Thursday, April 28, 2011

4/27 Mo Wandering with Peat

You know, Peat, Repeat, Peat, Repeat? Yeah, that'un...

Saddled Romeo, and after hand walking long enough to make sure the cinch was tight, I hopped on. He almost immediately started to walk off.. mental note.. That needs fixin'. I won't tolerate taking off instantly. Wait Wait Wait for me to be ready to go Homework assignment #1: Mount and dismount without moving until the MoMonster learns to wait..

When we did walk off, I didn't let him get far before he started to just nearly break to a trot. Halt, flex right was good. Rather than flex left, he turned left and started to walk off again. grr.. MuttermutterMutter.. Stop it ! I let him spin there a minute until he figured out halt and flex was much easier. Homework assignment #2: Flex means Flex, not walk off, not spin, not move, just flex your little neck, and HALT!

Postponing my original plan to get halfway to the mailboxes and wander up the little 4-wheeler trail, we walked the other way by CRNG's house. Mo took a long hard look at his front yard, and can't say I blame him. He didn't tense up or spook, but with all the weird clearing patterns and gardening accessories in CRNG's yard, he gave it a hard look. Yeah man, I know.. Ain't nothin' natural about his yard. Flex right, good. Flex left, not good. Again, see Homework #2.

Halfway after CRNG's yard and the next driveway, we halted again, with better Flex left. Recognizing now also that a verbal "whoa" meant stop now, and both reins gently meant bend poll, lower head, rather than stick head up & back ugly, Mo realized quickly this wasn't a lazyday walk, but a job... Then I was able to turn around and get us back on original plan.

Headed back past the house, through the front yard, around the front tree, halt, flex flex... All much better. So I walked him towards the mailboxes. We pointed up into the large power line overhead clearing. Thank you big electric company for clearing that huge right-of-way, it made for a fun walk. The ground isn't perfectly level, and the irregular grass, weeds, and chopped up rose hedge made for some creative foot placements. Mo had to be careful where his hooves landed, and it made for good mind work. I focused on where I wanted him to go, he concentrated on where his hooves landed. Homework Assignment #3: Harley could benefit from this on what would otherwise be a goof-off day. Send him walking in the r-o-w, but let HIM decide where his hooves go. Only send him walking, and let him figure out the rest.

Romeo paused before proceeding up the street to watch the neighbor boys playing basketball, hollering and screaming joyfully. He wasn't sure what to make of it for the first fifteen seconds, but once one of the boys spoke loudly in Human English, he let out a heavy sigh, satisfied he knew what was making all the noise. We worked our way through the sharp bend, as he trudge through a rather deep pile of oak leaves.

Once back on the road, I pushed him on up the 4-wheeler path. We didn't get far before I glanced at my watch. Oop. We've been wandering around for nearly 25 minutes. My plan was to keep the ride at a half hour or so, leaving time to get back home and sort out any boogers from the ride. We halted, stood there a minute, flex left good, flex right good, give to both, and a few steps backing up. I turned him around, turn on the haunches (good), and let him take us home.

When we arrived home, we found Harley munching grass near his stall, totally unaffected by our departure or arrival. Fantastic! This leaves neither horse buddy-sour, and neither upset by the other leaving home. Absolutely awesome, exactly how I want them.

We've got our homework to sort out, but it's easily enough taken care of. I'm not yet back to bareback/halter to the mailbox, but we're in no rush. The general point of the ride was to test him out without another horse around, outside of the arena, testing his general respect and manners. He passes, with a few glitches that are repairable.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

4/26 Harley Smiles

I noticed Monday that Harley had a bug that needed fixing before he got any more in the habit. Lazy! Super Lazy! He was for the most part thumbing his nose & ears at my leg, ignoring a gentle squeeze for trot. Not a chance I'm going to let that go. With the warmups complete, and a little light walking on a loose rein complete, it was time to get to business.

I asked for trot lightly, and when he didn't move on, I squeezed Hard and Clucked. I made sure my whole body said, "GO silly!" He took off, near to a canter, head up. I kept the reins loose, and let him go forward, just a little. Back to the walk, which he also ignored the brakes. Ugh. Second time I asked for trot, he was lighter, but the brakes were still lacking. Third time? Go button was back in service... After about the fifth request, his brakes were better, too. Light as a feather on the whoa, but my "go" was interesting.

I studied my body, to see what cue I had taught him, intentional or not. It's in my butt and my tummy, combined with leg. If I tense up tummy, tense up butt just a smidge, and squeeze with my calves, he hops delightfully into the trot. Dunno if it's correct, but since he's mine for a long time, it doesn't much matter what cue works for anyone else. I thought about it a while later, and realized I've given Romeo nearly the same cue - I urge the trot with my lower body (tummy, torso, toosh), and he'll pop up into a jog. Now, Harley's doing it nearly the same way. Hmm.. Guess I'm doing it without realizing.

With the transitions improved, I shortened my reins, and asked him to give to the bit again. Nearly immediately all of the troubles with "give" and turning I had on Monday were gone, and he was behaving like a complete gentleman. I mixed it up by changing direction a bunch, serpentines, little circles, big circles, turn into and away from the fence... Plenty of walk to halt to standing a while as well. Flex left Flex right Up both reins, give give give...

