Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Brutal Pursuit

The journey towards doing anything well is hard. There are a great many quaint anecdotes that try to translate this journey for the lay-person, but I don't think I need to translate them for you. You're a horse-person too. You participate in one of the only life-long sports where constant coaching is a cultural norm. You and I joke about how intense or hard our lessons were, complain how difficult this whole thing is, marvel at the way that this sport takes our life and consumes it. 

We engage in deliberate practice, set goals, assess our progress towards those goals. Things beyond our control wreak havoc on these goals, things ranging from weather to the unwellness of our horses. 

You understand what I'm about to say. 

This afternoon I came home to a package containing a new book. I started reading it a bit later, and after 27 pages I read this quote: 
In the course of creating your work, you are going to be forced to ask yourself: What am I willing to sacrifice in order to do it? Will I give up X, Y, Z? A willingness to trade off something -- time, comfort, easy money, recognition -- lies at the heart of every great work. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but always a significant sacrifice that needs to happen. If it didn't, everyone would do it. 
In order for me to achieve my goals with horses, I'm going to need to give up things I find comfortable, such as sitting like a trail rider while walking and pulling casually on the right rein. I need to bring my mental focus to bear upon geometry and my own position within space. I need to do things that are uncomfortable. These are small sacrifices, but they feel hard sometimes.

I recently had the pleasure of hosting Shawna Karrasch for a clinic at my barn and some of the things she said rang ridiculously true, but I still am finding that it is hard for me at times to consciously choose to do things in a manner that is better for my horse. I like my old habits. Not because they were thoughtfully chosen but because they feel comfortable.

PC: Olivia

I choose brutal today for "punishingly hard or uncomfortable"

We're doing it, though. We're making sacrifices. The commutes to our horses, the time spent at the barn, the meals we forget about. We're dusting ourselves off after falling off, we're trying new relationships with horses, we're seeking further instruction, we're putting ourselves out there. We are all in the arena

What then, does further discussion bring us? I want to recognize what's been done so far and admit to myself that there is more yet to do. Anders Ericsson writes: 
The plateau Josh encountered is common in every sort of training. When you first start learning something new, it is normal to see rapid—or at least steady—improvement, and when that improvement stops, it is natural to believe you’ve hit some sort of implacable limit. So you stop trying to move forward, and you settle down to life on that plateau. This is the major reason that people in every area stop improving. --Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
There is no arriving, and for me, there cannot be a settling. And although there is a cost to this desire not to settle, and even knowing that you cannot know the entirety of the cost until you've paid it, I think it's a journey worth taking. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Addition of Moxie

Serendipity is a pretty beautiful thing sometimes. The day Kat pulled up lame again I saw an ad for a mare, schooling 2nd/3rd, a care lease situation in order for the owner to be a bit picky. I sent her a message to start a conversation, more to soothe my sadness over Kat than anything else.

It turned out that Peony knows the owner and vouched for me, putting me to the final options for the lease. I went up and rode her, met the owner, laughed a ton, had a great time riding the mare, and then went home to wait.

In the end, I won the lease on her, and shortly before my birthday in April Miss Mox (AKA the Queen) came to stay with me for a while.

She's been on a number of adventures with me so far including camping, a few horse shows, a bunch of lessons, and a jumping clinic with Laine Ashker (all of which needs writing about...).

We're entered in our first rated dressage show in just a few weeks and the big question is whether we'll start collecting scores for my bronze or if I'll run us off course, as I have at 2/3 of the schooling shows we've done so far.... ;)

Here's a protracted video with clips from a bunch of dressage lessons since she came in!

Friday, March 24, 2017

What Should Be Practiced?

Excerpted from "Why Don't Students Like School?"

Not everything can be practiced extensively, but fortunately not everything needs to be practiced.... If practice makes mental processes automatic, we can then ask, which processes need to become automatic? 
Retrieving number facts from memory is a good candidate, while a science teacher may decide that his students need to have at their fingertips basic facts about elements. In general, the processes that need to become automatic are probably the building blocks of skills that will provide the most benefit if they are automatized. Building blocks are the things that one does again and again in a subject area, and they are the prerequisites for more advanced work. 

