Friday, October 30, 2015

Yo! It's me, Mugs

Hi guys. It's been a while. Don't feel too neglected, I haven't been writing at all. Not even thank you notes and I owe a few.
My return is going to be marked by change. I still think of things I'd like to write about, but I don't, because I don't think in my old old format.
For the past year, I've been moving.
Moving forward, thank goodness, but at a snails pace.
 I realized, that in order to keep writing, I have to write about my current life, the one filled with a husband who has been ravaged by a stroke, and learning, observing and training dogs. I have to write about my new reality, Parkinson's Disease, the Vaudeville slapstick routine it has made of my existence and of course, the horses, but it's so very different now.
It's taken me a bit to accept this.



     Yep. This is my new house. We have almost 10 acres. My barn and fence are in progress. I will finally have my horses, my dogs and my husband in the same place. If you look close, you can see my studio.

Life is good.
Talk to you soon.










Thursday, June 18, 2015

Collection - What we do.

Excerpt from the FEI definition of collection:

The position of the head and neck of a Horse at the collected paces is naturally dependent on the stage of training and, to some degree, on its conformation. It is distinguished by the neck being raised without restraint, forming a harmonious curve from the withers to the poll, which is the highest point, with the nose slightly in front of the vertical. At the moment the Athlete applies his aids to obtain a momentary and passing collecting effect, the head may become more or less vertical. The arch of the neck is directly related to the degree of collection.

I pulled this from the FEI's definition of collection. I have absolutely no issue with it. None.

Let me start with conformation.


The little paint is a quality reining bred yearling. The chestnut (gray?) is a quality yearling Danish Warmblood. Look at the slope of the shoulder, the haunches and the tie-in point on each neck.






Look at the flat croup and the neck tie in and the shoulder on the gray. This build gives him the ability to provide the up and down movement desired in dressage. 
The lower head set in a quarter horse comes from his build. The heavily muscled, long, sloping croup allows him to step under himself and round his back, creating balance and lightness with his "long and low" way of going.

I am not going to get into a discussion about peanut rolling pleasure horses or the crazy low heads of reiners. Both were fads, both are slooooowwwwly leaving the show ring.

I do know that the lowered head on he reiners scored high for degree of difficulty, but I think it's no longer the ideal.

The pleasure horses? I don't know. It's just show crap.

This is a Ranch Pleasure competitor. It is not crap. It may be the salvation of the western pleasure horse.

I can only explain how I train my horses. It's how I was taught to create a round frame, which lengthened the horse's stride, lightened the front end and increased our ease of maneuvers. Lightness through the shoulders, drive and power from the hindquarters...that's our goal.

The low head set comes from drawing up the horse's barrel with pressure from our legs. Try sucking in your stomach and rounding your back, check out what your neck does.

Lightness comes from bending, transitions, half-passes, side-passes, turns on the forehand, serpentines, shoulders in, haunches in....

When each maneuver is correct (no matter what level), the steps deepen, the back rises, the shoulders lighten and the poll lowers...and we encourage it.
The legs go deep, the back curves, the head drops...legs are off...bit is not even there.



Can't spin on  heavy front end.





Excerpt from the FEI definition of collection:
The aim of the collection of the horse is:
i) To further develop and increase the balance and equilibrium of the horse, which has been more or less displaced by the additional weight of the rider.
ii) To develop and increase the horse’s ability to lower and engage his quarters for the benefit of the lightness and mobility of his forehand.
iii) To add to the "ease and carriage" of the horse and to make him more pleasurable to ride.






Some people want this







Some people want this



You want lift?

We get in the dirt


Collection is all about getting what we want while helping horses create a way of going that keeps them in balance. Both disciplines use the same techniques to develop our horses, with a few variations thrown in to compliment the conformation of our horse.

I am sick of talking about collection.
I could have done all kinds of charts and diagrams, but I didn't feel like it.
This is the simplest, clearest way I could address it.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Collection begins in the back and ends at the front. It's all in the feet.

The end.









Monday, June 15, 2015

Collection - It's All About the Feet



Collection is one of the first advanced concepts we start hearing about once we're past the basic WTC.

As a kid, I thought collection was about creating a pretty picture -- by keeping my horse's nose in. As many of you know, my horse, Mort was a head slinging, hard mouthed runaway. It made sense for the advice I heard the most to be, "Get that nose down!"

I didn't understand how collected he was without any help from me. His hind legs always were under him and his front end was loose and light. There's something about a horse who can jig for twenty miles and bolt into the wild blue yonder at the drop of a hat that creates a rounded frame.

My biggest breakthrough in understanding collection came when I realized this is not a man-made way of going. Horses collect all by themselves.

When left to their own devices, a horse collects as needed for the maneuver at hand. Spooking, fighting, stopping themselves from falling off a cliff, or jumping over an irritable bear, all require collection.

The mustang (Kiger 1) is beautifully collected. See the pissy horse (Kiger 2) coming up behind him? He's creating the whole kit and caboodle by driving the hindquarters forward. The beautifully flexed poll on Kiger 1 comes from resisting being moved out, but still having his butt shoved into his head. He in position to rock back and start kicking or to spin and come in biting or striking.  See how his hips are angled toward Kiger 2's head? This horse could easily step in to a haunches in, or 
kick Kiger 2's face off.

