomach.
"Bad enough that I don't want to doctor it."
"So you're going to sell me a crippled horse?" My heart fell into my acid filled stomach with a gentle plop.
"No," he replied testily, "I'm bringing you the horse you already bought.
Then I'm taking home the other horse you bought, and decided you didn't want."
"Just hold on a sec," I knew I was getting screwed somehow, but the sound of my heart doing the back stroke around my stomach made it impossible to think.
"I thought you were trading me. Can't I look at those other colts?"
"You're brand inspection is done. I'll be there in an hour."
The Goober hung up the phone. My heart flipped over once and sort of gurgled it's way to the pit of my stomach.
I had just enough time to call the vet, and have him meet my new investment at the barn.
We all knew when Sonita had arrived. The sounds of kicking and banging on trailer walls rattled down the canyon, well ahead of the grinding gears of the Goobers truck.
Of course I had an audience.
I was the new trainer at the facility.
I rode the pleasure and all around buckskin horses they raised.
The Big Chief wanted to see what I had decided to buy instead of one of his horses.
It seems his wife and grand kids did too.
A few assorted boarders, clients, and friends managed to show up, just to round out the gang.
I put on my best, "Of course I know what I'm doing." face, and opened up the big door of the indoor arena.
The Goober pulled in, hopped out of his truck.
"Get ready to catch her, she isn't tied."
I stood at the back of the trailer, arms spread, knees slightly bent.
"OK, I'm ready."
"You catching a horse or a fly ball?" The Chief asked.
"She's going to go over like a bowling pin." The vet added.
They leaned against the rail, arms folded.
I'm always up for providing a morning's entertainment.
The Goober opened the stock trailer door and my little filly peeked out into the arena, broken lead rope dangling.
Her bugged eyes were white ringed. Her sides heaved, and she was soaked in a nervous sweat.
It occurred to me I had never seen Sonita not soaked in sweat.
I straightened up.
"Come here baby." I crooned. "This is all a little crazy, isn't it?
Let's get that leg looked at, OK?"
She let me lead her out. She swung her head around, snorting, but she stood by me as I rubbed her withers.
The Goober wasted no time picking up his HYPP positive colt and loading him back into his trailer.
"He looks good. Nice doing business with you." He grunted. He was swung his rig around and motored on out of there.
I think we came to a mutual, silent agreement that this was our last business transaction. The finger I chose to wave at him, as he climbed up the road, clinched it.
The vet came over to look at my new filly.
Her leg was a mess. Most of the muscle in her forearm was gone.
He poked and prodded around the wound.
"There's a lot of old scar tissue here. She's hurt this leg more than once. My guess is that barb wire fence wasn't the first one she's jumped. Every time she gets hurt, it's harder to raise this leg high enough to get over. So she hits it again."
"Is she crippled?" I asked.
"For now. I've seen horses get along pretty good with injuries like this. You're lucky you don't need a lot of lift in her stride. She'll be able to swing that leg forward just fine."
"How do I care for it?"
"Keep her clean. There's nothing to stitch. We'll just have to wait and see how it does.
Keep her in a stall and run, she'll try to jump out of the pens."
The Chief started to laugh, just a little.
The stalls were three times the cost of the pens. My investment was just humming along.
"What have you done?" The Chief put his hand on my shoulder.
Sonita settled in to life in a run as best she could.
She paced up and down, looking over to the other horses.
She was afraid to come into her stall.
It became pretty apparent she had never seen a barn.
At feeding time she would trot into her stall, grab a mouthful of hay, and trot back outside to eat it.
Her leg was weepy and raw.
Still, Sonita had something about her I had never seen before. Every aspect of her conformation tied into the next in a sweet, smooth line. She was a tight, compact, athlete. There was a fluidity in her nervous energy that made me itch to ride her.
Her wild rolling eye would settle on me, and soften.
She was gentle and quiet when I doctored her.
She would nicker when I came into the barn.
I became almost frantic in my desire to heal her.
I had, what in my humble opinion, was a flash of genius.
I paid a visit to some friends who worked in occupational and physical therapy.
I explained Sonita's situation and asked for some help.
They got out their books, and we worked out a plan.
They taught me a lot about lost muscle tissue, scar massage, and wound care.
The scar massage was the most important. They gave me hope that the pretty little filly would be usable.
They gave me something to do.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Turn on the Forehand - Bwaa Ha Ha Ha!

