Saturday, April 23, 2011

Vacation!

Tomorrow I'm going on vacation... yay!! We're heading down to Emerald Isle, NC for the week and I can't wait! A friend of mine was lucky enough to snag a beach house for the week and invited me and the BF to join them. Dibs on the top floor bedroom!!


The "All About Life" house where we'll be staying.

Beautiful Emerald Isle, NC
I hope Lilly doesn't lose too much muscle tone while I'm gone, but it shouldn't take long to whip her back into shape when I return. Hopefully all this rain will move out, spring can officially arrive, and we can maintain our routine without being interrupted by weather.

Happy Easter! I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday weekend!

Monday, April 18, 2011

JCHSS #2

Sunday was a planned schooling show for me and Lilly (although I did take my show clothes just in case). After what happened at the last show, Alex offered to join me in case Lilly decided she wanted to act similarly at this show so she could help me work through some of the issues.

M and I arrived at the show earlier than usual hoping to get a better parking spot this time around. Because of the weather, turnout wasn't what it normally is at this show, so parking didn't turn out to be much of an issue.

Alex arrived shortly after we did and got right to work. Lilly is always in a hurry to get out of the trailer, so she first educated her on how to politely step out of the trailer. It's a little more difficult to practice in my own trailer because it isn't wide like M's trailer so there isn't as much room in there for the two of us. At a show I always have spot number 1 of my 2 horse trailer filled with stuff so I just need to take a day and practice nothing but getting in and out of the trailer.

Once that was settled, we tied Baby on one side of the trailer and Lilly on the other. She didn't waste any time before she started whinnying and pawing, desperately trying to communicate with her BFF. Alex started asking Lilly to move her feet using the motivator stick (crop with a plastic bag tied on the end). She had her move back and forth, back and forth, making sure she was taking nice, big steps rather than shuffling from side to side. After the motivator stick started to loose its 'umph', Alex got her longe whip from the truck. After popping the longe whip for a few minutes, an individual we both know pretty well walked over to the trailer. As soon as I saw him coming over I knew what was up. Someone had apparently complained that we were whipping Lilly with the longe whip and we had to stop or we'd be asked to leave.

On one hand, I'm impressed that someone actually spoke up about something they thought was wrong, even though they had no clue what we were doing. No one was whipping my horse... On the other hand, we saw skinny horses, horses being ridden in leverage bits with draw reins, spurs that looked more like saw blades, and an individual that actually was being abusive to his horse, yet nothing was said or done about those things.

But I digress...

So we had to abandon ship on that issue and decided we'd try to tackle the issue under saddle instead. Alex got on first and started working on all the different things she showed me when she came to the barn a couple weeks ago. I think she was impressed with the work Lilly and I had done because she said she could tell we'd been doing our homework. Lilly was definitely forward, but she was being obedient, and Alex said that was important. She can be full of energy as long as she's doing what she's told.


Still loving those dark spots!
 She rode her for quite a while behind the trailer, out of view of Baby, and Lilly did exceptionally well compared to what I dealt with at the last show. Her energy level was up, but she didn't feel like she could explode at any minute. She would whinny every now and then, and when she did she was worked in little, uncomfortable circles and then as soon as she stopped whinnying, we'd move along like nothing happened. No grudges! After Alex had Lilly going beautifully, it was my turn to hop on.

Being that Lilly was full of energy, we worked on things that require a lot of energy. We worked on jogging slow, being soft in the bridle, and canter transitions. She felt really collected, was definitely being obedient, and was even a lot more relaxed than when we started. The thing about Lilly, though, is that I'm not sure she ever really runs out of energy. She doesn't wear down. I could ride her all day long, even ride her pretty hard, and at the end of the day she'd still have plenty of get up and go to run a barrel pattern. So the challenge with her is to channel that energy in the right ways, using it for good, not evil.


What a good pony!
 Since she was doing so well, we decided to go for a walk around the grounds and into the area where Baby would be. Alex always stresses that we're never just going for a walk, or just going on a trail ride, it's a constant opportunity to work on something. So we weaved in and out of vehicles and horse trailers, making sure she wasn't dropping her shoulder and always making nice rounded corners.

She was a really good girl. We stood and watched the jumping classes for a while and she only whinnied a couple times. The only time she moved those feet was when I told her to. Nice! She wasn't allowed to look around, though, and I think that was the hardest part for her. She LOVES to look around. She has got to be the most nosey critter on the planet. She looks over there, then she looks over here, then back over there... it's constant and never stops. She'll turn her head all the way around behind her to get a good look if she has to. So I had to imagine we were inside a rectangular box and Lilly wasn't allowed to move her nose outside that box...