Finished up our work with walk to a gentle halt on the verbal heavy sigh (air brakes! cool dude!), and backing up. His back up was easily initiated with calves and both reins, and then I was able to barely hold the rein pressure and he kept backing. About five voluntary steps in there after the initial ask. Very Cool!

4/25 Harley says, "OOOOH! Okay!"

Some big plans are underway for my Super Harley Baby. But what are they? Oooh no. I'm not jinxing my karma here, folks. When we have pictures and video to prove the fun goodiness, I'll share. Until then, I leave your minds with training updates, sure to put a smile on your face. Well, at least until the gun went off..

Monday I caught Harley, dressed him up pretty, and off we went. Another windy howly day, where the trees and brush seem to bend sideways just when he's on that side of the arena. Poor kid.. He's definitely quiet in noisy weather now.

Warm up was nice. Trot poles went well. Neck stretcher was delightful. Watching his little mouth get all slobbery while he longes in the neck stretcher makes me smile, knowing all the muscles are working in that tracking up trot, and the satisfied look on his little face.

I hopped aboard, and we got right down to business. Now that I think about it, I wonder if I've really gone into detail on what a ride looks like for me and Harley right now. It's certainly not lazy days, and I will admit I am slowly teaching him to stand still and wait. Lots of standing around watching the birds and traffic. *cough* sorry.. back to the story. I started him out with a nice loose rein walk, wandering the back 2/3 of the arena. It is dusty and dry at my house, and I saw no need for both of us to ride through the grass-free longe circle anymore. He didn't seem the slightest bit bothered by the back portion of the arena, so I got working.

Nice steady, loose rein trot. Let him find his feet, to which he got lazy, stumbled, tripped, and finally started moving out off my leg squeezing. Responsible for anywhere his feet landed, and finaly moving around at a solid working trot.

I put a little pressure on the reins, to which he lifted his head, and shortened his stride. I added my leg, to which he went back to his normal trot. He tried everything to get away from that bit. Twisting his head, tossing it around, flipping it around ilke a pecking chicken. Turning big, turning tight.. You name it. Finally, after a long battle about fifteen minutes, he gave.

I don't know if it was accidental, or because of all the flexing I'd done, but he gave. Head lowered, nose in, poll bent. I released my reins immediately, and patted his neck with a verbal, "Good Boy!" Shortly after that, I gathered rein again. Another give. Release and praise. Repeat Repeat Repeat.

We reversed direction to trot right, and got back to it. He fought less, but I figured this would be the case, he loves heading right. Quickly I got a nice give, and a very round horse moving forward. Plenty of praise and patting.

It felt like he said, "Oh! THAT'S what you wanted! Got it, Mom! Whew!"

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

4/24 Romeo in the Arena

Wait, back up a step. I walked Romeo to the wash/saddle tie posts, and remembered, "oop. He hasn't seen the railroad tie flooring yet. This could be fun."

I walked Mo to the x ties just like I walked Harley to it, steady and confident. Mo did just as Harley, only slightly different. When I stepped over to clip him to the Xpost, Mo laughed at me, and walked right on off the ties. Grr! =) Get back here! Back we go, only when he was where I wanted, I warned him, "Whoa!" Second time, he stood still. I groomed, I saddled, I brushed the mud off. He didn't budge, he didn't wiggle, and he didn't bust another Xpost. Good deal.

I gave Romeo a very brief, less than ten minute, longe on the line. I had the whip in hand, and did have to use it once to get him in the canter-left. Mo realized I wasn't playing, I meant business, and complied. Realizing he wasn't going to have a galloping fit, or a bucking tantrum, I put on my helmet, and hopped on.

Walk - good to go.
Trot, loose rein - great.
Trot, collection - really?! Is this seriously the same horse? I shortened up my reins, and Mo rounded his back so much I could feel him lighten underneath me. His trot became slightly springy, a serious accomplishment for such a flat mover.
Canter, loose rein - nice.. I did have to bust his chops going up into it. Something I will personally need to work on. Probably have to carry a dressage whip just one ride. H mentioned he was lazy into the canter, and she whapped him a few times with the whip to get him into the canter before he realized kiss and legs means something. I'll probably give it one more solid effort without the aids before I start trying to carry something.

Either way, Romeo went anywhere I put his feet, and actually cantered with moderate collection. Long & low, but certainly not all strung out and nose out like he left me. Nice...

We ended our work with a cool down, complete with plenty of backing up, turns on forehand, turns on haunches. Mo didn't waste any time thinking about any of my requests, eager to get off of the leg pressure.

Total work? About an hour. I am happy to say I'm satisfied with his month of Hoof Camp. Saturday, he rode where I put his feet, and didn't balk at anything. Sunday, he did as I asked, went when I said "go", stopped by seat and verbal. At no point did I feel like I had to "bust his tail" for anything... After the ride, he stood patiently at the xTies, and when I put the hose to his legs, he didn't flinch. I even hosed off his face without a lot of protest. Fantastic...

Me Thinks I got my little Babysitter Critter back ...

4/23 4/24 Harley

4/23 - After arriving home with Romeo, I found just enough energy left in me to longe Harley. He was entirely obliging, and free longed very nicely. I put him on the neck stretcher, and he was nice there as well. He hopped through the trot poles evenly and happily. Total about 40 minutes. A non-event, simply a muscle building exercise, one to "burn the boogers off" for the next day.

4/24 I caught Mo, tied him to a tree limb, and saddled Harley up for work. Typical warmup, free longe, neck stretcher, all with good success. Time to get to work.

