Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Having Time To Think

I am so bummed. Last night I received my last issue of Performance Horse magazine. It has folded. I loved that magazine. It covered the kind of information I was always looking for and I almost always knew at least one person featured in an article. I have been working on an article on my friend Blue Allen which I planned on sending to Performance Horse first. I know there are other good magazines out there but I am sure going to miss that one. Sigh.

I had the coolest thing happen on Sunday. I was on a trail ride with my good friend Kathy. We were done with our ride and coming down the last steep hill before my barn.

I was jabber-jawing and not paying much attention to what we were doing.

Pete very carefully gathered his hind feet under him, lifted his back, broke nicely at the poll and settled just enough weight on his bit to give himself a little support.

I almost fell off my nicely framed little cowhorse.

I have talked about the experimental training I am doing now that I have time to think and no reason (like expectant owners) not to try new things on my horses.

I have also , I hope, made clear that I prefer for my horses to look for the right place to be and get themselves there on their own.

I think I have also mentioned I have been asking Pete to frame up right before he goes down a hill. My hope is he will find it easier to walk down hill collected and on the bit, than hollowed out and all over the place.

It's working. Pete is finding the value of being in frame down an incline and is seeking it. The fact that he'll set it up himself if I'm gathering wool means he finds being in frame useful.

This should translate to his flat work.

It already is a little. My arena these days is 1/4 mile of fairly level, but loaded with potholes dirt road. I walk and trot down it, then lope up it. I ask him to collect for a while, then let him relax, then I ask again.
Pete likes to walk hollowed out, which makes him heavy on the front.

If he gets like this I hoist him back with my hands, kick him back a few steps, roll-back, then roll-back again and continue on our way.

It ain't pretty, but it lightens his front end.

I relax my reins when he walks deeper in the back and lighter in the front.

When we get to the end we either lope back, work on transitions or half-pass.

I'm not making a big deal out of any of this by the way. I stay calm and don't get frustrated.

Pete likes to start out correct, lope a few steps and either break to a trot or get moving too fast, fold over the top of the bit and get heavy on the front.

My thought is when he breaks down to a trot he doesn't have enough rear propulsion going and instead of loping into my hand and framing up, he's stopped by my hand instead.

Then when he turns into Speedy Gonzalez and folds over the top of my bridle he's getting too heavy on my hand and on his front end because again, he doesn't have enough propulsion in the back, so he's dragging himself along with his front legs.

So essentially I have the same problem in both situations.

I've been working on it with hill work. I mean I might as well, all I've got are mountain trails made up of steep hills.

I trot Pete up the big hills.

If I let him lope he goes to lugging with his front legs, so I stay at the trot. We trot a lot of hills. The only time I interfere is when I make him frame up before we climb. I only ask for a few steps, as if I was going to pick up a lead and then we go.

As Pete travels I stand up in my stirrups, grab a handful of mane and stay out of his way. So the setting him up to be collected is only a maneuver, I'm not making him frame up on his way up the hill.

But he pushes up the hills using his hindquarters. He stays light in the front.

I'm trying to get Pete to connect my framing him up with engaging of his hindquarters. It's starting to work. His lope is becoming lively yet controlled, (dare I say he's in front of my leg?). He's not perfect, but he's getting there.

So there's my Pete report.
Remember when I talked about driving or longing buddy sour horses away from the herd? It was in reference to the Western Horseman book I had read, Back Country Basics.

I've kinda sorta got some results.

I started with an OT TB mare, Sister, who is owned by the woman who keeps three of my horses for me. She wants her granddaughter to ride her, which would be fine, but this mare has become wildly buddy sour.

So I had the granddaughter take Sister for a walk around the property. Just to make it difficult we didn't pen up the herd. OK, maybe that was my idea.

Every time the mare would fuss I had the granddaughter start her on the longe.

I had to step in and help because Sister would simply stand and face her, or run back and forth with her tail in the air screaming, you get my drift.

I got her straightened out and gave her back to the granddaughter.

As soon as Sister was obedient they continued with their walk.

