Saturday, November 29, 2008

2nd canter, 1st trail ride, 1st ride on the road... so busy!

Busy week for trying new things.

Wednesday: Oh so neglected... or should I just say rewarded with a day off after his first canter on Tuesday.

Thanksgiving Thursday! No riding, just ran a 5K and then gorged myself with food!

Friday: Rode in the pasture, and was super surprised that I could even get on considering how sore I was from running without properly training.

Bear never ceases to amaze me! He really has so few rides under his belt, but I have absolutely no qualms with riding out in the pasture. Between the sense of wide open space encouraging a run away, and the many trees to scrape riders off I would not recommend pasture rides for training young or recently started horses! But Bear hasn't learned that he can get out of work by doing either of those things. Now granted, he is not the average freshly broke horse, and I understand that I'm lucky to have a guy with such a great personality, but I can't help feeling that its just so much easier to ride a clean slate! He doesn't know much, so I have to remember that I am limited to only a few things that I can ask him to do. But on the other hand, he hasn't learned bad habits, and he hasn't learned to escape work. Frankly training a horse from the start has been a far easier ride than any of my project horses. I still have plenty of time to screw him up and find ways to fix him, but for now I'm just enjoying the ride. Literally, and metaphorically.

So really I rode in the pasture because I felt he was up to the challenge, but also because without a wall to follow he has to listen to my directions every step of the way. I wanted to make sure that we work out any "who's in charge" debates (you know, when you say left, and the horse pokes his nose right and just keeps pulling) before we attempted any introductions to the trail. He was super relaxed and we walked over the poles as usual, trotted a couple of safe flat straight-aways, but had trouble with making straight lines, so we started a bit of leg yielding (moving away from the leg without the objective of turning) on the ground then on his back. So now when he starts veering or turning either from a straight line or the approach to a pole or log, he can be corrected. Well at least corrected a little, he's got the concept, but we're still working on the correctness and willingness part.

Saturday: We trailered out to the big arena, which means more lunging with side reins (his left lead was much better), lots of opportunity for riding circles, and (yippee!) we cantered for the second time! We stuck to the figure eight trick, although with an enormous ring like this the trip across the center is like an epic journey! He was great both leads, and again despite the open space, he wasn't rushing or bolting. Then since my old camera was not getting great pictures, my sister suggested getting a video, which I was thrilled with since I've been dying to get a video of myself riding for ages, and really want to be able to document his improvement. So I just did a quick walk, trot, canter on a circle (testing my luck that he'd pick up the canter without the figure eight trick so we picked his good side), then back down to the walk.

Riding videos are great, because I am always determined to work on bad habits after seeing myself do them! Feet, legs, hands, are all bad habits that get better if I'm actually in shape, but having to look at them is good motivation to get there faster. But each rider has a personal challenge, one that is unique to them due to history, physical fitness, or even body shape. Its been a while since I've shown equitation or seen a video, and I totally forgot about my rubber back until watching this! I have like a super wiggly lower back when riding, and I forget that what feels comfortable to me at the canter, looks like a spaghetti noodle riding a horse. I have a hard time finding the fine line between following the horses motion, and being too stiff while trying to straighten up and tense my abs and back to stop my mid section from bending back and forth like that! This problem did improve when I was only showing equitation in college, and showing western helped immensly. But its my biggest problem when riding because I do a really extreme version of it when landing after a jump! I just keep reminding myself the video is about the horse and his progress. Thats what I was after, and that part of it is great! Please excuse the horse standing in the middle, her rider is the one filming, and she was happy to take a nap, no safety rules were broken. Oh, excuse the rust breeches also, they were on sale, and they only get worn when the rest are in the dirty clothes pile!

After our arena session, we took the two horses down to the 1/4 mile loop that runs past the creek. It was Bear's first trail ride, although I've lead him down there before. He even put his feet into the creek and got a drink! Clearly water is not going to be an issue.

Sunday: Our first road ride. We have back roads that lead to trails near where Bear lives, so we had our first venture off the property on Sunday. We lead the two horses the 200ft down the main road (main is relative here since its pretty far out in the country) until we reached the dirt road that we'd start riding on. We normally ride the whole way, but I'm trying to be cautious here, just so I can feel like I'm riding a horse with approximatley 15 rides on him. By the time we're getting on, a horse in the pasture at the corner has come over to check us out. This gets Bear high headed and ignoring me. So I decide that I would rather not fight with him to stand still and look away from the horse while I get one, which I know he wouldn't have done. Going back to the no bad habits bubble I currently life in, I didn't want to give him the opportunity to misbehaved while mounting and burst that happy bubble. So I decide I better start off with something to get him paying attention. Something that would make him move, and coax his head back out of the clouds. We did a coupld of turns on the haunches, then forhand, then stop and back, and I did this all with my hands on the reins like if I were riding, and bumped him with the stirrups wherever legs were appropriate. While we were doing this someone going down the road actually stopped and asked us if we needed help! I just had to laugh a little... what did she think she had to offer? Even if she was an experienced horse trainer, was she just going to get out of the car and start helping?? But when I thought about it I guess I did look a little silly. One horse had a rider, the other horse had a rider on the ground holding the reins across his back and was following him around in circles. It probably looked like I was really lame and couldn't get on!