We went for a another walk over to the grass ring all by ourselves and she wasn't allowed to look at the other horses. She did good on the way over, but on the way back she started to whinny and then stopped, like she remembered once she started that she wasn't supposed to. It was pitiful!

The correction:


Shut your yap, mare!
 The result:


That's better!
 Alex was kind enough to fill up my camera's memory card with wonderful pictures, but in most of them my face looks like that. Someone should remind me next time to put a hat on my head so the sun doesn't shine in my eyes and make me look cranky!

After the jumping classes were over and the show took a break, Lilly and I went into the ring to practice there. It felt like we were starting all over again because she was really, really forward. I was having a tough time getting her to be soft, and she wanted to rush everything. Constantly stopping and backing in an arena full of horses wasn't always an option, so we did the best we could. Again, she was being forward but obedient, so I was definitely happy with what she was giving me.

We had a few lovely canter transitions and she was really cantering nicely. She felt less forward at the canter than she did at the trot or walk, and it felt amazing.


An example of our wonderful canter!
 I did end up showing in two western go-as-you-please classes. Please pay no attention to our mecate reins, full cheek snaffle bit (of course she's under 5 years old...), and fancy show clothes. We're totally western pleasure material! :)

We placed last in the first class and almost last in the second class, but I wasn't showing to show. I was showing to school and that's what we did. She did fairly well until she was the last one still standing in the lineup, and then we had a bit of attitude to deal with. The challenging part of that is finding a way to work on it without actually being in the show ring. I told Lilly if she wins the class she gets to leave first! I'm not sure she cared, though.


Western pleasure, here we come!
 After our classes, we headed back to the trailer where I worked her in a different bridle. She decided to whinny, so I circled her, and she proceeded to step on her shoe, nearly ripping it off. The little bit of hoof we had grown out... gone. Luckily we found some tools and Alex was able to take the shoe the rest of the way off gently so we didn't lose anymore hoof. I have to come up with something else for her hooves or we're never going to get this hoof issue taken care of.

The next show is May 7th and M won't be able to go, so I'll be anxious to see how Lilly does at the show when she's hauled by herself. I never had these kinds of issues with her when we were showing alone so it'll be interesting to see if things are drastically different. I might just have to take a year off and still haul to the shows, but school only until we get past this.

Again, thank you SO much Alex for your time and expertise! It has already made such a huge difference in my horse and I can't thank you enough for helping us out!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Devastating Storms

The show ended up being rescheduled for Sunday because of the severe weather that moved through our area on Saturday. The tornado that devastated areas of my town missed my house by about 1/4 mile. Two dozen people in North Carolina lost their lives, and a reining barn about 20 minutes south of where I keep Lilly has lost 20 horses so far, and their gorgeous farm was leveled. Residents here suffered a lot of damage and it'll take a long time to rebuild. I feel very blessed to have made it through without any damage.

I was having an internal fight with myself as the storm quickly approached my area on Saturday. Because of the rain, Lilly was already in the barn but I had always heard horses are safer outside than in. After calling the BO, I decided to go ahead and leave her inside.

As it turns out, most of the horses killed at Misty Creek Ranch were outside at the time of the storm. From theHorse.com:

Sally Vivrette, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, who attended to the horses at the scene, said several animals residing in the pasture sustained severe injuries including joint punctures, tendon lacerations, and tendon ruptures. Six of the pastured horses were euthanized at the scene due to the severity of their injuries. Others were transported to nearby veterinary hospitals where four more were later euthanized due to their injuries, Vivrette said. Other horses sustained eye injuries due to blowing sand and debris, she added.

"It looked as though they were picked up and thrown to the ground," Vivrette said.


Two inside horses were injured, and two other horses in a covered pen were crushed to death. Because of what happened to these horses in this tornado, a lot of horse people in the horse community here are reconsidering the safest place for their horses during a tornado. A dilapidated shelter would probably be less safe than a pasture, but I think a sturdy structure is probably the safest place for a horse.

I'm curious where you would want your horse during a tornado.

This is what their farm looks like now. If you would like to donate, you can do so here.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Another Good Ride, But...

Lilly was tired! We must have done too much work yesterday, or I shouldn't have ridden her today, because while she was trying really hard, she just couldn't hold it together for very long. Yesterday we were doing 1 3/4 or 2 laps around the arena before she started falling apart and today we were lucky if we make it 3/4 of the way around. Even trotting she seemed to be having a difficult time.

So instead of working on the canter itself, I worked on transitions. There were a few times she rushed, but after a few 'stop, back, trot' exercises, she started to wait for the cue. Sometimes I swear she reads my mind, but I must be doing something with my body even though I'm not consciously doing anything. I don't know how else she can know what we're doing next! Today when we were coming around the corner at a trot, I thought to myself, "once we get to that pole, I'm going to prep her for the canter" and she cantered! It could be something as simple as taking a breath, but it's creepy sometimes!

