Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Two hours and counting…

So I’m shocked every time I leave the barn and realize that I’ve been there for hours, literally at least two hours pass, and I feel like I have about twenty minutes of work accomplished. I think my frustration stems from the fact that I’m looking at it from my work-minded productivity stand point, and I keep thinking of how I can cut back on unnecessary things, streamline the workflow to ultimate efficiency, and get the most out of my time at the barn. Then my mindset while at the barn is total relaxation, do what I want for as long as I want because this is my zen time. So I guess I’m trying to find a happy medium.

Some things should be allowed to take as long as I am inspired to do them. Training can’t always be planned to the last minute, sometimes you’re on a roll, sometimes you’re working through something. I do need to limit myself how many different things I’ll try to work on in one night, for example I will lunge to warm up, then either lunge with side-reins OR lunge of poles, not both or I’m lunging too long for by time frame and the horse’s attention span. Grooming is another thing that I never think was a waste of time, especially during the spring, if I’m motivated to groom for an hour, I better take advantage of that inspiration, because I’m sure they need it!

Other things just seem like time suckers, and productivity goes down the drain. Running back and forth to the tack room is always the first place I start going wrong. I am trying to have a plan of what I’m doing and what I’ll need and grab it all before getting the horses so that it is sitting out and organized. The one I’m really struggling with is getting the horses from pasture. I don’t notice the time going by because for the most part I don’t mind the walk out there, but I timed myself this week and it took me 18 minutes one night to get ONE horse from pasture! Crazy! It was the worst case scenario, and was so pitiful that it warrants the story being told.

The weather has been so awful. The pasture had four inches of water/mud, the kind that really suctions off your rain boots, so walking is tough. Then part of the pasture has turned into a lake, and there is a stream that’s formed across the pasture that is 6-10 feet wide. So I go out to get Lola and of course my two horse end up being a the farthest end of the pasture, past the stream! So I slowly start making my way through the water, hoping it didn’t get too deep. I picked what looked like the shallowest part and it still made it to within a few inches of the tops of my rain boots, so maybe 10 inches deep! Ugh! So I halter her, and it starts to pour on us, so I start the long trudge back, splashing through puddles and dragging my feet out of sucking mud holes, while getting bucketed on from above. It takes ages to walk through that mess! (Add to this the fact that I forgot to blanket Lola before putting her back out and didn’t realize until I was all the way at the gate and had to turn back around for the barn, and you can imagine how much I was dreaming of having them in stalls!) I can’t wait for the rain to stop!

I do have to remember that by the time I leave at night, no matter how late, I’m in a better mood, and I’m less stressed than when I left work. That’s the whole point of it now isn’t it?

A little fun in a week of amazingly bad weather

What a crazy week. Monday night was one of those lost causes, nothing went as planned. Two and half hours at the barn, and all I really did was lunge in a halter. Should have taken 20 minutes right? Not when I’m waiting for the horses eat at the barn since they’re missing dinner outside, and when a certain appy-butt gelding doesn’t believe my promise of food at the barn and refuses to be caught, and when I’m unexpectedly cold hosing the leg of a certain mare that I had planned on riding!

The good thing is that I did get to meet my tack room neighbor; she has a HUGE standardbred and a thoroughbred, both off their breed specific tracks. It’s good to get to know people so that I’ll have someone to go on trail rides with!

Bear did great lunging, his canter is already much stronger than two weeks ago. He is comfortable cantering on the lunge in there, and we trotted over some cones that I had laid down on their sides. (I had to get really creative! I’m bringing the trot poles over this week.)

Tuesday night I checked on Miss Big Leg and things went so terribly wrong getting out there, and it was raining so hard that I was drenched by the time I found them in the pasture. So I gave up and went home for food and warm dry clothes.

Bear has been getting slightly more attention towards the end of the week. Friday and Saturday he got lunged and I hopped on with the bareback pad. He’s so comfy bareback, he’s got a good back for it! I still use the pad because I feel like my butt bones would poke him. He’s so good about it! Every time I get on him bareback I think, “This is the day… the day he dumps me…” Real positive, I know. But he stands still while I climb on, and he jogs along so smoothly if I trot a bit, he really doesn’t get that he could take advantage of getting me off balance, I love that! Also I think doing some bareback is really helping him pay attention to my body asking him to turn. He felt awesome tonight, just right where I wanted him each step. I kind of like this new game, keeps things fresh.

When I lunged Friday I put the side reins on after warming up a bit. His canter is good and strong on the lunge line now, but I didn’t canter him with the side reins because I had them on the bareback pad and that’s not really designed for that! I was lazy and cheating on tacking up, and it worked just fine for some trot-walk transitions.