     
Horses travel by choice by dragging themselves along with their front end, and letting their hind legs trail happily behind a hollowed out back.
We humans realized a collected horse is a smother ride. It also benefits the horse by strengthening the back and easing the stress of lugging our lumpy selves by getting those hind legs to bear a portion of our weight.

Different disciplines have different ideas of what  constitutes a collected frame.

Personally, I think this is what causes 90% of the clashes between English and Western riders.


Western Reining Horse  -- Collected



Western Horse -- not Collected


English - Dressage Horse -- Collected


English - Dressage Horse -- Not Collected



Western --Pleasure Horse -- Collected

Western-- Pleasure Horse -- not collected






English Jumper -- collected


English Jumper -- not collected






I am not bashing any discipline here.
I'm not even bashing the riders that have missed the collection boat. I don't know any of their circumstances, they were simply clear examples of the mess created by saggy middles and sprawling legs.

I do want to point out that collection can happen no matter where the head is. The reason this can happen is because collection isn't about the head. It's about drive. Which comes from the feet. 

rider from any discipline will never, ever, EVER collect their horse by pulling the reins to their hip bones. 

All that can happen is the horse will raise his head, hollow out his back and trail those legs behind.



 

What do these images have in common? The riders aren't using their legs to shape their horses.Their legs are too forward to do anything but hang like deadwood and put them out of center. 

Collection begins in the back of the horse. By squeezing, pushing or bumping (name your poison) with your calves you will propel the horse's hindquarters forward.

"But  he just speeds up!" My argumentative audience interjects.

"Shut up for a minute." I respond.

As the horse begins to pick up speed, your hands create just enough contact with the horse (bit, halter, fairy dust) to create a wall. 
Yes, a wall. You are propelling your horse into a wall. Jamming them into that baby so you can squeeze them together between nose and tail like a car in a compactor at Hank's Auto Salvage.




The woman with the white pants is squeeeeeezing her horse and shoving his head into the wall (see red line). This encourages him to take deeper, longer steps so he can puuuuuuush the wall with his forehead. This lifts his back. The harder he pushes, the rounder his back becomes, and the farther he reaches underneath himself  with his hind legs.
The headless rider is doing the exact same thing  except his rider is bump, bump, bumping and he will puuuuush his wall (red line) on a loose rein.  The deep, reaching steps and the lifted back are created the same way.




Here's the deal. Neither horse needs to be pulled on in order to collect. The vertical carriage  comes from the push into the wall, which is created by the legs of the rider driving the hindquarters forward. The riders hands give the horse a place to go to, so it can push that frigging wall.

If a horse is used to having his face pulled only to drop his nose, BUT FOR NO OTHER REASON he will learn to get behind the bit. Once his poll is tipped over his nose he can't push against the wall...if he can't push he can't collect. He can however, get some relief from those yanking hands



Can't you see the power all leaking out the back?

Collection is essentially a way of creating boundaries both front and back with our hands and legs that create the ultimate in efficient, beautiful movement. There should always be an equal amount of pressure between legs and bit. Always. If the horse has confidence in the communication and trust in hands and leg, he will find the best way to go comfortably between the boundaries we have established. 




Monday, April 20, 2015

Theorizing

I am working on a horse post. It's about collection. It's really haaaaaard (can you hear the whine?).
In the meantime, a theory about how Brockle has offered some of his behaviors has wriggled through my mind.

This is pure speculation on my part. It does come from the knowledge I've been absorbing since I decided to study dog training and behavior. I would love some feedback.

While learning to read dog body language, I came across a  stern warning again and again, from many different sources.

"A dog who looks directly at you, actually staring at you with a tense facial expression, is another matter indeed. A direct stare is much more likely to be a threat, and if you’re in close proximity to such a dog, it’s wise to slowly look away." PetMD

Recently, I keep finding articles telling me that people and their dogs both get a surge of oxytocin when they look into each others eyes. 

When I met Brockle, I hadn't studied any of this stuff. He stood tall, didn't give ground or cower, his mouth was tight, his ears were erect and his tail hung at half mast, with no welcoming wag. He looked straight into my eyes.

He made direct eye contact again and again.

I'm glad I was ignorant about what his body was saying.

If I go by my beginning book learning, this tense, tight-mouthed dog was challenging me, or even thinking about biting me.

His eye contact was unsettling. It felt like he was desperately trying to tell me something. I decided he was asking me to bust him out. So I did.

Obviously, I'm glad I made the decision. I have learned that I have a tense, nervous dog. He was almost paralyzed with anxiety when we met. I've had to get used to the eye contact, he's either got it or is seeking it almost 24/7. 

Since I was his fourth owner in the first 11 months of his life, he had good reasons for being wound a little tight. 

He is much calmer now even if he still likes to look deep into my eyes. I could humanize him by saying he's looking into my soul, but I have a sneaky suspicion he's an oxcytocin whore.

The training I've been taught to use with Brockle, is to essentially convince him I'm the biggest and best party in town. Hanging with me is better than anything else in the world, and listening to me is better than that. 

This approach has been working just fine, but how does it explain his offered behaviors to assist me? What reward does he get from bugging me to sit down when my blood pressure is dropping? What inspired him to help me get up off the floor, steady me when my balance goes and walk me up and down stairs?