We also worked on bridled bridle-less riding. I pretend she's not wearing a bridle (even though she is) and steer her around the arena with nothing but my legs and my body. She's getting really good. Today I was able to steer her all over the arena, stop her, and back her. We still can't do turns or side pass, or do it at anything but a walk, but we're working on it! :)

She was SOOO good today... she was really relaxed and hardly chomped on her bit at all.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

One of the Best Rides Ever!

I thought I had a brilliant idea this morning... I was going to set up my camera inside the arena, take my remote control with me, and hit the button as I cantered past the camera. It was going to be epic!

Unfortunately, this is about all I could get.


Say cheese!
 Not that it isn't a cute picture, but it's far from what I was going for. It seemed that when the camera shut itself off to conserve battery, the shooting mode would change from "remote quick response mode" back to "continuous advance mode". It was driving me crazy so I decided to give up on it for the time being. It appears I have to change the "remote on duration" to something longer than 1 minute, so we'll try that next time.

It's probably just as well because Lilly decided to be a challenge today. She was a bit spooky when I rode her on Monday too, but today she was just being ridiculous. When I was messing with the camera and taking way too many worthless pictures, she jumped every time the camera took a picture. I ended up taking even more worthless pictures so I could deal with her acting silly.

She also had her eye on something across the field and kept blowing every time we got to that end of the arena. In an effort to control her mind by controlling her feet, we engaged in some serious footwork. Side-passing, circling, stopping, trotting, backing, and I finally had her attention. She didn't completely ignore the spookies in the field, but at least she was paying attention to me when we passed by them.

A couple new things for us... the first one is a new bit. I love the french link snaffle I have for Lilly and I thought she loved it too. It might be that she loves it a bit too much, though, so I've switched her back to the plain old d-ring snaffle. She chews a lot less now and is a lot more responsive to a bunch of different things. We think maybe the french link had too many moving parts and it was just too much for an already sensitive horse like Lilly.

The second one is spurs. SPURS! I can't believe I'm actually riding my horse in spurs, and I'm even more surprised that I still have a pair! I'm not using them for go, that cue still comes from my lower leg, but I'm using them to keep her straight. With all this stopping and backing we've been doing, she has a tendency to swing her butt to the inside. Rather than having to use a LOT of leg to move her back over, I just touch her with the spur and the process moves along much more efficiently.

After we got past the spookiness issues, she was really good. I think I smiled more today than I have in a long time! She rushed a few canter transitions because she's starting to figure out the new prep work before the cue and decides she's ready to go. When she started to canter before I was ready, I stopped her, backed her, trotted her, and then asked again. The cantering that followed was heavenly!

So as a little side note here... back when I was taking Dressage lessons, my trainer commented that "before you know it, all you'll have to do is think canter and Lilly will canter." Her comments made it sound like that was a good thing and it was something to work towards. So with such a sensitive, tuned in horse who obviously feels every move I make with my body, how important is the actual cue? Should I make her wait for me to slide my outside leg back and squeeze, or are the upper body movements I use to prep her good enough for the cue?

Back to cantering... heavenly! It's obviously because of the exercises I've been doing with her, but I'm wondering if it's because she's building up the muscles she needs to canter nicely, or if she's really hunting the whoa. Today she cantered around the arena twice before I felt her start falling apart. She cantered around as if she's been doing it for years and it was effortless. She was even able to maintain her speed in the corners, which is where she usually speeds up and drops her inside shoulder.

So here's my other question. Since I'm technically still rehabbing her to an extent, and since she's still fairly out of shape, and since I'm such a wimp and immediately want to rub the hell out of her and take her into the barn for being such a good girl, how long should I canter her for? Until she starts to fall apart, or try to stop her before she falls apart? Or try to put her back together and canter her a bit more? I just want to make sure she's using the right muscles and I'm concerned if I canter her too much, she'll start using the wrong muscles to try and hold herself together. I've been looking over my book and it'll say, "work up to 15 minutes or more of xyz..." but I'm not sure I know how when it's okay to increase the amount of time.

I've been working on the jog too, and I'm really having fun seeing how slow I can get her to go. I don't anticipate ever having a problem getting her to go faster, so working on getting her slower is really cool. We've had some very nice pitter-patter jogs.


I was a good girl today!
 What a great ride!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An AJ Update!

We had more rain today, so I didn't make it out to the barn. I'm sure Lilly was crushed! :)

My mom sent me some recent pictures of AJ, so I thought I'd post them here so you can see how happy he looks!  They had some nice weather over the weekend so the boys got brushed and enjoyed some of the green grass that has been sprouting.


