Monday, May 17, 2010

Mouthy Monday

So we finally get around to riding our colt for the first time and Kidlette tells me she wants to get on him for the first ride.
This plan is totally OK with me because I’m always happy to pass off the first ride on a colt, even one as quiet and sweet as Leland.
In our usual unorganized fashion we forgot to pick up a saddle from the barn as we headed to the rescue. I wasn’t too worried, it was just the first ride, which usually takes a total of five minutes or so and I figured we could borrow a saddle from Julie the rescue operator.
I was very pleased with my little guy. He’s out on over 800 acres of good grass with his new best friend herd mates and he was fine with me walking up, putting on his halter and leading him away. He whinnied to his friends when they finally left us and headed back to the herd, but he never dragged his feet.
I brought him in to the barn and tied him to a tie rail. Kidlette took over and groomed him and scratched on him, pretty much getting to know him, since I’m the only one who has handled him to date.
Julie was out showing a horse and Kidlette had pretty much run out of things to do with him.
I like to get the little ones ridden and back out before I lose their interest and they start to get anxious, so we needed to get a move on.
“You know, he’ll probably be fine if you just hop up bareback,” I said.
“That’s what I was thinking,” Kidlette said.
“Go ahead if you’re comfortable,” I told her.
My daughter has ridiculous legs. 36 inch length, size 2. Think praying mantis.
So to test him out she just swung her leg up and propped her boot up on his back. Yes, it was pretty funny looking.
“I think he’s OK,” she said.

Leland looked around and cocked his hip.

So Kidlette just slithered up on him. He didn’t blink.

When she asked him to go left it took him a second, but he went. We both got pretty excited when he rocked back, crossed his front legs over soft and correct and walked off, following the hand which guided his nose, and then did the same when Kidlette flipped the lead rope over his head and asked him to go right.

Very, very cool. Keep in mind, this is my experimental colt. He has been handled, probably not more than 25 times in his entire life.
He is light, responsive, inquisitive and calm.
I keep waiting for this approach to quit working, but so far I wouldn’t change a thing.
Julie is going crazy, she wants to love and pet on him and stuff him with carrots.
But she is keeping everybody away from him and not giving him any treats, which I appreciate.
Of course Kidlette is a nose kisser beyond compare so it’s not like she didn’t do her share while she had her chance.

The thing is, he has not been handled enough to have learned any negative behaviors. I have gotten after him twice and both times were a quick snap of the rope to clear him out of my space. I haven’t ever inadvertently taught him to crowd or lean or tune me out because each time I handle him I’ve got a clear plan and I get out of Dodge before I can muddy things up. I also think the long gaps between contact have helped us both. I’m not threatening, but he’s respectful, maybe just because he’s never quite sure what I’m up to.
It’s a very interesting process.
He decided to turn a pretty gold this year after being about white since he was born. I think I’m going to like this boy. Even if I do have to call him Leland.

And then...we hear from crankymare, who writes about dealing with the sour rotten result of too much of the wrong handling and what it takes to turn one around.