I rode for about 40 minutes walk and trot. We started out on a loose rein, both gaits, and then I quickly got to work. I rode him in the other 2/3 of the arena, away from the sandy longe circle. *cough cough* &Gasp& Need. Rain. Badly. So, riding in the grassy part of the arena leads to easier breathing, for both of us.

Harley started out tripping, stumbling, and basically having a hard time picking his lazy feets up. I charged on, adding leg, squeezing at intervals just about every time he tripped. Lazy Britches, pick your feet up!! When I gathered up the reins a little, he fought me every possible way he knew how. My arms started to get tired hanging on steady, so I bent him in small circles. Finally, he relaxed his neck just a little, and quit with the head tossing, mouth twisting, ear flipping nonsense. As I got his attention in small circles both ways, then I went back to riding straight lines and bigger circles. Harley gave, just a little, in both directions. It wasn't anything to celebrate about, but it wasn't horrendous either.

Just a little give, but we have soo far to go. Total work, a bit over an hour. I unsaddled him, hosed off the mud and sweat, and tied him to the paddock fence. It was Romeo's turn. I found Mo tied right as I left him, nearly asleep.

4/23/11 Mo Coming Home, Pt 2

With me mounted up on Mo, and H bareback on her new mare, we were off. I quickly walked us towards the very large mulch pile that H had once told me Mo walked up and over without even hesitating.

On the way there, Mo was light, easy, and moved out with the other horses in our trail adventure. We approached the pile, and I watched as H and the other rider in our bunch crawled all over the pile. H's mare wasn't entirely sure how she felt about those mulched tree bits moving under and around her feet. I pointed Mo at the pile, squeezed both legs, and it almost felt like I was watching from the side.

He walked right up into that pile like it wasn't even moving. At a settling point, we halted, and watched the others. I chose a good steep path out of the pile, and pointed again, squeeze. Off we went, straight down the pile hill just like we entered it. I repeated this a few times, all with the same effect.

The other rider with us said to me, "Be careful you don't go this way over here, or he might jump off the concrete ledge." H laughed, "Jump? My gosh, I pointed him at things taller and higher, well over 2 feet tall. He won't jump, he'll trot over it, step up and cross it, but jump? Not a chance!" I grinned, and chose NOT to step down off the ledge.

We then started walking around the property. H described a few of the mares in the herd we were walking up to. "See that paint mare? That's the alpha mare in the herd. She likes Romeo. Can't tell you how many times she turned her butt to him teasing him. Almost every mare in the herd is in heat right now." I contemplated the quiet nature Mo had about him, a little surprised. He was gelded around age 5 or 6, and while he didn't breed any mares in that time, he certainly saw other studs breed. Rather than care much about the mares, he glanced in their general direction, I walked around the paint alpha mare with a strong mind, and while she glanced our way, she certainly wasn't in the mood to visit. We stayed right alongside the edge of their big drinking pond. Mo didn't flinch or hesitate.

Then it was alongside the highway. Yep, a four lane (at least) divided major highway, Easter weekend traffic hustling all along the way. There are two large advertising signs in the pasture, too. Those needed negotiating around... Mo? Didn't hesitate, didn't look. Cars and large trucks buzzed down the road, and he never even took a look their way.

Our ride totalled about 45 minutes or so. He was entirely peaceful, never tried to break gait, never tried to stop or take off. Didn't flip his tail, didn't pin his ears. Just walked around... I flexed him a few times at the walk, and asked for a few brief leg yields, all with pretty good success..

This is exactly why he's still in my pasture at home now. H expressed her sadness that Mo was heading home.. "If you ever want to sell, please call me." I laughed.. "If I was going to sell him off, I sure would've done it by now, especially after what he did to me." We wrapped Mo's legs, loaded him up, and were on our way back home.

Monday, April 25, 2011

4/23/11 Mo Coming Home, Pt 1

We arrived at H's place, and found Mo snoozing, saddled, tied to a tree. Greetings and introductions all around. We talked about Mo a little, and I went for my boots and helmet.

Dressed, I didn't even hesitate. H bitted him (loose o ring snaffle), and I hopped on. I didn't wait for her to ride first.

I squeezed Mo up to the walk, delightful. I pushed him into the trot, and very quickly reminded myself of his favorite feature - his trot. Mo can trot flat, and cover ground. I can sit his trot! Beautiful.

Then I pushed him to a canter with my legs. Hmm.. stickie, and a little lazy. Maybe I didn't warm him up long enough. Anyways, with solid leg cues, he did pick it up, and had his left lead. Nice. His canter was pretty soft, cadenced, and felt like he was going somewhere without running off.

I walked over to H, we switched places. She rode him right lead canter, and showed me a few things I didn't try - collection. Mo was holding a dressage long&low collected trot and canter with her, and staying pretty steady for it. His canter-to-trot transition, he still throws his head up and slams brakes on his forehand, but that will take time.

She came back to me, I got back on. She grabbed a new horse of hers, bitted, hopped up bareback, and we went for a walk of the pasture.

Hmm.. Other free horses
Big pond
Traffic from a four lane divided highway just outside the pasture
Fishing boats
Other traffic
Did I mention other free horses? A BUNCH of them..

Ya'll are just dying to know how his trail walk went, hmm? I'm making you wait 'til tomorrow! 'Cuz I can!