As soon as the mare became stupid she got worked again.

It was very simple.

They dealt with the charging herd by ignoring them. It took some work, but the loose horses left once they realized Sister was under somebody else's control.

It took two hours, but Sister and the granddaughter walked peacefully around the entire 80 acres, with Sister calm and relaxed and completely focused.

From what I understand the granddaughter got to where she could walk in the herd, catch her mare and take her for a walk without a whimper. She hadn't tried to ride her (she could ride her in the arena) before she left for home, but they were doing fine as far as it went.

Now Char, the grandma and my friend, started to have trouble with her romantic 20-year-old gelding who decided he was King of the Wind. He wouldn't leave his harem for nothing.

So she has done the same thing, with a bit of a twist. (OK, again, my idea). She saddled up Romeo and began to ride him away from the girls. He began to jig and toss his head, then back up. I'm sure you've all been there, done that.

Char rode Romeo straight to the herd and proceeded to trot him around and through and next to the herd. They worked and worked and worked. Then Char rode him away and offered to let him rest. Romeo got restless and back they went. It only took two more tries and he decided he would rather stand where he was told.

Char let him air up and we went riding. He was perfect.

I have done the same with Loki, who spazzed so bad the last time I tried to ride her and it worked on her too. She'll ride all over without a problem now.

Last Saturday I saddled up my yellow mare for the first time in probably 6 months. I don't know what got into me, probably nothing more than it felt right, but I got on her without longing her or taking her for a turn or two in the round pen.
She stood there for about a minute, kind of swelled up, then sighed, licked her lips and relaxed. We rode off away from the herd. She was perfect.
I guess she's about broke.

Char has been catching her gelding and just keeping him with her. He hangs out while she gardens or cleans stalls, whatever. He's quit thinking he can't leave his girls.

I have come to think they will all be good once they realize they get to go back. I really and truly think that's all it is, as long as the horse has confidence in the rider.

So there's my update, I have to get to work, so I guess I'll answer questions tomorrow.

The biggest thing I've learned of late is my horses are still getting trained. Slower, yes, but I think it's better.


  1. Yay for Pete! Sounds like he is 'getting it'.

    Question... As a reminder, I am just getting back to riding after 2 years off for back surgery. (I have confidance issues now,too)

    My mare does GREAT in and around the barn. When we leave and ride along the outside of the pasture, or down the road she starts looking for spooks.

    Before I stopped riding she would go any where I asked no problem. We could stop dead along a trail in the woods and let everyone else race off, she didn't care.... she had me to protect her.

    I am wondering about hand walking her, and working her on the ground untill she quits getting stupid. Then when she is ok with that, riding out. Our only places to ride are along roads unless I haul out, so not wanting to deal with being on her and working it out of her.

  2. Nancy C- Your mare is probably needing a confidence boost as much as you are.
    I would make short excursions out. Just a little past her (or yours) comfort zone. You can be on her or off, whatever makes you feel best.
    Every time you get comfortable go a little farther. If you can, go out with other riders as often as possible.
    I would take her out after a good work out in the arena but before she is really tired.
    It will get better faster than you realize.

  3. :( I'm sad to hear about Performance Horse! I didn't have a subscription but that was definitely a magazine I looked for whenever I hit a bookstore/airport. I was planning on subscribing. I liked the quality and the focus. That's sad.

  4. I'm bummed about Performance Horse, too. It was far and away my favorite magazine. I loved the articles and the photography-- a high quality production about my favorite subjects. I chose Quarter Horse News to transfer my subscription over. I haven't received that one before, so here's hoping it has some of the spark of Performance Horse.

    It sounds like your ponies are doing well. I love the feeling when one finally gets it and steps up underneath, rounds his back and lifts his shoulders while just hanging his head out there on a soft neck. My current pony isn't there, yet, but I *remember* what it's like. :-)

  5. Thanks for your description of Pete and engaging his butt end. I think this could be helpful w/ my leaning brat boy. I don't know why I didn't think of doing a roll back to engage him. Gonna try tomorrow.