I have no idea what the Bwaa Ha Ha was about. It's late, I'm tired, I might be slightly insane, but I was thinking through my turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches thing.
All day today.
Pity my horses.
When I'm thinking about things like this, I work my problem physically, while running it verbally in my head.
I want to think through each step,what it means to me, and how it effects my horses.
Which means each horse gets to do each step, at whatever level it's at, over and over.
I know I preach release, release, release.
I believe in it, really.
Except when I'm thinking through a problem. Be it a new training technique, or trying to explain something to a client, I learn through repetition.
Come be my student, hear me go on about muscle memory. I'll drive you batty.
So guess what? My horses get to step up, and do what they're told. Over and over. I tend to get in a zone, forget about their tender little psyches for a while, and float away into the task at hand.
It really pisses them off.
I really don't care.
We're all usually the better for it. I believe that they need to periodically just go to work and kick it. When I'm sorting through my training techniques they work really, really hard.
So remember that when you ask me to explain myself.
My ponies are begging you.
So let's talk about turns on the forehand.
I have warned you guys about my anal tendencies.
Remember, I use the terms inside and outside instead of left or right. I am talking about whichever leg (yours or the horse's) is inside the turn or curve.
When I start a young horse each step connects to the next. Think stepping stones. So I have to start at the beginning, kind of.
I'm only talking about turns on the forehand tonight, it is the first maneuver that evolves from my starting a colt. I think it's all I have time for too.
When Pancho first comes to train with me, he gets to know the tie rail intimately. He'll spend a day or two just hanging around with everybody at the rail.
He'll learn that he doesn't have to freak when another horse snarks at him. He'll realize they can't reach him. He'll begin to understand containment. He develop a taste of patience.
Pancho will learn that when I approach him he needs to swing his hind end away from me. He'll learn to look at me, and clear his shoulder as he turns.
He'll learn he can't cross in front of me. Ever.
This simple maneuver starts the basic thought behind a turn on the forehand.
When Pancho moves his hind end away, and begins to clear his shoulder, he will cross the hind foot nearest to me in front of the other in order to step away.
It becomes second nature to move away, and so the first stepping stone is set.
Then Pancho and I start our ground work.
I have to be honest, I too, get impatient with ground work. What I want is pretty basic.
When I step to his hip, I want Pancho to move his hind end away from me. I usually swing the end of my lead rope around, and pop him with it, until he steps away.
I don't beat him with it. I will however, use whatever force it takes to move his butt away from me.
As he goes to move around me I check him with my lead, and bring him around to face me.
I don't want him on top of me.
I have a large sense of personal space, for horses and people, so BACK OFF!
Told you I was tired.
When he comes to face me I'll swing my rope at his outside shoulder. (whacking if needed) I am encouraging him with the lead rope to step off in the opposite direction at the same time.
This will turn him towards me and through to the other direction.
Or send him into a spasm of jumping, leaping, charging at me with a pointy inside shoulder, trying to longe, whatever mayhem he can come up with.
This doesn't bother me. I keep flipping my rope around while offering him an escape in the direction I want. When I get it, I release. We stare at each other a minute. We start again.
Pancho's inside hind leg will cross in front of his outside hind, and his inside front will cross his outside front as he performs this turn before I'm happy.
Essentially this is a reverse towards me on a circle. That's the second stepping stone.
OK, we'll skip the other ground stuff, because that doesn't pertain to the turn on the forehand.
Fast forward to Pancho's first rides. I've already got him riding light and forward on a loose rein. He'll happily walk, trot, and maybe lope around the arena. He accepts gentle guidance with the right and left rein. He whoas off my seat. He backs a step or two.
I start riding serpentines across the arena at the trot. I pick a rail across the short side and head straight to it. As I approach my turn I guide Pancho's head with only my inside (or leading) rein and apply pressure with my inside (or same side) leg. My weight is on my inside seat bone. I push Pancho's hip around with my inside leg, to line him up with his head and shoulders. I look ahead to my next line of travel. I release my leg and rein pressure. Don't look at Pancho! I'm getting a big swingy turn with the hips going way wide through the turn. That's fine. Be happy. Pancho's trying.
Then I head off to a rail across the arena with my seat evenly balanced. Repeat. Repeatedly.
Remember to release through the straight aways, legs and hands.
If Pancho gets a little fast, I'll ignore it. The upcoming turn will slow him. If he gets real fast anywhere during this exercise, I'll pull him into the ground with my hands and back a few steps. Then I toss out my reins and start again.
After Pancho is pretty good at this, I add a supporting outside leg, (no pressure, just solid support) at about my back cinch. I also add some outside rein pressure, only through the turn.
I gently pull the outside rein towards my outside hip bone. I keep the pressure even with my inside rein.
This should align his neck and shoulders and increase the step through of his hips. It should smooth out your turn.
This is also a good time to practice picking up the correct diagonal. Sit through each turn, and come out on the right diagonal. Yowza! Stepping stone number three.
Now we're ready for a turn on the forehand.
Stand quietly in the center of the arena on a warmed up Pancho.
I shift weight to my inside (left ) seat bone.Press my inside calf into Pancho's belly, at about the back cinch.
Bend his nose slightly to the inside. (left)
Cluck.
Bump with my inside leg if needed.
Release after one or two steps.
Practice this both ways until I'm getting a pretty good, but loose, shambling swing around of those hips. Pancho's front feet will still be moving.
Then I'll add the restraint of the outside rein. I'll pull back gently towards my outside hip bone, while guiding with my inside (leading) rein. This should set his inside foreleg as his pivot foot. I'll keep up the leg pressure until I get a clean step around with Pancho's hind legs. I only ask for a few steps at a time before I release.
As Pancho gets better I'll ask for more, until he quietly moves full circle.
Be warned. Pancho will get stuck about 3/4 through the turn. He needs a slight release of the rein so he can reposition his inside foreleg.
Good luck. I hope this made sense.
I'm going to bed.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Horse Stories/Sonita


Sonita

Before I drift off into Sonita land, I thought I'd fill you in on my latest "Well, how about that?" moment. That would be the eye opener you finally get when everybody around you has known it for years.
We went to our favorite local riding club to do a little reining on Saturday.
We had just come off a very successful show at a bigger venue the week before.
Were we cocky?
I hope not. I'd like to think we're above that.
We were pretty casual about our warm ups, but the horses were quiet and mostly well behaved.
My yellow mare had some 'tude, but she gets that way.
Wacko Regumate Girl was pretty nickery, but that's how she gets.
Studboy was kinda snorty, but he'd been bred that morning, so we were expecting that.
Little Zoey was distracted, but it's her first show season.
Do you see what's coming here?
Yup.
They were poop heads. Every stinking one of them.
The stud was probably the best, but we never let our guard down with him. When you have a stallion it's your responsibility to make sure everyone else around him is safe. Always. We take that responsibility seriously.
What finally soaked into my fat head?
If I'm not serious, my horses won't be either.
We were having fun, laughing and goofing, visiting with friends.
Obviously, so were the ponies. The little pixies.
If yellow mare shakes her head, and fusses at the bit in practice, I had better fix it. If I make excuses or ignore it, she'll smack me down in the show pen.
If Regumate queen flips her head even an inch during a practice run down, I promise she'll about come over backwards during her stop in front of the judge.
If the distracted little filly is goofy in the warm up, how do you think she'll be showing alone in the arena?
What it comes down to is, showing easy should never mean showing sloppy.
I owe it to the horses to treat every run, every arena, in a professional manner. They owe me the same. Even if I plan to lope through a simple pattern, the horse needs to be properly prepared, and in return, should behave itself.
I can have fun and take an easy day, but my horses still have to mind. Their release can come from a relaxed performance, or not showing at all, but I can't ignore warning signals like the ones I was getting.
If my body language tells them they can fart around at this arena, what's going to happen when I'm nervous and distracted at my next world show?