4/22/11 Review & New Homework

Jen came over to watch and offer tips on "what's next". As I almost expected, Harley, feeling either my tension or energy, bucked like a grasshopper heading canter-left. Baby, baby. You're just going to wear yourself out, and I'm not changing my plans for the day based on a little silly bucking.

Longed free, added neck stretcher. Lots of spit, and a happy mouth. Harley hopped cheerfully over his three-in-a-row ground poles. Jen adjusted them to a slightly larger stride, and he sailed over them still. Pretty!

I hopped on, and quickly got to business. I flexed him left, right, both, all with happy success. He looked happy to be doing his job, almost bored. Time to liven things up. I pushed him up to a walk, and remarked it felt like he's poking. Jen let me know that he's over-tracking a LOT at the walk, just moves slow at it. I don't know if this is an "improvable" feature, or something I should just get used to. I do remember at least once or twice he has marched on with a strong walk, it's just not very often.

Then we picked it up to the trot. Lots of loose rein for Harley to start, me posting about on his back, changing direction, changing intentions, all around the place. Realizing I hadn't ridden trot over the full arena, I took him all around both directions. Jen called out, "Where ya going?" I explained, to which she responded, "Well that was a non-event, cool!"

Moving onto something new, I started lightly gathering my reins, shortening them, and barely making contact with his mouth. Harley immediately expressed his displeasure, tossing his head, flipping his mouth around, twisting at the poll, you name it. Bring on the diversion techniques! None of them swayed me. Jen did comment that my old Ransom habit of "tug tug" isn't going to work as well with Harley, and the best way to get "give" for now, is to hold the reins tight and steady, giving with a full release anytime he gives.

I had to settle for "sort of". He lowered his head just a little bit, and I gave completely, and relaxed a bit at the walk. We repeated this a few more times, and after about three "half effort gives", I quit the trot work.

Finally, for homework this week, the back up. Harley previously knew a little bit pressure meant "back up now". I've since changed that lesson, where a little bit pressure means "give at the poll slightly, lower your head". Now, Harley's back up means a little bit, a little leg, squeeeeeze. I'm settling for one step to start, and then add more one at a time until he's got 4-5 happy steps backwards. For now, I need to remember backing at all is good. Later, when he's completely proficient with leg cues for turning and bending, THEN I can start adding leg to correct crooked backups.

Well over an hour, and a good time had by all.

4-21-11 The Tarp

I laid a 6'x8' tarp across a flat spot in the pasture, anchored it down with some old pipe and wood posts, and went inside to change clothes after work. Harley look at it, snorted at it, but didn't get too close. I came back outside to find him about ten feet away staring at it...

I haltered him, brushed a little of the dirt off, and led him to the tarp. I walked over it, and turned to face him, tugging just a little on the lead rope.

You all know this point in the drill, right? This is where I was planning for a disagreement, and had entire intentions on getting him over the tarp, or at least showing interest. Approach and Retreat, but don't let him look away....

Harley reached his neck forward, sniffed at the tarp, hesitated, and took a step towards it. I tugged again, he stepped ON the tarp. Crunch! Noise it made when he stepped on it, and he hesitated, his head popping up to the sky. He then lowered his head a little, and STOMPED on the tarp with the remaining four hooves as he pounded it down. Every time after that, he walked across, with no hesitation, his "stomp" decreasing each time.

I hung the tarp over the paddock fence, and the wind caught it a little. Harley barely reacted to it. I stuck my hand inside the fold over the fence, and crunched it a little, to which he reached forward and put his nose on it, so I scratched his nose through the tarp.

Then I took the tarp in my hands, and held it up over my head like a flying cape. He finally spooked a little when the wind caught it, and shot away about fifteen feet before I got ahold of him, and kept him facing the tarp. Within another few minutes, he was standing a safe distance from the tarp while the wind was blowing it, and I was swishing it around by flapping my arms. He didn't seem phased by it much after the first reaction.

The Big Tarp Spook? Almost a non-event. I still don't really have my hands around this. This is the same Harley I had a hard time catching, that didn't trust me at all last year. He was terrified of everything. Now, something as scary as a blowing tarp hardly catches his attention. It's excellent, but I am still not entirely sure I understand it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mid April Re-Cap , What I'm Learning

I have some things to readjust my mind to. Hear me out here, comment as you see fit.

While I rode Ransom, I had to adjust my riding style. I couldn't ride every day, he just couldn't hold up to that work load. As time went on, I went from riding three days in a row, to two days in a row, to every other day. That even faded some to three a week, every other day, with two day weekend break. I had to learn to go easy, take it slow, and don't ask for it all on any one day. I could turn up the intensity on a show day, but then that required three days off for him to rest.

Now, with Harley, things have changed, again. Here's just a short list of what I'm having to adjust to:

Multiple days in a row aren't just good, they're a requirement. With all the new lessons I'm pouring into him, he can't remember if I don't repeat the next day, and the next day. As you might have seen from reading, I'm going to try my hardest for a minimum of four days in a row, maximum six.

Long sessions are back. No more "jump on cold, stretch the walk, ask long & low trot, then get to serious work". I don't start and finish in 40 minutes anymore, and accomplish everything I want to. I'm up to an hour just to warm up and accomplish anything.

Repetition is awesome. Ransom HATED the same thing more than twice without a change, and I was doomed if I asked him two days in a row. Working walk for more than five minutes, and I could count on something yucky happening. With Harley, I've had to retrain my brain that five or six times is a minimum. In one session, while I can break up a lesson repeat by loose rein trotting, even the loose rein trotting can't be lazy. Which leads to the next point.