Saturday when I lunged I put some trot poles down (YEAH! I finally took them out there!) and he got to pick up his little feetsies. I slightly raised one end of each pole with the raised side being left on first pole, right on second, and so on. This created the visual guide of a lower center to encourage him to trot straight down the middle, and it raised the poles just enough to really make him pick his feet up and pay attention. He trotted through like a champ, nice and relaxed but with good cadence and stride. Then I rearranged things to have a tiny cross-rail jump. Tiny in height at least. He trotted that a couple times and thought it was no big deal, but did have a hard time picking the middle of the jump. He got it after a few tries, so much easier to jump the lowest part! So I asked him to canter of the little X a couple times and called it good. I want it to be easy and interesting, I want him to enjoy jumping!

The rain broke for Saturday, but it sounds like it’ll be back on and off all week. LAME! I want to go out on a non-muddy trail ride, and the way things look now I feel like even with out more rain it won’t dry out until March! Oh, winter… I guess that’s why he’s at boarding school with the indoor arena!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Working on the same old trick…

I am anxious to finally start progressing with Bear. I have been repeating the same lesson since last April because I haven’t been consistent enough! In May he was a super star, way beyond my expectations. He was balanced and responsive at the walk, trot, and canter even on a circle. Then he had three months off. September we started again, and by October he was pretty comfortable trotting again. Then he had November and December with hardly any work. So we’re back to balancing. He’s got forward, that’s good! But then he just gets more forward and starts falling forward. This make his feet quicken to catch up, and takes away all hopes of steering since his shoulders are just trying to keep everyone upright, and he starts diving in on the circles to catch his balance.

So we’re back to the same exercise. Walk-whoa every half to quarter of a circle, then trot-walk every half circle. By the end he’s anticipating the downward transition and holds himself upright more in order to be prepared to stop. He has a more collected gait, he is carrying more weight in the back, and he is listening. I forget how simple the fixes can be when you break it down to a simple exercise that the horse can feel confident in doing well, and something that doesn’t get me over-thinking and screwing it all up!

I had my mom ride Bear for the first time tonight, and just had her do the same thing with him. It worked so well. It gave them something simple to concentrate on, and kept him balanced and working well for her. It was a huge success for him to do so well with another rider on his back. For the next few months while I have this project horse he’ll have quite a few other people riding him since I’ll be on the mare, so I really want them to be safe and for him to still have a positive step forward in his training each time. So tonight was a good sign.

A little picture of Bear being so patient while helping train his new friend.

Now if he would just stop eating things off shelves at the tie rail… wait, now that’s asking way too much!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Nature vs. Nurture

Bear is Bear, what can I say. I love him to death, but now comparing some of his manners to the new horse, I can’t help but wondering, have I created a monster?

Nature vs. Nurture is debated in the human psychology fields depending on the realm and which philosophies they follow. Nature versus Nurture asks if there are certain behaviors in humans that a created by the environment that the individual was exposed to (nurture) or are they innately predisposed to those behaviors through genetics (nature). Let’s take a serial killer for a very general (and extreme) example, is this outrageously unacceptable behavior because of poor nurturing, say from severe neglect and abuse as a child? Was this killer naturally wired wrong and this behavior is a reflection of his mind not working?

The answer most often is both. Sometimes in extreme cases of mental illness the social behaviors are never quite right regardless of the best nurturing. Sometime the most neglected child can grow up to break the cycle and become something completely removed from the violence and chaos they thought was normal for so long. There are exceptions on either side of the spectrum, but most cases have a little of both. If mom had a history of mental illness and dad had a history of violence, both of those factors are surely going have an effect on the child and later his chances of being a successful adult.

So now we get back to Bear. What behaviors are there because is, after all, only four years old and seems to have a natural curiosity about what things are and how they would fit in his mouth? What behaviors are there because I haven’t been consistent enough in laying down the lines of what is expected of him?

Example: Lola ties quietly, occasionally paws, but can be trusted to stand tied alone. Bear dances, paws, puts his head down and gets the lead rope over it, bites, chews, eats his lead rope, eats anything around him: tack, blankets reins, his neighbor… you get the point. He has to be supervised! The tie rail at boarding school is chaos for Bear. I have to tie him super short or he’ll stick is head under it. He started clearing off the shelves while I tied the other horse. He’s a menace! Why? I tied him in the arena so he wouldn’t destroy things and he started playing a game by moving the gate back and forth, sticking his head through slots as far as he could. Plus more dancing, pawing, and neighing.

Here’s the even worse problem: this is exactly the same issue with trailering him. With standing tied I can at least discipline him (although I think he secretly loves being smacked) or I could hobble him while tied to quit the pawing. But what the heck do I do in the trailer. He gets bored and creates entertainment for himself! I tried feeding him while trailering, but he stuck his foot in the feeder on a regular basis.

His naughtiness is such a nuisance. In fact I think either of those would have been great names for him! Will it ever go away? Or is this is personality? He is a work in progress though, I guess I just need to remind myself that some changes will only come with training and maturity, and look back at all the success we have had.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Doing better already

I guess every horse is bound to have his bad day, and I was certainly not my most patient when I went out on Saturday, but Monday when I went out was a 100% better.