So on to Sonita.
I sort of got Sonita on a trade. I was working for a barn that stood a dun stallion and competed in all around at IBHA shows.
To make a little cash I was picking up an inexpensive project horse here and there, putting some time on them and selling them.
I had bought a three year old Western Pleasure prospect. He had Impressive on his papers more than once, so I agreed to buy him if his HYPP tests came back N/N. I was assured he'd be fine, but he wanted him sold. If I wanted the test done and anything turned out wrong, he'd gladly reimburse me.
So up and coming horse mogul that I was, I bought him.
Of course his tests came back N/H.
The man I had bought him from took him back, and offered me the pick of a group of long yearlings he had just brought in.
"I bought a started three year old, and you want to trade me for a baby?"
I was starting to get a feel for this horse trading thing.
"None of these go back to Impressive." He said.
"None of them are broke." I replied.
"I'm being pretty nice about this." He hooked his thumbs in the top of his jeans. "You bought that horse you know. I don't have to trade nothing."
"I rode him, put 100 ponds on him, and paid for his shots, worming, and that damn test."
"Those colts are all I've got."
"Those shoes he's wearing weren't free you know."
"So keep him."
I sighed and walked over to look at the scruffy bunch of youngsters.
They were all papered, chestnut, and wild eyed. A little ribby, but the feet were reasonable, the legs were straight for the most part, and the heads were pretty enough.
"Where'd these come from?"
"A ranch south of Pueblo."
"Are they all bred the same?"
"Pretty much."
This goober had been a lot chattier when I'd been buying the N/H colt.
I sat on the rail and looked them over for a while.
"How about that big blazed filly over there?" I asked.
I liked the way she kept watching me. She seemed to be checking me out as much as I was her.
She had a beautiful shoulder, a short strong back and a good hip.
"She's a lively one."
"That's all right, I like them lively."
Never the sharpest tool in the shed, I didn't realize that was as close to a warning as I was going to get out of this guy.
"What's the scar on her forearm?" It was an ugly, half healed, four inch slice.
"I dunno, she came with it."
"Will you bring her when you come pick up the colt?"
"For a fee."
"I paid when you delivered the colt. Don't you think this one should be on you?"
"I ain't charging you for picking up the colt."
Ha! I had him!
"Just charging for delivering the filly."
Sigh.
The next day I got a call.
My new filly was hurt. It seemed she had taken offence at being split off from her herd mates. In an attempt to get back to them she had cleared a five strand barbwire fence. That one went fine, but when she went over the second one she tore up her forearm.
Yes. That would be the one with the scar.
"I feel real bad about this." The trader told me. "If you still want her, I'll doctor her up and bring her to you no charge."
"I'm still feeding your other colt."
"I said I wouldn't charge you." The goober sounded peeved.
"Let me come out and look at her again."
I drove out the next day. The pretty filly was in the round pen now. She had a huge chunk of meat out of her forearm. She anxiously trotted around the pen, whinnying to her herd mates.
Chickens were scattered around the pen, dodging in and out at the remnants of her breakfast.White streaks of dried salt down her flanks and neck told me she'd been at it a while.
"It doesn't seem to affect her movement." I commented.
"The vet said it was high enough on her leg not to ruin her."
"I guess it's OK. I'll still take her."
I walked closer to the pen to get a better look at my new horse. She stopped pacing and looked me over. Same friendly, unafraid look in her eye. She was a deep cherry red with a heavy sprinkling of roan hairs through her flanks.
A chicken pecked at the ground on the other side of the round pen. The filly flattened her ears and swung her head toward the oblivious chicken. She shot across the pen, head low, raccoon tail snapping, and smashed the chicken flat.
She snorted, shook her head, and trotted back to me. She extended her nose for a friendly sniff at my fingers. There was mu shu chicken all over her hooves.
"Woo Hoo! That's the third one in two days!" The trader slapped his belly."My wife is going to be so pissed! Those are her best laying hens."
"My God." I was horrified. I happen to like chickens.
"You bought yourself a good un'. " Goober was real friendly now that the deal was done. "I'll bring her by in a week or two."
Gotta go read Fugs. More on Sonita tomorrow...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Gotta Get That Lead Change

This is the first time I've tried to be this specific with how I teach a maneuver. I had a request on how to get a lead change out of a pleasure horse without a lot of forward.
I can only tell you how I do things, and then let you try it. There are so many factors involved with a horse I've never seen, I can't make any assumptions.
Some of this might seem like "Well Duh!" kind of stuff, but that's what most training really is.
Lead Change
You have to realize I am fairly anal when it comes to detail. If my horse is prepared properly for a maneuver then it usually is no big thing for her.
If it is too hard for her, or she don't understand it, then I have failed in my step building
process somewhere along the way.
If a conformation flaw is stopping her, I should find it as I am teaching her the preparatory steps.
I always use two hands to teach any maneuver.
I use the terms inside and outside, because I have to think too hard to remember left and right.
Inside leg means the leg inside the maneuver. Yours or Fluffy's.
Before I ever contemplate a lead change, I know Fluffy can:
Lope continuously for ten to fifteen minutes.
Take both leads in a circle, or on a straight away.
Lope depart comfortably from a walk.
I also want to have complete control of Fluffy's body. She has to:
Ride evenly between my reins and legs.
Turn on the forehand both ways without flipping her head around. Bad Fluffy!
Leg yield ten to fifteen steps at a time, at the walk, both ways.
Side pass ten to fifteen steps each way.
Quick review: I know most of you already know this, but if somebody doesn't here it is, also, my interpretation of a maneuver may or may not be the same as yours...
Turn on the Forehand
Fluffy will set her inside front foot as a pivot as she rotates her hindquarters around
that foot. Her head is aligned with her shoulders and body.
Leg Yield
Fluffy's head and shoulders will maintain a straight line as I push her outside hind foot towards her inside front. I'll contain her front end with my hands, and push her outside leg towards her inside front with my outside seat bone, and my outside leg, just in front of my back cinch. If I use the arena rail her head and shoulders will be at about forty five degrees from the rail.
Her hindquarters will power the maneuver.
I'm going to be careful to keep control of Fluffy's neck and shoulder.

Now that I have all that stuff, I will get in my big arena. If you don't have one, a long stretch of straight, fairly level trail, or road, works just fine.

1.I start Fluffy at one side of the arena. I will look ahead, not at Fluffy!
I walk a straight line down the long side. About 20 steps in I leg yield four or five steps,towards the center of the arena.
When Fluffy gives it to me, I release, and continue on my straight line. I repeat this the length of the arena.
When I get to the end, I stop, and rest my horse for a minute or so. Then I gather her up, turn on the forehand, using the same seat bone and cue leg, and head up the arena again.
Any time Fluffy gets stuck, I'll turn on the forehand using the same cue leg, then start again.
When we get good that way, I'll go the other.
I will do this drill at a trot, and eventually a lope, but as a limbering exercise. The walk footfall pattern emulates the lope closer than the trot, so I save the trot for later.

2.I will set up figure eights at a walk. When I go through the middle of my circle I will leg yield over to the next circle.
Example: Walk a circle to the left. My weight will be balanced in my outside hip (right) pocket. I will lightly hold Fluffy's nose tipped to the inside of my circle. As I approach my middle I will straighten Fluffy between my reins. I will shift my weight to my inside hip (left) pocket. I will leg yield to the right four or five steps, tip Fluffy's nose to the right, then continue on in the right circle.
Reverse.
Do this lots.

3. I will lope many, many large circles. I will push Fluffy's hip to the inside of my circle often, until she does it easily.

4. I will lope squares and rectangles. On my long side I will push Fluffy's hip into the lead using my seat bones and my calf. This will help you gain control of her hip.

5. When I have all of that done, and Fluffy will comply happily and smoothly, I'll do it a while longer.

6. I will begin a large circle to the left, I will circle around a few times, every time I go through the middle I will pick up my reins, straighten Fluffy up, and NOT change. I will keep my seat bone and outside calf firmly positioned on the right. I will tip Fluffy's nose back to the inside.

7. When everything feels good, I will lope yet another circle. This time I will straighten Fluffy up through the middle, shift my seat bones, then my calf, to the left, or the outside of the new circle.
My lead almost always changes to the right, and off we go. I shift her nose to the inside of the new circle after the hind legs change. I quietly bring Fluffy down to a walk, tell her she's perfect, get down, and put her up.
The next day we change the other way.
I rarely change both ways the first day.

VOILA!