Each. Thing. I. Do. Must. Have. Purpose. I can't just saddle him, I have to desensitize him. I can't just lob the reins up over his head, I have to do it three times, to keep him lowering his head for the reins. I can't just lazily walk him to the arena, I have to stop, back him up, and insist he walk with me, not behind me. We didn't wander the pasture yesterday without multiple stops and flexes. I use each hosing cool down after the ride, spraying him absolutely all over, sometimes kind of randomnly, insisting his face be sprayed every single time. Cookies even require stretching, making him reach around to the side, and down between front legs to receive one.

The longe line is my friend. For those first 5-10 minutes every workout, I throw them away. Completely pitch them to the wind. If he isn't trying to attack me, and he reliably "bucks forward", I don't really fuss too much. He is a baby, and he's still challenging the value of work.

Praise everything close to a try, the first time. With Ransom, I got to only praising perfection. Sort of collected? Sorry. Cantering speedily, but on the corect lead? Not happening. Yesterday, when Harley took a half an inch step towards the pond with me aboard? I patted, rubbed his neck, and praised him verbally. When I squeezed my legs on him again, he took that step into the water. I got him through the water, back on dry land, praising the whole time. At first, Harley didn't know what to make of me moving around the saddle, and these "pats on the neck" while he was moving. I've discovered the "release" is key, but the praise is the reinforcement.

Briefly, those are the main ideas that come to mind. I'm sure there are more, and I will do a better job of making a list to share with you. Has this ever happened to anyone else? Have I become incredibly observant, noticing even the smallest things I'm doing? I've also wondered if I should just "Shut my brain up and ride", but those few random moments when I do that, Harley tries to cheat, just a little. He'll bring his head and neck up, he'll take a lazy step and trip. He may even spook or shudder at the flailing tree limbs. If I focus, and concentrate, all remaining emotionally neutral, he learns fast and retains even more.

4-19 Last of Six Straight

Harley gave a good spook when I picked up the longe line attempting to wrap it up and get it out of tripping way. He ran a galloping goofy circle .. Okay. he ran for about five minutes, even after I put it down. Silly boy! Just relax.. I won't whap you with it, it was getting under my feet, and I didn't want to trip. After he relaxed, I skipped the neck stretcher, put the reins on, and hopped on.

Flex left? Light as a feather
Flex right? Light as a feather
Both reins? Held for about two seconds, light

FANTASTIC! I tested his walk/halt/walk/halt a few times, which again was a quick halt without the wigglies. Then, we took a walk right past the arena gate, into the pasture. Harley hesitated, almost unsure he was really getting to do more than arena work. C'Mon baby.. we can do this.

We walked around trees, up and down the little paths he's made through the grass. Through short grass, through tall grass. Under trees (I actually got to duck my head for a couple of them), down the hill to the pond area, and back up again. I laughed heading up the little hill, as I leaned forward ever so slightly, and Harley sensing that, stopped quick. No reins, no verbal, just a solid stop when I leaned. Silly boy.. it's okay.. keep walking!

Every so often, I'd halt him, flex left, right, both, and keep walking. Realizing I might be teaching him to flex voluntarily every time he halts, I stopped a few times and walked on without the flexing. I even asked him to back up a couple times.

Brave, I walked him back to the pond. There's still some water in there, though it's half what it should be (need. rain. now!). I got Harley to stand right up beside the pond, but he was hesitant to put his feet in. I flexed him left and right a few times, then pushed with my legs. He wiggled his bum, tried to avoid the pond, but I kept him facing first at it. Finally, he took a step towards it, and I released all pressure. He stood, front hooves near the muddy edge. I squeezed again, and he put front feet in the water. I let him walk the edge of the pond, all four hooves splashed. Lots of praise, and a solid standing break with back to the pond. We reversed, and with a little urging, got the same answer. Harley had muddy wet hooves, and I was delightfully satisfied. It's not "all in", but it's the attempt, and I'll reward that.

Total work and ride? About 45 minutes. I think we're solid at the halt working on suppleness. It's time to step it up! A day off today (Wednesday), and we're back to the longe line for a refresher Thursday. Friday brings the delivery of my "homework", and the next assignment. =) I can't wait!

4-18 Pete!

Lather, Rinse, Pete, Repeat. It almost got boring, but as you'll see in the 4/19 entry, it's all paying off. Now how's that for a teaser, eh?

I longed him, I added the neck stretcher. I hopped aboard. Harley and I flexed left, right, both, left, right, both. It felt like we did this two dozen times, at least. Knowing it's good for him, he was stickie left to start, right was delightful. As time went on in the ride, the left got much better.

Then we picked up a trot, loose rein. With his reins swinging in and out, we were trotting a nice circle. He drifted into the circle a little, and I caught myself adding inside leg, pushing him over. He actually yielded to the leg pressure, and moved back out on the circle. I did it a few more times, trying to not use rein at all, and found the same results. Talk about accidental training! I then tried turning him in direction changes and figure eights, all at the trot, all off of leg. He isn't spinning on a nickel, but he's turning. More accidental training. I don't remember intentionally thinking, "Today, I'm going to teach my horse to turn off of my leg without using the reins." Apparently I've been doing it anyways. Good to know I've been releasing at the right times, otherwise, Harley would never be turning well.