Two happy boys!


I think his weight looks really good!
 Not only do they take great care of my horse, but they also take great care of my puppy dog. Bailey is my 12 year old German Shepherd that I rescued from the pound way back when I was in the Marine Corps. She's not cut out to be an apartment dog and is much happier on the farm with my dad. She goes everywhere with him, as you can see.


Thanks again for taking such good care of them!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Birthday Girl!

11 years ago a very precious, very adorable, very sweet little filly was born. Wonder who it was?

Me, me! Today is MY birthday!
And a flashback to the face that started it all!

Here she is at 3 months old.  Awww!
After riding I gave her a bath and took some pictures. We thought perhaps if she was wet her muscles might be a bit more visible. I'm not sure, but maybe it's because she doesn't really have any yet!

I just love her color this time of year! She has a lot of dark patches where the hair mixed in is black. Even her belly has dark hairs this year.

You can't see it in any of these pictures, but her tail is so long it drags the ground. I need to cut some of it off but I want to enjoy it for just a little while. :)

Happy birthday, Lilly!!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ellie!

Today was cloudy and cold, about 48 degrees, and Monday we're supposed to have a high of 91 degrees. I welcome the 91 degree weather with open arms, but I sure wish things would stabilize! One minute I think I can put the winter blankets away and the next thing I know we're under a frost warning. It's crazy!

We had lovely, normal weather yesterday but I ended up spending about 3 hours at my potential new barn and ran out of time to ride before going to work. When I spoke to the BO earlier this week on the phone, we talked for about 45 minutes. She seems really great... and actual horsewoman instead of someone who runs a boarding barn hoping to make some extra cash. She has a small, six stall barn with all the amenities and limits the number of horses she has to eight, although she prefers six. She says that way she can keep things personal and each horse can receive the kind of care she'd want her own horses to have. She has three horses of her own and one boarder currently. Lilly and Baby would be horses five and six if we moved over there.

I was very honest with her about what we're looking for. I stressed that I wanted her barn to be a good fit for us, but I also wanted our horses to be a good a fit for her. We're tired of moving and if she was adamant about not doing something that we were adamant about having, it wasn't worth it to waste her time and our time.

They have lovely white, vinyl fencing, a large arena, a 60 ft round pen, numerous large paddocks with shelters, and plenty of free trailer parking. When I asked her about feed and turnout, she said "well, that depends on your horse..." Ahhh, music to my ears! Lilly would be turned out with whatever horse she did best with and she would be fed what I wanted her to be fed. She does beet pulp in the fall/winter/spring too, so that's a definite plus. She even has alfalfa hay in the barn that she'll feed Lilly.

M said she visited this place when she first moved to the area and wasn't impressed with the BO, but I'm not sure how that can be. She's going to go over in the next few days and talk to the BO again. Hopefully she agrees with me and we can give notice at our current place.

Despite the icky weather, I went over to the barn to ride. M met me there and we both worked our horses, which was nice. Usually I'm there all by myself, so it was fun to have company. The second pair of eyes is good so she can yell at me to sit back when I'm cantering. :)

I've actually been riding my new horse, Ellie. She looks exactly like Lilly, but she has better manners and doesn't do all the things Lilly does. Since I'm riding Ellie and not Lilly, I'm not anticipating my new horse shooting into the canter like a rocket or staying 10 steps ahead of my commands and not paying attention to a thing I ask. Ellie is a much more relaxed, happy horse that doesn't try to be boss mare over me, her new owner.

We worked on our usual warm-up exercises and even though it was chilly, she was very focused and M comment on how calm and sleepy she looked. Is it from the new attitude, or is it from the change in feed and supplements, or is it a combination of all of them? Either way, it's good!

We had some really nice canter transitions and even some nice canter strides. M would yell at me to sit back and Lilly, I mean Ellie, would settle into a nice canter until we got to the corner and then she'd speed up. I know she still has a lot of muscle to develop before she's able to carry herself for very long without needing help, but I'm seeing definite progress. The big change in me is that after our stellar canter, I made her do it AGAIN. Oh the horror! "Yep, that's good, but let's do it again!"

Plans have been finalized for next weekend's show in Johnston County. I have to work, so I can't show and I can't stay all day, but M is going to haul Baby and Lilly in her trailer to and from the show so I can spend as much time there as possible. Alex is going to meet me there just in case this new horse of mine decides she wants to scream and cry for her friend. I'll have some help to work me through what I need to do. Of course I don't anticipate Ellie doing any such thing, but just in case.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tick Season... Yuck!

Is it tick season at your place? I pulled about 8 ticks off Lilly today and those suckers were all over her! She had them on her elbows, belly, chest, between her back legs, and even one on her side. Luckily they're pretty easy to find on her because of her color. I enjoy grabbing them with the tweezers and using a lighter on them until they explode.

