Monday, June 30, 2008

6/29 Lesson

Chewie, Western, hour's work. He warmed up great, and I could just about tell it was going to be a purdy neat day.

Robin arrived, I climbed on, and quickly demonstrated all of our hard efforts. Two canters right, two canters left, one horrid cross-fire canter headed left. On the cross-fire, the front legs were on the right lead, back legs on left. It felt horrid, but familiar enough to make me believe he's done that before. Strange... A little break to get his mind back on the game, and he responded with a beautiful left-lead canter.

I am supposed to work on "sliding my hips" at canter. It's a very strange thought, because I can't remember ever seeing a rider "sliding in the saddle" in the canter. They move with the horse, but not move around in the saddle. Must pay closer attention next time I go anywhere... very unfamiliar idea.

After about 45 minutes of me & Chewie work, I walked him into Robin, and said, "Get your helmet." As she mounted, I reminded her, "You've seen how quiet he can be, on a *loose* rein. Don't pull up or back in the transition, and he'll stay quiet." As she asked for a trot, he started to pull his head down & in, almost asking, "Alright, lady. Last time, you tried to pull my teeth out. You gonna let me have some rein today, or am I going to have to pull them from you?" She did a little trot, a little canter both ways. His first canter left, looked good. Robin stayed in the middle of him, and kept the reins loose. She took up a little inside rein, Chewie lost his balance, stumbled a little, and went right to trot, then straight to walk. She caught her breath, admitted she pulled up on the rein, and they reversed. First canter right, she asked a little strong, and he gave about five strides before she got nervous. I told him, "Chewie, sshhhhh", and he gave a beautiful down transition to trot. They talked to each other about it, and she asked for a second canter right. Chewie responded well. I noticed a lot more of Robin's upper body moving forwards & backwards during his canter. After she finished her ride, we discussed. She is finally, the first person, ever, to recognize that Chewie's left & right canter are completely different, much like riding two completely different horses. To the left, he's uphill, balanced, and coordinated all on his own. To the right, he's downhill, pushing from the rear-end, and not as balanced. Riding to the left, it's pretty easy to "keep him together", move with him, push with my seat, and even add a little rein contact. To the right, it's going to be more of a battle to keep me balanced, let myself move with him, not ask for rein contact yet, let him continue to learn how to balance, and hope he'll become more uphill. It's worth nothing, that, both of us believe, within a few years' time, after he gets more balanced & put together at canter, it won't be much effort to get him in a neck-reined, long & low, WP lope. He's almost downhill enough now, with canter-right, his head almost never comes up above the saddle, and to the left, it's only a bit elevated. He's just about doing the work on his own now. It won't take much.

So my boy is gaining coordination, and confidence. He's less worried about keeping me safe, and staying in the gait, and concentrating a bit more about staying moving. He's enjoying his jobs, as every day, he's at least taking a few steps towards me when I'm catching. I am happy, he's happy, and we're enjoying our time riding. There's a switch! Usually by now in the summer, it's a game to catch him, and any time he would canter, I could count on at least one paniced attack each week. Confidence.. the new word of July.

Planning another schooling show practice session, but this time with Chewie. Either July 27th hunters like Romeo did, or July 20th Dressage Intro & GAG. Same location, but different horse. I can only imagine the looks I'll get when I dismount the trailer, Chewie in-hand. Puny pony Romeo got all the looks, plenty of, "She's gonna do *what* with that little Quarter Horse? She's NUTS!", and a little, "Wow, he's pretty colored.. whattdoyou call that color??" I can just guess the comments of a 16.2H, full-muscled, stocky, calm, so-laid-back, can't-believe-he-used-to-race" TB. Bring it on, Chewie.. Bring it on.


Thursday night (6/26), I settled for an hour on Chewie, Western, a little canter-work. Deer, wind, crazy neighbor gaming target pratice with some loud firearm, goofy weather... He was incredibly patient, and I was very appreciative.

