Monday, June 27, 2016

Pony is going western!

So I've had this trainer coming out to my house to give me lessons. While I'm getting along fine on my own, I always want to learn more and do better. It has been a while since I've had regular lessons, and I appreciate that he will come to my house because trailering out two horses takes a lot of time and is a hassle. Since he's got the time, he comes out on Saturday mornings and we spend most of the morning together. It takes away one weekend day of possibly sleeping in, but it is worth it and I am learning so much.

A lot of what we are learning and working on is back to the basics, but a different sort of basics than I grew up with riding hunters, and most definitely a lot different than what I was doing most recently, which was dressage. Trainer is happy to tell me what I'm doing wrong and show me how to do it better. And I'm happy to be told what I'm doing wrong and how to do it better. Various things I do wrong are: I'm too busy with my legs and/or I use my heels too much (instead of my lower leg), I cross my inside rein over the neck (typical english rider thing, he says), my reins are too short (hallelujah! I much prefer to ride with longer, looser reins, but was always told when riding dressage to shorten them), and other little things.

I've been working on this stuff with Mac and started out with a couple ground work sessions with Pony, but decided to ride with Pony in a lesson this week since she shaped up to the ground work really nicely. Since Trainer is a saddle maker, I asked him for his opinion on how my western saddle fit Pony, since the first time I put it on her she didn't seem to like it. He actually thought it was a good fit for her so we put it on and I had a lesson in it. The thing she didn't like, which she didn't like again, was the cinch. The big buckle seemed to be bothering her. Since the saddle otherwise fit, though, I went and got her a fleece cinch whereby the fleece cushions the buckle from pressure.

And here she is, looking cuter than anything.

In our lesson we worked on circles, bending, lateral work, backing, and transitions on a loose rein - all of this is baby stuff, though - just a step here, or a movement there. At first I thought my reins were loose enough, but he had me ride on the buckle (or where a buckle would be if I had english reins) during transitions, and he commented that Pony was much happier with that. I didn't think I'd be able to ride her like that since she's got so much go and is so bendy and wiggly, but she was amazingly good! She kept her line, went softly into the trot, and then came back down nicely.

It is really fun and exciting to be working with someone like this on a regular basis. Pony is so smart that she makes progress very quickly and retains it very well!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Clinic report - last day

Finally it was the last day of the clinic and we both were exhausted. I didn't know how much I had in me and she had been so good and brave and bold and so I didn't go to the morning session. Instead, my friend and I tacked up our mares and headed out for a morning trail ride among the cows. The clinician had moved the cows from one pasture to another a couple days before (we were welcome to join but it was a little too much excitement with other non-clinician-visitors who were yahooing around a bit) and I had asked if it was okay to ride among them and they said yes so we did that. We went out with the cows and just went up a hill, walked a fence line, went down the hill, back up and checked the other fence line, and back down again (just a big figure 8 loop), leap-frogging along the way. Our other friend had decided to come out just as we were coming in so we all used it as a training exercise. Pony and I left the other mare and the gelding who had just joined and went back to the paddocks by ourselves while the two of them went out on a trail ride. It was a good exercise and Pony was very brave and bold out on the trail.

I didn't want Pony to be standing around in the paddock for the rest of the day, though, so after lunch I brought her out and tried more tarp work on my own. Someone else was in the round pen so I used the square area where the bridge was. First we did the bridge to reinforce something she was good at. Then I started with the alleyway exercise again, giving her big breaks when she walked through it calmly. Then I closed the gap and she'd rush and trot over it. But I was pleased with her even putting her feet on it, so again she got a big break with lots of pats and praise. Finally, I got her to calmly walk over it in both directions. She was so great! More praise and we left that area entirely to give her a big break.

Everyone was interested in cow work, so I got on and my friend and I waited in the arena as some people went out with their horses to bring the cows in. We did a little warm up of walk, trot, and canter, and then just walked around and/or stood while we waited. Eventually, the cows came in and we got to work with them! We took turns circling them and keeping them in a place or trying to move one or another and then trying to split them and walk through the middle. Pony was great and my friend was kind enough to get a little video of us taking our turn!

It was an amazing clinic experience. We worked on walk, trot, canter moving off the leg, baby lateral work, standing still in the big arena with lots of horses all around us. We worked on (and defeated!) our nemesis, The Tarp. We had two nice trail rides. We worked with and without her neighbor buddies. We played with cows. She hauled perfectly. We did everything I set out to do, and more.