We trotted out good big circles both ways, and in an effort to make it more interesting for both of us, I started trotting big figure 8s, insisting he stay forward in the direction change. It took a few changes, but he got the idea, and stayed seriously forward.

Total ride time? About 25 minutes. I totally lost track of time, as we were in the arena about an hour, fifteen minutes.. Whoops Harley! One more day, buddy.. Just one more day...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Yeah, a fancy NH word for "get out the spook". You might think, given that I ride Harley solely in the back yard arena, that there are plenty of things he hasn't seen. You might believe he's been sheltered, not exposed to many spooky objects, not heard many odd sounds. You are perhaps thinking, "Wow, You better get that horse out more before he competes, or he's going to KILL you the first time he startles at something." So let me give you a brief list of all of the spooky objects Harley has been exposed to.

Swirling ropes - I have twirled his leadrope beside him, and over his head.
Plastic bag - ran it all over his body, and shook it beside him (both sides)
Strange gardening equipment - Thank you, CRNG
Airplanes - The county airport is near my house, so often, they take off and begin landing over the arena
Birds Flapping - You laugh.... Harley initially spooked the first time those large-winged buzzards took off of the high power electric line poles
Gun fire - Thank you, neighbor boys. Now, keep them pointed AWAY from the arena, and you can continue to live
Dogs barking unseen and see - Thank you, neighbors, for not keeping your dogs on a leash, and letting them run into my property
Drums - Thank you again, neighbor boy. Da Dum Dum Ching!
Keys - I jingled a set over his head yesterday (from the ground, and from the saddle)
Standard phone ring tones - because we can't always switch to "vibrate" from the longe line center
Cars & Trucks - neighbor's driveway lane behind the arena
Golf cart/ Gator - See above
Bicycles - See Above above =)
4-wheeler - Again it's up up there
Tarps blowing - Not under saddle, but beside his stall, a tarp tore loose in the wind storms, and my lazy self hasn't removed it yet
Saws, and Carpentry tools - Thanks R, for continuing the washrack and sink construction with Harley on the x-ties

So, the way I see it, remaining are fountains, trains, screaming kids, metal bleachers, and arena advertiser banners.

=) It's amazing how noisy and busy life in the country can be.

4/16 & 4/17 Lather, Rinse, Pete

Pete, Repeat. Pete, Repeat. That's how it felt, at least.

4/16, Harley and I warmed up like normal, with slightly shorter neck stretcher. Within a few minutes, he had his tongue flapping around his mouth, earnestly trying to gather up the slobber he wasn't used to. I laughed, but felt some satisfaction in that he's building the muscle to hold a forward, collected movement in the neck stretcher. While not replicating what my hands will do with the reins, it's building muscle. Progress...

I hopped on, and found his bending and flexing left to be terrific. Bending right? Nasty, just nasty. I ended up bumping on the bit some, as he'd get so close, but hang on the bit those last few inches. Bump Bump, and he would give a little.

Vertical flexion was, well, terrific. The longer I bent him right and left, the more I noticed he was giving vertically in the middle, just about voluntarily. Neat! I felt a few good stretches across his back during some vertical "both reins" flexion. Relaxing, because he was yawning a time or two as well, I'm sure enjoying that newfound feeling of "stretch" while I'm aboard.

Then I picked up the trot for just a few circles, each direction. Delightful, well, once I got used to it. It's huge, it really is. I suppose I ought to snag a video or two of his trot, just so I can see how much ground he covers. Posting the trot, there's "hang time", in what feels like, for a split second, all four hooves are off the ground. It feels like he's flying, really zipping around the circle. My reins were loose and swinging to and fro, causing me to start laughing at the swinging reins, which almost certainly mean a swinging rear. =)

4/17, Obviously disgusted with this new "working all the time", Harley attempted a good bucking circle warming up. As he transitioned from trot to canter, he bucked almost an entire circle, voluntarily moving forward in the circle the whole time. I kissed to him, tugged on the longe line, but he persisted. I started laughing at him, he let out a huge snotty sigh, and went back to the canter correctly. Obviously he realized it wasn't upsetting me enough to change the plan, and it's much easier to work correctly. Harley galloped another circle or two, got very tired very quickly, and resumed his work. The neck stretcher got good results again, white frothy happy spit dripping from his mouth. Loving it!

On the 17 ride, he was flexing nicely to the right, but horridly to the left. Same as the right had been the day before, all but the last few inches, then hang and rest. Grr... Vertically, he was about light as a feather, but tried tossing his face around for a few of them. I responded by holding my reins short and light, giving as soon as he rested and held the flexion. Good Boy, Harley. You can try to be a booger, but it won't last, because I can change the game.

The trot again lasted a while longer, a few more circles, and a nice change of direction. In the change of direction at trot, he lost all of his forward, but he stayed in the trot, nevermind it resembled a jog. Hey, it's a start. On the circle, I noticed he was paying close attention to my leg cues for turns. I hadn't intentionally teaching this, but apparently I was accidentally teaching him something useful. Excellent! I must have been doing it right as well, releasing when I got the answer I wanted. It felt good to get those turns. At the same time, I recognized that I can add inside leg (calf pressure) just lightly, and he would increase his trot stride. Really?! Did I accidentally do that, too, or did he come to me with that knowledge. I haven't thought to ask yet, but it's a neat idea - I have taught him to turn and yield on leg pressure, and increase stride with inside leg, all by habit rather than intention.