I just finished reading a post on Mugwump chronicles: .
I found it so interesting, I thought I'd post my thoughts here.
When I started this blog, Lic was a very desensitized horse... she ignored my leg, and eventually found that bucking, biting, and acting like a complete shit would get me off.
This was my own fault... I looked for a trainer, and couldn't find one I liked. So I did groundwork, Clinton Anderson style.
I did goofy things like walking her like a dog, and hopping up to ride back home. (Bareback, no helmet, and in a halter, on my shit of a horse. Smart, huh?)
Finally, I was able to ride on the trails, but dammit, I wanted to be able to do arena work too!
She was a total nightmare in the arena... balking, bucking, biting, I just could not get her to go.
I finally found the perfect trainer... my trainer knows when to push, when to reassure, and when the horse just needs to get laced with a whip.
When I first started with horses, I thought it was mean to hit a horse.
Now I realize that it's mean NOT to hit a horse, if they need it.
I saw my trainer back the mare up, flex her laterally, put a (short, english) spur in her side to get her to move, yell with the "pissed-off mom voice," and make her do endless circles... I also saw her lavishly praise even the tiniest improvements.
She's a keeper. Now, finally, Lic is at that place Mugs mentioned... sensitive enough to respond to light cues, but desensitized enough that she won't wig out if I make a mistake.
Case in point: The other day, I was working Lic in a large round-pen sized area in the lot next door. She had given me a good day- a flawless walk/jog warmup, and I actually got about 3 laps at the canter, each way... there was some bucking involved, but nothing outrageous.
She is also starting to understand that bucking=getting popped in the mouth with the bit. So, as a reward, I allowed her to canter up a little path in the 2 acre lot.
At first, she got excited and threw a bucking fit when I wouldn't let her all-out run. So, after another 5 minutes of cantering circles, we tried again... and she was fine, almost hitting that rocking-chair cadence.
This is a huge stride for he, she has a lot of balance issues at the canter, and I take these improvements as a sign that all of our hard work is paying off.
So, we go up one side of the property, and double back to go the other way. We were cantering again, and all of a sudden we're OMGI'MGONNA DIE! running, with her head in the air.
I breathe, and sit back, and slowly pull back on the reins. (It was really hard for me to learn to relax when my horse is wigging out!) We stop, turn and face the threat.... a boston terrier. *Sigh*
Okay, so we go up, Lic puts her head down and snuffles at the thing, and I turn her, and we continue cantering the way we were going before. We round a corner (I live in a hilly area) and we suddenly see a car pulling away from the school that is adjacent to the yard.
This time, I didn't sit the spook so pretty. As we were already cantering, Lic very nimbly changed her direction... from forwards to SIDEWAYS. Nice. Well, I lost my seat, meaning my ass was about 1 foot to the left of the saddle... but my feet were still in the stirrups, and my hands were still on the reins. I ended up literally sitting on the mare's side, hanging on her mouth with the reins. (I know, I should have let go, but it was a bad moment).The point of all this is that Lic would have had a legitimate reason to launch me... instead, she stopped after about 4 strides, allowing me to unceremoniously drop to the ground.
Of course, the lady in the car witnessed the whole fiasco.... she felt bad, but I assured her it was no big deal and I was fine. I got back on, rode for 10 more minutes, cantered the damn straightaway one more time without incident, and called it a day.
The point of this story? My mare, who can be very laid back one moment and spooking like a bat out of hell the next, responded to my screwed up stop cue, without responding to the whole "rider hanging off of her side" thing.
I'd rather she had either not spooked, or I had ridden it better, but with practice, I know that better riding on my part will translate to more confidence, and less spooking, on her part. And compared to six months ago, when asking her to canter in an arena would have been a complete disaster? Her improvement so far is amazing, and I expect more amazing things to come.


  1. Wow, it sounds like she's come a long way - and your trainer sounds very much like a keeper.
    And those wild ass spooks can be hard to stick, and you did well to stick with it enough to get her to stop, so nice riding. You didn't even have a chance to make a concious decision on what to do, and what you did may not have looked pretty but your horse learnt that spooking doesn't get you off and allow her to run home, which can be pretty important.

  2. Good to hear about Leland's progress. I've spent some time learning with an Aussie by the name of Steve Halfpenny who always starts youngstock bareback- he has a whole lot of reasons for it, but particularly that he can separate out anxiety about having a rider and anxiety about the saddle and that if anything unexpected does happen it's really easy to slip off and keep walking without risking getting tangled up. Certainly the way he works things it seems to make for a very calm start as far as the horses are concerned.

    It seems to me that what you are doing here is actually sculpting a riding horse, trying to apply your tools in such a way that nothing is removed that you might want to keep and each time you use them it helps to shape the long term result in a meaningful way. I'm really enjoying hearing about it- it's good to have a serious trainer who also has the liberty to experiment like this and the time to share your findings with the rest of us.