  6. I just want to say thank you for this blog. As a new horse owner and being almost new to horses in general, it helps to read how you walk through each step of training. I have adopted some of your methods that have worked wonderfully with my horse.

    This post was a wonderful read! Thank you!

  7. It's so sad that Performance Horse folded. I loved that magazine, but haven't read in a few years. Great post, thanks for the tips on engaging the hind end - I was just thinking last night that I need to work on that with my own horse right now. I used to love trotting hills back when I lived in PA - unfortunately not many of those in my area now. Thanks for the post!

  8. Hi Mugwump!
    I just wanted to give you an update on pluggy Tucker. Thanks to your advice he is no longer a plug!! He still drags a bit at the trot (we are working on that) but, has decided that cantering is much easier and it is now his preferred pace! It's unbelievable the change that has occured in him from this time last year. The first time I "test-rode" him before buying, they had to chase behind him popping a lunge whip to get him to step into a trot. Now all it requires is a tiny squeeze or a cluck. I am so grateful for all your help, he's a blast to ride now. I forwarded you a copy of our barn's newsletter so you could see him in action if you were interested. We're the boarder of the month. :)

    Thanks so much for your blog. We're also working on barn sour issues too. We'll try your advice for Nancy C.

  9. Nice - and I needed to hear...

    It's what I've been doing with the OTTB gelding. 'Member I took him to a trainer for a couple weeks - brought him home and then in about a month, he began to mess with me. Dumped me twice... first time I gave him benefit of me being "stoopid" - 2nd time I quit riding him without supervision cuz I don't need him beginning a crappy habit.

    He is pretty o.k. up at my trainer's barn and we've had 3 sessions with him at home where he is worst... I really think it's a behavioral - "no! I wanna be with my herd!" thing when he's being a butthead.

    Man - we lunged the SNOT outta him... first time took 6 times of me getting on, him being a pill, me jumping off and lunging his butt... next time it was a few times less... next time a few times less.

    He is STUBBORN... that horse has sweat spewing from his eyeballs and pooling 'round his hooves by the time he submits and will walk off nicely. Makes me feel like he's never gonna get it.

    Trainer tells me he will - he's just young and going thru his crappy young horse stuff but he's smart, has a nice temperment and he'll figure it out. I am trying really hard to squash the nay-sayer in my head and give completely and totally to the "don't worry so much, it will get fixed".

    Gotta tell ya tho - it sure has messed with my confidence, trust and thinking I knew anything... uck.

    This was a really nice post to read and I sure hope I get my confidence back with Rosso one o' these days.

    I got a bit too squirrely in the head so I'm having fun on my mare to get the feeling I know a tiny bit and that horses are supposed to be F-U-N ... cuz it hasn't been so much fun lately...

    Nuff rambling already - yeesh? Cheers! Shanster

  10. I absolutely agree that slower is better...and even though I'm going slow, I feel like I'm taking Colt too fast!

    We hadn't worked cows since the Grant County show 2 weeks ago and I went yesterday to Bob's. I'd been trail riding and doing some arena work. Colt worked cows with and intensity that he didn't have before! It felt great!

    I think too much repetition and pounding on the horses body and brain just wears them out mentally and physically. Colt's half brother was at the Grant County show and he looked like an old worn out ranch horse...and he's only 4. The light and sparkle in his eyes was gone. My heart is really heavy on that~~

  11. Coming in late here but this is what I do when my horses get herd squirrelly.

    My mustang mare decided once, right prior to a ride, that there was an invisible line in the road that she would not pass.

    Rather than fight with her, we just went home and cantered 50 meter circles for a while and then headed back out.

    When the invisible line became an issue, I didn't fight, I just went home and we did some more circles and figure eights.

    EVENTUALLY she figured out that home was too much work.

    Lather, rinse, repeat. It works every time.

    I've also gotten off and lead a horse past the invisible line; re-mounted and tried again. If it didn't work, I dismount, lead, re-mount and ask for forward motion.

    I don't get mad and I don't fight.

    Consistence and persistence, that's the key.