Again, I could say it's because he looooooves me, and I'm not saying he doesn't, but that's too simplistic.

Here's what I'm thinking. Brockle is insecure. He guards me like a peanut butter filled Kong. He also has one of the pokier noses I've ever dealt with. He sniffs me often. Not a dainty little sniff mind you, but a deep, kind of damp snorfling, breaking all personal space boundaries. 

He's obsessed with pits. Not just crotches, but arm pits, elbow pits, ears, nostrils and knee pits. He wants to check my breath several times a day. He's finally quit crotch-diving every person he meets, but has perfected the drive by whiff.

He goes crazy with any kind of wound, on any person, dog or horse. He wants to lick it until it's healed. He chased the kidlet for days trying to get at a semi-infected oozy scrape on her achilles. She kinda hates him, I'm not going to lie.

I'm pretty sure my scent changes when I'm feeling poorly. 

I think the offered behaviors started with Brockle just wanting a snootful of the new odor. He was obnoxious enough to make me sit down. Once I sat, his reward was being able to sniff.

I realized he did this when I was going to crash and began rewarding him with food when he helped me out. It became an established behavior.

He becomes frightened when I'm not steady on my feet. Even more so if I fall. His first instinct was to crowd as close as he could. I think it was more of a "Hold me, I'm scared," than an offer for me to lean on him. 

I re-balanced myself by grabbing his ruff. He was happy because I got back on course and I reinforced him with praise and treats.  

In return, Brockle has made these behaviors his job. It has made him more confident. Is it because he knows what to do to stop situations that used to frighten him? I don't know.

His rude sniffing may be annoying, but I have a better understanding of why he does it. My pits are still off limits, but I have decided he gets all the oxytocin he wants.  

So there's my theory. 








Thursday, April 16, 2015

Service Dogs and Monkeys

I have found myself in an interesting situation. Brockle has stepped into the position of my #1 assistant.

He's gone beyond the status of a good companion and protector. He has voluntarily begun to help me manage my Parkinson's.

Parkinson's is a demanding monkey to carry on your back. It hates to be ignored and can get really pissy if it feels it's not being properly treated. I am not a gracious host, especially when my guest is an uninvited, rude monkey that keeps bonking me on the head with a banana. I tend to ignore my monkey's ranting, even though I know I'll be toting it's carcass around for the rest of my life.

My particular monkey likes to make my blood pressure plummet if it feels I should be drinking more water, getting more sleep, or eating better food. I'm not talking feeling a little dizzy. I call it "crashing." I know I've blown it when the room begins to spin, I fall flat on my face and am incapable of even raising my head for up to twenty minutes. Sometimes I pass out, sometimes I don't.

The first week I had Brockle, I crashed at 1:00 a.m. or so. I ended up in the hall. When I came to my new dog was stretched out next to me, with his body pressed against me as close as he could get.

It happened again a few months later. This time, I was outside and it was snowing heavily. It was maybe 3:00 a.m. I came to with Brockle jumping on my head, pulling at my arms and hair and pawing at my body. He stood still and let me use him to stand up, and I balanced off him while we made or way back inside. I hate to think what might have happened if he hadn't been so insistent.

Since then, my meds have been adjusted and I'm doing much better.

Brockle has no faith in modern medicine and has taken it upon himself to manage my care. He can tell before I can when my BP is off kilter. He clings, nuzzles and pesters until I sit down. He hasn't been wrong yet.

Since Brockle has forced me to play nice with my monkey, I decided to start encouraging his natural inclination to help me. It hasn't taken much more than a heartfelt "Good dog," and a few treats.

So far he has learned to help me balance when I'm off kilter, steady me as I go up and down stairs and learned the command "Brace," so I can use him to get up off the ground or out of difficult furniture.  He alerts me when my med alarm goes off -- at five times a day, I'm really good at tuning it out. Well, I used to be, Not so much any more.

I did an awesome face plant in a parking lot last week. It was pure PD vaudeville. One minute I'm walking, then suddenly I'm kissing a puddle of anti-freeze. I was fairly sore and bloody.

The next morning, right in the middle of a detailed and dramatic reenactment of the event, my mother
said, "Would you have fallen if you had Brockle?"

"Probably not. Maybe. But it sure would have been easier to stand back up."

"Don't you think it's time to get a harness?" she asked.

What she means is a service dog harness.

I don't know how many of you are up on the current service dog controversy. I'll start with a brief rundown of the situation and am interested in your thoughts.

First off, here's the legal definition of a service dog:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

Then, let's move on to where service dogs are allowed.:

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.


Here's the dilemma:
If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. Although a number of states have programs to certify service animals, you may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.

What is happening is people are claiming their dogs are service dogs and taking them with them wherever they go.

Part of me says, "So?"

Except, from what I understand, if a person is enough of an asshat to fake a disability, they're generally stupid/obnoxious/jerky enough to not bother training the dog.

A professionally trained service dog lays quietly under the table while in a restaurant, doesn't fight with other dogs or pee on the plants in a theater, doesn't bark, scare or threaten other people, you know, has manners. Then, on top of all that, it does whatever it's job is.

Fakers are causing all kinds of crap. It puts those of us without easily recognized issues under constant scrutiny.