Friday morning, I lazied around the house until nearly 9:00, then decided I should get my rump in gear, get dressed, and ride Chewie before the heat set in. I called MacKenzie over to her crate, and noticed her face was swollen & wrinkly. Called the vet, hauled her in, cortisone shot, benadryl shot, wait 10 minutes. She's fine.. but obviously got stung or bit by something numerous times in the face. The vet let me know that I need to keep benadryl tabs on hand, and be prepared for her to get curious again, get bit or stung again, and need the meds, again. Poor puppy... trying to be a Shar-Pei, when she's really a terrier-mutt-mix. Cute puppy-frog

Got home, and, despite the dark clouds looming, in some wild act of defiance, I caught Chewie & tacked up. It was windy & goofy-hot, but I was determined to get him ridden in the am, Romeo in the afternoon. Tacked Chewie Western, 100% determined to canter left & right, get good solid full circles in the round pen, no matter the weather, the guns, the deer. I was tired of having all the stupid distractions, and sick of the rest of the world interrupting my plans. So work we did. Half-way through my ride, the sky opened up. Chewie and I, trotting Western through the rain storms. No thunder, no lightening, and I refused to let the showers ruin my fun. At one point, Chewie and I were cantering left, and it started to downpour. He tossed his head, just a bit, saying, "this water on my head sucks." :) We wandered to a patch of trees, and waited it out. Just as I was about to get back to work, it poured even more. After about 15 minutes of rain, I decided an hour's work was enough, it was time to walk him back to the trailer. Just as "right as rain", when I pulled his lead rope through the tie on the trailer, the sky turned blue, and the rains moved on. That's Murphy's Law at its best. mumble mumble mumble should've ridden longer & made it rain more mumble mumble mumble

Friday night, Romeo and I worked on walking & trotting calm, and most went well. I need to find a way to convince him that light work is good, his training time has come to a close, and all he needs to do is plod.

Saturday morning, Chewie was back in action. Western, round pen, w/t/c. Absolutely no issues. No neighbors with guns, a few deer spurting around. Tired of the deer, I chased a doe & her twins with the purple lunge whip. Snap snap snap, shoo shoo SHOO! It worked, and I can hope they have picked up on a pattern - lady & horse at work means "go another way". Total work, about 40 minutes.

Saturday night, Romeo, repeat. I added walk poles to get his attention, and he did fairly well.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

6/21 Lesson

Chewie had a "don't want to work, lazy, Mom's gonna have to kick the snot outta me for every stride" day. Ugh... Hoped for trot ground poles in the arena. Settled for a little bit of trot, and a TON of stride adjust over poles at walk. Near lesson's end, he was incredibly happy to be at the trot, tired of walking and having to think. Not a fabulous learning lesson, except that he had to work even if he didn't want to.

Saturday, Romeo, w/t Western over poles in the arena. Kept giving him chances to screw up and chase. He did a few times, and was reminded what a one-rein stop feels like.. It was awfully encouraging to be able to tell him, "Go ahead, buddy... go gettin' stupid.. I got good brakes, and you won't win."

Sunday, Chewie Western, w/t/c. All good... A forgiving, patient ride.

Monday, Chewie, long lunge in side reins, brief English ride walk/trot. Late late start, because I had to go fetch grain, combined with other activities.

Tuesday, Chewie, see Sunday, repeat. *grin* Spooked by some stupid deer. I've got anywhere from three to seven in the pasture every evening. The genders are mixing again for the summer, fawns & all. Stupid fawns are spooking at the wind moving grass... they'll sprint in any which direction, getting Chewie's eye, and spooking him. Stupid stupid stupid deer... Yeah Yeah, I know they're peaceful & fun to watch. Chase them into someone else's yard & watch them.

Wednesday, Romeo, surcingle & side reins in the round pen. About 20 minutes. Finished him up bareback round pen for 10. Deer everywheres again, but at least they weren't spooking. Romeo good boy bareback. Good good pony.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Is it Friday Yet?

It's been a stressful week, full of work stress, personal stress... even a little equine stress, which is rare for me.