This can take a day, a week, or months, depending on where you and you're horse are. I never hurry. If Fluffy drags a lead I don't worry or fuss at her. I do go back and review the turn on the forehand and the hip to the inside of my circle drill.
Remember, a lead change begins with the hind legs, not the fore. If you change the hind the front will always follow.
Hold Fluffy straight between your reins in the front, and focus on her hind legs. Look straight ahead, don't look to the next circle until you feel the change.
If you don't have an arena, teach Fluffy to change on a trail, in a field, or on a deserted dirt road with good footing.
You don't have to be in a circle, it's about legs, not direction.
Good Luck! Have Fun! Be nice to Fluffy!



Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What's Your Plan?

I was going to write about lead changes, as requested, but had quite the deal at work today.
I was working Pete in the upper arena, and halfway watching a storm build behind me.
Pete is a pretty fancy, awfully cool, bay gelding. He's bred, has the look, and figures if he doesn't try too hard he can live with me forever.
Since I'm big on the "make the wrong thing difficult" concept, I spend a lot of time trying to convince Pete it would suck to live with me forever. (although after reading Fugs blog today, I figure they should ALL live with me forever)
So we were working through some pretty tough flexibility exercises.
Pete takes my total attention when I'm convincing him he needs to move on in life. He is so determined to stay with me that he will do whatever he deems necessary to make me see the light.
"Oh, you meant stop, as in Whoa?" He says.
"Back there? Really? All the way back there?"
Another favorite is, "Oh, you meant turn THAT cow. I see. Well, maybe tomorrow."
The problem with Pete is that he's also a believer in the "make the wrong thing difficult" system. If he doesn't think I'm picking up on his cues quick enough, he has no problem following through with a pretty tasty buck fest.
So it pays to be alert while riding Pete.
Which is why I failed to notice that storm piling up right over my head.
Until the light went white and my ears were split by one of the biggest cracks of thunder I had heard in a long time.
I was out of the saddle, and Pete and I were blowing into the barn before the black dots quit swimming around my eyes. We didn't quite beat all five of the barn dogs in, but we tried.
I was waiting out the rain, in the office, when the boss called.
"Is my place on fire?" She asked.
"I don't know, I'm sitting in the barn. Pete and I almost got our butts fried."
"I've had about five phone calls telling me my place is on fire."
"Let me go look." I said.
I went outside and immediately smelled smoke.
I kept walking and looking, and couldn't find anything. Just as I was going to report the all clear, I saw a thick black cloud of smoke across the road.
"Oh yeah, there it is." I said, just as the fire trucks started blasting up the hill.
"It's right across the street. There's flames about 100 yards from here."
"I'm on my way." The boss said.
I knew I had about 15 minutes before she could show up. The other boss, or Mr. Boss, wouldn't be able to get here any sooner.
A neighbor pulled in and said, "Do we need to move stock?"
"I think we're OK." I said. "The wind's in our favor, and it's back behind the hill."
"Look down at the broodmare pasture." She pointed.
I looked down, and across the way, and saw flames from another fire moving at a pretty good lick towards our pasture.
I started looking behind us for an escape route right about then.
We have about 35 head on our place, not including cattle.
Our three pastures are linked in a row, south to north.
I figured I could move the two and three year olds to the cow pasture. Then I could bring the broodmares from across the street, under the bridge, and into the newly emptied two year old pasture.
If the fire looked like it was going to jump the road, I would lead the stalled horses, the studs, and the momma/baby pairs north to the neighbors field.
Then I was going to start cutting fence and moving each set of horses into the next northern field, and continue leap frogging them until I felt they were safe. I hoped the dogs would stick with me.
I figured we could have a helluva barbecue with what was left of the cattle. I wasn't planning on coming back for them.
The only horses I would have to lead were the studs, stalled horses, and the pairs. The rest I would bring the old fashioned way, with a can of grain.
By the time the neighbor and I had started to implement my plan the bosses showed up.
So did a bunch more fire trucks. The police closed off our road and the highway leading to it. The news crews started showing up.
We got the two and threes in with the cattle, and the broodmares under the bridge and across the road. The can of grain worked fine. I wonder how a carrot stick would have worked in that situation?
The only problem was Annie, my grandma mare. (34 and counting) She came when we called, but very slowly. Then she got confused and started to wander back. I had to halter her and lead her to the rest of the herd. I had a horrible jolt when I realized she's almost blind. My good mare Loki came and took her to the other mares.
The wind stayed in our favor, and the wonderful volunteer fire department got the fire under control.
We didn't have to find out how the neighbors would have felt about our studs rampaging through not only our horses, but theirs as well. Hee hee.
We were lucky.
My emergency last minute plan was pretty good.
We're going to refine it for the future. I spend most of my time at work alone.
I have to have a clear plan in my head.
Next time, I'm going to put the dogs in my car, and drive through the fields to the nearest neighbor. Then, I can head back if possible, after I park the dogs and car, hopefully with help.
All of our horses need to be halter broke. Every one.
I'm going to ride Annie as I move the separate groups. I think she'll be able to keep up if I'm there to help her.
The cows can either come with me and Annie, or plan on being at the barbecue.
Annie let out a heart wrenching nicker, and put her forehead against my chest, when she realized it was me who had come back to get her.
Even in the chaos I automatically put my hand up to rub her poll and talk to her a little.
I guess I do whisper once in a while.
So what's your plan?
What will you do if all hell breaks out and you have a finite amount of time to save your horses?
Where will you put them?
The boss and I are working on an evacuation plan as we speak.
The neighbors were amazing. I heard there were 15 trailers hitched and ready to come.
So what's your plan?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Serenity Breezes Blowing Through The Hills Are Alive

I was in the feed store yesterday checking out the bulletin board.
There are a lot of trainers in my area. Lots.
They like to put up flyers.
The first thing I noticed is that a bunch of them have really kicky names.
Whispering Winds Ranch
Serenity Dreams Farm
Fantasy Horses Ranch (so is this a video game?)
Peaceful Prairies Equestrian Center
Wild Flower Haven
And so on.
The next thing I noticed is that every single one of these places had a NH trainer running it.
Is a fru fru name a certification requirement?
I truly don't get it.
I'm not judging, I swear. I'm just saying.
I don't have a flyer. I've thought about it. I'm more of a "That gal over the hill rides. I like the job she did on my colt." kind of trainer.
I'm the first to admit, I'm a crappy business woman. I just like to ride horses. I prefer to get paid if I'm riding one that's not mine. Otherwise, I think it's considered horse stealing.
So maybe I will get that flyer.
I just have to think of a name.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Horse Stories/Mort/Chapter2