I can't help but wonder why there isn't a standardized test to certify a service dog. Not for the disability they assist with, but for basic civilized behavior.

There are strong arguments from the professionals who train service dogs. It's an industry in itself, complete with breeding programs, and very specific training.

If there was a standardized test, then anybody could take it and theoretically, pass it. Would that undermine the work of a professional?

Personally, I think it could and should expand the market. If I could find a class on training my own service dog I'd be all over it. With required certification, the classes would be full. This opens the door to training for the actual service the dog would perform. The inevitable wash-outs would provide customers for an already trained dog.

We had a kennel here in Colorado that sold diabetic alert dogs. These dogs, when properly trained can save the live of their owner. Unfortunately, this particular kennel didn't bother to actually train the dogs to do anything. People were paying $20,000 dollars or so for a happy house pet.

I think regulation makes sense in every direction.

For Brockle and I, it's not going to be that complicated. We'll get our harness and start slowly and easily working our way into a pair that can go everywhere.
We're going to get his CGC (Canine Good Citizen) certification this summer. Then we'll move on to Rally, and the Community Canine, an advanced CGC test (http://www.akc.org/dog-owners/training/akc-community-canine/test-items/).

My fear of being embarrassed will make damn sure he can cope with each step. We'll go as far as we're able, and I think we'll be fine.

As far as continuing to progress at home, we're working on picking things I drop off the floor, and ignoring people and dogs.

Somebody asked me, "Have you thought about getting a real service dog?"

I thought about everything Brockle and I have worked out between us already.
"I've already got one," I said.








Wednesday, April 15, 2015

WTH is Brockle and the Genetic Wheel of Fortune

I was asked in the comments - Why not do another test with a different company and compare?

My response was so long that I decided it was another post.

There are two short answers, and then there's the long one. I'll give you both.

1. Tests cost money.
2. I'm happy with the results.

Here comes the long one.

I have no desire to prove or disprove the accuracy of the Wisdom Panel test. What I read about the testing was enough for me to become curious. I believe the test comes as close as is currently possible.

We could go back and forth all day about whether the test is right or wrong. I can find great arguments on both sides and I'm sure you can too.

For me, this leads to unproductive and boring discussion. As you all know, when that happens around here,the conversation turns into an endless circle of argument. When I get bored I become snarky, then the trolls come slithering out and there we go.

What I got from this test went so much farther than the results. It launched me on a whole new learning extravaganza. I got the bare bones of dog DNA studies - and a brand new look at dog breeds.

I've gained insights on breeding, eugenics, form before function and vice versa, and it's leaked over to my horse world.

I've gone way deep into inherited behaviors. I've learned why a Chihuahua is almost the same dog as an Australian Shepherd.

I learned  way more than I ever wanted to about white-coated hairy dogs. I learned that the difference between masked white, extreme white, piebald, ticking and the Irish Spotting Gene. I know that one variation or the other of those white genes can be carried in every breed listed on Brockle's chart.

The study was fun. If he had come back as a beagle Bouvier mix it would still have been fun.

I'm guessing DNA tests will become more accurate as time goes on. When I can read about the increased accuracy of these tests, I might just do it again. That would be when I'd be interested in a comparison.

Wait! I just learned this one.

Both GSD and Keeshond can and often do carry the masking white gene. If two white carriers breed, even if they show no white, their litter can potentially be 25% white, 25% homozygous non-white and 50% heterozygous non-white.

The possibility is there for one of Brockle's parents to be white, and then all he would need is a white gene from the other side. I envision a back yard breeding of two dogs thought to be huskies, white shepherds, collies, wolf hybrids or some other thing.







Monday, April 13, 2015

WTH is Brockle - The Finale


Say what? I didn't see that coming.





But, but, where did his crazy color come from? This can't be right. It doesn't fit any of my preconceived notions of what kind of dog he is. OK, I guess the GSD isn't all that surprising. It was where I was leaning until my GSD loving friends convinced me it couldn't be so. Turns out they just didn't want to claim him, go figure.

Here comes the fun part. It's that sneaky snake mixed breed Grandparent. The Wisdom guys are completely upfront about dogs this mixed. They can make an educated guess, but that's all.

So they sent me a list of maybes and admitted it's pretty much a crap shoot.








What I love about this is how carefully they state that one or more of these breeds MAY have contributed to the mix, but then again, maybe not. They definitely don't think all those breeds are in there, but probably, some of them are.

It would have been easy to be dismissive. Except for one tiny thing. In order for Brockle's color to make it past all those dark colored dogs, the mixed breed grandparent had to be homozygous (I think).  Each of the listed breeds (except for the Lapphund) potentially carries the double recessive genes needed to create a homozygous color pattern that could fight it's way down to my boy.

Since the Wisdom Panel folks didn't know about his color, I found their maybes extremely thought provoking.

I had to look up Keeshonds. I have seen them, known one, and that's about it. The one I knew looked like a giant Pomeranian and barked. A lot.

I have to admit, it explains the hair. They are a Spitz type, were called Dutch Barge Dogs, even though they are a German breed and are considered "Alarm" dogs, i.e. yappy barkers.
They are gentle, sensitive and intuitive. Tikva, a Keeshond therapy dog, and her handler, Cindy Ehlers, were honored at the 911 Remembrance Ceremony for the two weeks they spent giving comfort to rescue workers after 911.
They are slow to bite, high energy, intelligent and manipulative. They are velcro dogs and then some, and often suffer from extreme separation anxiety.