So before I write to you about my thoughts on this subject, can I ask you: which processes need to become automatic in our work with horses?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

BINGO: None of the following is true

(Except for the parts which are, but I’m not telling which ones have actually happened to me. [Except for when I provide photographic or video evidence.]) 

I held my hand against my forehead, elbow on the table, trying to breathe through my anxiety. What had originally been planned to be a nice weekend of coaching was rapidly devolving into a nightmare. It had all started when Alex announced that he wanted me to take Tango on his first prelim. “Alright,” I’d agreed, and after all, it sounded like it might be a nice thing to do, as proof after all these years that Tango really had been something special. 

And then Finn’s owner announced that he’d been entered in the Novice division, even though we’d taken him cross-country exactly once, and I was supposed to be his jockey. “Alright,” I haltingly agreed, as Finn was such a sweet fellow and surely I could just withdraw if we all felt really over-faced. 

Finn is a real horse who is new to the barn and none of the following story actually resemble this horse, he just was the first one I thought of for this tale

I leaned back from the picnic table and glanced across the farm to Kat, who stood in her stall weaving merrily away, and considered withdrawing her as she really had just come back from an injury and maybe I was pushing things, but you read all those stories about Buck Davidson crashing and breaking a bunch of ribs and STILL riding 9 or so horses cross country, so I could probably pull three off, even though it’s a new level for all three of the horses. And if that were all facing me this weekend, I probably wouldn’t bat an eye. 

But there was Moxie, too, the horse I’d taken a lease on while Kat recovered in the pasture, but I didn’t have to worry one iota about her as she was the most reliable of the bunch. 
Moxie is also a real horse. This is not a photo of her. I am actually taking the lease on her. She knows more dressage than me and needs miles showing, so we'll help each other out.

Four horses, three new to the level, I’d be fine. I was coaching two riders, and riding four. Other trainers do it all the time, and once I’d taken enough deep breaths, I knew this would be one hell of a weekend to tell stories about. 

“Alright!” I said aloud, to no one in particular, “let’s just make it through this weekend alive.” 

Little did I know just what shape this story would take. 

Friday morning: 4 am and with yesterday’s unfinished coffee clutched in my hand, bleary eyes taking in the sight of my mounts, I began braiding. Part of the way through braiding the third horse I began to wonder whose fucking brilliant idea it was to not braid the horses last night, and when I get to Moxie, I eyeball her mane, consider cutting it off, and decide it doesn’t need to be braided. They all go for a hand walk, and Kat decided to show me just HOW good she feels by levitating numerous times and dragging me a good distance each time. I wondered who I could call to bring me a stud chain. 

Prelim ran first for me, and Tango gleamed from head to tail. With strong muscles and a kind eye, we shared a few moments in the warm up where I reveled in just how nice it was to be able to stroll along on a loose rein, watching the other riders and feeling his back underneath me. We trotted into the ring, where I promptly forgot my whole test. 

Tango, of course, did his level best for me, and I left the ring disappointed in the ride. My circles had been uneasy because I was halfheartedly waiting to get rung out for going off course, and I hadn’t ever pushed Tango to give me his all. “Oh well,” I told Alex as we walked back to the barn, “at least it wasn’t terrible.” 

Training ran next, and Moxie went up first. She warmed up beautifully, supple and generous in the bridle, and we turned down the centerline oozing confidence. Leaving the arena, I knew we’d laid down one of the best tests of my life, and I spent a bit too long congratulating myself and the horse with lots of scratches and chatting with the clients who had come to watch. 

It wasn’t until Sophie came running up to me and dragged me off Moxie that I realized I’d frittered away most of my warm-up time for Kat. She was due in the dressage court in twenty-two minutes. Not nearly enough.... 

My tension rolled over Kat and she pranced in hand as I led her to the warm up arena. I begged a leg-up and the moment my butt touched the saddle I knew I was sitting on a powder keg. 

