Thursday, December 31, 2009

One last ride with the old mare

I think I'll be moving Bear out to the boarding place this weekend. I have one last check to do, and some paperwork before hauling him over there. It will be nice to have an arena to work in finally. So since I've had some holiday time off work we spent Tuesday taking one last ride out on the back roads. I started out riding the old mare and ponying Bear and then switch horses for the ride back. He's such a good boy! Even though I haven't been on him for ages and he was super hyper getting out of the wet mud pasture for the first time in weeks, he was still a good boy once we got going.

We also tried out the new Easyboot Epics I bought. Once we got a replacement for the one he broke playing in the pasture, I've been pleased. He walked perfectly comfortably on the gravels and rock roads, and since I was riding next to him, I could really watch his foot fall in them. So far I think they're great! I just couldn't get used to the muffled thwap-thwap noise that his boots made instead of the tap-tap of his hard hooves.

Its a little bittersweet to be leaving. The old mare will be alone again and she's been such a trooper helping to train Bear. I just finally got her tuned up and into shape again, and although I'd love to use her with this new project horse, she's not going to be convenient to get to. We'll see.

Monday, December 28, 2009

To board or not to board

So I have been toying the idea of moving Bear for a long time. He is perfectly happy living in pasture with the old mare, but I want to have access to an arena without having to trailer out. It’s worked great so far to have him at my parents, but I think they're getting sick of having another horse to bother with. He has kept the old mare company which was the idea in the first place. Then I was trailering out to take that colt starting class in the indoor arena once a week all last
year and it was only a few miles from the house. While that was great experience for him to load up and trailer somewhere every week, I’m getting sick of always hitching and unhitching the trailer EVERY time I want to get some training done with him! The pasture is too wet to ride in most of the winter, so that means the only option is to take a walk down the back roads, but I’m so bored with them now, and I can only walk. Good for stretching the legs, but not much of a workout.

I had moved to a place where I could board Bear on the property, but decided in the end not to stay there since I changed jobs and the commute was awful! (Plus the trails that seemed close weren’t accessible unless I hauled him out the mile down the busy highway, and
the arena sucked!) So what seemed perfect to start with, didn’t work out. Now I’m looking at boarding for the first time in my life in order to have access to all the stuff that I want to train and ride.

I think I’ve found the place. It’s a good price. In fact it’s such a good price that I’m still looking for the catch! I called to ask some questions today and the guy seems really nice, which is a huge relief, because I really thought that would be the first big deal breaker. Its
pretty rural area, and out the opposite direction of civilization, so it is cheaper than what I’m used to seeing around the area I currently have Bear. But the place is only about 8 miles from where I’ll be living this spring. So I think that is manageable to drive out to see the horse, especially if it means I can go out in the evenings after work and know that I can ride after dark. (Only catch there would be finding him in a 15 acres pasture after dark! But right now he comes
when he’s called; I’ll just have to REALLY positively reinforce him coming to my whistle!)

The place seems perfect. I’ve always heard horror stories about trying barn after barn before finding the right place. I’m not taking a trainer into account, since I can’t afford to board at the caliber of place where I plan to take lessons. So what I want is a good safe facility, without drama, just good care. I’ve heard those are hard to find, and I’m looking for all the problems in advance. The guy mentioned they’ve only been there 4 months and have done a ton of
improvements, with more to come. I hope he’s not biting off more than he can chew. I googled the address and found that it had been for lease, so they must not own the property, but I can’t see that being a huge problem. There were also two other training business names that came up for that address, so the property seems to have a high turnover rate. Should I be wondering why?

Here are the good things that are drawing me to the place:
-It’s a 93 acres property, so plenty of riding on site, plus 5,000
acres across the street that is accessible for riding!
-There is a hunter/jumper barn 3 miles down the road, and a dressage trainer next door.
-Big outdoor arena, and they should be getting all weather footing and jumps.
-Indoor arena (He says its small, but I get the impression its at least the size of a full dressage court. It has lights and rain coverage, so anything bigger than a round pen will do!
-They have pasture board. I really think part of Bear’s easy going personality is that he gets to run off his excessive energy. I think he would be bored and irritable in a stall.
-They offer blanketing service even for horses in pasture for just a little bit more.
-They have no time limits for riding!!! I would love to be able to stay out there late to ride after work, and its nice to not have someone giving you stink eye for not leaving by 9pm!
-They live on the property, and one of them is there pretty much all the time. Plus they have a lesson and training business so I can feel better that they actually know what they’re doing with horses.


-It is WAY far out there. Its close to home, but nothing else. It will never be just on the way, and it will always be the opposite direction when I’m heading out.
-If I want to be more selective about a trainer, it could be a 45 minute to an hour haul.
-It is in an area that I’m totally unfamiliar with, so all my favorite trails will be too far away, and I’ll have to find new places to explore. That and I’ll be hard pressed to find a hill!
-A huge pasture like that with so many horses could end up a being a problem. Right now I think Bear would really like it. He loves interaction with other horses, and this would give him the room to really run. He might turn out to be the pasture pest though.
-It’s a lease, and they sound like they are still just getting started up with their business. If they flop, I’ll be looking for another home for the beast. It’s not a huge deal since I always have my parent’s property to fall back on, and I’ll be looking at moving him again in two years anyways, so it’s not a permanent move.

I’ll be going to see it sometime soon, so I’ll get a better idea then. I’m really excited about it though! We’ll see how I feel after seeing it!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lot's of fun stuff, not much riding...

The weather is making life tough... so much for California's mild winters.

Just after the last post, I did a 5k run the weekend before Thanksgiving and I probably shouldn't have because I felt like I was getting a cold and it was FREEZING out there! Alright, maybe just above freezing, but way colder weather than I chose to run in. I did it anyway, and ended up with laryngitis, I was miserable with no voice for the trip to Portland for Thanksgiving, and then I got a sinus infection in time to have an extraordinarily painful flight home. All in all I spent about two weeks feeling too sick to do much with the horses.

Its been a frustrating week since then too. On Saturday I had the shoer come out and trim Bear's feet and he talked me into buying boots for his front feet since I don't really want to put shoes on him. They're the type that are kind of like sneakers for horses that you can just put on for trail riding. I'd been thinking about it for awhile, and these are used a bunch in endurance right now, so I figure they must be good. So he tells me to just put the boots on and just turn him out to let him get used to them. I'd like to tell everyone now, if you've just spent 90 bucks on boots, don't let your horse play in them! He ran around a bit, and it seemed fine, and the shoer says, "See what I told you, there great!" And I figure if he can be bucking and spinning in the pasture, they MUST really be great. So I pay him, he leaves and then I go out to take off the boots only to realize that I have no idea how to get them off! The shoer kept taking them off and it seemed easy, but I hadn't tried it myself, and nothing seemed to be working for me! They are the kind that are really form fitted to the hoof, so they are tight and sort of suction on. I think I just don't have the strength in my hands like he did. So I go in to think about it and look for a screw driver (he mentioned you could kind of pry them off) and Bear gets to running around again. So I go out, and sure enough, he rips one boot off while I'm out there, but the leg wrap that goes around the ankle is still attached! So he's continuing to gallop around with his boot dragging off his ankle. UGH! I get him stopped, and undo the Velcro wrap part and he's torn the upper Velcro part halfway off the boot! It didn't last 30 minutes! So I'm frustrated because I had wanted to ride down the gravel road with them on Sunday to test them out, AND now Bear has ONE boot on, and I still haven't figured out how to get it off! I finally pried it off with a screwdriver, called the shoer (who came back and fixed the boot the next day), and hoped the drama was done for the day, but no. I came back out to say a quick hello to him that afternoon, and found his nose looking like this...

I swear it looked nastier in person! I was all freaked out by it! Only thing can thing I can think is that he got it caught on the fence some how. Maybe harassing the dog? He likes to nip at the German Shepard through the fence and make her crazy.

Then Sunday the saga continued. It started with the weather reports saying it would snow that night. It never snows here, so we hardly believed it, but I pulled a blanket out for the old mare anyway. Normally we blanket Bear and just let the old mare grow a heavy winter coat. They get put in a pen with shelter anytime it rains, and its usually 30 degrees at the worst during the winter, so she's fine. Since the reports said 20's and snow, we figured we better be prepared. So Sunday morning I pull out an old blanket to try on her. Now Bear wears a blanket all winter long, and never had an issue with the blanket going on for the first time. But the moment he turned around and saw that the bay mare was now a light blue color and made a rustling noise when she walked, his head shot up in the air and he started prancing and snorting around. They were separated while eating, so he couldn't get up close to smell her. So he ends up getting the old mare worked up with his spooking, and she started running around, which spooked him more! So he ends up slipping and falling on his side! Stupid horse! So I let the old mare down to the pasture with him, he sniffs her and keeps harassing her like she's a new horse now that she has a blanket on, and she finally gets fed up and just lays into him! Double barrel kick to the ribs! So I take off both blankets and get him to trot around to see if he had hurt himself. He looked a little stiff, and how wouldn't? But not lame. So I got little bits of video since my camera was still in my coat pocket. Silly boy just awkwardly hops over the logs in the way! Turn down the sound since I'm not tech savvy enough to mute it! (The camera clicks weirdly.)