After finding the ticks, I knew it was time to break out the Tri-Tec 14. That stuff is amazing! I use it every year in the spring for ticks and then in the summer for the bugs. It's the only fly spray that I've found that actually works on Lilly. It has sunscreen in it too, and smells lovely!

I worked Lilly in the round pen and rode her in the arena, but I think this will be the last day I'm going to do both. I don't want her getting burned out doing the same stuff over and over again. We had a few issues in the round pen with her zooming around and not paying attention, but after a few changes of direction, she was more relaxed and started listening.

Our ride went much better today than it did yesterday. The position of the bit definitely makes a huge difference. She's always been a chomper and I can't believe I never thought to adjust the position until it was suggested to me. Our stops were much better today and after A LOT of the halt, back, walk (or trot) exercises, she stared getting really heavy.

We also had some really nice canter transitions... she was trotting along, I asked for the canter, and she stepped into it like she's done it a million times. Very nice, Lilly! I've been "holding her up" as she canters to help her reach underneath herself and to keep her from dropping her shoulder in the turns and when we make our circles.

In other news, I'm in the market for a new boarding barn. I know, I know... I'm tired of moving too but I just keep finding rules that I don't agree with and there's no compromising. For example, when the horses start staying in during the day, fans aren't allowed in the stalls. Why? Well, because they don't need them, that's why. Well who says they don't need them? I'd like my mare to have a fan. It gets hot, humid, and stale around these parts in the middle of the summer. There isn't a breeze to be found and a fan helps move the air around and keep the horses cool.

It has also been determined that new grain keeps being put on top of old grain. Not that I use grain anymore, but I worry about Baby and whether she's being fed moldy or stale grain. This is on top of the grain issues we've had since we moved in and the possible mandatory change over to Strategy in the summer.

The list of reasons is pretty long, and M and I just aren't happy with the current situation. A certain someone has said I'll never be happy, but some things are easier to overlook than others. The health and happiness of my horse comes first. I have a few more options now that AJ is safe and happy in Michigan and I'm going to check out a place tomorrow. M has a barn in mind as well, so we're going to do some investigation and see what we can find.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Putting It All Into Practice

I wasn't able to work with Lilly yesterday because of the monsoon winds and rain that swept across the region, so today was our first day to put into practice all the things that Alex showed us on Monday. I felt confident going into the round pen with Lilly, but I was also a little nervous that things might not go as planned.

Alex had tied a plastic bag to the end of her crop and used it to motivate Lilly in the round pen, so I did the same thing with mine. Surprisingly, I didn't really have to use it much, but it's a great tool to get a little "umph" out of Lilly when she gets stuck. It's also helpful when I'm asking her to turn in the opposite direction... helps get my point across. I started out using the rope halter and long lead and worked on some exercises to get Lilly's mind on work and establish myself as head honcho. She did really well and it wasn't long before I took the halter off and sent her away to do some real work.

I used my arm to direct her to go to the right and she obliged, walking like a good pony should. Once she got to the outside, she started trotting, and then decided to canter. So I used my "motivator stick" to demand that she change directions and she spun around to the left, squealing as she turned. When she started cantering again to the left, I told her to switch directions and this time I got a buck with pinned ears. Her attitude was amusing because I've never seen her act so pissy before. I think this was her way of expressing her discontent with my place in the pecking order..?

The attitude didn't last long and after a few laps around the pen, she was settling down. I could get her to trot by trotting myself, and get her to canter by skipping with the occasional shaking of the motivator stick. I could get her to increase her trot speed by increasing my energy and get her to slow down by using my arm and slowing my own feet. When I asked her to stop by simply raising my arm and holding it in front of her, she would stop and stand in place. When she looked at me I would give her the release by turning toward her hip (I remembered!) and walking away. She would turn in and follow me around the pen. I did some practice with backing too, and she was really getting the hang of the cue.

The round pen exercises went better than I expected, so I was really excited to saddle her up and go for a ride.

We did our usual warm-up first, and then I got to work on the "hurry up, stop, soft, back, soft, walk" exercises. After feeling like we'd made some progress there, I moved on to the exercise at the trot. She did really well but I wasn't feeling her legs get as heavy as I had felt on Monday. She didn't seem as eager to stop and wasn't anticipating it as much as I thought she would. We had some really great canter transitions and some lovely collected trotting, but our stops weren't quite what they were on Monday. She was also chomping on the bit constantly and never really settled down.