We picked up a trot on a circle and tried to dodge the other riders while still giving Kat the best and most consistent ride I could come up with. Some kid on a wicked agile pony dodged into and back out of my circle before I even noticed, but Kat took great offense to the pony and kicked at it, even though it was 50 some feet away. I bumped her with my legs and growled, “No,” at her, at which point she reared. 

While holding onto her neck, I noticed how everyone was clearing themselves away from me. “Great,” I told Sophie as we whizzed past her, “now I’m riding THAT horse.” 

I did not turn down centerline with as much confidence as I’d felt on Moxie. We wobbled our way through the test and I realized, moments before cueing for the first canter, that we literally had NOT cantered in our warm up. I took a deep breath, sat a few beats of the trot, and aided for the canter. 

I did not precisely get the canter. Instead, I got a spectacularly leaping, kicking, porpoising mare. The photos, I learned later, looked a bit like a capriole from the Spanish Riding School, if you tilted your head sideways and squinted a bit. 

But we pressed on, as one does when one events, and we finished the test with fewer acrobatic moments. 

The last to go was darling sweet Finn, and my legs were a little shaky and my nerves were shot. I didn’t ride him all that well, and completely forgot the free-walk portion of the test, but he did quite well, all things considered. 

I walked the herd later, before picking up my scores, and Kat seemed to have finally settled down so I began to feel more confident for the next two days. 

I was so excited when I got to the office and saw that Moxie and I were first in our division after dressage! We’d scored an unbelievable 19, with some of the best numbers I’d even seen, including an 8 on what used to be our weakest point! (The halt. Ugh. Her haunches were always swinging sideways in the halt but that’s probably my fault because my other horses do that too.) The judge commented that we looked like a “nice pair”, and the score definitely showed it! 

Kat had not scored so well, but even though the judge commented, “tense,” she also told me it was “tactfully ridden,” so I sort of figure I’ll take what I can get. 

Tango scored the most consistent test I’ve ever seen. The comment, “you call those circles?” stung, but he had straight sixes all the way down. I wondered if the scribe was tired of writing different numbers, but we weren’t at the bottom of the pack. 

Finn’s test was predictable, with comments such as, “needs more bend,” and “free walk not shown.” Oops. 

This event was organized in the strangest way, with novice running cross country on Saturday, but Training and Prelim running stadium on Saturday. 

Saturday dawned, and it took me a solid fifteen minutes to get out of bed. I stared at the ceiling praying to keep Kat well-behaved and Finn brave. 

Tango was my first ride of the day and for the first time in years, when I swung my leg over him I was afraid of him. A hump stayed present just under the saddle the whole time we warmed up. After our first jump he took off like something had stung him, and I would have been able to ride it out if it hadn’t been for the corkscrew buck he threw, and I hit the ground hard. I took my helmet off and shook the dirt out of my hair, tried to brush off as much as I could, and looked over at a Tango who looked as if he were laughing. I grabbed his reins, mounted from the ground, and took another jump before I could let my nerves get the better of me, then immediately had to dismount for the EMT to sign off on my health. I was scolded thoroughly, but Tango’s bucks were out of his system, and he was perfectly reasonable for the rest of the warm up. 

As we cantered a circle in the ring, I could hear a commotion outside the arena. “Stay focused,” I sternly warned myself, and we went through the timers. 

“LOOSE HORSE!” I could hear someone bellowing, and I couldn’t help myself: I looked to see what was loose. 

It was Kat. 

Mane whipping behind her, tail floating, her spectacular and ground covering gallop eating up the ground, she tore through the warm up arena, scattering horses around her and playing chicken with anyone who would dare to stop her. 

Tango began to circle as I stared at my mare, and before I knew it we were crossing the starting timer line again. I looked around but no one seemed to have noticed, so I piloted Tango to the first jump, waiting to hear a buzzer calling me out, but it never happened. With a mental shrug we kept on, and he jumped everything hard and fast, in his favorite style. We had two jumps to go when I heard an awful metal clang. I looked everywhere but couldn’t see what caused the sound, as we hadn’t pulled anything down. We soared over the last two jumps, my buoyant heart full of joy. It wasn’t until later, in his stall, that I realized he must have somehow pulled a shoe off and chucked it into the standard. “It’s a weird wardrobe malfunction,” I laughed when I called my farrier. 