REALLY short and not too interesting, I know. He was more interested in me holding the camera, and kept coming back to check it out. You can see he needs a younger playmate since the old mare doesn't buy into the need to gallop around the pasture 10 times a day despite his best efforts to get her to join in! Then they second one is a tiny bit more interesting... a fun half spin and one more pass over the logs! And if you didn't turn your sound off for the first time, you'll get more weird clicking AND me yelling at the dog!

So Sunday I couldn't ride in the morning as planned since we were waiting on the boot to be repaired, but I did sneak in a short ride Sunday afternoon to try them out. They're all fixed, and we did a walk, trot, canter test under saddle in the pasture, and they seem great! I can't wait to hit the rocky trails I've been avoiding! AND I figured out I can pry them off really easily with a hoof pick, so I'm happier.

Then Monday morning, despite all our doubts, we woke up to snow! My corgi Piper LOVED it. She ran around eating it! So cute that I couldn't resist putting a picture up! It wasn't much snow, but the surprising part was that the snow stuck for the next couple days! We never have snow! My boyfriends house got 8 inches and it stuck until Thursday! So between the snow during the week and the solid downpour of rain this weekend, Bear hasn't done anything, he hasn't even had his blanket off during the day. So he'll be glad for a break in the rain Monday when he'll get his blanket off and get back out to the pasture. Then hopefully we'll get out to do something this coming weekend. Like try to boots out again!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Too much update all at once...

Only a month ago I had nothing to report, and now I have so much to say but no time to actually post!

Bear is awesome! We’ve had a couple of huge events pass, first time hauling out alone to a new (and spooky) arena, first time with a different person on his back, and that person was my absolute beginner rider boyfriend! He’s been a super good sport with everything! Bear, I mean, although the BF is great with this all too, Bear is the one that is surprising me with his patience and good-natured attitude.

First of all, I’ve figured out that although I can’t drag myself out of bed in the mornings to run, I can convince myself to get up and ride. So the last two weeks I’ve dragged myself out before light to hop on for a little bit at least twice during the week. We have a short and sweet training session, and call it good. A half hour on his back is better than nothing at all! I’ve also been lunging him over the trot poles, and a little log in the pasture. It’s kind of a precursor to starting jumping later next spring, but mainly because it’ll help strengthen his body since I don’t have the time to do long conditioning rides. I also hoped on bareback a couple times, mainly to make the half-hour more of a work out for me, but also to save time saddling. We are pretty much just walking though, we are not ready to do much else bareback yet, so I take the time to practice turns and circles.

So two weeks ago, I hauled him out to an arena that offers a monthly haul-in fee to use the facility. It’s a huge indoor arena (so I can ride when it rains), a dressage court, and a smaller warm-up arena with some jumps. It’s not far, and it will be very useful when its too wet to ride in the pasture and I’m forced to haul out just to have anywhere to move faster than a walk. So we were just trying it out to see. We were there alone, it was way past dark, and a totally new place, so Bear was high as a kite to start out. I figured he would be, so we just worked through it. The indoor arena has stall on both sides, one side the open stall fronts face into the arena across and isle, but on the other side it’s the solid backs of stalls that make up the wall. That wall also has the huge full wall mirrors on a quarter of the length. Bear had never seen anything like this, and coupled with the fact that he could hear and smell horses right behind the mirror while seeing his reflection in it made for some pretty humorous reactions! We lunged for a good half hour since it was cold and I wanted to give him some good walk warm up time, and THEN get his kicks out, plus we haven’t have a chance to lunge for awhile, so its still good to work on strengthening his canter in good footing like that. By the time I got on he was happy and relaxed, but pretty hot from lunging (mainly from the prancing caused by the mirror) so we did mostly walk work, mixed with only short spurts of trotting, to dry him off. He was great. Plus by the end he LOVED the mirror, he didn’t want to leave it! He was like a parrot gazing into the mirror. That’s the great thing about him, he is way more curious than he is spooky.

Then last Sunday, I took Bear and the old mare out to the easy trails for the much anticipated “Boyfriend’s First Ride”! I taught him how to groom and tack up, and then how to get on the old mare, and off safely, then finally put him on Bear! Yikes! He is an absolute beginner, one time on a guided trail ride kind of rider, so I had no idea what to expect. He is, however, very athletic, and naturally good at everything he does! (Although I’m super jealous as well, the fact that he’s turning out to be a natural rider makes my life of teaching him on a 3 ½ year old horse a LOT easier.) We started out just ponying him off the old mare, and worked on lots of exercises in the saddle. Then we jogged a little since I can keep Bear really collected next to the old mare, then even moved out to a nice trot to teach the BF to post! They both did amazingly well. Bear didn’t mind at all having a newbie on his back. They were both so relaxed and comfortable, that I let Bear off the lead and let the BF learn to turn and stop him. We worked on some small circles out in a grassy clearing, and taught him out to back. I couldn’t believe Bear was so calm and patient, he’s clearly going to be a great match for the beginner BF, which is great because it will allow me to ride another green training project later on without having to worry about the two of them. I was SO proud of Bear, all the work I’ve done on him totally showed.

Then Saturday we tried a lunge line lesson. Bear lunges really well, but he’s a bit out of practice since I don’t really do much lunging in the uneven pasture, more just trotting him over poles with walking the other (downhill) half the circle. So I lunged him to warm up, and had the BF learn to lunge a little too. Then he hopped on Bear and off we go! I really need to think of good exercises for the rider while lunging, I know I’ve done a ton, but darned if I can remember them now! We were mainly working on him learning to post the trot anyway. Lots of “Stand up in the stirrups, and let all your weight sink down into your heels… Good! Now stay that way!” He was great, and Bear did even better, nice and calm. He broke into a canter once, but he smoothly came back down. Over all it was a great learning experience for them both. Plus it was a huge work out for Bear to trot circles with the weight of the rider in the deep sand.

So he got the day off Sunday, while I worked on setting up some tiny cross country jumps and poles out in the pasture. Some for cantering over, and some for trying some trail stuff: side passing and the like. I even constructed a sort of bridge! The pasture is full of stuff to keep the training fresh and interesting. The funny thing is that the poles are in the way when Bear gets to running around and playing, so mainly he is jumping things while running around! By the time we get to actually riding over them he’ll have jumped everything out there a hundred times! Its fun to see him play, he’s so athletic the way he changes lead and turns so easily; I really think he’ll make a super fun jumper.

My horse is awesome!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Back in the saddle... but making bad choices

Well, we did it... we got back in the saddle! Well first we got back into the bareback...

Saturday I was determined to ride, but didn't have much time since I was at a church thing until 4:30. So I hopped on the old mare bareback knowing that Bear would run around the pasture and get his kicks out. It works great really. He charges around and bucks, plays, and jumps over the logs that are out there, and generally gives himself a good workout, and as long as he doesn't get to frisky next to us, he's allowed to let loose, because he's quite literally loose! So once he was all warmed up, I pulled him into the round pen and let the mare go. I threw a bridle on and worked him from the ground just a little, bending, moving his haunches and his shoulders, then set in up next to the fence and got on. This was actually the first time I'd been on without the bareback pad, so I was worried my butt bones would poke his back to much, but he didn't react to that at all. We just did some easy turns and halts and then opened the gate and backed out, all pretty snazzy! Then we walked around the pasture and over the logs. His only problem was that he was a little reluctant to go down to the lower pasture and thus out of sight from the old mare. So we went down anyway, did a couple more things down there, and then I hopped off for the day. Over all really good! Especially since I was daring to get on him bareback after three weeks of not even seeing him!

So after our success on Saturday, I got a little too cocky on Sunday. I take all the blame for the frustrating ride we had, I did not really set us up for success. I wanted to ride out from the property, and didn't want to pony the old mare, so I took Bear alone. We've done this before, but its been ages, and he was used to being taken places without the old mare. But with the summer off, he hadn't been out of her sight since early May. So he was that annoying zig zagging horse that is always thinking about home instead of forward. I pushed him forward into a trot a couple times just to get the forward, and he knocked off the zig zagging. Then we get to the gate and I start to ask him to side up next to it, something we've done hundreds of times, with this gate and others, and he starts to have a little tantrum! Let's just say that he got very light in the front!!! He didn't rear, but his front feet weren't fully on the ground either! NAUGHTY!!! So he got to practice trotting around in tiny circles in front of the gate! Then I hopped off and he got to practice going through that gate properly from the ground. After side passing, pivoting and standing quietly at the gate, I got back on and continued riding like nothing had happened.