After his little "faux line driving" lesson we got on and he stood stock still until I asked him to move off. He did great, until the cow on three legs... I'm not sure why the cow wasn't using all four legs, but I think the fact that he wasn't using his fourth leg upset Bear more than the fact that he was a cow. He didn't spook, he just stopped, so we took some time to check things out and move closer to the cow before moving on. Down the hill... great, past the white rail by the pond...great, past other horses... great, then we came to the llamas...stop. His head went so high, I think he had the llamas beat! But he didn't spook, just stopped and put his scared eyes on. So I got off! Nicely and calmly, but off non the less. He doesn't spook. Ever. At anything. (Well except the horse measuring stick...) So if he's never spooked, despite the many things I've lead him past, I don't know what he'll do when he does spook! If I'm going to be given the opportunity to observe that for the first time, I'd like to be in a safe place, you know, to take notes and such, and not be thinking about all the naughty I'm teaching him by bailing now that he's hopping up and down and frantically dancing about! So we had to watch the llamas for a while. Then we had to back up so he knew that he could actually move without the evil-furry-strechted-out-circus-freaks-of-horses coming to attack. Then we had to walk to the other side of the old mare and watch from that angle, then back again. Finally when he was a little less terror struck we moved on. We were only going up the hill to the next intersection anyway, so I just walked, then we had chance to pass by them again only 2 minutes later, and that didn't really take any staring at all! So I hopped back on and finished my ride. While the old mare next to us pranced her way back home, I appreciated that Bear is too green and too young to know what barn sour is! Thank goodness for a clean slate.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The last piece of the equation...

We cantered for the first time!!! Hurray! He only tried to face plant once!

So we've been going strong lately. Saturday we trailered out to the big arena and took advantage of a perfect sunny-but-crisp afternoon. I rode in the dressage saddle again so that he could trot out a bit more without me feeling like a sack of potatoes trying to post in a western saddle. I think the big trots this weekend helped out with the forward willingness to canter by Tuesday. Sunday we rode out alone in the upper pasture for the first time, and he did just fine. I chose a few easy spots to trot, and practiced a whole lot of turning, and moving off leg pressure. Plus having the wide open space meant that even walking a straight line was a lesson in listening. By Monday morning when we rode in the lower pasture, he was doing a really good getting a few steps of a turn on the haunches, and turn on the forehand. We also started over the logs I have out there so that he knows that going straight stopping and veering away is not an option.

So Tuesday night was the big night. The CANTER! Or I should say lope, since everyone present was western trained, and in a western saddle... but I just can't. He actually bucked while cantering to the left on the lunge line, which is pretty out of character for him, and did not seem like a good sign! So I chased him forward for a full circle hoping to make the point that bucking is not a good thing. Then I got on and we walked a few laps around, mixing in circles in the corners, a few turns against the wall, and a nice big trot around the arena at a good forward pace. Then we were ready for the next big step.

So since I'm in this class to see other trainer's tricks of the trade, I was excited to see how this trainer introduced the lope. I've seen several ways, mainly these have included someone from the ground helping to encourage or reinforce the cue to canter. Often this just results in running them or chasing them into it, which is not the correct way to do it, and can create bad habits. However a person cuing from the ground to reinforce the rider is what I've done in the past, and sort of what I had prepared him for. On the lunge line Bear fully understands the difference between a kiss and a cluck. Kiss means canter, and at this point in his training he can transition smoothly into the canter within a stride of me kissing. At least he does on the right lead... the left lead is not as strong and usually results in a few extra steps and the wrong lead 50% of the time. So he understands the cue, but doesn't have that left lead when traveling in a circle like that. So the left lead was my worry. He's been improving, but its still not consistent.

