Monday, May 30, 2016

Best ride yet!

I got the name of a cowboy trainer from a friend. I feel like I've done a decent job of getting on the pony for the first time, working on steering and stop and go, getting her out on the trails and out to new places. But I feel it is time to get some more instruction. I've been happy with the one trainer I'm working with (and I'll continue to work with her), but wanted another perspective from someone who has developed bridle horses. I actually called him up because I'm interested in learning some basic roping skills (with Mac), but after meeting him thought he could also help me with the pony.

New trainer came out on Saturday to help me with my rope, as I seem to always get it twisted. His instruction really helped me - it wasn't anything the other person didn't try to teach me, but I had forgotten since the first lesson; new trainer also changed my technique to use more shoulder swing.

Anyway, this isn't about roping, this is about the pony.

So when NT (new trainer) got to my place, I had just finished grooming Pony and she was tied in her stall. His opinion was that she wasn't far enough along in her training to be tied in her stall - it is too closed-in of a space and she needs to be able to move around more and see more while she's tied. So the first thing he did was help me pick out a tree limb and hang a lead rope with a swivel snap from it (properly tied & knotted). We tied the pony up and left her there while we worked on roping (maybe 20 minutes or so). The tying exercise is actually one I've been wanting to do but didn't know how to set it up so I'm thankful he helped me. The problem I have with tying the pony is that she's impatient and fidgety and paws. Tying her like this doesn't stop that, but it is set up in such a way that she can move around more (bending and turning while she's at it), I don't care that she paws in the sand, she's in the shade, she's close enough to the boys that she can see them but not interact with them, and if they come into their stalls then they go out of her sight and she has to deal with it. So that day we tied her up and left her. And then I did that yesterday again (30 minutes), and then this morning while I worked with Mac (an hour).

When NT was here he helped me with some ground work exercises also. I had mentioned the tarp issues and it just so happens that his "flag" is a shredded tarp, so it was perfect. He swung it all around, next to her, up over head, along her back, over her head, under her belly, up and down her legs, etc. Of course he did both sides. He said she needs a lot of work with that because while she would stand still, she was really in a frozen-with-fear sort of mode - head up, back dropped, muscles tensed, eyes a little buggy. But he looked for places where he could stop and let her relax and soak it in and she got better and better with it. She still needs work with it, though. Then he did some leading exercises and focus/attention exercises that I'd find hard to explain. She was very calm and quiet at the end and he said NOW would be the time to ride her, when she's quiet and focused and relaxed. I said I do some ground work with her sometimes before we ride, but not that extensive and not every time. So now I have a goal.

Yesterday I did the same pattern. Tie her up, practice my roping technique, then go get her and do ground work with my new-and-improved-shredded-tarp-flag. She didn't start off as nervous as the day previous, so there was some improvement already. I looked for every opportunity I could find to give her a rest and let her "shake it off" - head down, big sigh, licking and chewing, and yawning. All were signs that she was feeling better about things. I practiced some of the leading exercises, too. I didn't ride her - just turned her out in the pasture afterward.

Today I did the same pattern again, except I tied her up while I worked with Mac, so maybe about an hour today. She may or may not have been pawing during some of that time (although I didn't see any big trenches in the ground), but she was not doing any screaming, so that was good news! When I was done with Mac, I got Pony and did some ground work like yesterday and she was very good. At one point during a leading exercise, she stopped to check out the tarp hanging from the gate - that's a new one!

She was very quiet and focused and not fidgety at all and I got on with no issues. I had some poles set up in the arena and walked and trotted over those for a bit (both directions). We worked on some big loopy figure eights, and then went outside.

From riding Mac this morning, I knew the back neighbors were out doing a big gardening project. They had some friends there helping, so there were four people shoveling dirt into wheelbarrows and then dumping it in a garden area. She had a startle for a moment, but I let her just stand and look while I petted her and she walked on. The first lap by them was interesting (nothing bad, just stopping and looky), but after that she couldn't have cared less. We did half a lap of trotting in each direction (walking by the people) and what I noticed about her in this ride, after doing the ground work, was how much softer her back felt. She wasn't running/rushing at the trot, she was just nicely trotting along and not bouncing me out of the saddle with her trot. It was just very relaxed. So after our couple of laps, we walked back to the arena and she got BIG PATs and lots of GOOD GIRLs and when I took her saddle off and groomed her she seemed quite pleased and happy.

We're getting ready for a clinic coming up and I felt like these past few days has given me a renewed plan of action.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Cows on the trail ride!

I had a lesson with Princess Fancy Pants on Tuesday where we worked on ground work and getting her to focus on me, so I did a bit of that before my trail ride on Friday. Since I don't have a round pen, I fashioned one in the arena by putting up cavaletti and jump standards in a line so they formed a barrier. Granted, she could have jumped over it, but she didn't. One part of me would love to buy a proper round pen, but the other part of me doesn't want to spend the money; and, I've gotten thus far with her without it that I'm not sure it is really necessary.

Anyway, we headed off to the trails across the street. She stood beautifully for mounting. We started out by doing lots of circles around sage brush to get her bending and soft and paying attention (it wasn't a bunch of circles in a row, it was walk down the trail - circle, walk down the trail - circle, etc.).

We went for the long loop and this would be the second time she's done that loop. We walked and trotted and I gave her an opportunity to stop at the water and have a little grass and bite to eat. If she put her foot in the water, great, but my plan was to just get close to it. No dice on going in the water, but she did inch very close and have some grass.

So off we went again to the end where we'd turn across to get to the other main trail that would loop us back home. I knew there would be cows there because I had taken Mac there the day before and they were out. Sure enough, they were there and there were lots of them!