He was good for a while, but then I had yet another error in judgement! I took him down the tiny trails instead of sticking to the back roads that we know so well. He got nervous and started rushing everything. I let him go along at a loose rein, as long as he didn't break into a trot, hoping that he would regulate his walk himself. He didn't and when I finally paused to really look at the trail, he started throwing a bit of a tantrum again, and started hollering to the mare! Now, we're probably 4 miles away from the mare now, he can't hear her! But he was feeling nervous and frustrated and obviously all my neglect has taken a toll on my alpha horse status! So we happened to be in a spot on the trail that is maybe 5 feet wide and 20 feet long, so I start circling him, and trotting him up and down the length stopping and turn him at the ends, and eventually I stop in the middle and stand on a loose rein. The moment he starts walking off, dancing around, or other wise being crabby I start again. At some points he slid off the side of the flat spot, or tried running up the bank on the other side, all of which threw him off balance and make him work harder to keep his feet under him. If he hollered to the mare again, I'd back him, just to get his attention back. I thought it would only take 5 minutes, it took WAY longer. At then end of sweat dripping eternity, he stood stock still for a whole minute, and I simply got off, took off his bridle and led him graze a few feet away.

Then we started to walk back! These are tricky little trails, and I shouldn't have even been on them. So I made the first good decision of the day, and walked. His issues were not stopping or turning or having me on him, his issue was listening to me and trusting me, and that is something that we can work on from the ground just as well as on top, better on the ground in this case. He had to walk next to me, not ahead, and he had to fall in behind me on the really narrow trails. He wasn't allowed to push past me, pass me on the other side, and if he pushed into me or stepped on my heels, he got a lead rope swat or some sort of thump to the chest for invading my space. Back to learning to lead! I got turned around and we ended up on tiny deer trails, not the actual trail, but we made it out. Once back at the road I put the bridle on and hopped back on. He was very forward now. So we just started the simple pattern of each time he broke into a jog, we'd stop, back a few steps and then carry one on a loose rein. He caught on quick. Funny thing was he was not dead set on going straight home! We all know that horses know the shortest route to home or the trailer, and a barn sour horse will suddenly quicken its pace at the exact halfway mark of a loop like they know they've just begun to head home! He usually is slower going home, like he's sad the adventures over. So although he was being quick, he still wanted to take all the detours like he usually does! Silly boy... so at one point we had a grassy stretch, not heading towards home, but another detour off the road. So I asked him to trot, and allowed him to go into a lope, and for that stretch let him open up and really move out. At the end of the stretch was a fence, so an easy enforcer, but he stopped very nicely when I said whoa, and we went back to walking! Again, if I had even thought of cantering the crabby old mare when she was having a barn sour day she would have pranced, poured sweat and shook her head all the way home! So I have to acknowledge the positives that he was still listening to what I was saying, going forward, stopping, and keeping at a walk.

The problem was that I had created an idea in my head that wasn't realistic for him, and therefor felt like a frustrating failure every step of the way. Overall it was a frustrating ride, but not a detrimental one. Despite the fact that the problems that had to be addressed had been created out of poor judgement, I think we probably accomplished quite a bit in the course of the ride. I don't think that I left him traumatized, I don't think he was left thinking tantrums we're ok either. Its a fine line when you're doing a battle of the wills. At some point you make it worse by creating a battle out of nothing, but some behaviours can't be tolerated. Nervousness is alright, dancing about and considering walking around on two feet is not! But at the end of the ride he was responsive enough to open and close the gate to the pasture, and he was dry. I figure if a horse has had enough time to dry, they've probably relaxed enough to call it stopping on a positive note!

Friday, October 23, 2009

No time for the poor pony!

Oh, poor and neglected Bear… so right after my last post I trailer Bear out to the really easy trail, and did the “pony him off the old mare then switch and pony her off him” trick. It’s working better and better! He is getting used to her being in a different position, it really frustrated him to have her back by his flank for awhile. We even trotted down the trail a bit and he settled into a nice relaxed trot on a loose rein. Such an nice treat. We also got out to the arena and had a very productive workout both on the lunge and under saddle. We’re starting to get the hang of half-halts to rebalance his trot, but after all this time off and sporadic work his canter is very weak and off balance. He just needs to get into shape again.

That was at the end of September. Then the first Monday in October I started a new job, spent most of my free time doing wedding stuff for a friend, and then spent over a week house sitting. So I have hardly even seen Bear!

Winter is coming, and with that all sorts of new needs to meet. I feel pretty good about his feed and keeping his weight up better than last year, but I still need to figure out a couple things. Firstly I blanketed him last year, and with that blanket he hardly grew any hair. He’s out in pasture full time, but has a shelter to get into so he doesn’t absolutely need to blanket for rain protection. I mainly blanketed to keep the heavy winter coat off since I was working him at nights and wanted to make sure he’d dry easily if he really got worked into a sweat.

~He was almost always clean except his neck and legs, which were covered in mud because he lies down and rolls often.
~He grew very little hair and looked sleek and pretty and never got lathered up from work.
~He is naturally a lean athletic horse and I think the blanket helped keep weight on him.

~The extra time and hassle to un-blanket and then re-blanket during the days (as long as it was warm and dry enough).
~He is VERY hard on blankets. His blanket from last year was fixed twice and when he broke it a third time in early spring it got retired to emergency blanket status.
~His shoulders got rubbed.
~He runs around and plays a lot, and blankets, despite being for turnouts, are not designed to be galloped in.

So this year I haven’t started to blanket yet, and it’s starting to get pretty cold at night. So far he is not fuzzy, at least not like the old mare. I’m curious to see what kind of winter coat he would get, but I’m afraid it won’t be much. I think I may have convinced myself to start blanketing again, I just need to see what I can do to address some of the problems.

Secondly, I need to figure out a riding schedule. I don’t have the night classes in the indoor with him until January, I work too far away now to ride at lunch, and pretty soon it will be dark by the time I get home. I am looking for places that let you haul in to use their indoor at nights, but that gets costly on a regular basis, so maybe just finding a trainer that will give after work lessons which I am willing to spend money on. I am seriously considering setting up lights at home, but the pasture is not as flat and safe as arena footing. Night trail rides (in safe, level, non-cougar places of course) would be a good challenge, but really I shouldn’t do that alone.

Thirdly, which really ties right into secondly, I will get out to ride more often if I could take my boyfriend along. The old mare is crotchety and set in her ways, so she’s not actually the best beginner’s horse. She is well trained with me on her, and I feel confident that she’ll do anything I need, but she puts up an attitude when my mom rides her. She also can get very anxious and prance on the trail when we turn towards home. SO in many ways she can make herself a frustrating horse to ride. That leaves three and a half year old Bear as the better beginner option. Of course that seems silly, which is why I haven’t actually made this happen yet! I had been hoping to have my sister get on him first since she’s more of an intermediate rider, but she’s pregnant and not allowed on horses. So eventually I will make Bear and the boyfriend into riding buddies, but I think they are both going to find it boring because of all the safety limits I put on them! To start out they won’t be allowed off of the lunge line or lead rope (I plan to pony them down the trails). Even with these restrictions I want to make sure Bear is 100% mentally and physically back into working mode. (Having a beginner bounce around on his back will be easier if he’s got a strong back and a balanced trot.)

So I have a whole lot to think about! Well I hope to be back on the boy in the next few days

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Ugh!" Seems to be the theme

This post is from Sunday actually, I'm been writing, I'm just behind in posting.

Ugh… that’s the best way to describe life right now… ugh. Lots of good things, but what a roller coaster!

I will be starting a new job next week which will not be nearly as flexible on taking off early to go ride, and is too far away to ride on lunch breaks. So for the next month or so, I’ll still have daylight to ride after work, but once winter hits I’m going to be riding by the light of two measly flood-lights on stands, or only on weekends. Ugh…

I have fallen way behind on my reconditioning training plan, and can’t even remember what I’ve done since the last blog… ugh! So here are some highlights in no particular order: ridden him with a bareback pad at least 4 times now, lunged at least 4 times, been out on the back roads with both him and the old mare (ponied him, then switched and ponied her back), trot poles about three times. All of this is going great considering his age and the total inconsistency that has been our training regime lately. He does have suspicions that mini-donkeys might just be tiny creatures from hell, but at least they’re not llamas!! Of course the llamas didn’t move or stare him down the last time we passed by them, so he didn’t even bat an eye at them.

So today it was hot when I rode, yesterday was hot and although I didn’t get to ride I was still out working in the sun, and Friday when I last rode it was hot! UGH! I am done with the summer heat, REALLY! So today with the heat and the physical and emotional exhaustion from all the other UGHs in my life that I won’t bother going in to, I had a tantrum while riding Bear. I had a tantrum, I’ll admit it. It was dumb, and based on completely unfair expectations from a horse that puts up with all my crap, and still trots up to me in the pasture. Basically I was crabby that he wasn’t acting like an old broke horse, which he’s not. I didn’t come unglued and beat on him or anything! I just got frustrated and fed-up, which is not the attitude for handling a young horse with limited training. I think of all the times I’ve seen him buck in pasture, and I remind myself why I want things to be positive in our training. I’ve ridden sour horses that explode when they get frustrated, and I know that if I screw Bear up and make him into a sour cranky horse, I would have a snowball’s chance in hell of staying on.