Monday, I celebrated my birthday by tacking Chewie up hunter. I had full intentions on trot poles in the arena... He lunged in the side reins like a babydoll, and I lost track of time. Lunged him for nearly a half hour. I felt bad. That adorable horse worked on Sunday in the lesson for nearly two hours, and I didn't have the heart to do it again. So I climbed on, and we worked on coming & going at the walk. Set up four ground poles on a 20m circle (on a clock, at 3,6,9,12), walked over them. He was lazy on contact, on a loose rein, and stayed focused on me, despite nature boogeying all around him. I was satisfied. I had a "relationship day" with Chewie. One where we didn't "work", per se, but just enjoyed our parternship.

Tuesday, I rode Romeo, Western, in the yard. Thinking back, it's super funny. A neighbor lady was doing her little exercise walk. Romeo didn't see her as quick as I did. Her figure moving down the road, well, scared him. He spooked at the trot, shot about 3ft away from her, eyes wide, ears pinned on her. Poor guy doesn't see many people that shape & size.. It was funny. We worked on walk, jog, and a little trot, all sitting, all relaxed. Well, except for his uber-spook. Those walking women sure are scary.

After that, caught Chewie, free lunge in halter in the round pen. Fifteen minutes later, he was totally focused on me, even just in a halter. So I got brave. I tied the lead rope to the halter sides to pretend they were real reins, and hopped on. (bareback, no helmet, as I thought to myself, "you're gonna get squashed!") Chewie and I worked on walk, air brakes, a bit of neck reining with a little leg pressure. I finished up his brief work by scratching anywhere I could reach while still up on him. Trying to teach him my moving around him isn't always bad, and he doesn't always have to catch me. :) He was more than compliant, and followed me (no halter) up to the trailer to fetch his reward-cookies for a job well done.

Wednesday, a friend came to the house for a little riding. He's got a roping mare that, well, is hot. There's no other way to describe her. He rode at a wild canter around my arena, I worked on Romeo, Western, walk, jog, and just aimed for relaxed focus. We did a little leg yield walk & trot. My friend decided it was high time for a trail walk around the pasture. I spooked. Romeo got tense. I decided it wasn't worth it, sent friend walking with his mare solo. I walked out of the arena, towards the barn, still on Romeo, and met them mid way in the pasture. While he untacked, I did a little work in the yard again. Romeo was good, until I got upset, then it took a bit to calm him down. Sometimes, I get so many different "Training tips" that it's hard to focus on developing Romeo... need to work on that.

Tonight, Western, Round Pen, Chewie, canter. I'm not feeling 100%, but perhaps after I get home from work, relax, and un-stress, I'll be feeling good enough to ride. I miss my Chubacca.... And besides, I have to have something to show Robin in Saturday's lesson.

*cheer hurray hurray!!!* Comments!! I'm being watched! Somebody other than me and a few close friends are actually reading all this gibberish. :) Hoooo-ray! Hi there strangers! Make yourself at home...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Worth Mentioning a Milestone

Ought to at least admit it in public intentionally once or twice...
Happy Birthday to Me Yesterday.
30 Years old.

Not entirely how I thought I'd be, but I'm pretty satisfied with life. Work is good, church is good, I'm able to take care of myself, I'm financially independant, able to care for numerous four-legged kids that love me wholly.

Recently in a meeting I went to, I was sarcastically asked, "Well, that is a good question. If you're nearly 30, and not married, what's wrong with you?"

I sneered, and responded, "You had the courage to ask, and now you get to endure the answer."
"I was raised to be independant, to be able to care for myself. So I chose to focus on getting a good education & career first. I have chosen not to accept a guy that can't handle my education & ambition. Regionally, most men seem to want a girl that's wholly dependant on him to provide. I was taught to take care of myself, and so that's what I'm doing."

The lady that asked looked shocked that #1 I took her seriously, #2 I had a good answer to her question. I'd like to say I felt bad for my sharp answer, but the question was inappropriate, and I don't do well answering such personal questions to someone I don't really know. She doesn't know where I came from, how I was raised, nor what I've endured in my short life. Without this background, it's an assumption I must be socially unacceptable if I'm not "married up with kids running all around."