Everything about him was better, tacking was much easier, and he was sort of back to himself. I lunged him a bit, and then put his side reins on and spent the rest of the time dividing my attention between him and a phone call. He did really well lunging off just my body position since I stopped talking to him, and then we just walked around on a loose rein since I was still on the phone. Not the ideal situation, but I got out there late and when your boyfriend calls from out of the county you can’t just say that you’ll call back once you’ve spent enough quality time with your horse!

I tied him up and went to get the new project horse out of pasture and we did a quick training session to teach Bear to start ponying Lola. To start with I just walked between them to lead them together, then looped her lead around the horn as a pulley and lead him on his left and let her get ponied like she would. Bear still turns and looks at her every so often like he just doesn’t get it, but I’ve ponied the old mare from him so many times I think he’ll get the hang of it quick, it’s more the adjustment to it being a new mare.

He seems to love the pasture at “boarding school” and he had totally buddied up to Lola already. So I am super happy with the situation so far.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Like stepping back in time...

So I got out to boarding school yesterday to ride Bear and I was not pleased with the day. We made the most of it, but it was like I was riding Bear from a whole year ago, fresh and all over the place.

I got him out of pasture just after three girls had pulled a few other horses out to ride, one being the alpha mare of the pasture. Apparently Bear has a big crush on her, because he was simply beside himself when he saw her in the barn! He likes the mean ones that kick!

He was anxious while I tacked up, he was anxious and wouldn't listen while leading around, and so the plan to just hop on and trail ride around the ranch was shot. I felt like I better take him in the arena since he was so hot, and it was pretty wet out. There was already one of the girls in there, and the other two came in just after. Four horses in a small indoor is a whole lot of distraction. Bear never calmed down. There was no option to lunge while sharing the only place dry enough to lunge, so I just made the most of it. I just walked and worked on lots and lots of turns, walking pirouettes, turning on the forehand, stopping, and backing, I tried a little trot but he was just sticky, trotting too fast then dumping on his shoulder and walking, and it was not going to work to try and pushing him forward with three other horses trying to run barrel patterns! So I decided we'd try outside now that he was more focused.

I hopped off and lead him around outside a bit, and he got all hot and anxious again. I finally got on, and did some more turns and circles outside in a grassy area by the trailers, then finally walked out to one of the fields that hasn't been fenced off yet. We trotted some since now we could just focus on going forward in an open space and he relaxed a bit finally. My back has been killing me for about two weeks now, so I couldn't really do much. (Add to that that Bear yanked me forward when a horse bit him while I was pulling him out of pasture, and my back was awful by the time I was done.) So I was crabby and in pain, and mainly just really disappointed that he's regressed so much.

He's in a new place that he's still getting acclimated to (he's only come out of the pasture twice now), and has no training routine going, so all this is my fault and the fix is simple: consistent work. That's the plan for him being there! I just have to follow through now. I'll be taking the new mare out to join him at boarding school today, so I should be able to get out to ride the two most nights after work. I'm thinking I may wait until more like 6:30 or 7 so that they won't miss dinner in pasture and so that the indoor arena will clear out. I have no idea what the riding traffic looks like on a week night but I would assume its the worst right after work. Since I need to lunge and do other things with the new mare (like ground driving) that requires the arena to myself I may end up working horses at 9pm in order to have the place to myself!

Monday, January 4, 2010

A new friend...

Its official, I have a training project. Now Bear is going to have to share my time and attention. It should be fun! If you want to see what the fun is all about:


She's a cutie! It will be a great experience trying all this again with another horse with a totally different disposition and body type.

Bear will still be getting way more work than usual though since I'll be determined to get out to the barn to ride the new girl (consistent work is more than just good training, its a safety thing) and with the lights I will end up staying until both horses are done.

They won't meet until next weekend since he's off at boarding school and I took her to my parent's property for this first week. Hope they get along!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bear is off to Boarding School!

I was pretty impressed with my dad for coming up with the oh so cute label for Bear's new home. He's just at boarding school! Adorable, and fairly accurate. He's not in training there, but I will finally have the facility to get cracking on his training myself. I am very excited to see some progress this spring.

I trailered him out this afternoon, it was later than I wanted, but I at least got him there a half hour before dark so he could meet the new pasture mates and figure out the fence line. He was high as a kite when I got him out of the trailer, prancing and snorting and spooking at blanketed horses. When we put him out to pasture he prance straight out to the middle of the herd and arched his neck and stuck his tail straight out! I so wish I had taken a video camera out! I don't think I've ever seen him move so beautifully! He sure is gorgeous when he tries!

I threw his blanket on him once the all settled down to eat. He was warm, but not wet with sweat, so that was good. I spent the last two weeks switching his feed so that he'd be ready for a new program, so he should be good there. He's already made a friend in the pasture and figured out which mare is to be given space at all times! I think it will be great.

I still need to move my tack in and clean up the various piles of horsey items around my parents' house, then the move will be official. I'm so looking forward to riding after work in a covered arena!