Let me be clear here, HE did not have a tantrum, just me. HE was being a green horse that is out of shape and looking for the easy route. He was in general wanting to go back up the hill to the old mare, the place for untacking, dinner, and all other good things in life, but its irritating to ride a horse that is only thinking about going up the hill, and I was getting crankier and crankier, until finally I just roared at him and hopped off! Here’s what we were doing: pick up the trot, go over the trot poles, collect the trot a few strides, halt, turn around and do it again. It’s a simple exercise and the idea was to work on getting him a bit more balanced. We had started out with walk-halt transitions and he had been doing great! He was really stopping off my seat, which was the whole point since I really wanted to work on half-halts, and he was moving out at a nice walk. So we did a few trot to walk transitions using the half-halts, and again good, but that’s when he started veering in the general direction of the hill each time we trotted. So we start the trot poles and first he veers around them, which of course is him being lazy and me not thinking ahead, but added to my crankiness. Then we crossed back over and he just sort of blew threw the half halt and rushed forward falling on the forehand and throwing his head in the air when I really sat down and made him stop, and then he wouldn’t even have the decency to turn around. I think this is about where the roar happened. So I leap off of him, and make him move his shoulders away in a sort of turn of the haunches way, I run down the line of poles with him trotting along side me, I slam on the breaks and stop after the poles, and turn him around and do it again. He followed me step for step, and stopped on a dime each time. So I laugh at myself a little, because he’s being so patient with me, and when I hop back on he does it perfect, like “Oh, is this what you want mom? Why didn’t you say so!”

We did it a few more times and he still rushed a little bit trotting the poles the other direction. It must be sloping down a little going back that direction, or it was still that he was thinking about the hill… but whatever. He could do it perfectly going towards the driveway, so I figured I better quit before got snippy with him again for innocent mistakes. Overall, he was getting the exercise, good trot departure a couple strides before the poles, nice big pushing strides over the three poles, half-halt and sit a couple strides to collect him, then halt. Lots up of down transitions while keeping that forward energy.

Tomorrow he gets his feet trimmed so he’ll get a break, but that means that Tuesday I will probably trailer out for a ride in the arena for the soft footing just to play it safe. So that will be the third training ride in a row. I’ve been trying to go every other with trail riding for just some easy conditioning, so hopefully the fun of trailering somewhere will make up for all work and no play lately.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Since we've been back

Second week back
(Really I’m on week four now, so this will be a quick catch up.
The second week back we were still focusing on walking for the most part, but trying to through in some more challenging stuff, and a few changes.)

I started out by lunging, walk, trot, and even a little canter to see that he was sound and happy and still capable of listening to me. But then were went back to walk mode.

Started working on line driving again.

We did lots more work with the tack on, and our walks down the road with the old mare were closer to an hour.

Introduced the bareback pad! I figure some people start their colts bareback, and while I had no intention of doing that, I do want him to accept being ridden bareback while he’s still young. So I figure while I’m throwing new stuff at him again I should just add this in and he’ll just take it with all the rest!

Week three back

Monday: Got on for about five minutes after working on long lines, called it good.

Wednesday: Trot work while ponying him from the old mare with the bareback pad on him, then I threw a bridle on and took him to the side of the round pen and started working on laying across his back and sliding off several times before finally throwing a leg over. He totally couldn’t have cared less!

Thursday: Rode a bit more around pasture over logs

Saturday: Ponied him from the old mare, got on bareback in round pen, ventured out into the pasture. Yeah for my new bareback horse.

Sunday: I ponied out on the back roads, swapped horses at the turn around point, and rode him most of the way back while ponying the old mare. We’ve ponied the old mare in the pasture a few times to make sure he was ok with it. It makes for a nice easy way to get on him out on the trail but still have the security blanket of another horse there. Plus by having the responsibility of the return trip he’s all warmed up and settled in. He tends to be a little excitable heading out, and slows down on the way home like he’s sad that its over. My old mare on the other hand has the bad habit of trying to rush home, so having to walk at his pace instead of plow on ahead is good for her as well. We ended up swapping again for the last stretch of road before the house because there is a chance we might actually pass cars on that part, and I’m more confident in maneuvering the two if I’m on the old mare. Bear did pretty good. We had some major llama drama (always the llamas…), but otherwise a big step forward to be on him again out and about in the world.

Monday, August 24, 2009

First week back

Well, I’m back! I’ve been back for a while, about three weeks. However huge life changes never seem to come at convenient times and I’ve been crazy busy. We won’t go into all these said life changes, but here are the important ones to Bear, and a recap of what we were up to the first week that I got back (first week of August).

I moved! Not far, just else where. The exciting thing is that I will be able to have Bear here with me. We’ll have a barn to use (although I’m afraid he might not think much of stall life!) and an arena and we are just one mile from some of the best trails in the area! So the move will be even more exciting when I actually get Bear here, but for now he’s eating up the summer grass with the old mare, and loving life.

My schedule is weird right now, and it seems like I’m being pulled in all directions. This is part of why I haven’t moved him up here. I need a regular life in order to commit to coming home to feed twice a day, plus find time to clean and exercise the crazy boy. I realize how spoiled I’ve been. The other part is that I’ve been brining him back into working mode very slowly and strategically. It makes way more sense to start over with the familiar and expand from there then it does to move him to a new location where he is going to be nervous, lock him up in a stall for most of the day, and then expect him to act like a well behaved horse after a full 3 months off! So I avoided the urge to hop on him the very first day and take him to a show a week later… and its all paid off.

This is what we’ve been doing (mostly the same as what we did last fall, but just in brief overview format).

First day, I went out and cleaned him up and loved on him, and remembered why I love working with this horse so much: he is genuinely more interested in hanging out with me than doing just about anything else! Haltered him up, and hopped on the old mare to pony him around the pasture. Probably about 20 minutes of walking. Reminding him its not ok to chew on: the saddle, my leg, the old mare, the old mare’s tail, my reins, his reins, the lead rope, or pretty much ANYTHING else! Silly boy has to put everything in his mouth. The plus side is that he hardly ever spooks at things because he makes a bee-line for them to check it out with his lips or teeth! He constantly steals stuff from the grooming kit if I turn my back. Naughty, but he makes me laugh.

Second day, started out by setting up some new logs in the pasture. Newly cut branches mean new trail obstacles for me! Bear of course wants to help, and follows me all around to see what I’m doing, and inevitably puts himself in the exact spot I’ve decided I want the log. Such a pest. It gets even cuter when he starts mirroring me! I was pushing a log forward with my foot, but having a hard time because it was uneven and didn’t roll right. So after two or three attempts of pushing this log, getting enough momentum to roll it all the way over, Bear suddenly picks up his foot and puts it right on top of the log next to my foot, like he's saying “Is this what we’re doing today mom?” Such a silly boy. We continued with the plan of ponying him off the mare, but going over tons of logs and poles patterned across the pasture, probably worked about a half an hour.

Third day, tacked up both horses, and ponied him around the pasture for a quick warm up to see how he was listening, then took them out on the back roads. Just down the road a little ways and back, really only a half hour, but it was good to get them both off the property for the first time in ages.

That pretty much does it for week one. Walking. Why? Couple reasons:

He got his feet done that week, so I didn’t want to do much work before they were done because they should have been done before I left, so by the time I got back his toes were long. Then we waited a couple days after he was trimmed before heading out again, but still at a walk.

Also, I’m trying to make his retraining and reconditioning process really easy and positive. So we are doing interesting things that he already knows, so he is set up for success. He loves when I come out to play with him, and I want to keep it that way.

The biggest reason is that I’m being very careful of his physical condition. He’s young, with young tendons, joints, and such. Lots and LOTS of walking for long periods of time is going to strengthen all those things. If I just concentrate on developing his muscles first, he’s going to hurt himself. He had that stifle issue back in January, and the one word of warning was that these injuries can reoccur when a horse is out of condition. So for the first couple of weeks we’ve taken he’s reconditioning process in a slow, methodical and almost rehab-like manner. Better safe than sorry with a young horse, especially one you want to have sound still at 20! I figured it took me 4-5 months to get on his back when I was first training him, so its not going to happen in a few days after three months off.