4/14 & 4/15

4/14 - Longed Harley, side reins, surcingle. I wasn't motivated to do much more with him, exhausted from a long work week. Total work, about 40 minutes.

4/15 - Jen came over, offered extra eyes and a few tips on how to move forward in his training. Rather than the bending/flexing at the walk, she suggested work at halt. Bend his head left, bend his head right, gather both reins up, and release in all three directions anytime he gave a correct response. Within a few minutes, he realized what the lesson was for both reins. He was stickie bending left to start, and then after a half hour randomnly flexing him, he became stickie right.

I picked up the trot, and Jen noticed Harley wasn't really trotting out near like he does on the longe. Oops, rider error. This rider has been holding him back. I explained a little of my hesitation in "letting him go", and she assured me, "He's not going anywhere, he's not going to do anything bad. Let him Go."

When I did, he didn't hold it for long, I'm certain because he hadn't been allowed to do it with me riding yet. I got a few good strides in a row really trotting out before he'd ease up again. It felt speedy, and honestly, HUGE. I remarked to Jen afterwards, "Ransom didn't trot out that big, um, ever, I don't think." Jen replied, "In his hayday, Ransom probably could trot that big, but he was stiff and sore when he was here, so you're right, he didn't trot that big. Harley has young legs and loose joints, so he is going to move bigger."

Little horse, little legs, and man o man, that Harley can MOVE!

Homework: Longe in neck stretcher a lot, work on suppleness at the halt (left, right, both), and until he's excellent at halt, don't move onto walk. At the trot, push push push for forward and moving out. Loose rein as much as possible at the trot. Aim for 5 to 6 days work a week.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

4/12/11 I Declare Thee "Goof Off" Day

Back to regular working hours, I've been running like a nut in the mornings. Tackling projects, conquering unknown territory, functioning like the mad scientist. About four hours of that chaos, and I'm exhausted. A co-worker cautioned me to "not overdo it", and I'm finding that difficult. When I arrived home Tuesday, I found myself postponing my extra-set of assisting eyes, and asked Jen if we could reschedule. Frustrating, as I felt like I should be on-task.

I dressed to longe (i.e. teeshirt, shorts), and grabbed Harley. I saddled him up Western, because the neck stretcher just works better attached to his saddle cinch. Off to the arena we went. Fortunately, I grabbed my helmet too, because I ended up using it.

I free-longed him, no neck stretcher, for about fifteen minutes, maybe less. Harley was moving as lazy as I felt, a sign that either the new weather conditions we were having either wore him down, or he could feel me through the line, not really caring about a serious day. Either way, I had to push him forward at the trot, and he had no intentions on keeping the canter for more than a circle or two. His movement at the canter was cadenced, and delightful. It looked quite pretty, and gave me hope that he can relax his neck at the canter, and move along at a steady three-beat gait, without looking close to a gallop. Pretty baby H!

Deciding I needed a goof-off day, and Harley needed some proof my trust in him is like his trust in me - growing, I bitted him and hopped on. We didn't work on halts, we didn't work on big forward walk, we just rode. As long as his feet were moving at a steady walk, I let him go anywhere in the arena he wanted to. It tickled me that, out of the whole arena, he chose trying to stop at the back-back corner, farthest away from the house, the barn, the gate, the mounting block, and the pond. We were in the BACK of the pasture almost. I directed some of his steps, to keep him moving in different places in the arena, over a couple ground poles, around a few cones, and close to the rail all around a little. It was relaxing, completely loose rein, no pressure to "do it right", just take me somewhere, so my mind can be anywhere but on how tired I feel.

After maybe fifteen minutes, we were both kinda bored, and Harley showed me so by stumbling and tripping, as if the arena was suddenly so irregular he couldn't lift his feet high enough. I asked for a few halts, got them steady and stayed. Good deal. I flexed him left and right, and got results much like Sunday - good right, iffy left. Things to work on.

I thought a while about what else we could do that would be low-key, low-energy, but perhaps teaching. I stopped him, and rubbed all over, everywhere my body could reach. Up his neck, between his ears, along the bridle browband, all over his toosh, legs swishing along his sides. Harley yawned, lowered his head, and cocked a back leg. Alrighty, then. Body desensitizing under saddle, complete.

Then, I asked for turns on the forehand. Just barely disengage your hindquarters, Harley. Yup, that's it! Two steps, each direction, with barely any effort on my part. I asked for turns on the haunches. Ew, a little stickie. He might've had one cross-over step or two in there, but most were shuffles. With minor protest, and some wiggles, he did do it, demonstrating he learned the lesson on the ground, and just needs to translate it to saddle. As he got just a slight bit antsy on his halts, inching his butt to one side or the other, I asked for a few walk/halt/walk/halt, and got quiet stops.

A total of a whopping 35 minutes in the arena. I didn't ask for hard work. Harley hadn't even broke a sweat when we were done, and he was dozing while I unsaddled him. He's still the baby, and while I need to remember that, I think the occasional "trust me, and just relax" rides are good for both of us.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

4/10/11 Bending in the Middle

I warmed Harley up in the standard fashion - ten minutes or so on the line, another ten or so with the neck stretcher. I think it's near time to shorten that again, since he's found loose/relaxed, either from stretching the elastic out, or found a slight release without being 100% correct. Time to Up the Difficulty!