Moxie and Kat were both pretty straightforward in stadium. I think that Kat’s little walkabout took the edge off, but she still cleared the first fence so hard I lost BOTH my stirrups and jumped the next two fences without them before finally getting them back, and Moxie jumped her first warm up fence so hard I am CONVINCED we cleared the standards, but overall the pretty much behaved as if they were trained to do the job I was asking of them. 

Finn warmed up in a very gentlemanly way, but when we trotted into the start box, my stomach dropped. I’d forgotten my whip and my spurs. They certainly weren’t needed for my mares, but this fellow needed them. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, have a nice ride!” And we casually trotted out of the start box, despite my pony club efforts. 

We picked up a canter and rolled along for a few fences, but right about the fourth jump, he realized that this was hard work, and we were only going to keep doing it. Luckily the next fence on course was the smallest log you’ve ever seen, and the fact that it was flagged for novice was comical. Finn pinned his ears at me and my leg and floated to a halt. “Come onnnn,” I groaned at him as I circled him around and clamped my legs around him like he was a tube of toothpaste and I was getting the LAST pea-sized toothbrushing out of the bugger. 

As I approached the next fence at what might be described as little more than a western pleasure jog, the jump judge flagged me down and pulled me off the track. “There’s a hold,” she told me, “we have to let the rider behind you pass.” I pursed my lips and watched as the thoroughbred behind us cantered over the jump and on through the water. 

Somehow we crawled through the rest of the course, but I am confident that there’s never been a slower cross country run at novice ever. It felt like we were out there forever. They even delayed rider’s start times because we were so slow. I called my mom after dinner and told her about the fall, the mishap with the loose horse, getting passed on cross country, everything, and finished by saying, “we literally picked up so many penalties. Somehow we weren’t eliminated, but I honestly don’t know how.” 

I slept like the dead. My alarm went off Sunday morning before I wanted it to, and I felt creaky and horrible as I rolled out of bed. And then I remembered that I was getting to take Tango prelim, something I’d imagined watching him do for years. I perked up, drank my coffee, took some ibuprofen, and by the time I was tacking Tango up I was bouncing with excitement. 

Fear flooded my veins as I trotted around the start box, as it always does, but when I let Tango out and he leaped into a ground covering gallop, I remembered how much I loved this. Over tables and logs, down the drop into the water, a glance at my watch and we were actually cruising a bit too fast. “Circling!” I called, as we added some time by circling before the corner combination. Racing through the finish flags, I burst into tears, wrapped my arms around Tango’s slimy neck, and kissed him before jumping off. “What a good boy,” I crooned through my choked up voice as he power-walked up the hill and back to the barn. 

I had a similar experience with Moxie, the adrenaline converging with my delight to create a near-spiritual moment, until the mare decided to drop to a trot right before the biggest, most maxed out table on course. She jumped it from a trot, and I kicked her on, determined not to repeat that frightening experience. She took offense to the kick and powered over the next jump from at least two strides out. The rest of the course was uneventful, but it did give me a lot to think about how I could better have ridden her. 

Kat was suspiciously quiet in the warm up. She was, dare I even suggest it, ‘workmanlike.’ She walked into the start box. She cantered out quietly. She didn’t over-jump the first fence, nor did she drag me to the second one. I relaxed and began to thrill in taking my wonderful mare out to do her job as I’d always imagined her capable of doing. 

That was, until she spooked at a jump judge after a fence, bolted down a hill, over the next one, powered over a table, supermanned off a bank, all while I muttered and yelled and called “WOAH DAMMIT” and fruitlessly pulled on the reins. I had no breaks. I passed the horse ahead of me, pulled off to the side on a hold to allow my crazy creature full rein. 

We came down through the water and she finally slowed, maybe she was tired, but maybe she knew what she was about to do. She slowed down until she nearly cantered in place, opened her stride for a moment, then chipped hard to the rolltop. I didn’t stand a chance. I ate it. She didn’t go far, and from my vantage point on the ground, I could see we’d lost a boot somewhere along the mad gallop. 