Mort/Chapter 2

I had my horse. He was beautiful. About a hundred years younger than the lesson horses I had ridden on the local drill team. About 100 MPH faster too.
I had a week of board left at the full care stable he came from. I ignored the snickers, stares, and sympathetic head shakes.
My 14 year old insecurity guaranteed that I didn't question anyone. I assumed that they were laughing at me because I didn't deserve such an incredible horse. I knew I was too stupid to own him. I was convinced the sympathetic head shakes were for my wonderful horse, who was stuck with such a moron.
My 14 year old combative stubbornness guaranteed that I glared at them, put my horrible chain hackamore on him, crawled on bareback and rode out for the day.
The ex-owner offered to sell us his saddle, but Dad felt it would be good for my moral fiber to buy my own.
Considering that I was now supporting my own horse with my 75 cents an hour baby sitting services, it looked like it would be a hell of a lot of moral fiber.
My inability to stay on saddleless, steer, and slow down Mort at the same time, guaranteed he got to pick our rate of speed. I still didn't know I had bought a runaway. I just thought we liked to go.
I spent our first week together covering the park trails. Mort would go absolutely anywhere I pointed him. Since I was spending most of my time desperately grabbing handfuls of mane and sliding from side to side, my steering was pretty sporadic.
Off trail was fine with him. He'd blow through gullies, scramble up rocks, jump yuccas, straight and true wherever I sent him. Whether I meant to or not.
I still have about six inches of faint scar that originally went from wrist bone to elbow. My first wrestling match with a low hanging tree branch. I lost that one, and most of the many to come.

I rode by myself for that last week at the boarding stable. I didn't want my friends to see how much trouble I had staying on. I was embarrassed by my lack of a saddle, and I wanted to make damn sure I could ride him before anybody saw him.

Mort started to calm down. A week of racing through the pines with me clinging to his mane instead of his reins seemed to be his cup of tea.
We would lap the park a time or two, and he would eventually come down to a walk. I would find a clear grassy place, slide off and flop to the ground. Mort would graze, and I would lay in the grass next to him. I listened to the sound of his teeth tearing large mouthfuls of grass. The sweet smell of the newly torn grass would mix with Mort's sweat salty hide and drift over me. I would half doze in the sun.
Sometimes he would snuffle my hair, or gently lip my arms and face. I would reach over and slide my palm over his slate smooth hoof, or wrap my hand around his fetlock. My fingers would feel out his pulse. The steady beat of his heart, so much slower than mine.
That week I didn't just learn to sit him, we became friends. I trusted him completely. In our years together that never changed. He never let me down.
He never left me for home. He never spooked and stomped me. He always patiently stood by whatever fence, tree limb, or rock I used to scramble back on.
Then I would grab on like a monkey and we would blast for home.

I have said it before, and I'll say it again, God loves children, fools, and new horse owners.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Good Day

We had blue sky, lots of sun and a little breeze. Met some nice folks, I haven't shown with the PHBA before. The shows are smaller, much less pressure, WAY less money, and a lot friendlier.
My yellow horse won, and the wacko Shining Spark was second. :) Of course this means we head back into AQHA and NRCHA. Sigh.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What a Trainer Wants

This is so self indulgent I can't believe it. I was asked what a trainer expects from her clients. What a wonderful can of worms!
I am dead tired again. Raced around this morning trying to fit in coffee with my Dad, who's visiting from Spokane, get my chores done, and still hit the reining in the afternoon.
Got home after 8:00, and am trying to stay awake so I can pick up my daughter from work at midnight.
The show's going well. The Shining Spark mare decided to hold her minimal brain together and showed today. Her owners were ecstatic. It made me look pretty good, she easily broke 70. Considering she came to me in October a quivering wreck, I'm pretty happy.
She'll earn her way in life yet.
My yellow horse didn't let me down. She has become eager to enter the arena, and keeps kicking out these calm and reliable patterns. I swear she's having fun. I can't wait for the next cowhorse show.
So, what does a trainer want from their clients?
1. Pay me. Please. At the first of the month. Like your mortgage.
I have to buy hay, grain, and fuel. I have to pay my farrier and vet. If you can't afford to pay me then take your horse home.
2. Bring your horse to me in good flesh.
I work them hard. Often harder than they have ever worked in their life. Expect them to lose weight while I have them. If they gain while in training it means they were too damn thin when they came in.
3. Have them newly shod or trimmed when they come in.
It slows me down when they have two year old pasture feet or shoes clinking on the concrete.
4. Don't bring me a sick horse.
5. Make sure they are UTD on shots and worming. See #2 and #4.
6. Let me know what you expect. If you think your five year old, uncut, unhalter broke, 1300 pound wonder boy is going to have a stop and a turn around in 30 days, I am not the trainer for you.
7. If lessons are part of the deal SHOW UP! It's rude and inconsiderate to stand me up. Plus I could start whispering God knows what into Fluffy's ear. Be warned.
8. Don't pick your horse up on the week-end if your time was up on Tuesday. I have to feed Ol' Fluffy, clean his stall, and turn him out, even if you don't come when you're supposed to. At least bring me replacement hay.
9.Find out what the trainer's ground rules are before you commit to training. Does she have an open door policy? (I do, but I expect you to pick up a manure fork.) Can you ride your horse whenever you want? (Yes, but I don't ride Ol' Fluffy the days you do) What areas are appropriate to ride in? (Across the boss's newly planted grass is NOT COOL) Can I come on your days off? (NO!)
10. Be prepared for the trainer to want to use her vet and farrier. I have a close working bond with my vet and farrier. I work best with them. If a client has a specific reason for wanting me to use theirs, I will. I won't like it though.
11.Be prepared to hear the truth. You have paid good money for my opinion. Listen to me. If I tell you a mechanical hackamore sucks, don't fuss. You can torture Fluffy on your own time.
12. Do not bring me the bit the guy who runs the feed store told you would put a stop on Ol' Fluffy. Try that crap out at home before you bring him. That way I'll get to train him a lot longer then you thought.
13. Don't come to me and then tell me which clinician's method you expect me to use. I do what I do. They do what they do. Take your pick.
14. Ask me lots of questions. Why am I doing what. How am I getting those results. But please, ask me when we're sitting on the arena rail. Not when me and Ol' Fluffy are snorting across the arena.
15. Be involved. Be aware. Whether your horse is an investment, a week-end get away, or your best friend, stay up with what's going on at the training barn. It will protect all three of us.
That's all I've got for the moment. I bet there's lots more.
Man, I'm beat...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Me and the Big K