A little bit of Keeshond explains an awful lot of Brockle. I'm grateful he decided to leave the yappiness behind him.

I recently read an incredible book, Lend Me An Ear: Temperament, Selection and Training of the Hearing Dog, by Martha Hoffman.

She trains dogs for the hearing impaired. Instead of working with kennels breeding for the traits she looks for in a potential hearing dog, or even favoring certain breeds over the other, Hoffman looks for a certain type of dog. She finds many of her candidates at area shelters.

Hoffman noted that when she has a group of her hearing dogs together, even though they are different breeds and mixes, they still seem the same, because they are the same type.

She has done some intensive dog behavior studies, not according to breed, but to type. I found her analysis both fascinating and logical.

The GSD in Brockle makes complete sense. He guards boundaries, but doesn't herd. He is strong, athletic and thrives on both intellectual and physical exercise. He's loyal, versatile and a bad ass when needed. He has that weird humpy back.

The Keeshond explains why he will never set the Shutzhund world on fire. He doesn't bite for fun. He bites when he thinks I'm being threatened. He looks to me before deciding to go at someone and a simple,"Leave it," calms him.

It also sheds light on his playful dorkiness, another reason the GSD people hate to claim him. He doesn't have the dignity and fire of the protection dog set.

As to the mega-mix mutt that is anybody's guess, I'm leaning toward some Rough Collie, some Akita, and who knows.

It's all fun. I've learned a bunch, and I truly don't feel like I wasted my money.

As for the prize winner? I'm still sifting through your guesses...the Keeshond sure caught us all, didn't it?

OK. I quit moderating comments. If everybody behaves it will stay that way. Let's play nice boys and girls.






Wednesday, April 8, 2015

To Spook or Not to Spook, That is the Question -- Synopsis

When Student pulled into our facility she had ten minutes before her scheduled lesson started. I always allowed an extra 45 minutes between lessons to accommodate all the stuff that can hold up anybody hauling horses.

I was at the tack room, not more than 50 yards away. She had never been to our barn, but basic country courtesy dictates the visitor finds the visitee and says, "Hey, we're here," before unloading.
That in itself was enough for me to decide it was safer or me to keep an eye on her instead of continuing to ride. If there was a problem, I needed to be able to handle it.

It wasn't her awareness of good manners that concerned me, it simply alerted me that Student didn't understand how things ran at a place like ours, which can cause accidents. I liked her for not punishing her horse when he knocked her down and  I trusted her decision to saddle her own horse.

By then I knew quite a bit about my student and her horse. The horse didn't stand tied. He had no concept of personal space, and zero respect for his owner. He was sound, lively, and exhibited a playful good nature.

My student was a little frightened of her horse. She had probably been stepped on more than once. She didn't understand her horse was kind of a shit.

Student was trying hard to prepare her horse for riding in an atmosphere she found intimidating. Her personal insecurities had her so internalized she didn't notice other riders in the arena, that everyone but her was mounted, or think to ask where I was going to conduct her lesson.

Her unawareness of what was going on around her put her horse in a position of having to pay attention for her. Because he was seeing all this exciting new stuff and Student clearly had no idea how to help him translate it, he was spooking.

I liked the horse.

He was more of a "Look at that! Check that out! I think I know that guy...Whoa Nelly, now that's a big ass tractor!" kind of horse that a "OMG we're gonna die!" horse.

Once she decided to round pen the horse I knew we wouldn't be riding that day. I went back to work. Student was going to take a lot of work before I'd be able to get her and her horse reining, which was why she was there, but the next lesson would help me decide on whether she stayed or not.

Student had clearly thought things through before she came back. She arrived in plenty of time to be ready when her lesson started. She wasn't as nervous.

She handled her first experience on a well mannered, but sensitive horse just fine. Once she understood what a slack rein was, she left it.

By the time I was done knocking her horse's pointy little shoulder off me, student had begun to appreciate the horse she was sitting on. I could see the wheels spinning.

Her horse was sensitive enough to pick up on my pointing game, which told me Student had some good things going for her as a horseman. He wasn't dull or sullen so I felt pretty confident that he hadn't been NH'd to death.

Student quickly picked up on the key points I offered her and put them to use.

Her checks cleared.

She was in.



Hear that? Me Either!

I know there are some that think this was going on...






It was kind of fun for a while, but there's a problem with all this madcap zaniness. See, I'm trying a new "thing," don't know what else to call it. I'll write a short piece and see what readers pull out of it.

By pull out of it, I meant thoughts about the horse, the rider, and sure, the trainer too, but I ended up with a bunch of heads needing to be pulled out of...never mind.

After the short story is done, I'll write a synopsis, outlining what I hoped you guys would see.

Clearly, comments are needed to make this idea work.

Comments about my sanity, temperament, responsibility for your personal sense of oneness with the universe, writing ability or personal hygiene don't promote conversation. It just gets those of us who like to think and converse off track.

For the simple minded, I've created a few examples that might help you understand what works and what doesn't around these parts.