An EMT came over to check me out, and Kat treated him as if he were a tornado rising up from the ground. She dragged me sideways, and I refused to let go, even as she dragged me through the water complex. I finally tripped over myself and dropped her, landing soggily in the center of the water. “I hadn’t planned on going swimming,” I told the aghast EMT, even as I heard the announcer mention ‘that paint horse is loose again’. 


At this point, I was tired, embarrassed, and ready to load my terrible animals up and go the heck home. But I still had to pilot Finn around stadium. It won’t be too bad, I assured myself as I girthed him up and checked his breast collar, he’s a good boy. 

We went through the start timers and cantered merrily up to the first jump. I have reason to believe he didn’t even see the jump because he took that thing down. He didn’t even TRY to pick his feet up. Surprised, I tapped him with my stick and legged him on, trying to conjure an energetic horse. He pulled a rail on the next oxer, but it felt like a cheap rail because we barely touched it. 

And then, for the second time in this terrible weekend, I forgot where I was going. We circled so I could try to piece it together, knowing I would get penalty points for it. The unthinkable happened part way through the circle, and Finn realized that this was an event to get excited about. He took a deep breath, grew about six inches, and proceeded to buck my tired butt off. We were excused. 

I collected a ribbon for my first place finish with Moxie, but it felt hollow. I’d had so much hope for this weekend, and I’d let my client down by falling off Finn in the stadium. 

But as I finished my woeful tale, Megan started laughing at me. “None of this can possibly be true, Kate,” she said, and the bloggers around her laughed too. 

“Bingo!” I shouted, and we finished our dinner with no more crazy made up stories about nightmare events. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

An interlude with a diabolic bike

I would like to request that you listen to the song below while reading this post. 

I'm not a particularly adventurous person, I'm coming to discover. For example, I recently helped a client see that her horse would be just fine on trails. I rode the horse out for a while as she biked alongside us. The horse was lovely, so I suggested that we switch. 

I couldn't tell you the last time I rode a bike, and I think the seat was a bit too high for me because I was stretching for the ground and struggling to find the pedals. It was a heavy bike, and I found it difficult to keep upright at first. But it was one of those neat electric bikes that help you pedal along, so it was pretty good once we got moving.

It had a lovely basket on the back tire and leather-padded handles. The client laughed a bit self-consciously when she referred to it as her "granny bike." As I biked and she rode, I admired the greenery and the view back over the ocean, casually rolling along with extremely little effort on my end. 

Imagine this, just all green

We started to near the end of the time we had available, so we decided I'd bike back to my car and leave her bike at the barn. 

"But wait," the client interjected, "you really should bike to the top here and see the view." 

"Well, alright," I agreed, thinking to myself that with an electrified bike it'd take me no time at all. 

No sooner had I rounded the corner into some woods than the trail became severely washed out and rocky. The bike had no shocks whatsoever, and my arms were shaking and vibrating as I struggled to hold onto the bike. Then halfway up a steep and arduous incline, my thighs already burning, the electric assistance gave out and I was left trying to heave this incredibly heavy not-meant-for-the-mountains bike up the hill. I awkwardly dismounted the bike (nearly crashing myself onto the ground in the process) and walked the bike the rest of the way up the hill, my arms tired from the ruts earlier. By the time I reached the top, I was dripping sweat. (It's possible I need to exercise more.) 

This is me, on the horse, before the terror show that was the bike ride

Phew! I told myself. I made it past the worst of it. The view was, in fact, gorgeous, so I admired the waves crashing onto the bluffs down below, the grassy plains of the hills, how minuscule the road gets when you peer down from far away. 

I turned the bike around, resettled myself on it's uncushioned and too-tall seat, and plunged down the hill. 

As I bounced off the first major rut and the back tire of the bike swung wildly to and fro, it dawned on me that I would rather ride any number of green or rank horses down this hill than this inanimate granny bike. 