She was MUCH better than usual, but after riding her around for quite a while, I started trying to decide what it was I was doing wrong, or what it was I wasn't doing at all. Finally I decided to adjust the bridle and lower the bit slightly in her mouth. Alex and I had a conversation about that on Monday and how it could help Lilly, so I figured I'd give it a try. After adjusting it so she had to hold it in her mouth, she stopped chomping. I guess when it isn't just sitting there in the perfect spot it isn't as easy to chomp on it like a pacifier. The stops suddenly had more meaning and I had a more relaxed horse.

I was running late so I wasn't able to ride as much with the bit lowered as I would have liked, but tomorrow we'll start the ride with the bit in the new spot and see if it's an improvement over today.

After our ride we did some carrot stretches and I gave her a big smooch on her nose... I can't help myself. I can still give her kisses AND be her boss, can't I?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Visit From Alex

Yesterday, Lilly and I received a visit from my very generous friend Alex, of Alex and Apple Show fame. She took pity on me after reading about my last horse show experience and was kind enough to come give me some pointers and guidance to help me have a better relationship with my horse. I first met her back in June of '08 when I attended one of her clinics to help Lilly with, who would have guessed it, being herd bound! This was more of a trail issue as we weren't doing a whole lot of showing at that time, but I had experienced a pretty awful weekend trail riding with my friends. I got some great pointers from her during the weekend of the clinic but I didn't do a whole lot of trail riding after that, so the herd bound issues kind of faded away.

After the clinic, we stayed in touch and she recently moved a bit closer to my neck of the woods, although she's still not quite close enough. In a perfect world I would have a lesson with her every week because her ability to train animals is truly inspiring.

Our philospies are quite different, but I have much respect for her and it seems fairly obvious that her philosiphies and techniques work better than mine. Over the course of about 5 hours, I had a lot of "ah hah" moments and I'm going to have to learn to change my ways. I think it'll be a lot harder for me than it will be for Lilly, but for some reason that mare of mine has a hold on me in ways that aren't good for either of us!

Alex prefers to have an employer/employee type relationship with her horses. As an employee, you can still laugh and joke with your employer, perhaps even have a good time on the weekend at a BBQ, but the bottom line is that person is still your boss. There are lines you don't cross and things you don't say because you know your job could be at stake. There is always a certain level of respect maintained, even if you consider your boss your friend.

I don't know what Lilly and I have, but it certainly isn't that. Even though I consider myself the boss, and for most things I demand she be respectful, there are a lot of things I let her get away with. For example, when we're standing in the arena, she creeps. It's only one baby step at a time, but she's on the move. Not a big deal in my book because I just constantly tell her to quit moving and back her into place. She'll stand for a few moments, and then she creeps again.

I gotta tell you, if I wasn't sitting on Lilly, that would never fly. A gelding from my past would have been quickly reprimanded and told to stand still. Even little things like that weren't tolerated, but for some reason I let Lilly get away with it.

Why? I have no idea, honestly.

Alex offered a suggestion that turned into one of those ah-hah moments. Lilly has always been a good horse. She's not a biter, she's not a kicker, she doesn't buck, rear, or misbehave when she's being ridden. She's just a good darn horse. So I end up letting little things like that slide. Why? Because she's just so good. It serves no purpose to make a big deal out of something so small and seemingly irrelevant. She stands still in the lineup at shows, and that's all that really matters. Or is it? All these little things multiply into bigger issues, and Lilly learns that she's really the one in charge.

Alex started Lilly in the round pen and I stood outside to observe. First she did some work with the halter and lead, and then Alex took the halter off and started working her in the pen. Lilly started out as she always does, running around, doing her own thing, but in a matter of minutes she went from typical Lilly to Lilly like I've never seen. She was paying attention, jogging around instead of going as fast as she could, and you could see the weight of the world being lifted off her shoulders. It was pretty obvious that Alex was boss mare and Lilly was looking to her for direction. Lilly was no longer making all the decisions herself and she was clearly enjoying herself.

When I'm in the round pen with her, Lilly is boss mare. She chooses her direction, she chooses her speed, and while it feels like we do accomplish something, I can now see that I'm merely waiting for her to finally do something I've asked her. When she does, I reward her for the try and the session really stops there. She does try really hard to understand what I'm asking of her, which is something I love about her, but when she gets it I immediately back off, reward her, and move on to something else. Alex prefers to reward her for the try, but then continue to ask for more and more, going past so-so and on into excellent. Lilly and I have been hanging out in the so-so world for a long time, and Alex helped me see that Lilly has the potential to go well into the excellent.

After watching the transformation, it was my turn to get in there with Lilly and try to accomplish the same amazing things Alex did. I have a lot of work to do, especially in regards to staying back by her hip instead of directing my energy at her head, but I feel much better about our round pen work and what I can accomplish in there. I need to remember to use my body more too, and exhibit the same amount of energy with my body that I want to see from Lilly. Alex was able to get her to canter simply by skipping around in the round pen...