He’s been very good, just silly. He’s filled out a ton this summer, and doesn’t look like the gangly youngster anymore! He looks like a real horse. He lost his next set of baby teeth, right on schedule at three and a half years! So happy "half" birthday Bear, he acts like such a mature adult that sometimes its hard to remember that he’s just a baby still. (Although week two brought such obnoxious baby behavior that I thought we were dealing with a two year old again! Nothing serious, but he did uncinch the old mare and chew up the end of the latigo while I had my back turned. He picked up the huge gallon jug of liniment that I was using to bath the old mare, and carried it away by the lid, which of course popped of after three of four good shakes, thus pouring half the bottle out before I ran over the deal with the situation. NOTE: child proof lid, does not mean horse proof! He has untied himself, taken my gloves out of my back pocket, carried away my grooming tools, and had his own reins/lead rope in his mouth more times than I can count! Cute little personality quirks quickly turned into a disaster of a horse the second week, so we’ve set about nipping this in the butt and now have higher expectations. This behavior would never be allowed if it were the old mare, or a horse I was retraining. If I picture a sale horse behaving like this in front of potential buyers, I'd picture said buyers running away from the monster as fast as they politely could! He certainly had manners when I bought him! Somehow he’s wrapped me around his little hoof. Is it because he’s my first baby, and I'm babying him? Or is it because I think of him as my forever horse, so I think I can decide what to put up with? Either way, it’s stopping right now. He oozes with personality, and he’ll have plenty of personality left over even when he starts acting like a gentleman again.

So here’s the official restart of the blog: continuing the goal to train a happy, healthy, well-behaved horse!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A new first...

I haven't been riding lately. I'm terrible, but I'm so busy. That's not usually an excuse, but I will be gone for 6 weeks this summer anyway, so I'm just not in the goal setting mood when I have only four weeks left until I'm gone! So he's just getting time off out in the pasture.

Today, however, we actually went out and did something! I trailered him out to the trails by the lake. So it was an entirely new place, and I took him with out the old mare, so two firsts. The trails were quite a bit more challenging than what we've done before, and I'm supposed to be hiking to condition for Mt Shasta, so I walked him! It worked out wonderfully! He has never been forced to walk behind me like this. The trail narrow enough that I couldn't have him next to me like he's used to, so he got lead endurance style, trailing along behind. Only problem is him watching how close he's getting! So after a few sudden stops to check if he was paying attention and a couple swats to his chest to back off, he got the idea. He only stepped on the back of my shoe once! By the end of the hike he even slowed down and fell in behind me when the trail started to narrow! Good smart horse!!!

We walked down to the lake and he stuck one foot in and his nose. I didn't ask for more since he was being brave and the footing wasn't great. Most of the lower trail was right along the lake. The boats were rocketing by with screaming kids on intertubes, and Bear would just casually stop to see what the fun was all about.

He had to cross a log that was HUGE. It would have made a great jump, but not at the end of a lead rope and certainly not on a cliff trail. He was great, I drove him over it in front of me in case he jumped, but he just stepped really high, one foot at a time, with no hesitation. I was so proud.

We had one horse pass us when we were heading back, she was heading out and ended up catching up and passing again on the way back. He was curious, but otherwise just fine with the other horse leaving him behind. I just feel so SO lucky to have such a steady personality on this horse. Its so easy!

So we got some great exposure and training in. We both got a workout, and it was just a fun day!

Friday, May 8, 2009

The practical final!

So over the last two semesters I've been taking Bear to a weekly class. I like it because I have a covered arena to work in and someone to scoop me up off the ground should Bear finally realize he's bigger and stronger than me! But it is a class non the less, and last week we didn't ride because we took the written final, and this Tuesday (while I was on a plane coming back from Portland) we had the practical final. Its a real class so it has real tests, but within reason since everyone is taking it for personal enrichment! So since I missed our test night with Horse Training II, I had to go to Thursday's Horse Training III class, and yes, he had me do THEIR final instead! And I KICKED BUTT! Or at least I would have if I hadn't convinced myself it was too hard... I hadn't been on him for over two weeks, and we haven't done that much work at the canter, so I had convinced myself that we couldn't do these canter circles! I totally underestimated both of us... here's the pattern.So we started at the very bottom at the cone (where I forgot to write start). The directions were: trot (to the left) two large circles, then two small circles, then pick up the canter for two large and two small circles, stop reverse, and repeat to the right. We'll stop here for comment on what actually happened! When I got in, the instructor sort of said that I didn't have to do the canter part if I didn't want to. Which set up doubt in my mind suddenly. We've been cantering circles some, and we've certainly been steering around things (like evil horses that try to attack us if we come within 20 ft of them!). BUT we've also had the dropping the shoulder and falling to the inside problem that I had just started to address at that dressage lesson. Since we've not had a chance to do the same exercizes at the canter, I didn't think he'd stay balanced enough to do the small circles. So when I was suddenly given an option to take the easy way out, I wanted to do just that. I said we'd try the canter circles as long as they didn't count against us if we didn't nail them! So going to the left we trotted two perfect large circles, and two perfect small! I was so impressed! I just kept thinking sit up and keep him going on a nice relaxed, balanced trot, not so forward that we start falling on the front! It totally worked. We picked up the canter pretty much at the cone, (wow!) and it was even the correct lead (double wow!) and he did fairly well until we came around to the side where the serpentine cones were set up. (Even when I drew this I realized the circle was hitting the cones!) We ended up on the outside of the second cone the first time, and running it over the second time! Which of course caused us to break to the trot, and get all flustered and unbalanced, and since I had just been told that I could take the easy way out I did. I trotted on more small circle and stopped at the start and called the left side done! I took a deep breath and did the it all again to the right, except this time I did it right! No running over trail obstacles, no breaking gait, just a perfect balance trot and canter for both large AND small circles! I was on cloud nine! He was so good! It was such a victory, I just wished I had been more dertimined to make it happen both directions.
From there it was easier; here's the pattern again for reference:

After the circles it was a jog serpentine through the cones, back through the L, a 360 degree pivot on the haunches both directions inside the box, over the bridge, and right hand push through the gate. I was really impressed with his cones, he just went right through them at a nice slow sitting trot. Then he's great on backing up! Super light and willing to please. We took a bit to figure out where to put his hind-end while getting around the corner of the L, but overall it was great. The box was tough because it was so tight. So while he did have a few times where he really moved his shoulders cross over his front feet there were a lot of repositioning his hind end so we could stay in the box. The bridge was fine, and we even collected for the slightest pause on top to show he was listening to me to either stop or keep going. Our go at the gate was probably our best one yet! He's so relaxed about these things! I just love it.

He's such a fun horse to work with, and I just need to start trusting that he is capable of more! Both this and the show I thought would be challenges for him, but he's taking it all in stride! I can't believe what a great horse he's turned into. This final was a great test for me to really see where he's at! He's beyond where I thought I'd have him in just 4 months under saddle. In fact he's beyond most retrain projects that I've shown in the past! They've all had anxiety issues about one thing or another! We're at a great place in training, and he doesn't need to know anything else until he's a bit older!

For now I'm looking forward to lots of trail rides and conditioning for a while. I'm totally broke, so shows and lessons will have to wait until we both can really benefit from them. He could used some consistant lunging with side-reins to help him develop the right muscles in his neck. Other than that, unless I can think of someone I could trust to ride him while I'm gone, he'll have 6 weeks off during the height of the summer, and we'll be figuring out our next step in the fall. But he's only 3 and already acting like a well broke horse. I can't really ask for anything else.

Monday, April 20, 2009

First Horse Show!

We went to our first show on Saturday and Bear was a super star! He was fine when we got out of the trailer, but the longer he stood there with three people rushing around trying to do horse show things the more he fed off that energy and got VERY antsy! Once I had him tacked up and over to the warm up ring to lunge, he was back to his usual self and was behaving despite being pretty hot. He relaxed a ton after lunging, and I had no worries about getting on. He was great. It never fails that there are a hundred unsupervised kids running there horses all over the place and trying the jumps in the warm-up only to have their horse bolt off sideways into traffic. Bear saw it all and was very patient with everyone!
Bear with his head sky-high checking out the horse show world
Our first class was walk-trot Pleasure First/Second Year Showing (for the HORSE). This isn't always made clear whether the novice/green applies to the horse or the rider, but at this show that had clearly marked in the program: pleasure= 1st/2nd year showing for horse, equitation=1st/2nd year showing for the rider. But its not regulated, and as I saw the riders move out of the line up, there were most definitely 10 year olds on seasoned show horses! Oh well! I really don't care that we didn't place! Even if there had been 8 of us, I still wouldn't have placed. But I had chosen the class specifically because I thought it would be small, and there were 16 other horses in it! Overall it was a very good warm up for him. He was very hot starting at the trot, and spent most of the time looking around with his giraffe head way up in the air! We had a couple good spots where he would come back to me and actually work on the bit for a few strides, but he is still very inconsistant. Training-wise I knew we weren't ready to really be competitive at a show, but experience-wise I wanted to get him out for this challenge.

Our second class was a walk-trot horsemanship pattern class. I was really proud of him with that one! My main goal was to keep him collected enough to not go all over the place on the circles, and trotted fairly round circles, and maintained a nice slow even trot. I was so excited with the first circle I took for granted that he would stop at the cone since that was supposed to be the easy part for us! I asked too soon and we stopped short, and then he didn't want to settle down into the halt and just kept dancing! So I finally gave up and just moved him into his pivot which started bad because of the dancing, but ended alright. Second circle not as good as the first but not shabby. Then the second halt was better, but not straight and I was so excited about showing off his backing skills that we backed WAY more than four steps! Oh well. All the mistakes were mine, and over all I was really pleased with his effort. And I have a video!