  3. Yaaay for the double Mouthy Monday!

  4. I want to know where do I find a pair of legs like that along with a single digit pant size?? :)

    Crankymare: thanks for also showing the rest of us that some horses may take longer but the process is definitely worth it!!

  5. Two great posts! Leland sounds really neat, I love the idea of the method you're using, but don't have a baby to apply it to.

    Crazymare - good for you for finding the right kind of trainer for your mare, I look forward to reading more about your progress onyour blog!

  6. OMG, your daughter DOES have endless legs! same with mine. Did not come from me. I am of the short and stubby variety. sigh

    Cranky mare, you are one brave woman to sit the bucks and keep riding. My gelding did a buck and bolt when I got on at a penning on Saturday and it unnerved me quite a bit and I found myself being VERY nervous evertime I had to mount him after that this weekend!

  7. Got a kick out of the photos and your praying mantis description! Leland looks like fun, and gotta say I like buckskin/ duns (yeah I know a good horse can be any color.)

    That "crazy" mare is lucky to have an owner willing to do what it takes! Way to go!

  8. Deered makes a great point. Even when it's not pretty success is still success.

    Glenatron said -he can separate out anxiety about having a rider and anxiety about the saddle- I love this thought. It adds to what I'm doing with Leland.
    I'm definitely filing this away in my brain...

    mommyrides-me too. sigh.

    badges - is this from a slow growing anxiety from the horse, or a one time thing?

  9. Good job Crankymare!
    I had been working my crazy mare who hears voices for a year and 4 or 5 months. I was getting so discouraged with her antics and feeling like I was always sitting on a keg of dynamite that I was considering giving her away. To whom I didn't know. Who would want a psycho horse? Then one day about two months ago, all the foolishness stopped. Just like snapping your fingers. Stopped. I kept working her and she remembered all of her lessons and did them. I waited for her to return to her crazy ways and she has not. No one who I ride with, including our instructor can believe it's the same horse.
    So hang in there - you're doing a good job! Things will only improve with your work.

  10. My greenbroke 4 year old gelding bucked me off on Sunday. I was riding bareback, so that's part of the reason I lost my seat, plus it was the first time I've ever experienced him bucking with earnest.

    (He does the occaisional yay-I-feel-good-buck if I don't lunge him before I ride.)

    He bucked again when I got back on, but I rode it out and he stopped after a few seconds. We went on to have a mostly decent ride without any more bucking.

    And let me tell you, I lunged him quite a bit before getting on because he was in a FOUL mood. Usually he's really lazy on the end of the lunge line, but that day he was like a rocket. Bucking a lot on the lunge line, too.

    I will admit he only gets ridden about twice a week, but I work on ground work almost every day. My trainer thinks inconsistent work is his main problem.

    But I think the bucking was a fluke, because he was in a horrible mood before I ever even put a halter on him.

    Do you think it's reasonable to call it a fluke and move on? Or am I just making excuses?

  11. I broke my Arab out bareback in just a halter. I decided to just add one element at a time. He already wore a halter and knew how to yield to pressure from it (i.e. very basic go where your nose is pointed) so I clipped some reins to it for our first rides. I felt that trying to introduce a bit, saddle and rider all at once was going to fry his brain and be completely counterproductive in producing a happy, well adjusted mount.

    When I started getting on his back it was all bareback for the first few months. When I felt he was ready, I added a saddle. A few months later I added a bitted bridle.

    I ride in either a rope halter with reins on the nose knots (there are rings there) so its like a sidepull or a proper bridle (sometimes western, sometimes English) with an eggbutt French link.

    I don't know if my way is the "right" way, but I now have a 5yo that will w/t/c anywhere, anytime with either a bridle or halter (he steers mostly off leg anyway). Now we're working on some dressage with some basic collection.

  12. Great mouthy mondays story -- hang in there and keep going! Sounds like you're making good progress!

    Loved the pictures of Leland and the praying mantis. (man those legs, makes me think of one of my older sisters. same deal. I got the short legs, short arms and long body. not great for center of gravity things...)