So here I am trying to work with Lilly:

Trying to be the boss and give her orders for a change.

A picture of Lilly after giving her a release by turning and walking away... Lilly would turn in as I turned and follow me around the round pen.

A respectful horse standing next to her alpha mare mom (that's me!).
After the round pen work, we saddled her up and took her into the arena. I told Alex about a few of our issues, namely being my mare's desire to anticipate everything. There's no setting her up for anything because as soon as I start to get her ready, she knows what's coming. Take the canter for example. She already knows what I do to prepare myself (and her) to canter. She knows it's coming and is so focused on nothing but cantering, that I end up having to spend most of that time holding her back. There's not really an opportunity to properly ask for the left lead, because I'm holding her back and she's not listening to me anyway. The longer I take to try and set her up, the more the anticipation builds and by the time I finally ask, she shoots into it like she's been fired from a rocket. I have to hope she's chosen the correct lead or we have to do it all over again. After we're done cantering, she starts over again, anticipating when we'll be cantering again.

So typically if she finally gives me a decent canter transition, I stop and reward her for the try. Then we move along to something else. Again, we're staying in the so-so instead of trying for excellent. From now on, if we have a good one, we'll try for another, and another, and another.

Being the absolute genius that she is, Alex decided to take Lilly's obsession and turn it into something that works for us instead of against us. She spent quite a bit of time getting Lilly soft in the bridle, and then went to work on the anticipation. She walked her around the ring, asked her to "hurry up" at the walk, and then immediately stopped her. When she got soft, she backed her up. Once she was soft again, they moved forward at that walk. Hurry up, stop, back, walk... and eventually they moved into trot, hurry up, stop, back, trot.

Instead of being focused 10 steps ahead of her rider, Lilly started anticipating the stop. She knew it was coming and you could tell she was hunting for it. She was constantly focused on Alex and I could see Lilly's legs starting to get heavy. She went from "trot really fast" to "now dang it, I know she's going to ask me to stop any minute, so maybe she doesn't really want me to trot... ok, she does want me to trot, but I'm just going to go really slow so when she finally asks, it'll be easier for me to stop."

Alex worked her at the canter as well, and was able to get some beautiful transitions out of her. She was moving so slowly at the canter that she was actually four-beating! I've never been so happy to see a four-beat canter in my life! Alex explained that the reason she was four-beating was because her body couldn't physically canter as slowly as she was trying to go, so the only way for her to maintain that speed was to four-beat. Once I'm able to build up her muscles, she'll be able to hold herself together in a proper canter, moving at that same slow speed.

I was amazed... and I wanted to get on and try it for myself! So after some pointers about the stops and a few tips about getting her softer in the bridle, I tried out my new pony. For the first time in her life, I had to WORK to get her to trot. My super sensitive, super responsive horse wasn't so sure she wanted to trot... what?! Now for some of you, this method might not seem like such a good idea, and you certainly wouldn't want to do it with a horse who is already hunting the stop, but for a horse with lots of GO like Lilly, it's absolutely wonderful. I would much rather have to ask for a little more than to constantly ask her for a lot less.

Without further ado, some pictures of us practicing. Please try your best to ignore my hair. It was WINDY again! (... and also 85 degrees!) :)

Working on the extended trot and exaggerating our bends into the corner.

Check out this pitter patter jog!  And I just sold my western show saddle!

Here's my girl using her hind end to SIT down and back with energy!

A pretty hunt seat trot!

And finally a canter with the most "upright" feeling I've ever had on her back.  No rooting and no dragging herself along.  If I can remember to sit up, we might have something!
I noticed a big change in Lilly. She was no longer creeping, she wasn't in her own world thinking about her own thing. When we were on the move, she was hunting the stop, and when we were standing still, she was trying to be invisible. She stood stock still with all 4 feet underneath herself for a change instead of being all strung out. She was waiting for the next command.

Amazing. I don't know how else to describe it.

We gave Lilly a break and I went to the pasture to get Baby. We wanted to take them out on the trails so Lilly could act a fool and I could get some tips on how to handle her. M was kind enough to let me use Baby for our experiment. When I brought Baby in, Lilly didn't move an inch... she didn't creep forward, she didn't nicker or whinny, she stood in the cross ties and tried to make herself invisible. I saddled Baby and we headed out to the trails.

Once we were out a good distance from the barn, Alex said, "okay, take her back." So I turned Baby around and we started making our way back to the barn. I turned my head around to look at Lilly and she just kept walking. I wasn't sure she saw Baby leave! So we repeated the exercise a couple times and Lilly could care less...