Our third (and exhausting final) class was equitation. Watching the couple classes ahead of mine gave me an idea that I was up for a challenge! I had just been talking to a friend earlier that day saying I felt out of shape because I hadn't risked doing work without stirrups on him yet, and of course that ended up being what the judge was asking for! The same friend happened to be at the gate when I went in and commented on my being very brave to do the class! It proved to be absolutely exhausting! Bear was pretty darn good, but kept trying to stop at the gate, so I guess he thought it was a good time to quit too! We were asked for a sitting trot, then sitting trot without irons, then back into a posting trot without irons, then pick up your irons at the trot, then two point, and finally an extension of the trot in two point. He wasn't a huge fan of the irons bumping his sides, so in our pictures of the no irons work his expression progressed from happy to slightly irritated. We were all grumbling and crabby by the end! I'm pretty good with eq classes at the schooling show level, but doing it on such a young horse was definitely more of a challenge! We ended up 5th out of 8 which is not bad at all!
Off to a good start

No irons!

Just trying to stay up in two point when my legs were SO tired.SO tired, and making a face about it! Although Bear seems fine.

Overall I was pleased with the day. He stood around for hours between classes, and he was very brave and sensible about it all. There was no running down ponies, no freakouts when horses came right up on his butt or cut him off, he was quiet in the line ups, overall SO good. I'm a proud mama!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The quest to find the right instructor...

So the quest began last night. I figured the easiest way to compare the various trainers will be to jot down my reactions and thoughts after each one, and then go back to reflect once I've seen a couple places.

Trainer #1: Lesson at 5:30pm on Wednesday 4/15

Proximity: 20 minute drive, easy to get to, nice pull through parking.

Facility: Clean and tidy place with happy and quiet horses. Bear was super relaxed there, hardly even looked around, so there's a nice overall calm at the place. Covered arena, big out door arena, nice round pen for warm up, field with cavaletti and small jumps when we get to that point.

Trainer: was punctual, polite, and positive! She took the time to watch me warm up on the lunge even before the lesson started, and offered comment. She complimented both my horse and the training I had done! Bonus points!!! She works from the German Training scale, which gives a better reason for doing things than "Because that's just what I do..." But she also has the experience both in training and competing to really validate what she's saying. I loved that she put everything into age appropriate context. I don't like it when trainers expect all horses to reach perfection regardless of age, development, or fitness level. She acknowledged both his weaknesses due to age and conformation (shortish neck with muscling underneath) and what we could do to improve that, rather than what it would prevent him from doing. So far so good!

Lesson: Amazing! We had a complete revelation! Basically I was able to get exactly what I had been wanting out of Bear by going about it in a completely different way. My biggest pet peeve with him right now has been him diving into the circle with his shoulder. So I've been going about trying to keep the bend to the inside and keeping him pushed out to the outside, but I've been working really hard with little result. Its bad at the trot and worse at the canter and it seemed like the more I tried to push him out, the more he ended up coming in. Of course I hadn't mentioned this. I merely said that we were at a point in his training that he was going forward on a loose-ish rein, stopping, and turning, but that it seemed like the past couple weeks when I had started trying to ask for him to be on the bit more, things were getting worse, not better.

She had us warm up a bit and just do whatever we normally do, to get an idea what to tackle. The trainer hit the nail on the head after watching us trot a couple haphazard serpentines around the arena: he's off balance and falling to the inside! (I'm not helping it by letting myself lean forward either! Which explains why he's better in the western saddle.) So what I'm was thinking was him not understanding or responding to what I'm asking: bending and moving to the outside, turns out to really be his young heavy-on-the-forehand body causing him to veer in. She said that before you can work on balancing him side to side and bending, you have to first balance him front to back. We talked a lot about what's appropriate rate and rhythm for his age and considering his long long legs. She had me work on walk-trot transitions until he was engaging his haunches more, and we had a more balanced and steady trot. Anytime he started rushing forward or get strung out we'd come back to the walk and start again. Sounds simple doesn't it? It was! It was REALLY simple! Yet it fixed the problem! Any time he wasn't responding to the directional cues she told me to either collect him or bring him to a walk. He can't effectively follow directions if he's just trying his best to stay balanced, so rebalance him first in order to turn, circle or whatever, then continue on. It helped immensely. I'm not good at thinking of doing both at the same time, and he's not clearly not either, so by simplifying it we were both happy campers. So instead of a strung out and quick trot, by the end we had a really balanced trot with good consistant rhythm, and he was actually stretching down to keep contact with the bit! Amazing! We didn't get to the canter, but I've got plenty to chew on for awhile.

The other thing she was able to pick out was my inside leg coming forward. I like trainers that can pick out when equitation is hindering or causing problems, and not just ones that have a stylistic equitation approach. So there is something for me to work on, because it seriously made Bear turn the wrong way when it was out of place, and helped him move on like a happy horse when it was in the right place. I'm thinking he's quiet enough for some no stirrups work, but maybe to be safe I'll start with a few sessions on the old mare!

Overall impression: I would be more than happy to schedule a lesson a week all the way up to summer! I swore I'd look at a couple places before making a decision, and I'm sticking to that. I was happy with the progress we made, and it was a very positive experience! I feel like she will be conservative in what she asks of such a young horse, which is wonderful because I would rather have a trainer that is too cautious and babies them a little than one that pushes past what I would have thought was too much and makes me regret it!

Bring on the next barn! Until then, I'll have some fun to report on from the horse show on Saturday! Should be exciting!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Same horse every time

I just can't believe my luck sometimes. I was out of town for spring break, and spent much of the week before preparing to be gone. So last night at class was the first time I had as much as seen Bear in two weeks! Aside from a swollen cut on his leg, he was exactly the same horse that I left two weeks ago. He wasn't wild or crazy, he hadn't regressed. He was just good old relaxed and happy Bear. (And who knows when the cut happened! Its old enough that its all scabbed over, and thank goodness it isn't hurting him. But its definitely one of those things that doesn't get noticed if I'm not around! Grr...)

Two weeks ago we started lunging with side reins again (which I had given up while he was rehabbing from the injury), and he's already doing better breaking at the poll under saddle. Then we worked on the usual walk, trot, canter. He's been really leaning to the inside and leading with the inside shoulder so I took advantage of there being two less horses and a little more room and rode just about everything but the rail! We did straight lines and pivots, lots of little circles, serpentines, and anytime he wanted to go the center we mad lots of circles there. So by the time we got to the canter he was almost relieved to canter around the rail on a loose rein. Any time he came into the center he had to work on circles!

Our fun challenge for the evening was working a gate! Its the type you find in any trail class, you know the kind horses look at and say "Hey Stupid! Can't you see we can just go AROUND the gate?" But that's not the point, now is it? Bear has been ponied through many real gates so he has no fear of them, but he hasn't ever been the one responsible for actually opening it. We took things really slowly. Step by step. First we did a little warm up of one step turn on forehand, one step turn on haunches, and so on until we had sort of done a shimmy side pass along a pole. Then I turned that into a more legitimate side pass. Then we just came up along the gate and stood there. I want him to know the best place to be is right by the gate. He can always have a break if he's right up next to the gate. The fun thing with Bear is that he's not afraid of a darn thing, but he does like to play with new objects a bit too much. He got scolded for trying to open the gate himself, and trying to shake the whole thing over! We took the gate very slowly, so that each step was what I was asking for, and pausing in between so that he didn't even think of rushing. We did it twice and called it a night!

He's such a fun horse, and I already forget that he's so young. He's going to be such a great horse to do cross country with because he's so bold and eager to try new things! Even the terrifying horse eating llamas can't ruffle his feathers anymore. He's on his way to being an amazing all around horse, we just need to start committing more time to actual training!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just for fun!

Well I haven't ridden every day this week like I hoped, but oh well. I took some video of him playing out in the pasture the other day, and got a little creative with it last night! The funny thing is that he wasn't jumping over anything, he was just leaping into the air for the fun of it!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Balancing time, balancing training, balancing progress

Monday I was good about setting aside time to leave to ride at lunch break. After his Friday of huffing and puffing up the hills I realized that Bear is pretty out of shape. Now I don't expect to canter circles for 20 minutes straight, but building up some muscle and endurance is only going to help make my job of training him easier. It really started me thinking. I don't think I've ever owned a really athletically fit horse! I've ridden plenty, but they weren't mine. My horses growing up were lucky to get ridden once a week, maybe twice if a show was coming up. That fact never stopped us from going all day long at shows or hauling their sorry butts out to horse camp for a week of being ridden several times a day in the grueling heat! No wonder my pony ran away from horse camp! (Literally, she busted past me while I was closing her stall door, bolted off past the barns, broke into a brisk trot straight towards the main gate like she knew exactly where it was, and then turned right on High St making her debut in downtown.) Thinking back all my childhood horses were saints to put up with me!