There was no wind. We sat our horses, letting them air up. The sun warmed through the back of our Carharts.
Steam rose off our horses flanks, and puffed a steady beat from their flared nostrils.
I scratched my horse's hip in idle synchronization. Salt quickly packed my fingernails.
"Look at her go to that mare." The Big K said.
I watched the young exchange student ride by. She pulled and tugged at the mouth of the struggling horse. Her spurs rolled up and down the heaving sides, asking for even more lift.
As soon as the young horse responded she called for an ill-timed whoa. The resulting mess ended in a lot of jerking and spurring on the part of the exchange student, and even more head flinging and tail wringing from the mare.
"They always go there." The Big K said.
"Go where?" I asked.
"They see me get after a horse and think, Aha! That's how he does it."
"Does what?"
The Big K looked at me and half grinned.
"Does what, she says. Train them. They think that's how I train them."
"What do you mean?"
The Big K leaned forward and ran a hand down his gray filly's neck.
"I get these new people in here. They follow me around, waiting to figure out THE BIG SECRET."
"Yeah, you're full of secrets."
I think I snorted a little.
"Any ways," he tried to look all mean, but he was about to crack up, "they come here and see me knocking a horse around, and they figure that's the trick. You have to start kicking them around."
The exchange student went burling past us, whaling away at that poor mare's face.
"What they never seem to see, is how much time I spend doing this."
Big K gave a vague wave toward his horse's ears.
"Doing what?" I asked.
"Well shoot, you're really good at it, I think you'd know. Doing nothing. Just sitting here."
"Whatever."
"No. I mean it." He continued.
"I might get after them pretty good, but it's maybe ten percent of the time. The rest of the time I'm just sitting on them. Being quiet.
Nobody seems to see the ninety percent. They only pick up on the ten."
I leaned back against my cantle and pushed my weight into my stirrups. My bay colt cocked his hip and switched his tail in mild irritation.
"Why don't you tell them?" I asked.
"Seems to work better if I let them figure it out."
"What if they don't?"
"Then they'll give it up soon enough. I can't change a mind set better than a horse can."
"Isn't that hard on the horse?"
"You know I don't put the new ones on the good horses."
"When did I go through that?"
"Shoot, I'm still waiting on you."
"Say what?" Sometimes his cowboy ways can be a might wearing.
"I wish you'd get mad at them once in a while." He said.
"I get mad."
"Psssh. You only get mad at me and your dogs."
The Big Kahuna's gray filly started to paw at the dirt. He lifted his reins and looked towards the indoor arena. She immediately loped off, ears perked.
"C'mon", he said over his shoulder, "Those buffs aren't going to work any better if our horses are cold."
I looked over my shoulder before we stepped into the cold twilight of the indoor.
The exchange student had set her horse up for another rundown.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Favorite Books, or An ADD's Guide to Horse Training

I am really short on time this week. I had a great suggestion to make up a list of the reading that has shaped me as a trainer.
That's pretty easy for me, because I have my most important books sitting on a shelf in my studio, always within reach.
I'd love additional suggestions from anybody that has them. I am a voracious reader, especially horse books, any breed, any discipline, it all interests me.

Misty of Chincoteague (and the rest) by Marguerite Henry, illustrated by Wesley Dennis
OMG. Do you want your horse crazy child to go off the deep end? Here you go. Only the hard cover, full color editions will do on these beautiful, wonderful stories. I learned that you had to earn the right to ride, you should always listen to Grampa, and if you did those things, you could run off on your pony, fall, jump, or swim your pony in the ocean, save lives, capture wild ponies, and win races.

The Black Stallion Series by Walter Farley
Alec was the coolest, most savvy kid on the planet. The Black was the best dream horse anybody could come up with.
Solid horsemanship came along with these wild ride books. Walter Farley knew what he was talking about.
The Black gave me a fairly stubborn, often unrealistic tendency to help the underdog. It convinced me that if I stuck with a horse, tried to understand it, and believed in the impossible, I would be able to tame anything.
The Black also gave me a bad case of the go-fast.
I've never recovered.
I guess I'm lucky ol' Walter didn't get me killed.

Monte Foreman's Horse-Training Science
This book went hand in hand with my learning the Monte Foreman method. I was sixteen years old when a young trainer named Mike Craig started me on this system.
It changed my life with my horse, and turned on my "trainer brain". Monte dissected every maneuver a horse performed with film. He mixed up western and english concepts with abandon.
To this day I break down every maneuver a horse in my training is required to make, and figure how to teach the horse to reach his optimum capacity for each step. I'm obsessive. Thanks Monte. I guess.

Lyons On Horses by John Lyons
My first peek into the kinder, gentler world of NH. Although John would cringe if you called him an NH trainer. A smart and savvy man, he teaches a safe, sane way to work with your horse.
This is the first of three books I recommend to new horse owners.

Think Harmony with Horses by Ray Hunt
Dryer than dust, still a must read as far as I'm concerned. This is the second book I want my new horse owners to read. Every single clinician on the planet, and a lot of the rest of us, have been influenced by this great, great, horseman.
I'm so old I remember Pat Parelli attending his clinics. Pat strutted around quite a bit, had a bevvy of little twinkies swirling around him, and I never saw Ray acknowledge him once. Ever. Kind of tainted my view of Pat. Seemed he was so busy planning his pyramid scheme, and his product line, he forgot to listen to the man. I digress.

True Unity by Tom Dorrance
The third book for newbies, this book makes Ray Hunt seem like a Pulitzer prize winner. Tough to wade through, but loaded with dynamite thinking. Plus it's good to know where Ray's thoughts about horses were shaped.

Dressage by Henry Wynmalen
This is my bible. I carry it around in my car. It has helped me in every area, balance, hands, foot placement of my horse. My colt development is largely based on exercises I learned in this book.

Simple Dressage for Every Horse, Every Sport by Jane Savoie
This fun book helped me understand what the hell Henry Wynmalen was talking about.

The Body Language of Horses by Tom Ainslie and Bonnie LedBetter
Simple, direct, not sappy. All of the things that keep my attention while I'm looking at things from the horses side. Kind of like horses, ya think? This book is also a great help if you like to bet a little on the ponies.

The Less Than Perfect Horse by Jane Thelwall
Written by three day eventers in the 60's, this book covers an incredible range of training issues. It addresses problems, causes, and solutions. It also addresses those horses that are not physically perfect, and how to work with them within their limits. Go Fuglys!
This is a great book for every discipline, I find ways to use the techniques in all of the areas they cover, even if the only thing I jump is a wet steamy cow pie, or a random yucca plant.

Larry Trocha Video Series
I know this isn't a book, but I first encountered Larry's videos when I first got into reining and cows. They really helped me.
Larry isn't exactly an Academy Award caliber speaker, but he has great information to share, and it makes sense. He shows you broke horses, green horses, talented ones, and some that aren't so much.
I had a nice conversation with him once when I was trying to put together a video package I wanted. Not only was he a really nice guy, but it turns out he started way back when with Monte Foreman too. So I really understood his approach.
Any of his tapes that apply to you will help a bunch. I still refer to mine whenever I get stuck. There's always something new for me to pick up.
So that's my list. Share yours, I need something to read.




Monday, June 9, 2008

Rewards

Can you tell me what you mean by rewards in this case that the owners should have provided? What should they have done in this case? And why would the horses rebel? How can you make it so they are happy and don't rebel?

I had a different plan for today, but this question is so good, I'm going to cover it in today's post.
My training method is a fairly common one, I've developed it in bits and pieces from the clinicians I've seen, the trainers I've worked with, and the horses I ride.
I'm sure that many, if not most of you, will recognize things I say and do as methods that come from other trainers.
I never will claim to have invented any of this stuff, so if I sound like I have, understand I am continually learning and trying new and old things. It's all mixed up in a jumble of what works for me, and I have made it my own. But I sure as hell had to learn it somewhere.