A string of curse words strung together in creative ways kept me breathing as I bounced off ridge and rock until I finally managed to clutch the brakes fervently enough to slow down in a way that allowed me to leap off, shaking arms barely keeping the bike from clattering to the muddy trail. 

"We're gonna walk down this hill," I told the bike, but it didn't seem to care. 

I glanced at my riding boots as I began to crawl down the hill. Splattered with mud. So was the bike. I didn't pay enough attention to the trail for a moment and the front tire got stuck heavily in a rut, and when I wrenched it free, I accidentally hit the throttle of the bike and got dragged down the mountain, feet moving faster than I could really control, granny bike rattling and bouncing wildly as I stumbled after it. 

100% could have been me
The bike and I splashed through a deep puddle at the very bottom and I felt my socks start to squish as I finally slowed the bike enough to walk. After a while, I steeled my nerve, remounted the bike, and had an uneventful ride back to the barn despite tired arms and burning legs. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Operant Conditioning

I go through cycles in my teaching where I give lectures to all my students on similar riffs on a theme, and this week has been about operant conditioning.

Sometimes when I'm explaining these concepts to a nine-year-old, I wonder if it really as important as I think it is, for these kids to understand. My goal is to produce a thinking rider capable of assessing not only what they learn from me, but also from other trainers in the future. Foundationally, our effect on the horse underneath us is important.

I want to be cognizant of how I'm training the horse. We can get so lost in this miasma of 'legs here' and 'chin up' (which are of great and tremendous and vast importance) that we forget about the specifics of training the horse we're riding. And whether we're riding a schoolmaster or a green bean, we're training them. George Morriss has most recently made that a very popular truism.

Keep in mind that what I'm going to write is pretty simple. It does not encompass all the important pieces of operant conditioning (and I know some of you will cringe to realize I do not teach the difference between positive and negative punishment, merely deeming it 'punishment') but keep in mind my target audience is something like an eight-year-old who is struggling to keep a pony trotting.

1) Negative reinforcement... or: the horse learns when you release pressure

Horses don't speak English. What they experience most is the pressure we put on them. And there are a lot of pressure we want them to habituate to, or pretty much ignore. My dog running around the outside of the arena. The pressure of the saddle on them. The bit in their mouth. Your weight as a rider. The way the gait sounds as it opens and closes. Your weird trainer running around in the middle of the arena trying to demonstrate a leg yield with two legs.

All they know is that they don't like it when you pull on their face, or flap at them with your legs. What this means is that we can ask them nicely, then step the pressure up, and then release the pressure when they do what you want.

If the horse isn't turning, we will ask with the reins, and we keep the pressure on or increased until the horse turns.

If the horse isn't stopping nicely out of the trot, we will ask with the reins, and the moment the horse starts to walk, we soften the reins. Good timing both in the application and removal of the aids is very important, but hey, that's why we take lessons.

Ideally, the horse will soon learn that a gentle squeeze of the legs is followed by unpleasant kicking unless the horse chooses to trot. The biggest failure I see is when my kids get a little tired of bumping or clucking and sort of peter out. The horse sees this as a big win! And will subsequently habituate both to the rider's weight but also to their legs, voice, etc. Bad news for everyone.

That All-Ears app makes for some hilarious photos
2) Positive reinforcement.... or: ponies love cookies

I have taught my students quite a bit about clicker training over the years, and I'm excited to be bringing an expert in for a clinic later this year to teach the kids and myself even more about it!

I use the clicker as a bridge between the moment the horse does what I want, and the moment I can give them a snack.

This way, the horse's "YES" moment comes from the click, rather than me taking my legs away.

It gets a bit muddled under saddle, as I feel we're often combining negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement to create the yes, but the horses like it and learn well.

I'm saving the best for last I hope you're excited
3) Punishment

Punishment is an negative thing that we add to the horse after they've done something we don't like. Examples include if they bite us, we smack them. If they buck, they get an unpleasant one-rein stop. If they break from the canter to the trot without the aid, we might use the crop to get them back to the canter. We want to be sparing with punishment, as one of the tenets of negative reinforcement is that we teach the horse that they can escape pain and discomfort. This allows them to seek release and become more willing and creative in their work. Punishment tends to feel random to the horse.