So here's what we did, and it worked marvelously. Trot a few figure eights (cutting the arena into two circles with a change of direction in the middle.) The trick is to have a nice forward trot and make a fairly straight aim at the wall with an almost last minute change of direction. Obviously last minute changes don't work as well with a green horse until they've figured out the changing direction routine, so coming through the middle at angle once or twice to helps to get the idea. Then you can move straight from wall to wall. The idea is that just when you start the new direction against the opposite wall you kiss, and push them into the canter. As soon as they pick it up you continue the canter around the arena once or twice. Then do the process over again with the other lead. It worked perfectly! He picked up the canter calmly, without rushing into it, and without him stressing out over a bunch of cues he doesn't understand. Better yet, he picked up the correct lead every time. We started with the right since that's his stronger lead, and he was just smooth as butter! He was forward but not rocketing around, and he has a strong enough canter that I can feel what lead he's on. (My Arab has kind of a bunny hop canter and your hips hardly move on way or the other enough to feel her lead...) So then we try the left lead, same easy pick up, no problem. I could feel it was the left lead and he maintained it okay for almost a lap when he stumbled.

It was one of those front feet trips where your horse is suddenly trying to use his nose as a hoof while his front feet fly every which way. I hate these kinds of stumbles, I much prefer when a back leg slips out and the head gets thrown up. (If you have to fall at all, its better to not have the horse somersaulting along with you like I did with my pony as a kid!) But when they trip in the front I swear sometimes their nose actually hits the ground before they get two front feet on the ground again, and that just seems wrong! Plus it seems inevitable that I end up catching the horse in the mouth when his head goes down and I'm yanked forwards because I suddenly have a death grip on the reins. Of course both of those things are the worse possible reactions because suddenly the rider has caused a little stumble to turn into you and your horse actually face planting or knee skiing across the arena. Not exactly a confidence builder for me or Bear our first time cantering! Luckily, that did not transpire! I was sitting tall and centered in the saddle so I wasn't thrown forward, and because I'm always obsessively thinking about being light with his mouth while he's young I was able to simply let his reins slide through my fingers a bit until he caught himself.

We tried it again, and had a more successfully go at the left lead. The only real problem we had a difference of opinion on what direction we should go one time when coming to the wall. This was totally my fault; I was trying to cheat. I wanted to pick up the left lead, but I had turned left into the center. This was still in post "almost fall" so I wasn't thinking ahead very well. So of course turning left through the center would mean changing to the right and picking up the right lead. So I thought, well maybe, just maybe, if we turn to the left again at the wall he'll pick up the left lead. Nope! In fact we didn't turn to the left at all. I looked to the left and asked for that direction, and he turned to the right. He was changing directions because that was the drill, and because I had been hesitant while thinking it all through. So I really couldn't fault him. We sort of came to a halt at the wall while I debated how much I wanted to insist on going left when clearly I wouldn't be able to get the canter depart at this point and would only be walking away and starting on the wrong side of the arena again. So I just chalked it up to rider miscommunication and trotted off to the right so that I could pick up the left lead on the next pass through.

Overall it went really smoothly, and everyone commented on how great he was at the canter. (I think they were all secretly hoping for him to take off at a dead gallop, since he can rocket around on the lunge line when he's feeling it.) Sadly we've come to the end of the class! So I'll have to keep him going through Christmas without Tuesday nights in the covered arena. He's learned a ton in the last three months, so the next month and a half we'll just be reinforcing the same basics in all sorts of different places: arenas, pastures, trails, maybe even a show if there's something cheap and close. We just need to perfect what he knows, and then in January we'll be starting into the horse training II class, so in case we totally get caught up in the holidays and bad weather and stop riding, we can still get back on track with Tuesday nights in the covered arena!

Hoping to see the trails before the autumn leaves are all gone...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Appreciating what I've got...

So I was naughty last week, and didn't ride him at all between Tuesdays. I didn't even take him out to see the show like I planned. But none of it mattered, he was just as well behaved when I got on him Tuesday night.

He was super calm lunging, which I guess isn't surprising based on the wild bronc show I was treated to out in the pasture! The dogs set him off while I was busy hitching up and he was still turned out in pasture. While the dogs all high tailed it out asap, he continued to charge and whirl and generally dance about, and he definitely got all his bucks out! It still amazes me how unbelievably athletic he is. Stops and starts and flying lead changes all show how great he'll do in the future. However, I don't appreciate how well he can buck and then kick higher than his head at a gallop, or hop up and down bucking from a stand still, or strike out while rearing. All that reminds me that if at any point he decided he didn't want me on his back, I wouldn't be on his back! Which is why I never, EVER want to sour him to riding.