I swear, I feel like this experience advanced her training by leaps and bounds - 5 days of clinic experience gave her more confidence and furthered her education by probably what I could do on my own in 6 months to a year.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Clinic report - day 4

On day 4 I asked for more help with the tarp in the round pen, as I had done what I felt confident doing on my own. I told him how far I was able to get the previous day but that I wanted help with the actual going-over-the-tarp part. Since he was horseback - and the clinician - I thought he would be better suited to knowing when to push and when to say it was enough for the day and his timing and tools are of course better than mine. He started out with the alley way again, but we soon closed that up. He put on pressure whenever she was away from the tarp and when she got to the tarp, he released the pressure . . . but he would add just a little movement with his flag to try to entice her to go over.

Here she is considering the tarp while he puts a little pressure on her with his horse and the flag.

Then she got to the point where she'd trot over it.

And then eventually, with help from another guy (I didn't want to get run over in case she tried to jump over the person on the lead rope!), she walked over it.

And then she stood on it!

Oh, and I forgot to mention another thing that the clinician emphasized:COMPROMISE! "Do my thing, your way" - if you want the horse to go forward over there, but they are scared to go over there, just get them to go forward wherever they feel comfortable going. In the case with the pony, he said that sometimes the tarp is scary, but is less scary if you scoop and scatter some dirt or sand on it, so the helper guy put some sand all over it and that seemed to help her.

After that it was all praise and scratches and pats and loves and a really good roll!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Clinic report - day 3

The arena had all sorts of toys to play with - two tie lines hanging from the ceiling, a sled for dragging around, a "car wash" thing extended from the wall with straps that you could pull/tie back to make an opening for the horses to walk through, the aforementioned bridge. On this day I decided to play with the "car wash" thing. I just worked on foot with this to start, riding through it would come later. I tied back one side so that half of the car wash fingers were hanging straight down, and then there was an opening where the others were tied back. I asked her to walk through. At first she rushed and trotted through, but she got praise and breaks for trying. We'd go back and forth a few times - going through, and then taking a break. When she got quieter about it and walked through, I called it quits.

I took some time in the afternoon to practice the tarp technique in the round pen. The clinician was on horseback when he did it, and I was on foot, so I had to be fast and have good timing about how I did it. Basically, I laid the tarp out and made an alley between it and the round pen wall. The tarp became the resting place, and anywhere else was somewhere she had to work. It was all up to her how much work she wanted to do. As long as she considered the tarp (at first looking at it, then getting closer to it, then stretching down to look at it or sniff it), she would get a break. Otherwise, it was time to go to work. She caught on pretty quickly and so would go up to it and drop her head and stand and look at it. So the next thing was to ask her to go in the alley between the tarp and the wall. She caught on and would do it, but she'd rush through at the trot. All during this, she got breaks (reward) for considering it more and more. Eventually, she would walk through the alley calmly. I didn't feel confident enough in my abilities to get to the next step (going over the tarp) without screwing up, so when we had something good, I called it a day.

I took the opportunity to tie her to one of the hanging ropes, which was no big deal and she was really good about standing there and not pawing and having horses work around her.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Clinic report - day 2

While I had many goals for the clinic, my main goal was to get over the tarp issue, so on day two I asked for more help with the tarp. We did a little more of the same from day one, but still no walking over it.

The clinician actually did the same work with another horse in the round pen and I watched his approach so that I could practice it later. Of course I've always heard "make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult" but it always helps to watch a master in person to study his or her technique and find the nuances of how to make that happen. What he did with some other horses was to make the tarp the "safe place" or resting place - otherwise, the horse had to go to work. The horses he worked with didn't seem to have such an aversion to the tarp as Pony does, but it was still helpful to watch the progress in person.

The clinician was in the round pen on his horse and had the other horse loose. The tarp was on one side of the round pen next to the wall. The clinician flagged the horse on the ground, only putting pressure on in the area that was NOT near the tarp. Once the horse got near the tarp, he took the pressure off. If the horse wanted to leave the tarp area that was fine, but he would get flagged and asked to move around and work. Again, the tarp was the resting place. The more the horse got comfortable near the tarp, the clinician asked him to consider going closer to the tarp . . . first standing squarely in front of it, then getting closer, then putting his head down to look at it and/or sniff it, then to walk over it. Eventually, the horse would stand on it to find relief. I kept that imagery and session in my head for the next day's work.