So Happy Birthday to me. I'm as independant as I want to be, don't really answer to anyone, and I've got plenty of companionship around me without a guy in the house to mess up the bathroom or leave dirty socks at the front door. =)

Train the Trainer

06/13, Robin came over, and we caught Chewie, tacked him up Hunter, and headed to the round pen. Worked him through a halter-round pen warmup, and a little warm-up on the bit & side reins. He was his normal self, a little spunky, then relaxed & cooperative.

Robin climbed aboard. She got great trot both directions, and had one decent canter-left. Her second canter-left, Robin lifted her hands about 6" up in the transition, grabbing his mouth. Chewie dropped his head a bit in the transition. She panicked, and pulled back on the reins. Chewie, trying to get the bit relaxed, pulled forward again. One thing led to another, and he did a little bucking. Each time he pulled the bit forward, Robin pulled back & up. I had been sitting on a bucket in the middle of the pen, and I stood up, and said to her, "Just Breathe." Her response was a stressed, "I'm trying." I replied, "Chewie, shhhh", and he came up to me, relaxing, and halted. As soon as the reins went loose, and she quit putting leg on him, he relaxed.

Robin settled after a while, as did Chewie, and they completed their ride with plenty of walk, working trot, and Western jog. She never went "to the buckle", and Chewie never gave her his A-game after that. Both were untrusting of the other. I could see it in her, waiting on each stride for Chewie to buck, Chewie's eyes at each step saying to me, "I hope she doesn't pull on my mouth again, that hurt."

I got on him, did a little bit of work at a working trot, light bit contact, and, after a bit of fuss, Chewie relaxed & gave to rein contact. I rewarded him with plenty of long & low trot and jog. At the end, I asked for a WP jog, on the buckle. He responded with a tiny relaxed jog, reaching for bit contact. He absolutely appreciated the break, and I know he was satisfied to have all the rein he wanted.

We talked about it for the longest time, and there was closure & conclusion that Chewie needs a brief relax on the bit at the canter transition. If he's got tight rein contact the whole ride, he's just going to be bitter. More confirmation for me he's not ready for dressage competition (beyond Training Level), and if he does reach "ready", he won't enjoy it much. The last time I rode Chewie for more than a day on hard contact, he started getting bitter, grouchy, hard to catch, and impossible to work with. As soon as I learned light contact, we became a team.

Learning more about my well-trained horse... and learning things to apply to Romeo so he doesn't get more sour, or grouchy about contact.

Brief Recapture of a Week, and 6/15 Lesson

Week of June 9, we worked on a bit of canter, both directions, and some coming & going trot. Chewie was always agreeable, and, though one day, a bit "lookie see", due to a thunderstorm waking up the neighborhood (but refusing to bring rain to my house), he never spooked with me aboard.

Romeo, a whole nother story. That boy .... GRR is the only way to describe it. My plans for Romeo right now include not putting him anywhere near the hunter saddle, tacking up Western, Tom Thumb bit, and walking about the neighborhood. He's okay at the walk, okay at trot on the flat, even agreeable to lateral work at walk & trot. But set a trot rail or a series of ground poles in front of him, and it's off to the races. Calm to the poles, but speed demon during & from. There seems to be nothing I can do to slow him down. My only last option is to wrangle out my Kimberwick, and force that boy to slow it down. Pull a little Downunder Horsemanship on him, let him commit to the mistake of chasing, then shut 'im down right after the poles. There is absolutely no reason he should chase during & from poles, yet he's doing it. Sour on the work is all I can guess.