Pony was intrigued. She tried to get closer and closer, but there was a barbed-wire fence in between us and the road and the road and the cows, so there was only so far we could go. I turned her off and walked a little farther down the trail and there were more. We walked over to check them out.

She was so interested! If there were no fencing separating us, I'm sure she would have wanted to go closer still. I was hoping our neighbor would get cows again this year but I don't think he is, as it seems everyone who is getting cows have them by now. Oh well. At least we can see some if we hit the trails!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Tarp progress

I don't know what it is about the danged tarp! The sound of velcro is fine. The sound of the tractor is fine. The sound of the neighbor shooting is fine. The sound of the dogs barking is fine. The sound of the garbage truck picking up cans is fine. Deer in the woods are fine. Ducks are fine. Birds flying in and out of the stall or arena are fine. But the tarp is not.

Over the weekend, I decided to do some tarp work. I put the tarp away from the edge of the arena such that there was a big lane between the tarp and the arena wall. I stood on the tarp so it made noise. I had the pony walk on a circle between the tarp and the wall. That was fine, so I made the lane smaller and did it again. And then smaller still. We got it to the point where it was just wide enough for her to pass through without her feet touching the tarp and then it was a bit scary. I had her walk through and let the long lead drag on the tarp - SCARY!!!! We worked on that enough, though, that it didn't seem to bother her anymore. Then I'd have her walk through the lane and stop between the tarp and the wall. At first she stopped before the lane. Then she'd stop right after the lane. When she stopped in the middle (both directions) and stood quietly, I called it a day.

When I got on Mac next, I decided to move the tarp so that it was in front of the gate that goes to Pony's paddock (where she likes to stand when I work Mac). Mac is so not bothered by the tarp, so we walked over it so Pony could watch. Then Mac helped me out by just standing there and picking up the tarp and flapping it all over the place. While I think it was good for Pony to watch and see that, she was not interested in being close to Mac for that exercises.

So yesterday I trailered out Pony for a lesson and we worked on the tarp again. This time with a long strip attached to a stick. Trainer walked with it dragging on the ground.

Sometimes Pony was fine, sometimes she wasn't, so she just kept working calmly and quietly until it was no big deal and trainer could rub her all over with it (except face and feet, she still wasn't happy with that).

She got a bigger piece of tarp and did the same thing. I had a bunch of cookies with me so trainer tried to see if Pony would be interested in the tarp if there were a cookie wrapped in it. At first she was not interested, but then she was.

That seemed to really help, because after that, trainer could rub her face with it and she was okay.

We did just a little more with it whereby we left the tarp on the ground and we were chatting and Pony picked it up and nibbled on it herself (instead of it being rubbed around her mouth with a cookie wrapped inside). I had my clicker with me, so each time she did that she got a reward.

With that great progress, we called it a day!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Happy birthday, Pony!

Princess Fancy Pants is officially four years old! We celebrated by her getting a pedicure. And grazing, which makes for a happy pony . . . .well, three happy ponies!

I think I may have thwarted her pawing a bit. I've been grooming her in the cross-ties more, but I do keep her lead rope clipped to her halter. Just the other day as she was pawing and I was gathering up the lead rope, she got her foot over it (I actually have worked with her with ropes around her legs so she is used to that and doesn't freak out). I just went with it and threw the rest of the rope over her withers, so it went through her front legs and up and over her off-side shoulder. Every time she pawed, I didn't say anything (no growling or "knock it off" to her) - I just gave the rope a little pull so that she would feel it under her right front leg. It was as if the correction wasn't coming from me, the rope was just the result of something SHE did. When she stood still, there was no pressure. When she pawed, there was pressure. It worked really well, and her pawing diminished in duration greatly - yay for self-correction (as far as she knew)!

We then tacked up and headed out for a Big Girl Trail Ride in the BLM. This was her first long trail ride where we did the "Boneyard Loop" as I like to call it (due to the plethora of bones there - yikes?). This is a ride I do regularly with Mac, but for Pony it was her longest ride yet. We did walking and trotting and transitions back and forth. It is a great loop to ride because it is a long rectangle, a little less than a mile long on each long side, and the short sides are short. On either side going both ways is a ditch with irrigation water, so depending on the flow and where you are, it can be loud or quiet - AND there can be ducks that fly up seemingly out of nowhere! We can go nice and straight for a long time and work on, well, just going straight!

At one point she did spook at a pine cone falling out of a tree and hitting every branch on the way down, but her spook was sort of zig-zagging in place because she couldn't figure out what the noise was and what it was. No biggie, she handled it like a brave pony and we kept on going after some pats and deep breaths!

We also worked on circles around sage brush and picking our way through some trees and brush in an area that has some old junk on the ground.

It was a great ride! Now that she's four, I'll step up her work a bit - longer trail rides and/or more frequent under-saddle work - probably 3 rides per week. This ride was the first time I got on her since coming back from vacation (so about two weeks, as before I go and after I come back there's stuff I need to catch up on). I didn't lunge her first or do any ground work other than walking down to the BLM and having her mind me. She stood stock still for mounting, didn't call to her friends or refuse to head out on the trail.

We've had some rain this weekend (well, all weekend, actually!) so we did some ground work in the arena yesterday with the tarp, and I had a short ride in the indoor today, working on circles and keeping their shape and going forward. Short but sweet at about 20 minutes of walk and trot.

The horses are all out in the pasture right now and I've upped their hours to pretty much all day. I am getting grazing muzzles for them, though, so they don't get too FAT!