So apart from conditioning the old mare for a 30 mile endurance ride (back when she wasn't old) I haven't ever had to think about the fitness levels of a horse and what they should or shouldn't be doing. When riding other horses in clinics I've had to suggest we stop, or do something easier, lower, or at least take a break because I know that the horse is not in regular riding shape, and the clinicians expect a horse with the stamina to work and compete. So this is my dilemma. When do I start getting lessons? I don't want to tell the trainer that we would like to do mainly walk work because he can only canter a few laps. If I go to the show this weekend, how many classes should I do? Sometimes I'm even exhausted after a class, especially those big walk-trot classes full of the hundreds of people who don't want to canter their horse in public. I've been making things easy for Bear, we stop before it gets uncomfortable, he rarely breaks a sweat, and we move on to easier things. So where is the fine line of babying him so much that we aren't able to progress, and preserving his natural enjoyment of what we're doing and protecting all his young horse tendons and joints?

So Monday we worked on two very different things that sort of complimented each other. He is still figuring out moving off my inside leg to balance on the outside rein... I guess its not one of those things that they get over night, but still we need to get a move on! So we are breaking things down a bit. He has know how to move his shoulders and move his haunches almost from the beginning because I worked on that with his groundwork. However, he's needed a bit of a refresher lately. I think he is still trying to sort out all the different ways to move his body. Circles on an arc where his whole body follows the bend is much different than the square corners where he moves his shoulders, which is different than a one rein stop where I disengage his hip. All ways of turning... he just has to pay attention to the subtle differences. So we started with the refresher from the ground of moving shoulders, then haunches. Then we moved on to side passing along the fence line. He has the concept, just not the perfectly correct form. But we were able to do a little under saddle as well, so I was happy. So we balanced all this mentally challenging work with some long trots and a few canters up the hill. The hill in the pasture is not so steep that they really have to grunt and labor to get up, but enough grade that it makes it a work out. Overall a great use of the time I had, and I was happy with his effort. But we still hardly broke a sweat!

Tuesday night class was mainly devoted to getting some of the other horses to canter, so it was a while before I even got on. I specifically made a goal to keep trotting a little longer than when I naturally wanted to quit. I had to really think about establishing a rhythm while trotting because he either wanted to fly around, or just break back down to a walk. But we did alright when I really made him follow the rhythm of my posting, then we did a little sitting trot too. We cantered both directions and he got his leads perfectly! I have been asking for canter departs on the lunge line lately, and he is doing really well with that. So last night I asked for the canter from the walk both times, and although it wasn't a perfectly clean step into the canter, it was calm and controlled and he picked up his leads, and he really couldn't have take more than two steps at the trot to do it. I'm so glad for the easy things!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Just when we're on a roll...

I have the hardest time balancing all my commitments in life and staying consistent with each one. As I mentioned in my last blog Bear is a whole different horse when he is worked regularly. The trick is making that happen. I feel like I should be out there everyday, but to make that happen I feel like I am squeezing it in and letting other areas of my life fall to the wayside. Its a tricky balance that I need to sort out quickly, because I feel like we need to start looking for a dressage trainer so that I can get back into lessons. If I'm paying for training, we darn well better be doing our homework between lessons and keeping up a certain fitness level to make it worthwhile! Now that the weather will be clearing up it will be the real test since I can no longer blame it on the rain!

Friday afternoon was gloriously sunny! That alone is enough to get me excited to ride, but with rain predicted for Saturday and Sunday I was even more anxious to get out and take advantage of the day. So I took off at 5 on Friday to ride. It was well worth it (even though the consequence was going in to work on Saturday to finish the grant report). The sun was perfect, and the timing was just right. I tacked up both horses thinking that if no one else showed up I'd just ride both individually since the old mare probably could use a tune up. Luckily my mom drove up the driveway just as I put the bridle on the second horse! So while she looked for some boots, I trotted Bear around the pasture and worked on a couple things to warm up for maybe 5 minutes. Then we were off!

He does surprisingly well on the trails considering he is used to getting lunged first. He wasn't antsy or excited or spooky or anything! We went down the road and decided to check out the trails for the first time in about a year. Right now everything is overgrown and unused so the trails really only consist of deer paths! Hard to follow, and not great footing. Add to this that it is very hilly, has lots of gullys, switchbacks, and tight squeezes between tress, and it makes for a pretty challenging ride. So it would have been logical to have the old mare lead and let Bear follow along, but I knew which of the deer paths were trail to where I was looking to go, and which not trails at all! So I lead, and Bear did great! It was amazing, he totally listened to wear I needed him to go, and just plugged right along no matter how hard the trail got. I was SO proud.

We were only out for an hour, so we didn't continue down the trails very far. It was enough to test how he would behave on trickier trails, and see what state the trails themselves were in. I had forgotten how bad the poison oak was down there! But by the time we were done Bear was hot, tired and sweaty. Hills are a workout!

It was a great way to end a Friday, and a good step forward in training. As predicted it rained pretty good both Saturday and Sunday, so I didn't get out to see him again except to drop off feed. The good news about the rain is that I think the show was rescheduled for next Saturday, so I might get to go after all!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Regular work makes for a happy Bear

So I dragged my butt out of bed Saturday morning in order to have a decent trail ride before tackling all the other plans for the day! It was well worth it. My sister and I ran out to the ranch, hooked up the trailer and loaded up in record time, and took off to a new trail. Being new, the two horses were high as kites when we go them out. We tacked up as quickly as one can when its shedding season, and based on the continued kite-like behavior of both of them we lead them up the first hill. Now with Bear that's enough. For a forward moving and leggy horse he is lazy deep down in his heart. As soon as he's gotten his heart rate up, he's ready to settle into a more sensible state of mind. The old mare on the other hand is an endurance breed arabian and would suffer the heart attack rather than stop going! And at her age that's what we're afraid of! So at the top of the hill I get on, and Bear stands fairly well while stirrups get adjusted (mom was the last one to ride the old mare). Then we're off like a rocket! (Unfortunately!) It took Bear a bit to really settle in and relax, but he did, and he was a saint on the way back. The old mare alternated between speed walking and jigging. (Now that I have a chance to watch from behind I realize that she walks in front, and jogs in back, its CRAZY!) Luckily he relaxed enough that we didn't need her to be the sane one, and even let her walk way out in front after a while since he was comfortable following a ways behind and catching up when she stopped.

The trail was a good work out, lots of hills and switch backs. We rode for just over an hour, which was probably plenty considering the terrain and the fact that even as well behaved as he was, it was all very new and exciting for him. I'm hoping that the next time we're out we'll have more time to get out farther, and they can both relax a bit more. We did get to cross a big echoey bridge which was good, and the creek had a pretty good water fall in one spot. Plus there were a ton of other horses, walkers, dogs, and kids out there, so plenty to see and get used to. Overall it was a good ride!

Monday I snuck out there for a little bit. I only had two hours for lunch and I had already used up a chunk running errands. So I threw on the saddle and hopped on. I wanted to work on trotting around the pasture to put a little more steering on him. So we warmed up a bit at the walk and then picked a spot were we could do a big circle so that we could work on bending and moving to the outside rein. I think it helped a lot. Then we picked some straight paths to trot. He's getting so much better. Then we tried to do a couple trots up the hill, but he was not a fan! Lazy... I didn't want to push the issue because it was wet and we had a limited space to trot anyway, but we did trot up twice. Then I grabbed a rope for the old mare and started the first part of my new project. Ponying the old mare off Bear. Its not going to work great until he has some neck reining so I can steer with one hand, but I want to get him used to the idea now while he's still used to having her in such close contact. So we just did it in an area that I could let go at any point, but I didn't have to. She followed right along, and he doesn't mind the rope along his side or butt. It was a good start, and it will be very usefull someday, but certainly nothing I'll do out of an enclosed area for quite a while.

Tuesday at class we took some time to encourage everyone to try cantering for the first time. Its not the first time for Bear, but we had plenty to work on since we still don't really have canter departs down and the left lead is tricky. He was great tonight! He wasn't silly at all when we started, and we just got right down to business. Amazing what regular work over a few days will do! He's trotting out really well, and he's starting to follow more of a relaxed rythm by responding to my posting. He will transition down to the walk with just a big breath out, and he is following his nose much better. In fact I hardly remember him shaking his head or showing attitude at all tonight. He HATES me scrathing his neck while he's working, HATES it! Which is good since its a bad habit of mine to try to soothe the horse by rubbing up their neck as they trot along. He flips his head every time, like "Just ride why don't you?" He'll get me trained just the way he likes me eventually!