Chewie's lesson Sunday was, well, magical. Tacked up Western (reason following in another humorous posting), Tom Thumb bit (chain as loose as it'd go & still have effect if absolutely needed). We accomplished all of the lesson on a loose rein, which was good for Robin to see, and easy for me, since I didn't need to focus on his "face". Chewie, at one point in the working trot, had his little head & neck nice and low, and I couldn't help but giggle at him. He was so absolutely pleased with himself. We also accomplished a new high, six canter transitions. Three left, three right. The left canters were a bit longer, but one right canter was nearly 3/4 a round pen circle - another new high. I was secure in the saddle, and actually able to improve some posture & balance. So many lessons in canter have been, "Well, okay, now that it's over, let's talk about it and try again." In this lesson, there were cues during the canter... "sink into your heels", "shoulders up", "look ahead", "slide your bottom with his movement". Neat to be in the gait long enough to work on it. I wasn't having to kiss or push with my legs to keep him cantering, either. I guess my seat was secure enough, he didn't think he had to break gait to hold onto me. One time, I stopped moving with him, for a split second, just long enough to think about what I needed to change in my middle to move more with him, and he broke to trot. It was almost like he thought, "oops, Momma changed. I better slow down & get back with her, do what she wants and make her happy." All other down transitions, on a loose rein, all with breath. Just fantastic. No yanking on the reins, no hollering "Shhhh" or "Whoa", or "oh my gosh he's gonna kill me." Just pleasurable. It was a day of "pat Chewie on the neck & tell him good boy, then pat myself on the back, and tell me job well done." Total lesson time, including his 20 minute warm up, one hour, 45 minutes. Whatta lotta work for a big horse. :)

Plans for the week include more canter western round pen, loose rein, and focus on all but hands & contact, and trot in the arena hunter over poles.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

6/9 Chewie

Tacked up western, Chewie, round pen, 45 minutes. Warmed up without side reins, perhaps a bit too long. Got a phone call near the end, and I didn't want him to just walk or stand, so I kept the trot going.

Climbed on and got to work. Good solid trot. I considered asking for canter right first, sort of a "get it over with" feeling. Nerves set in, so I got back to the left. Nice trot, nice canter transition. Worked on two transitions up & down, about 3/4 circle each time. Focused on sitting on toosh, inside leg on. Second canter, I put too much inside leg on accidentally, and he absolutely picked up speed. When I said to him, "oops, easy boy", he went right into a trot, sort of saying, "Okay, Mom. You confused me, but I'll slow down lots to keep you happy."

Got back to the right, asked for canter, and immediately felt the saddle swells push me back. Had a loose rein in one hand and saddle horn in the other. I focused hard on my seat, leaving my heels and shoulders to the wind. With a loose rein in the left, and a stiff right hand, I'm sure my upper body shoulder area was tense, and I'm 98% sure my shoulders weren't spread out, but swallowed inwards. I do know my seat was a lot better than it normally is at canter-right, since I got about 7-8 strides, and he came back right when I asked, rather than when he got tired of me losing balance.

Plans for tonight are repeat the saddle, and canter right again, this time trying to get a full circle around, so I can get myself into more of a routine at canter-right. Canter-left is just fun. It's easy to ask him into it, and he knows I'm secure, and each stride is a careful footfall.

Chewie's cuter than Big Brown... No matter what. I keep telling him that, at least when I'm hosing him down after a work session.

Monday, June 9, 2008

6/8/08 Lesson, Chewie - Push Button

Getting back to the original intent of the blog, here's a summary of Sunday's Chewie Lesson, things I got from it, and things to work on for the week.

Chewie & I are solid at trot. Posting nice extended trot, just beautiful. Only thing, and I know I do it, and I'm working to quit doing it - bend the elbows! If I keep my elbows moving, he stays steady in his gait, and relaxes his whole body. I stiffen my arms, his head comes up, he'll toss it, and shorten his stride. As soon as I relax, he'll toss a little fit and go back to work. Every time I change something about my posture or energy, he fusses just a little, then either works better or worse. If I make a physical change at trot, I need to give him about 3-4 strides to adjust, then measure if it got better or not.

Me at canter left - solid light seat. Up to two point just before asking, then sit as I ask. I need to consider sliding in the saddle, and keep my elbows bending. Ask with a shorter rein, then after a few strides, lengthen the rein, and keep inside leg on. Overall, a pretty canter, that just needs practice with time. 3 canter transitions left.

Me at canter right - mess. I finally had enough canter that Robin could see it, and I now know what I'm doing. Up to two point to ask, then instead of sitting, I'm perching forward. Robin said it looked like most of my body was in front of the pommel. That explains why he gets fussy - I'm asking him to reach up to canter, then sitting on his shoulders. I have a task for the week - stay up in two point for canter right, but think "middle of the saddle", and pull my toosh back underneath the middle of my horse. Instead of putting my entire body over the pommel, at least focus on my middle. Heels don't have to be perfect, shoulders and upper body can be a bit forward - that's all fixable. Right now, the real problem is I'm sitting up on the front of the horse, and it's no wonder he can't get up & canter with confidence. Chewie's a tolerant big man to put up with me learning, but he's enduring with ease. One canter transition right.