After a brief lunge (since he was being so relaxed) I got on and rode walk, trot both directions, and worked on circles in the corners, and turns against the wall. We stopped and backed a few times at the end, and called it good! He maintained his trot a little better this time, and I encouraged him to keep moving forward by posting, which I look ridiculous doing in the western saddle, but it kept him in a rhythm.

He's still a star, and I'm still terrified that we'll hit that wall. So far he's been perfect at everything, even when he's not supposed to know what he's doing at all. I'm afraid that when we find the thing that's not easy, it will be as amazingly terrible as the rest has been amazingly great. I'm probably being silly, but I feel like I've had it so easy that I'm going to get all the bad all at once or something. Silliness. I'm going to stop talking about it before I jinx myself. First time cantering comes next week!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Officially riding on our own!

So Tuesday night we started with that usual. Lunged, ponied at a walk and trot, then unclipped the lead from the pony horse and followed a bit. Then we took the leap: we walked away from the other horse! He still kept looking towards the other horse, so we ended up circling back, but kept right on going until our circles grew big enough that we were at the rail. The other horse helped us get into a trot, but then we continued around on our own. It took him a few times before he realized we could trot around the corners (or even turn at all). The first time we trotted straight down the wall he just stopped when he head came to the wall that he was facing. Funny guy! So we kept on going and I tried to help him out by looking around the corners and telling him in advance what we'd be doing. Then we did some turns against the wall, and finished with a stop and back! All really simple, and so he's still super happy to do his job! Such a sweetie...

Then he got his vaccination booster afterwards so I gave him Wednesday off... no reason to make him think that its my fault he's sore. I'll just let him think he slept wrong!

We're off to watch a horse show together this weekend. So we'll see what he thinks of crowds and the "schooling show crazies". I can say it, because I'm one of them! So based on the potential chaos, I'm really only planning to lunge him. And we'll only do that if there's a place available which will depend greatly on the size and quantity of warm up area. But its a new facility, so I'm excited to check it out and watch a bit of jumping and dressage. So even if he just experiences walking the show grounds and being tied to the trailer with all the commotion, it will still be excellent experience. Should be fun!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fun little weekend!

I had a great weekend with Bear!

I slipped out of work Friday in order to get out to see him just before dark. So we didn't do much, but I threw a saddle on my mare and took the two of them down the road and back so that he's at least been off the property. The funny thing is he can't keep up! My mare is like 14 hands on a hill, and between the fact that he's 5 inches taller (all in the legs) and his head is the the height of a giraffe, he towers over the top of her. And yet, she has this power walk that no horse can compete with, and once she gets out onto the trail she turns it on full force. I swear someone lied about her breeding; she's purebreed arabian, but based on her walk I would swear she's got some sort of weird gaited breed in her! Really its just impressive that a horse that small can walk so much faster than the giraffe. But it is a good thing because it will help him get into the habit of a big free flowing walk.
Saturday we trailered out the the local arena and he got a good lunging with side reins for the first time in a while. I really don't like lunging in the pasture since even the flat parts are sloped, especially not with side reins since he's too likely to slip a back foot or stumble and catch himself in the mouth. So it was nice to work him in side reins again, although I still haven't tightened them up much since it hasn' t been a regular thing. Then I got on him and had my sister pony me around the big arena. So this was all sorts of new firsts because it was a huge arena and seems more open, it was the first time I got on in a dressage saddle and posted at the trot, and there were two other horses being ridden in the arena which was a first for him. So a big success overall!
Then Sunday we did a quick session in the round pen, still with my mare, but we let him off the line to do some circles and turns, and turned it into a follow the leader game where she followed him, then we'd circle back and follower her. He's so relaxed about the whole thing, and really gets what turning means, its so great! Then I got off and just stood with him in the middle and he took a nap while the mare got jogged around the round pen. Such a good boy!
He gets today off, but tomorrow we'll be doing more work away from the other horse.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Taking it slow, but doing great!

The picture has nothing to do with today's blog except that he's cute and its Fall!

So after 3 rides of having someone else pony me around on him, Tuesday night we let him off the line a little bit. Tried some circles and turns against the wall, always coming back to the other horse. He was a star! He understands whats being asked of him, and calming complying. So we ended after only a little bit, and kept it all very positive.
Next week we'll get down to business a little bit more, for now I'm just giving him a chance to figure out how to balance himself with someone on his back. Having a couple of chances to trip, slid, climb hills, step over logs with the weight of a rider means he'll be better prepared when he does the same thing and I'm on him alone.
I'm thinking I'll get on in the dressage saddle this weekend. I bet he's going to look much nicer for pictures in the type of tack he's built to wear! Right now he looks a little like someone's going to try to round up cattle while riding a giraffe.