We still need to work moving off my inside leg, and he's still WAY too interested in the rest of the horses, but getting better. He picked up his right lead fine, and we were able to canter around really nicely. He felt balanced and athletic. Going to the left he picked it up fine but there were two horses that hadn't moved off the rail and were very pokily walking side by side, so just when I had come around once I had to screech to a halt to keep from running into them. He's got good brakes! Then he picked it up wrong, and seriously felt more balanced than on the correct lead, so we counter cantered the straight part, and came down to a trot after the first turn. Wrong again, brought him down quickly. Then we did a little leg yeiled toward the wall then asked and picked up the left lead! Great, except someone was right in the way, and even though I said coming on the outside, he couldn't get his horse to move anywhere, so Bear had another lovely halt from the canter while this horse danced around in circles in front of us! I think everyone knew I was annoyed at that point! We finally were able to pick up the left lead and canter a few laps with out horses in the way. He feels funky on his left, and leads with his inside shoulder, but its a start. Its all good experiences for Bear. He'll be well prepared for the show ring when I can finally manouver him successfully around the other greenies in this class.

Hopefully I stay consistant in getting out to see him now that the rain isn't so bad. I think I'll forgo the show this Sunday though. I really am supposed to be somewhere else that day, and I can't quite justify the long drive, show costs, and skipping out on another commitment just to get him out to have the horse show experience. I might as well wait until he at least is going along on the bit and might have a chance of placing in a walk-trot class! The problem is that I'm out of town for the April and the May dates for the show thats really close by. I'm afraid I'll regret not taking advantage of this weekend's show, but I've got so many other things going on. Plus I know he'll benefit more from me spending the same amount of money on getting out to start dressage lessons on him. (And he'd just like going for a trail ride most of all!)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Best in the class! Proud and ashamed all at once...

So I have a terrible problem with being competitive... I don't like it when I'm not up there with the best. Part of my perception on how well things went on Saturday was based on the fact that I was comparing my horse to the girl (looked like a trainer to me) who was loping perfect circles in a nice frame with her young but perfectly behave horse. Comparing never get you anywhere, and is particularly dangerous when comparing apples to oranges!

Its the same thing at class every week! I end up evaluating our night not based on how we are progressing, but how we did compared to the other horses. Two horses have limited training and are working at their own paces, one is in there for retraining because she didn't come along very well the first time, and one is a lazy off-the-track thoroughbred. Usually the tb is the closest competition, and her owner is one of the better riders so she does really well. The retrain project knows some of it already so it comes easily, for example she's quietly jogging around on the rail while my beast is zig-zagging through traffic, but on other things little Miss Retrain copes an attitude and refuses to progress much. Bear knows certain things better than the other horses, he learns really quickly, but he's a total nut job for the first 10 minutes of every class and tends to rush through things no matter what.

Tonight was our night! Our sole lesson for the class was to work on a bridge. Bear loves bridges! I think he sometimes even tries to make more noise on them than necessary. But when someone else went over it and made the noise he spooked and whirled around and was generally trying his best to be silly. We walked right over it a few minutes later while warming up, and he thought it was just fine. So we took it from all directions, and included poles and stopped with his front feet on, then with all four feet, and most of the rest of the night we stood around and walked everyone else fail to get their horse over it! Crazy...

Other than that we spent the time working on some more consistent trotting. He went we to the left, and I really felt like he was going forward and balancing off my inside leg. When we went to the right, he just kept diving in, and would move out as well. We did get a nice relaxed sitting trot in at the end and he started to slow down and lower his head. Oh! The bit was a huge success! Less head tossing, much better response to me asking him to bend to the inside, or follow his nose around the circle. Tonight he stopped really well off my seat, and I really only had to think walk and breath out and he relaxed into a walk! Yeah! That's to say he did all this after bolting forward and needing some one rein stops several times during the first couple laps around the arena! Silly Bear, I lunge but he still takes a couple warm up laps.

I'm hoping to sneak out to ride at lunch tomorrow, but that will greatly depend on how quickly I get a few projects done. The pasture is dry enough now that I can at least ride and trot in the upper part. So I can really work on him going where I want him to at the trot instead of wiggling about or cutting corners. With that many people in the arena I feel limited to just little circles and the rail. It will be nice to do some work on more of a twenty meter circle, and the random patterns around the topography of the pasture. The plan for Saturday is to hit the trail. Its time to tackle some hill work under saddle, and he'll be glad to get out of the arena.

Skipping the show was a good idea...

So the weather changed entirely, and the show grounds were probably perfectly dry, but I caught another cold bug and couldn't put any prep time in. We stuck with our plans to get some riding time in at the big arena on Saturday, which was a much better idea. We were able to really work on just going forward and letting him relax into the gait a little bit. So we got some big trots in, and I took advantage of the big dry arena to try the canter again after 3 months! He was fine with cantering, but very silly about a ton of other things.

We started with lunging (of course) and just as we got started at big family with toddlers on bikes, and a baby in a big red wagon come up from the trails on the opposite side of the arena. So of course it takes them ages to make it all the way around the arena, past us, and finally out of sight! Bear wasn't being naughty, but he definitely did his best impression of an arab while trotting around! His head was sky high, his tiny ineffectual tail was sticking straight out behind him, and he was prancing as much as possible while still trotting on like I asked.

We were sharing the arena with another rider who had a horse and a dog tied up at my end. Bear could care less about it all until the dog woke up and sat up! Then it became an issue! So after a few spins and balks, we made it a point to pass and circle back until it got boring. Another rider came so I did get to share the arena with 3 other horses, which I adequately avoided even though he wanted to go check them out each time we got within 30 feet! Still a good thing I wasn't trying to dodge 20 other horses at a schooling show. We still have some work to do about rating his gait, since I spent most of the time focusing on just going forward, and transitioning back down. We even tried a canter depart from the walk at the end and he surprised me by getting it with only a half trot stride! He's going to be so much fun when he's finished!

Overall it was a good day, but I am not sure that he likes the bit I switched him to. I first started him in a loose ring snaffle (the western style with the big flattish rings) and I had switched him to an English headstall when I started back into the dressage saddle and I have a D-ring with a french link snaffle mouth piece. He doesn't seem to be following his nose as well as he was, so I'm not sure that he like the pressure on the opposite side of his mouth. Its supposed to help, and if its not, then why use it? I'm going to be digging out a standard dressage loose ring snaffle tonight, so we'll see if its better or not.

My mom came out and rode around on the old mare (who was in an epically cantankerous mood when they started!) and as requested mom spent quite a bit of the time just videoing me and Bear go around. She's TERRIBLE at it! So none of it is worth posting unless I can figure out how to edit out the parts where she forgets to stop recoding and everything goes sideways as the camera swings at the end of the cord! It was very useful for me to see though. She stopped recording right as he spooked so it catches just the beginning but missed the recovery which was a shame since I would have liked to really look at my reaction. But she did catch my canter depart from the walk which was nice to evaluate.

Sadly I was conked out with the cold again on Sunday because I over did it on Saturday, ugh! I'm hoping to get back to regular work with him over the next two weeks, since the next show that was on the goal list is March 22. Lots of work before then!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rethinking our Saturday plans

So its raining... its been raining for what seems like decades, and it is going to rain all the way up until the show on Saturday. While part of the classes are in the indoor arena, the two that were my bare minimums (the ones I felt I could do even if he was wild and crazy) will be outside in the slop and muck. I haven't been able to ride much because of the weather, so Bear is not as far along in his steering control at the trot as I hoped. He also has been penned up in the mud so he's got way more energy than usual. Put these two together and I can't in any good conscience put him in a walk-trot class where children might be present! So the classes in the indoor are out, and I just can't muster up the courage to brave the chance of the round pen being to slick to lunge in, the parking lot too wet to pull out of, and Bear being too overwhelmed for us to enjoy ourselves all to just to slop around in the mud for the two solo classes. So I think I'd rather use the first dry day to just get some good training time in.

The plan is to trailer out to the big arena, where even if its wet, its not that bad of footing. That way he can have a good lunge session, and we can get some big trots in without dodging other horses. I'm hoping to get some pictures even though I'm not showing. I'll be glad when things dry out and I won't always have to trailer out in order to do anything but walk.

Class was good tonight. We had two less horses, so it was a little easier to get some work in. Bear is still very distracted by the other horses, and want to get up close and personal in order to check them out! He started to veer towards another horse that we were meant to be trotting by, so I gave him a tiny swat when he didn't keep moving forward and he just about jumped out of his skin. He jumped forward (which was fine since that was what I was asking) but then did a little half buck and tried breaking into the canter. We trotted on, nice and forward and pretended that he hadn't just had a silly fit. He was very over dramatic tonight and felt the need to leap over pee spots, dodge shadows, and in general find reasons to be silly. It will be nice when he's back in pasture full time. He's coming along slowly, but regular work would make everything nicer for both of us.

We'll see if there are any breaks in the rain to get out tomorrow and at least get a walk in. He literally planted his feet and slid down the slope from the pen to the paved driveway when I pulled him out today. I think he's been practicing ice skating through the mud!