"Why are you so mean?" BAD

"Why were you just observing Student on her first day?" GOOD

"Why are you so rude?" BAD

"Did you think the horse might be dangerous?" GOOD

Then, it makes me a little sad, but not much, I've started moderating comments.I'll pay attention, get them up ASAP and hopefully we can get back on track.Once in a while, when I'm feeling pissy, I'll quit moderating and we'll have a free-or-all.

Until then -- bye-bye trolls and PIA's, bye-bye.



Monday, April 6, 2015

To Spook or Not to Spook, That is the Question 3

Shoot, I have to add something to yesterdays post. I guess all my fan mail had me too excited to think straight.
Before I left Student to switch horses I told her to not let the horse come to her when they stopped.
If he made a step toward her she was to send him out again, and keep doing so until he rested in the exact same place she had released pressure.

"But that's when we join up," she told me.

"His version of joining up seems to be mowing you down when he crosses the pen, keep him off you."

****************************************************************************


I loped my next horse for ten minutes before I headed back to Student. He was young enough I needed him to feel like standing still before I popped her up on him.

The dust in the round pen made it clear she had been working. She stopped when she saw me. Her gelding stopped the second she turned and seemed grateful.

"I'm not sure I understand what you meant," Student said.

"You understood enough, that horse looks ready to learn something."

"Really?" She smiled. It was big enough to start collecting dust and it was real. This was getting cool. The horse wasn't the only one ready to listen.

"Is he crawling over the fence trying to get at my horse?"

The gelding stood in the same spot she had left him. His eyes and ears were on Student.

"Well, look at that. I think he's standing there because he's afraid of you."

"Let's think about that," I said. "Is he watching me?"

"No."

"Is he watching my horse?"

"No."

"Who's he watching?"

"Me."

"There you go, he's about to come over here, so put him back to work before his thought becomes an action."

Student picked up her whip and went to work. Things were choppy and awkward, but he wasn't hollering and he wasn't trying to mow her down.

"OK, hold up a minute," I called. "I want you to try something."

Student dropped her whip and turned and the paint stopped with a little bit of style. He lowered his head and cocked a hip.

"This is kind of a getting to know you exercise. I want you to do exactly as I tell you. Don't ask questions, don't hesitate, just go. If you feel scared or worried, then stop. There's no mistakes to be made, so don't worry about it, are we good?"

"Okaaay."

"Go ahead and face your horse, full on, but look at the ground--about three feet in front of his nose. I'm going to have you work completely straight.When you look at your horse, your eyes, shoulders, hips and feet will be in line. Does that make sense?"

"Kinda."

"Good enough. When I say go, I want you to stare at the point of his shoulder like you can burn a hole in him. Then, extend your arm,  point your finger at the exact same spot and start marching towards him. Don't say anything, don't touch him and don't talk, just move at him like you mean it.

"Get ready, set, don't look at him yet! Okay, Go!"

Off she went. The gelding started to move away.

"Keep your eyes and finger locked on that shoulder and go!"

Two more strides and he turned to the rail and trotted of the other direction.

"Good, now point at this inside shoulder, burn a hole in him with those laser eyes and go!"

He turned into the fence and loped off again. Student started laughing. "I can't believe he's doing this!"

"Fun, huh?" I said. "You've got control of his shoulders. Play with that a little. She turned him a few more times and then pointed at his butt. He raced off."

"Oops," Student said. She turned and tossed me a worried look over her shoulder.

"What happened?" I asked.

"He ran when I pointed at his butt."

"What did you want him to do?"

"I'm not sure."

"Think a minute."

"I thought he would turn toward me."

"Nope. Play with it until you sort it out."

It took a bit, but she got things figured before she ran out of horse.

"I push him faster when I point to his butt and turn him with the shoulders."

"Yes. Now, stop him, halter him, and lead him around the yard. Play some more. Give him lots of slack. Keep his shoulders going where you want them, see where you can send him, try to control his speed, and change maneuvers before he hits the end o the lead rope."

Student was happily pushing her paint all over the place with her finger and a stare when K came around the back. Her horse was starting to get caught up in it with her, his eyes were one her hand, and he started to side-pass a step or two in a clean, controlled arc.

 "Look K," I said, "that horse has some moves."

"What kind of weirdness are you up to now?"

"Just showing her where his shoulders are."

"I think you're just having fun with her."

"I  think she's having fun with her horse. Besides, have you seen that thing spook even once?"












Sunday, April 5, 2015

To Spook or Not to Spook, That is the Question 2

When she pulled in the following week I was at the far end of the arena, visiting with K while I aired up a barely broke youngster.

"Well, check it out," I said, "not only did she show up, but she's an hour early."

"Maybe she's a keeper," K said.

"She's gonna need to dig deep this is one hot mess." I walked the tired baby in a slow zig-zag back to the tie rail. I held my rein high and wide until I felt him step under my hand, then released and moved to the other rein.

I hollered a hello and got a cheerful wave from my student. I kept half an eye while I saddled my next horse. The student went through pretty much the same routine as the week before. Her horse was every bit as skittery. I got another one loped while she played show and tell with her gelding, petting him and talking softly every time he spooked. The paint was in a great mood, he pulled her here and there, grabbed at grass, snorted and raced around her at the end of his rope, tail flagged and head in the air.