Tonight, I will venture to the round pen with my western saddle, equipped with swells and an adorable saddle horn - those will keep me behind his shoulder. With my hands on reins & saddle horn, I can focus a bit more to the right on the canter after the transition, and perhaps get a couple circles straight canter in, to focus on body position with some saddle-aids.

Chewie's brightness amazes me. Robin rode him before I did, and it was stunning. She wasn't perfect, either, but much more solid canter seat than I have. She sat to ask for the canter, and kept the rein contact. He fussed a little bit, but quickly cooperated. It was amazing. Solid canter both leads, both directions, no issues. Very beautiful. She did walk to canter each direction, and it was stunning. To the right, he had maybe one trot stride before lifting his whole front end up into canter. Didn't take off at an unreasonable speed, didn't rear or fuss, didn't even swish his tail. To the left, again, maybe a stride or two of trot. She did canters from trot, and they were pretty, but not nearly as beautiful as the walk to canters. I could see Chewie's happiness at "getting to do his job & show off to Momma". He appreciated her riding skill level, as did I. I had a great chance to see him & how nice he moves when he is allowed. Robin believes he is nearly a push-button horse. I just need to find all the buttons, and get my body in a comfortable position to let him do the job.

Push-button... wish I had a recording of her saying that. This typed text record will have to do, but it was pretty darn incredible even hearing her say it. Push-button...

Show Series Summary

It's one of those things I procrastinated typing out, because, no matter how I slice it, I wasn't strong enough to fight with an overzealous gate-sour horse. Romeo and I were fine in warm-up, took first on the flat (yahoo!), and then he just snapped.

Warmup - Ran through #1, jumped #2 pretty, bolted over #3, landed in canter, big circle to the inside after #3, jumped #4, big circle. Asked Robin, "What can I do differently?", and the response was "You did it right, don't worry about it. Now that he's seen it, he'll be fine." That's what I thought, too.

Class #1, Ran through #1, Jumped #2 pretty, Jumped #3 pretty, landed & then decided to canter. Huge circle away from #3 up to #4. He looked at #3 again, because obviously shaking me up twice wasn't enough. Ran through #4, almost taking the standard with him. I circled him big, and called it a day. Didn't finish Class #1, scratched Class #2.

If we'd had a good show-day, with clean rounds, or at least if I'd done decently in both jump classes, we might've had Champ or Reserve Champ. I decided after one round of Class #1, it just wasn't worth it to end sour. Completed as a finalist, and we should receive the series blanket in the next few weeks.

I could go on with a list of excuses. I didn't practice all four all the way around, didn't set up the course like I could have Saturday. #1 and #2 and #4 didn't have ground rails, #3 did on both sides, I was looking at the gate instead of past the fences, I didn't get enough energy going forward on #1, the list could go on forever. Plain & simple, Romeo got sick of working, and waited until show day to share that bit of info with me. He decided to get sour, and I am not strong enough of a rider to push him through it. Video review showed I was solid after #3 in both rounds, and I insisted he come back down to me, sitting the canter, deep air brake breathing, and he did come back to me. He was otherwise ignoring all aids, not paying attention, and just chose to use his 1,000+ body mass and newly acquired muscle development against me.

So Sunday, I ventured home, unloaded all my junk, and mentally unloaded my junk as I tacked up Chewie. At lunch Sunday the decision was made to set Romeo aside for a bit, work only on flat work with him, including trot poles & cavaletti, and focus only on Chewie over short fences & at canter. So I did. I set up a series of ground poles & one short crossrail. We did some trot & canter in the round pen (both leads), and trot over the line series.

The week was a repeat of Chewie's Sunday. He was solid, only giving me a little trouble to the right once or twice. In the arena Saturday, he was incredibly lazy, tripping, stumbling, and just seemed overall "2 year old in the candy store" grouchy.