    Off topic, this weekend I got to got to a show in Temecula. I watched my sweet little friend (I call her the baby) doing some working cow horse. My first time to see it "live". I was totally shocked to see her compete in a class against all men and two of those men were Bob Avila and Ted Robinson. It was amazing. My 22 year old the baby did awesome. What an amazing sport. I loved it!!!! I've never seen such amazing horses all in once place ever. I thought of you mugs, and your sonita.

  13. If I had legs and flexibility of Kidlette, getting on my 16 hand horse would be so much easier. That picture of her with her leg thrown over Leland (her other foot was on the ground!!!) made me feel really old. And short. Amazing.

  14. Mugs, a one time thing I THINK. He is extremely reactive and is nervous of other horses coming at him, but Not at cows running full out to him, go figure..

    I was just mounting up, and a horse and rider came up to us, causing him to spook to the side as I was mounting and I kicked him in the butt on the way up, so I think it was a OMG IM DYING startle thing.

    DONT forget to address the jigging please! I worked the flag this weekend, and I could NOT get that bugger to stand. We would follow the flag to the fenceline, and he would not stand nice and quiet, he would literally DANCE on the spot!

    Also, went for a bit of trail ride during the break at penning. If he was out front, he would walk fairly quietly, as soon as another horse was in front, the jigging, prancing started. If my hubby sidepasses his horse towards me and Trickshot, Trickshot will sidepass away - if hubby mounts/dismounts while next to us, Trickshot spooks and has to look. Sigh.

    SO reactive. He will look up in the sky at things too. There were flags hanging way up on the announcers booth, he stretches his head and neck and looks WAAAAYYYY up there to have a look. Scared and brave at the same time. Spooks, but then wants to check it out. This is all new to me!

  15. Wow...I want legs. I'm pretty sure I'm half-hobbit. At least that's how it looks when I stand next to Tax who is 16.3. I'm 5'1 with a long torso and midgety legs.

    I love Amy's "Cranky Mare" stories about Lic. Hang in there. You guys are doing great. And post on your blog occasionally too, will ya? :)

    I got to go watch my mare at a schooling show with her new lesson kids. She was a little tense and didn't win because she had her head up in the air in the pleasure classes but she also didn't freak out or spook. They had a six year old and a 12 year old riding her that day. She's doing good.

  16. K - I saw the pix of kidlette and was like holee cripes... I would split in two if I tried that...

    AWESOME for Leland and you and your experiment. And why do you have to call him Leland? grin

  17. Nice post Cranky Mare! Love hearing the success and pride found in your voice!

  18. Joy- Watch out. Cowhorse is addictive.

    Shanster-Leland is a band that Kidlette was in love with the year he was born.It was her turn to name one so...

    I call him Dexter.

  19. Haha. Two years ago Dexter would have reminded me of that nerdy kid from the kid's cartoon. Now it reminds me of the creepy serial killer guy from the cable show. Love it.

  20. I love the photo of Kidlette kissing Leland's nose. It really illustrates for me the sort of personality he's developed with your training style, he looks like he's calmly but alertly thinking very very hard about even that small gesture.

  21. watchergryph- exactly. He watches every single thing we do.

  22. I am a terrible nose-kisser too; something about being an eternal girl and those soft velvety muzzles...

  23. Thanks everyone- I wrote this a while ago, since then we have continued making progress! We are cantering both ways in the arena, when we finished a 30 day stint with the trainer, she has tried to give me a little atittude but nothing I can't just get afte her for and ride out... every time we go to work on something new, she goes to the trainer for 30 days, then we do lessons for a while for ME to master it. Right now, I have mastered the "yes you WILL canter if I ask you to" and we are working on right lead- she likes to pick up the wrong lead going that way.

    And Sorry! I have been busy, but maybe I will post again soon... We just went to a competitive trail ride last weekend, and it was very interesting to say the least!!