By the time she headed to the round pen I was able to saddle something a little more broke than the last few. I rode through the indoor and slid the back door open. My student stood two fences over, in the middle of the pen, clutching her longe whip while her horse trotted around her. The paint spooked at the sound of the arena door and cut kitty corner, almost stomped my student and then swapped ends with a fart and a buck.

He slid to a stop, got his head over the top rail and nickered at my horse while I worked my way through the gates. Student put her game face on, hit the whip on the ground and got him going again, but now he wanted to visit. He'd trot off for half a loop, then cut across, each time close enough to make her step back. Then he stood at the fence and sweet-talked my horse some more.

"He was doing better before you scared him," Student said.

"With the door or my horse?" I asked.

She didn't have an answer, so I assumed it was both.

"Can I show you something?" I  tried again.

"Sure." Student looked relieved.

I dismounted and motioned her out of the pen. She came out and took my horse's rein.
"Go ahead and sit on her."

Student flashed the whites  of her eyes at me, but stepped up onto the horse. She picked up the reins in nervous hands and the mare started to back. A look of horror crossed her face and she began to try to reel in the eight foot reins by the handful.

The mare was backing in a circle now, in response to a cranked left rein, and began snapping her tail. Student turned purple trying not to scream.

"Let loose of the horse," I said.

Student looked at me glassy eyed as the mare bumped into the fence and began backing her way into the cow pen.

"Let your reins loose," I said.

Student grabbed up some of the slack in the right rein.

The mare sighed and stopped, her head yanked to the side, snaffle run through her mouth and all. She rolled an eye at me.

"Let go of your reins," That mare was a saint.

"She'll bolt again."

"Um, well, she didn't bolt, she thought she was doing what you wanted."

"I didn't do anything!"

"...and as soon as she sorted that out, she stopped, now let go of her head."

Student finally released the mare. I stepped to her head, got her bit straight, loosened up her reins, crossed them over nice and flat and handed them back to Student.The mare dropped her head and cocked a hip.

"Leave her reins alone, she won't go anywhere or do anything. It would be better for you to let them lay on her neck and cross your arms than fidget with them. Can I get in with your horse now, will you be all right?"

"Yes, I'll be fine, why do you people use these long reins?"

Since I had lost the habit of answering any question that began with "you people," I went ahead and climbed the fence into the pen. I grabbed a halter and lead off the fence, walked to the middle and threw the whip over the fence. The gelding spooked and started to run around me.

I spent a few minutes making him stop and turn by holding onto the lead rope and chucking the halter at his shoulder.

"Now watch me, look where I'm throwing the halter."

The gelding came off the fence and veered towards me. As he passed I hit him with the halter and lead rope as hard as I could. Student screamed, gelding got his ass back on the rail.


I let the gelding rest. At first he watched me, then, he started looking around.

"He's looking for trouble," I said.

"He's not doing anything," Student answered.

"He's quit wondering what I'm going to do and is looking for something more interesting. So I'm going to get his attention back."

I raised my hand with the halter and he trotted off two solid strides and then cut loose with a buck and a jump. I tossed the halter again and whapped him on the rear, sending him out at a run.

I chased him around a few times, stopped and turned him and then stopped again.

"I didn't intend to spend the day roundpenning your horse. Come in here and practice what I was doing. Yes, you can use your whip, but be aware of where that tip is pointed. I've got to switch horses, when I get back I'll show you what we needed to get done today.








Thursday, April 2, 2015

To Spook or Not to Spook, That is the Question 1

My new student pulled in and unloaded her horse from the old stock trailer. I sat on the bench against the tack room wall and watched her get ready. I had a great view through the wooden slats.

She pulled a helmet out of the back of her Suburban and put it on.. Then, she unloaded her gear and set it on the bumper. Brushes, pad, saddle, bridle, all in a row.

The paint gelding faced her behind the  closed divider. He wasn't wearing a halter and he whinnied non-stop. She slid open the divider a few inches and he jammed his nose into the space, trying to muscle his way out. She talked to him in soothing tones.When she raised the hand carrying the halter,  he spun away and pressed his nose into the far corner. My student now faced his crouched and quivering butt. She stepped away and peered through the slats at me.

"Have you hauled this horse before?" I called.

"Yes."

"Have you unloaded him by yourself?"

"Yes."

"Then go on, unload him," I said.

She stood still. The horse turned back around and started pawing the floor. Even in the shadows I could see her flinch away.

She came back out of the trailer and dug around in the back of her car for a bit. She found what she was looking for and toted at least 10 lbs. of horse candy back into the trailer. I could hear her start in sweet talking him.

Five minutes and at least a pound of treats later the horse was haltered and she brought him out, headfirst. He hopped out of the trailer, planted his front legs, snorted hard and spooked a mile.  He was almost on top of my client trying to run off. She screamed a little -- not the there's a zombie trying to eat me kind of scream, it was more of a found a dead  mouse in the water tank scream. He spun away and slammed into her chest, first his shoulder and then his hip. She went ass over tea kettle. He jumped back in the trailer.

"Do you want some help?" I asked.

She stood up and dusted herself off. "Nope, I'll get him."

I gave her points for sticking it out and settled back to enjoy the show.