I was happy in a way, but at the same time, I wanted her to act up so I could see how Alex would handle her. Perhaps just that little bit of training we did in the arena made a huge impact? Take away from her the idea that she's the boss and she'll look to her rider for direction instead of making her own decisions? Could it be that easy?

So we switched horses and right away Lilly started to chomp on her bit. It was pretty clear that Lilly knows Alex is the boss, but she's still on the fence with me. In the past, she's made the decisions but times have changed! I had to get right after her and she settled in. We played a bit of leap frog and I had to work through a few issues, but it wasn't anything serious and certainly nothing like we saw at the show. I was really surprised by Lilly's behavior.

She still needs some work with being attached to Baby. After Alex left, I had both mares in the cross ties and I took Baby out first. When I left Lilly behind I heard those shoes of her racking across the concrete and I I heard her whinny a couple times. So I know we're not out of the woods yet, but I'll keep working with Lilly on the trails and see if I can convince M to go on a number of trail rides with me. Playing leap frog with the horses is a great way to desensitize her to having Baby out of her sight.

I'm hopeful that I'll be able to apply the tools Alex has given me and become a better leader without falling back into my old habits of constantly rewarding her for so-so behavior. I loved the horse I had yesterday, and I don't want to go back to where we were. It'll be a lot of work, but I'm going to work really hard. It's wonderful to know that Alex is only an email away and is so willing to help me work through these issues so I can have a better horse.

Thank you doesn't seem like enough, Alex, but I really appreciate you taking the time to come down and spend the day with us. You made a huge difference, and in such a short amount of time. I'm excited to see the changes in Lilly when I'm able to apply the techniques over weeks and months.  Thank you!!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Arena Ride

Today I rode Lilly in the arena for the first time in a long time. I've really been enjoying the trail rides but she's been doing pretty good out there and we've made quite a bit of progress. In addition to all the herd bound stuff we've got going on, we also have quite a list of things we need to work on in the arena as well, so I thought I'd mix it up and ride there today.

While we actually had sunshine for a change, there were also gale force winds whipping around the barn. A couple times the barn even lost power. That may have also played a part in my decision to ride in the arena today. :)

M joined me at the barn and longed Baby for a while in the round pen. Lilly didn't bat an eye at any of the situations involving Baby that a "normal" herd bound horse would have had an issue with. I didn't expect her to, though, because my crazy horse picks and chooses the situations she feels are worthy of mental breakdowns.

It really was challenging to ride today. The wind gusts were powerful and I could feel myself being blown all over in the saddle. Lilly also had some moments where it felt like she was being interrupted by the wind, and we had a few "tuck and scoot" maneuvers when the wind really whipped up.

Despite the numerous challenges, we had a really good ride. Before I was interrupted with the herd bound issues, I was working on an exercise from my book Equine Fitness: A Program of Exercises and Routines for Your Horse called changing speeds. You can probably guess what this exercise involves, but I'll briefly explain. You can do this exercise at the trot or canter, but I've been doing it at the trot for obvious reasons. We start off with a nice working trot and then I ask her to extend the gait, going twice around the arena. Then I ask her to perform the working trot again, allowing about 3 strides for her to switch back. 2 laps of that, rinse and repeat.

We had a tough time with the extended trot portion of the exercise (OMG!) but she was really going nicely at the working trot. Normally she moves like a freight train and getting her to slow down is the challenging part.

I also saved the canter portion of the ride for last as I've been doing since I started riding again. She is notorious for getting hyper after the canter and sometimes trying to get her mind back on work after the canter is pointless. So by saving it for last, all we have left is the cool down portion of the ride and I don't need her engaged much for that. I've really been working on my position when I ask her to canter too. Because of her explosive transitions into the canter, I tend to lean forward slightly and also pull back slightly on the reins when I ask. So that makes her heavy on the forehand and causes her head to shoot up... amazing how her behavior affects my behavior and vice versa. So I sat tall, gave her some rein, and asked. She still took off like she's being shot out of a cannon, but I'm hoping with time and real concentration on my part, the transition will get easier. She did slow right down when I asked, and we had a few good strides where she didn't need the half halt.

The best part came after I asked her to trot and then walk... she actually DID walk! She put her head down in a "man that was hard work and I'm tired" kind of way and walked on a loose rein until I gathered her back up to canter in the other direction. When we switched directions, I didn't have to circle her 15 times to get her mind focused on listening to my cues instead of trying to read my mind and anticipate the canter. Our canter transition was just like the transition in the other direction, which would normally be quite a challenge.

All this with gale force winds! I expected her to be much more difficult to get focused... could it be the lack of grain products in her system? It's been a week since she's been off the SafeChoice.

I must say that my new irons are awesome. This is the first ride where I've used them at the trot for an extended period of time and at the canter at all. I feel really stable and really secure.