I teach these three pieces of operant conditioning (with the added concept of habituation) to my students and regularly check in with them as we're working. What method of training was that? Can you think of a way to train this using a different aspect of operant conditioning?

Beyond priceless makes me laugh every bloody time

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Great Artists Steal

In my cursory research I cannot tell who, exactly, wrote that "good artists borrow, great artists steal."

Here are some sayings I've shamelessly stolen from other trainers in the last few months. (I remain in hot pursuit of artisanship.)
  • Try to help the bit feel the same to the horse in every part of every stride
  • Keep your hands still relative to the horse
  • Let's bring the elbow closer to the stifle as if the ribs are going to get closer to each other on the inside
  • Push the outside ear forward
  • Think about landing more softly -- if there was an eggshell on the saddle, I don't want you to break it
  • Spread your shoulders apart as if there were an angel one shoulder and a devil on the other and you don't want them to touch one another
  • We want him to stand up a little more on the inside side 
  • Let's bring our posting trot under a bit more tension so we aren't so loose in our mechanic
  • Think about sending the hips back and away from the shoulders as they come up in the canter

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Things I've worked on while hand-walking

Kat is currently getting walked 10 minutes a day, twice a day. It's going fine, all things considered. Here are some things I've worked on, since this is the sort of time one can use to really fine tune little details. 

1) She is very polite when I enter her stall now, she stays watching me but backs away from the door so I can easily get in.

2) I clicker trained her to hold her head exactly where I'd like it to slip the halter on her head

3) When I step onto the mounting block she sidles right up to it and stands like a rock, even when I get off the block and move all around her

4) I've trained "park" pretty well, though I have a bit more work on that one.

5) and this one is the least-worked-on because I'm worried it might aggravate any injury, I've done quite a bit of work on quietly turning on the forehand and on the hindquarters in hand.

Any other fun things I'm missing out on?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

When you post a horse for sale

There's a lot of talking about it leading up to the event, "oh, well, we have been thinking about this or that" and then you gather the information you need, and then eventually you finally start putting ads up places.

And after the monotonous flurry of posting it, you sort of sit on your hands and wait for the emails to start ROLLING in.

Hah! If only it worked that way.

Anyways - that's what I'm up to.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The ol' wait-and-see

My lovely vet came out on Thursday to check out Kat's whole "being lame" and weird lumps.

The lumps (which to be honest I was the most concerned about) the vet glanced at, shrugged, and said "they're hematomas probably from kicking the wall. Standing wraps on both sides so she doesn't hurt the other leg and give it a few days."

Easy! Now to proclaim there's an abscess in the other leg....

Hoof testers galore and no sensitivity to them, so probably not an abscess on that front leg.

I felt much like this cat. "What do you mean let's start blocking the leg..."

We blocked the back half of the hoof and she came up sound.

Then we did x-rays, which revealed nothing more exciting than a sub-par palmar angle. So we'll put wedges on her to correct that.

After chatting more about it, I guess there's one of two things going on. 1) She's got a bruise in there that will just take some time to heal. 2) She's damaged something deep, which would require an MRI to adequately diagnose.

I'm feeling a bit morose, but am committed to staying positive for this thirty-day stint of stall rest. She's getting ten minutes of hand walking twice a day, so I'm bridling her up for one of those and practicing square halts and not leaning out of the halt. I'm also considering clicker training her to sidle up to the mounting block and maybe some other silly tricks so that she doesn't absolutely go insane with boredom.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

(The sadness of the title is not indicative of the content of this post.)

Freddie came to Fresno because he is firmly in the resale horse camp and so the more miles he can get with me, the better it will be when I go to sell him.

Let's recap his training so far so that these photos will adequately impress you. Freddie is five, has mostly been trail ridden, and at this point has about 90 days of dressage training on him, 60 of which occurred before I bought him. I've jumped him at least once probably most days I've ridden him, but he has only about 4 official "schools" on him, where we tried low courses or grids.