She went through another couple pounds of treats, but got him unloaded and led him to his tack. He spooked again as they approached the tack and bolted. She hung tough and he raced around her in circles on the end of his lead rope. It took another ten minutes before he quieted enough to be groomed.

She didn't tie him, she just looped the rope over her arm and wrestled with him. He spooked at the curry. She held it out for him to sniff. He spooked at the brush, the saddle pad, the saddle an she let him sniff each and every one, but she got him saddled.

Finally, I thought. I went to the tie rail and saddled my horse. I swung up and trotted into the arena to warm up. My new student was still leading her horse. He spooked at my horse. He spooked at the chutes, the arena door, the railings, clumps of dirt and a pile of manure.

That horse about yanked the arms off of that poor woman while she led him around the arena. When they had spooked at every nook and cranny she came over and reached to pet my mare's nose. The gelding stepped around her and goosed my mare in the flanks. She squealed, the client, now pinned between the horses, cut loose with another scream. This one was definitely a zombie's got me scream. The paint spooked.

"Can I use your round pen?" she asked.

"Sure," I answered.

They jumped and skittered their way to the pen behind the indoor.

I had two more ridden before she came back. I kept thinking I should go check on her, but she'd cut loose with a zombie scream once and again, so I knew she was fine. By the time they came back, she was bright red, soaked with sweat and out of breath, but she was on her horse. The paint was barely damp. He stood with his head flung high, eyes bugged and his tail kinked a little to the left.

"What are we going to do today?" she asked.

"Oh, your lesson time was up before you headed to the round pen," I told her. "We'll try again next week."

She still paid me, so I gave her a couple more points.










Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I Can't Make This Stuff Up.

Teach That Bitch a Lesson With The Lady Educator!




I guess it would work, if you tie her hands first.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

What Have I Done?

I went to a NRCHA horse show last weekend, just to watch mind you, I wanted a dose of horses I understand.

I saw old friends, got some hugs, and was so happy to be back in my comfort zone, I pretended they were welcome.

I watched a bunch of fence runs and began to feel a twitch in my hands and a funny feeling in my gut. For once it wasn't the PD. It was longing. It was a sharp reminder that my fat hairy mare is actually a finished bridle horse who loves those cows as much as I do.

I was standing at the rail, watching runs with an old friend and asking about new stuff I was seeing. The horses are running their circles with a low head and loose reins --very reinerly.  I don't like it.

A straight up bridle horse needs contact and support from the riders hand. In order to find a neutral position with the spoon off the roof of their mouth, they need to travel with their face on the vertical - get it? Straight up in the bridle? Those dang cowboys with their tricky terminology.

Every movement is supposed to be directed between the leg and the hand. Signals should take little more than a squeeze of the reins and are limited to about a four inch square centered above the saddle horn. Every movement is supposed to mean something.



Low head, loose rein on a reiner. Hand gives direction with dramatic cues to communicate through the reins to the horse. A good reining horse carries himself correctly and follows the hand itself, with the touch of the reins coming in as a secondary cue.



Straight up in the bridle - Light contact, rein hand directs with a squeeze.


No, I don't know what's up with the rider's leg. I do see from the bend in his wrist he's tweaking his rein hand down, instead of lifting up. This tells me he's trying to compensate for his forward, useless leg by bringing the horse's nose

Trust me, I know from experience, all that's going to happen is the very nice horse will tip his nose toward his chest, fall onto his forehand, string out behind, and the Big K will yell, "What ARE you doing? Last time I checked you're missing an arm, not a leg!" Oops. I digress.


While I was expounding to my friend on my theories about how screwed up this new style of dry work looked to me, a loud, bright voice was directed at me from the bleachers.

"I know you!"

I turned and saw a woman I vaguely remembered, maybe, kinda sorta. I couldn't put her face to a horse, so I couldn't place her. I smiled and gave her a half wave.

"You used to ride cow horses, years and years ago," she said. 

She beamed at me with the indulgent smile of a great, great grand-niece visiting Granny in the old folks home. It was clear her  mama had told her to shut up and listen to my old windies--but she wasn't having it.

"It hasn't been that many years," I stammered. 

"Sure it has," my new best friend said. "Do you even ride anymore?"

I felt old. I thought about how out of shape I am, how slow and lazy Madonna has become. I thought about my fat, fat self, at least until a sudden burning fire filled me from stem to stern.

"Of, course I still ride. I'm going to show this year."

I remembered that fire well from my younger years, the fire of brash stupidity.

"Really? How exciting, when?" This bitch was relentless.

"Um, well, uh..." I found myself wishing I'd skimmed a show schedule at least once in the last year or two.

"Psssst," my friend hissed, "Estes Park."

"I'm showing at Estes," I said.

So there it is, Madonna and I are legging up to show at the NRCHA qualifier, the CRCHA Mountain High, in Estes Park, June 1st.

May I have an Oh Shit?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I Hate This Commercial

This came from a horse site, that says it likes horses. This commercial is supposed to be breathtaking. I guess it was, but not how I think they intended it, at least not for me.





Here is what went through my mind as I watched it.
00:12 - Ooh, pretty, dang the gates open!
00:28 - Horse peed in the trailer again
00:42 - Ouch! Quarter crack!
01:01 - WTFis the matter with you people!
01:21 - Run Fury, Run! This is a snuff film!

How about you?
It did not make me thirsty.

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