Before anyone rode today, the clinician had the horses all run around together in the arena. I've seen this done before and actually never thought I'd have my horse do it because it looks scary and potentially dangerous. But I did it. And nothing bad happened. Having said that, though, I don't think I'll ever do it again.

In the afternoon I did a little more riding, this time working on figure 8s around other horses in the arena at the walk and trot. Pony was very good with all the stuff going on around her. I didn't ride for too long, and when I got off I continued work with my flag, getting the tarp pieces around her feet and rewarding her for considering it and not stepping away. Got lots of "mental releases" where she'd lower her head and yawn, so I considered that progress. We also worked on walking over the bridge and she decided she was very brave about that. I think she enjoyed being a bit taller, as she'd get on and stand there and look around. She seemed quite pleased with herself!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Pony's first clinic - day 1

I got home on Tuesday from taking Princess Fancy Pants on her first big outing away from home. Since I keep my horses at home and always ride alone, one of the things I was worried about for the future was how it would go when I took her to her first show or outing where there would be lots of activity, so I decided a great place to start would be to a clinic that wasn't too busy but where she would get exposed to all sorts of things that are new and different for her. It was also a fun girls' week trip to catch up with my old riding buddies from CA - one has a green mare Pony's age and wanted to get her going more, and the other has a BTDT gelding who could be a steady-eddy companion. The two of us with the mares decided to do the colt-starting class so we could see where we stood and what else we should be working on.

My goals for the clinic were: get Pony out and about and exposed to a new place where she'd have to be in a paddock next to other horses, work on exposing her to new things, get over The Tarp issue that we've had, learn where other holes may be and how to address them, ride in a group situation, and if I was lucky, to introduce her to cows.

The clinic was split into two groups - mornings for colt starting, and afternoons for the others. Basically the young horses would go to the arena in the morning and we'd get help with whatever we asked for. There were two long ropes hanging from the rafters where we could work on tying and leaving the horses; there was a round pen in one corner, and then a sort-of waiting area that was fenced off where we could do other ground work or work on going over a bridge that was set up there.

On day 1 we did some ground work and I worked on some flagging (after finding the great trainer here to work with and taking his advice on working on flagging her more, I changed my flag to a big piece of cut-up tarp because it is noisier and she would pay more attention to it than the other flag), paying attention while leading (going and/or stopping with my feet and staying at a certain "spot" with me - I never really thought she was bad at this, but the trainer pointed out that she wasn't stopping her feet with mine and paying attention when being led), and then I asked for help with the tarp. One thing that the clinician said was "preparation is more important than execution" - meaning, take your time to set it up so that your horse will be successful. It isn't about MAKING her go over the tarp NOW, but setting it up so that she will want to go over the tarp and seek relief there (eventually). Another thing related to that that he worked on was getting the horse to CONSIDER [the thing] - you've got to get the mind first. So at first he wanted her to consider the tarp. Look at it, turn your attention to it, and you will get relief/release from it (taking it away as a release, or taking her away from it). I had been working on this with her at home, so she was familiar with that concept and has learned how to be curious about it . . . but not so much that she would step on it or go over it. The goal for the first day wasn't to get her over the tarp, it was to get her more comfortable with it and it being around and it being near her, on her, other horses walking on it, etc., and then to know that she'll be rewarded for considering it.

Here she is with it in her space.

Here she is with it on her.

Here she is getting a break and checking in on how some other horses were doing in the round pen. The clinician gave really big breaks disguised as checking on other horses or telling stories, but it was really the release/"soaking" time for the horse to think about what just happened.

He tried getting her to walk over just a corner of it, but she would not have it, so once it was spread out on the ground and she just considered it, it was enough for the day - there would be plenty more opportunities to work on it.

Since she's usually in a pasture at home and here she was just in a small pen, I got her out in the afternoon as well. I just got on and walked her around for a bit. If she wanted to be near other horses, I gave her the opportunity to go to work in their presence and then go somewhere else to rest. She caught on pretty quickly to that one! Once she stood quietly on her own with her neck relaxed and paying others no mind, I got off and took her back to her paddock. She was really good about leaving the group and going back to the paddocks with me.