When I start a horse the first thing I set up is a reward system.
To my mind, the horse doesn't really care if I pet it or praise it. Horses spend their life looking for the big four, none of which have anything to do with me. I like to pet horses, but that's for my benefit, not theirs.
To them, a reward is to leave them be.
When I step to them, that creates pressure.
When I step away, it relieves pressure. Stepping away is a reward.
The first time I saddle I step to them with the pad, then away with the pad when they tolerate it.
So the reward is to have the pressure of me and the pad taken away.
And so on.
The horse learns that if it does what I ask, I'll relieve their pressure.
After the first ride I step off and loosen the cinch, then I put them up. The reward is the release of the cinch, and quitting for the day.
In the beginning I release them by putting them up for every positive step they take.
They really start looking for that positive step.
As I get farther along I increase what I ask for.
I want more and more from them before I give them the big release.
In the middle they get small rewards for being good.
After each properly executed maneuver I let them stand for a few minutes on a loose rein.
All my horses will stand rock still with the reins hanging after the first 10 rides or so. They know if they are quiet I'll let them stand. If they move I don't pull them down, we just go back to work. With enthusiasm.
I rest them often.
I try to make a clear decision with each horse, for each ride. I will either ride them past their comfort zone, and deal with the fall out, or I'll quit before they get to the point of arguing with me.
If a horse starts to fade or misbehave because I've pushed them, I make them mind, and we work until I have their focus again. Then I quit.
This builds a try into them that's really satisfying.
If I have to ask for more, they'll always give it.
Not because they love me.
Not because I give them carrots.
Because they trust me.
They trust my consistency.
They trust my leadership.
They know for a fact that if they try, I will get off, and leave them be.
I'll let them continue their equine quest for the big four.
So based on the give and take I establish with these horses, here's how it must have gone for the mustang.
She went home. Reward.
She was loaded and hauled to a new area within days of getting home. No reward.
She stood quietly while being saddled. No reward.
She was mounted and headed out into the hills without any longing or round pen warm up. No reward.
She walked and trotted without trying to bolt once. No reward.
She was tired and getting worried but still chugging along by mile 5. No reward.
She was back sore and distracted by mile 10.
They stopped and rested for lunch. Reward.
They continued their loop.
The mustang held in there, but was beginning to jig and wring her tail. They pulled on her face to try to slow her. No reward.
Her anxiety was high by mile 15 but they figured if she still had that much gas they would trot the rest of the way in. They let go of her face. Reward.
She was unsaddled. Reward.
She was too back sore to ride for the next few days. Reward?
So she was never rewarded when she was focused and trying. The harder she tried the farther they rode.
She was rewarded with the lunch break when she was losing her focus.
When she really started falling apart they answered that by hanging on her reins. When she couldn't quit jigging, they released the pressure. They rewarded her for pulling on the bit, by letting her speed up towards home.
Her concept is this.
Being good gets me nowhere.
If I get spacey and worried I get a rest.
If I pull at the bit and jump around long enough they will let me head for home as fast as I want.
Trail riding makes me sore and worried.
Next time I'll start fussing a lot sooner.
All of this could have been circumvented if they had done a five mile loop like they should have.
They are joining NATRC. My hope is that learning to competitive trail ride will teach those bozos how to care for that brave little horse.

The second horse was taken from home and away from her pasture mates for the first time.
She was ridden through not one, but three pattern classes the next day.
All of those entail being alone in the arena with a rider she was unfamiliar with.
No matter how hard she tried, she never got a physical or mental rest.
Her rewards should have come like this.
A few days to acclimate to her new surroundings with plenty of good hay and water. Reward.
Light riding without a lot of pressure during that time. Reward.
Lessons with trainer to learn how to cue pretty fancy horse. Reward and knowledge.
Take your young horse to the next show. Ride in one class. Get out of the arena, loosen your cinch, and take her the hell home! Reward.
Repeat step one and two. Reward.
Instead her concept is this.
I don't know who this kid is, but she won't get off me.
She is pulling and thumping on me every time I go in that scary, empty arena.
I think I hate that arena.
I'm not sure yet, but I might hate this kid.

All the hugs, kisses, pats on the nose, or whispering sweet nothings in their ear, will never replace being fair.
If you're not sure how, start reading.

And now it's time to get riding. Later.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Photos and a Rant....


So I've had some requests for photos. All I've got is these, they're from a day show turned practice show last week-end. This is Daisy, the "Please God, just get me my Regumate"mare.
She started pretty good.
OK, so then things got rotten and I had to two-hand her to straighten things out. Thus, practice run...





Zoey is loping calm and cool, her first time with the boss in the show pen.




This is Merry. This is her first time in the show pen too.
The little spaz bucked a bit, but we knew that was coming. She was pretty good all in all.
Peg needs to get the saddle bronc shot next time.





Bam! Clean lead change!
Of course I have to end with my yellow horse, because she's the coolest.
Ever.




Just have time for a short rant today.
I had a very cute three year old mustang named Shoni in for sixty days. She came in with the ability to one rein stop, and travel at a dead run.
That was all. No kidding.
She left with a nice walk, trot, and a slow steady lope.
She knew her leads, and would stop off your seat.
Her ground manners were all there. She quit trying to bite every time you tightened her cinch.
I never fed her a carrot.
She turned left and right. On the forehand, and on her haunches. Not quite a spin, but it was in there.
When you said whoa, she stopped. I didn't have to yank, or pull her around.
I truly think she was relieved to learn about cadence.
I offered her owner as many lessons as she could take during this time. The owner was timid, and knew she couldn't deal with the old Shoni. I liked them both, and wanted the situation to work, so I offered more lessons than I would normally.
She came once.
She walked around the arena and trotted maybe three steps.
She picked the filly up on my day off, so I couldn't give her any insight on what was done.

Two days later she took her on a twenty mile trail ride in the mountains.
Shoni was perfect.
The owner was so excited, she had to call and tell me all about it.
I almost snorted my burrito out my nose.


Sophie is one of the boss's foundation bred fillies. She is a pretty dark bay, with enough gold highlights to almost make a buckskin. She is correct and clean legged.
I broke her out and have had her in my line up for the past two years. She is four years old.
She had been hauled lightly, maybe five times. She had loped in a warm up pen at most twice.
She had never been shown.
Sophie can stop a little. She can change leads, and circle up pretty nice. Her spins are adequate. She is lively and easy to handle on a cow.
Sophie did not have enough stop or stamina for working cowhorse competition, so she was put up for sale.
A family with a solid horse background bought her for their twelve year old daughter. I got a chance to ride with her once. She is an extremely good rider, but she doesn't know a thing about how to ride one of our cowhorse trained horses.

The parents made plans to bring the new duo back for lessons.