All of this to say: I might not be selling him.

Just kidding. But the above photo is as we approached the first fence of the day, his first cross country jump ever.

And it pretty much sums up his entire day. "Oh, we're doing a thing now," and he just rolled with it. Ears up, good attitude.

His form improved tremendously as the day went on, as did his confidence.

My favorite part of the day was how many of these photos I'm smiling in, especially after the nightmare with Kat.

His canter continues to need a lot of work, but as the day went on and he relaxed a bit I started to find the best quality I've had from him so far.

He's just so easy going and willing to please that it makes me feel like a genius.

He didn't think the water was a big deal at all, although he did threaten to JUMP in at one point.

And neither going up nor coming down were cause for any concern at all.

And even when I brought him to a ditch with ZERO real preparation, he popped right over it, no questions asked.

These aren't even all of my favorite photos! I have to save SOMETHING for y'all in this rain when I write about books or other boring things.

Anyhow - I love my baby horse and I'm really glad he came along. It made the drive home much more sweet and significantly less bitter.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Love is not a victory march

I borrowed a trailer from a trainer friend and high-tailed it out to the Fresno County Horse Park on Monday with Kat, Freddie, Gus, and Danny all stuffed in there for an adventure.

The goal was to assess how ready Kat was for training, and to play with some of the questions that would be posed to us in competition.

The other horses were really just a dressing on the day, more of a "hey if we're going to haul this far might as well bring as many horses along as possible."

The result was not what one might have hoped (on the primary goal front, that is.)

Kat warmed up fabulously. Hot? Sure. EXTREMELY forward? Yes. Was it like riding a powder keg? Absolutely.

LOL @Kat for that face
But she felt unbelievable. I felt like I could have ridden for days, skating across the ground without touching it, turning on a thought -- she floated.

My glee boiled inside me - we were ready to attack this course with everything we had. The kids followed me out and I selected a supremely innocuous intro level jump to hop over a few times on the way out to the start box. I surprised her with it a little and we skated to a halt in front of it. Weird. I brought her around again and we leapt over it, only to hit the ground and bolt.

"Okay," I told myself, bringing her around to try it again, "we have takeoff."

Except I couldn't get her back to the jump.

She baulked. I kicked her. She reared. It started as a little rear, but only got worse. I sent her forward to take her for a bit of a canter, thinking she just had too much energy and needed a bit of a stretch out, but she grabbed the bit between her teeth and bolted around the entire park, pulling up only when we approached the trailer and her friends. Then the rearing continued.

I decided to preserve my back and lunge her, even lunging her over the offending jump to remind her to stay steady over the fence.

Pony club gives me an F for protective legwear and for any lunging sense whatsoever

And then I saw it, and it only got worse.

The head bob.

Switched directions - much worse.

I got back on, thinking that since her legs were tight and cool I shouldn't let her finish with a rearing bolting fit, but she IMMEDIATELY started rearing again and there were at least two where I thought to myself, "please, please don't fall on me."

I declared defeat.

I threw her on the lunge line Tuesday to check her out and the above is the result. She's not super off on the big circle but I definitely can see it, but everyone can see as I bring her in that she's very lame there.

Probably an abscess! I thought to myself, thinking that this terrible awful no good behavior had to be caused by pain.

I've been through a lot of bullshit with this horse, but here's the thing: I've taken her ALL over the place and while I wouldn't say she's a "steady eddy" the fact is that this horse comes off the trailer pretty much like she is at home. Spooky, sensitive, but a phenomenal partner and when she understands the game she bloody comes out to play.

The horse loves to jump. Usually, the sass fades as soon as she realizes that we're jumping today.

That didn't happen Monday, and I'm extremely disappointed. I have an appointment with the vet for tomorrow, not only to help me decide whether it's yes abscess no abscess but also because of this:

And now readers, I'll leave the good for tomorrow, and will write about what the vet said on Friday. In the meantime, I'll wallow in the sickening feeling of happy-excited-loving-kindness draining into "what's wrong with my horse I shouldn't ride ever again I'm going to get fallen on."