I warned them that Sophie had rarely been off the place, out of her pasture, or away from her sisters.
I suggested they give her a while to acclimate to her new home before they started lessons.
They picked up Sophie on Friday night.
They took her to a 4H show on Saturday morning, and entered reining and horsemanship. Then they entered the jackpot reining at the end of the day.
Sophie won all her classes.
They were so excited they called to let me know.
I pretended I lost service, hung up, counted to a hundred and then called them back.
First of all, I am really proud of those fillies. It was a confirmation of my training approach. I reward them with rest and release after every try. They develop into hard working, gutsy animals.
In the situations they were thrust into I know they kept trying, waiting for some kind of release.
They held themselves together and did their best. It's all I ever ask.
Second, what the hell is the matter with these people?

This is a three year old and four year old respectively.
Would you enter your toddler in a 10 k run?
Would you enter your home schooled fifth grader in an out of state tap dancing competition?
Why did they spend all this money for training, or a quality animal, and then close their ears and do everything in their power to immediately blow these poor horses minds or legs....
AAAHHHHH!!!!!!!!
I wonder how long before Sophie is running through the bit, and Shoni bolts up the trail.
OK, that's my rant.
If you want photos of the bambinos, we have to talk Peg into coming and taking some pictures. I usually work alone. Peg comes over to play sometimes though.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

What I've Been Doing So Far

I forgot one horse. Neil. She's A Playboy's Buck Fever daughter, out of a Digger's Rest mare. Very big and stout. Three years old, she can pack us around with no problem.
So of course the boss is hoping we can futurity her.
Have I not bitched enough about futurities?
My answer is to work with her at my pace, which is pretty slow, and the boss can do what she wants.
Neil came to us already started by a trainer I don't have much use for. He has hands about as forgiving as my mother used to be when I snuck in after curfew. His hands could win the tractor pull at the state fair. His hands could pull the winning dog sled team off their dinner after the Iditarod.
His hands should not be allowed within 500 yards of a snaffle bitter.
Neil piles around the arena like a freight train off the tracks. No feel, just chug lug lug, chug lug lug. She obviously spent a lot of time in the draw reins because she'll drop her nose and give you some false collection any time you want.
I spent the first three rides just getting up and expecting her to stand quiet. She liked to trot off, and be loping by the time you threw your leg over.
I did this by gathering her face slightly into me, stepping up in the stirrup, and standing up without getting on until she stood quiet. She could huff and puff and fret as much as she wanted, I just stood up there and kept my rein tight enough that she had to circle until she stood still.
When she was quiet I got on, released my rein, and petted her. Then I'd get down and be done for the day.
When they're this young I like to give them one thing at a time to think about.
Now you can get on, and we're working on moving around on a loose rein. I do this by tossing my reins out, sitting loose and quiet, and wait for them to pick up speed. All horses who have been hung on increase their speed on a loose rein. When she steps on the gas I pick up one rein and reverse, pushing her hip through with my same side leg. They have to slow to make the turn so I release the rein. As soon as they speed up I turn them again, and so on until they will hold their speed without contact on the rein.
Neil is willing, but confused, so I'll be doing this for awhile.

Mamie is our Hancock, please let me be bucking stock, wannabe. She started out so quiet and sweet. I had her saddled and ready to go in three days. I was on and cruising in four. She loped on her fifth ride. She took it all in stride. My big fat warning that I did not pick up on was her resistance to any forward movement. She did not lead well. She did not transition up without a lot of forward coaxing. Every day she was muley.

I should know better. A horse with it's feet planted firmly in the ground like an old oak tree has to move somewhere. If they ain't moving forward it just might be straight up.

The day Mamie decided to move without help it was not forward.

It was spectacular. It was magnificent. She was a rocket. It sure wasn't forward.

Luckily I was on the ground longing her.

That girl can buck. For a really long time.

This went on for three weeks.

She would explode into a frenzy of wild, inside out bucking.

I would longe her until she was tired.

Then I would do ground work until I was tired.

My boss would get on the pony horse, drag Mamie around until the pony horse was tired, and then I'd crawl on.

To date she hasn't bucked with a rider.

In my experience, if they don't get you off, you can get a handle on it.

I am reinforcing my strict rule that horses don't buck under saddle. Whether or not I'm in it. We are careful with this one.

Sunny is a well bred delight. She is a pretty palomino, giant butted, slim necked, and a dainty headed little thing. Wouldn't it be the best if men liked their women the same way they like their horses? You know, strong, solid muscle, big butts? Sigh.
She has learned to be caught, quit swinging that lovely big old butt at me, accept a saddle, give me the space I want, lead on a loose line, and walk at ease with me on her. She can stand for the farrier too. Pretty good for three weeks of training. She's a keeper.
Patty is a goofy little thing. Half foundation stock and half fancy Boon Bar Mare. She's into anything and everything. Our first lesson went OK. She led out to the tie rail, accepted her saddle pad and saddle without much ado. I was impressed, since she isn't particularly halter broke.
The second lesson was a little different. Patty didn't realize there wasn't a choice on the leading deal. She planted them square and about pulled me over rather than step outside. So we backed up a little and I swung the rope here and there, moved hips and cleared shoulders. I made the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy. Except it all stayed difficult. Patty was going to knock it into me once and for all just how it was going to be.
So I did what I probably should have in the first place. I got a butt rope, moved her outside and tied her little self up.
That was all we did for that day.
Emma is a dark, typey, quiet filly. The kind you might pass up in a herd. Level necked, low set hocks, yum.
She took to her second saddling just fine. I took her up to our little arena and let her go. She blew around some, but didn't buck, or forget where her feet were. A very tidy mover. We don't have a round pen, so I teach them to free longe around me at one end of the arena.
That means I need my running shoes for the first couple of sessions, but Emma, bless her little heart, picked up what I wanted almost immediately.
Our ground up there is deep, and I don't have the wind I used to. She was trotting around me like a little circus pony in twenty minutes. Gotta love her.
Grunt blew up, dragged me around on the longe line, bucked 'til I got pissed. He got a fairly aggressive reminder of where I want his shoulders at all times, and then longed like a grown up.
When I worked his stirrups and saddle he jumped around like we haven't done this fifty times already. I lost patience and slapped him with the flat of my hand hard about three times, right in front of the back cinch. Horse Whisper my ass. He quieted down, I got up over his back and bounced my knee off his butt a few times. He accepted me, seemed to feel more comfortable with me balanced over his back rather than standing in the stirrup. If anybody had been around I'd have gotten on.
Decided to hold off until Saturday when the boss can pony him.
Then I rode the show horses.
So that was my day. If you guys want I'll keep updating on the baby progress week by week. I'm trying to keep to my plan of not getting on until I'm ready to commit to moving them out.
In Sunny's case, as in all of them, I'm not going to ask them to transition up until they are comfortable carrying me at the gait of the day. Sunny wasn't staggery today, so I'll trot next time I'm up on her.
Later!

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