I hopped aboard with a game plan, again. Fortunately, Harley consented to the game plan. The wind was HOWLING out of the SE, 30+mph gusts - yay Texas Spring (NOT). We went through our standard walk/halt/walk/halt routine. I settled into some good steady-eddy halts, and flexed him side to side to side, repeatedly. He's flexing slow but light heading right, but that left leaves just a few inches short without me fussing at him.

Then I made the game more interesting. I walked him in a rather tight circle, holding only the inside rein, adding outside leg. When he bent in his middle at the ribs, and flexed his head at the poll, nose in and towards me, I'd release and walk straight a few steps. We did this three or four times left, three or four times right, then I'd ask for both reins collected, and head straight. When I got a handful of solid steps accepting the pressure, I'd release.

It took quite a while (a solid twenty minutes), and I got a bit dizzy trying to watch him, and where we were going, turning in those tiny circles, but he seemed to be getting the idea. Clinton Anderson does this bending exercise at the trot, but it always looks to me like it's forward disengaging hind quarters, rather than bending at the ribs, and positioning the neck/head correctly. I concentrated at the walk on Harley's back, and felt the correct back-lifting when he moved correctly on the bending circles. We're getting there. It's slow, but we're getting there.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

4/9/11 Wiggly Wobblies?

Harley and I again got our game plan together, and headed to the arena dressed to ride. He longed out in warmup, and complied rather well with the neck stretcher. A good solid 25 minutes of warmup, with a few wimpy bucks in to get the boogers off. It's funny when his little toosh hops up in the air, and he tries very hard to get a break to stand still. I push forward with a swoosh of my outside hand and a little kissing sound, and frustrated, he marches on forward.

I hopped on, again with that game plan of walking, halting, and perhaps some trot if I got what I needed at the halt. Almost defiant, Harley proved he either learned from the last ride lesson, or he just had the wigglies previous that were gone today. He stopped square, and still, without moving. A few times his feet were off square, but he stopped, and stood there. The only movement in his rear end? His back leg relaxing, and cocking forward in ease. Baby Baby...

Delighted with these new stops, I decided to begin introducing walk on contact. I would shorten my reins just a smidge, and if I got any kind of relaxing response from Harley, I was going to release rein pressure. (See that.. Was Going To). Harley decided this was new, felt like work, and he would have no part of it. Rather than relax, he pushed his nose out further, twisted his head around, and did anything other than relax. I believe he gave to the pressure a total of three times. Each of those came with a huge release. Four or more efforts following each of those came with resistance, though. He wasn't learning the lesson.

I ended our 45 minutes of work with a good relax to the contact, and a huge release. He wasn't wiggly wobbly in his halts, but he sure didn't want to pick up the new lessons.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

4/7/11 Change of Plans

I had a mental game plan in my head. We were going to bend and flex, and make a huge number of bending turns, then settle straight a step or two to halt. I figured if I made the turning a challenge, then standing still square would be a vacation.

R arrived after a long day, and said, "Hey baby, look in the back of my truck." Surprise! Ten used railroad tie posts, which were gently laid down to form the new floor surface for the cross-tie posts. Knowing that lifting those was going to be IMPOSSIBLE, I left him to his doing, and retreated to the arena.

Harley and I longed out, free and neck stretcher, for about 35 minutes. I was distracted by some chest pain, and a gigantic lack of energy. This was too close to the end of a long week, and without some extra rest, I didn't see myself lifting a saddle, or myself into the tack. He complied, and did pretty well.

As Harley ate his supper, the last of the RR ties were placed in their order. I interrupted his supper, and said, "Hey Monster. We need you a minute to see if these are all in the right place. C'mon, let's go try this. Since Big Brother is still in Hoof Camp, we can't use him today."

Like they'd been there his whole life, and he'd walked across them every single day, Harley sniffed the RRties, and walked up onto them without hesitation. I asked him to halt, and he stood there completely still. After a little while measuring and evaluating, we decided one post up front needed moved to the back. I asked Harley to walk off the front just like he'd stepped up on them, and again, he shocked us with his courage.

Good Job Harley Monster!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

4/5/11 Stop, and Stay Stopped

Harley and I headed out to the arena, where he had a pretty good longe and neck stretching warmup. He gave a few half hearted bucks in his warmup canter work, but I believe it was more a "I don't want to go in a circle", rather than any sort of extra energy. Boredom,, Monster! His neck stretcher work has improved, as he's now learning where the release is at both the trot and the canter. Delightful warmup!

I hopped aboard, and we got down to business. I was hoping for a good portion of walk and trot work, and seriously hoping to begin introducing walk on contact. I have a routine: We walk a while to get him moving forward and his feet unstuck. Then we halt, and we walk, and we halt, and we walk, and we halt. When I'm completely convinced he will halt and wait a few seconds, then I will move up into trot. If I don't have his mind at the walk, increasing the speed is asking for disaster.

Harley decided halting wasn't going to be fun. Instead, he'd stop his front end, and shift his rear end at least one solid step left or right. Frustrated, I started to focus on my seat, legs, and hands. Nope, nothing there is saying, "Stop and turn". I set up a pole-tunnel, a pair of them parallel to each other, about 3' apart. Two on each side. I walked him through it, and tried to focus on straightness. He was delightfully straight through the poles. I asked for halt directly after the poles, but got more of the same wiggly wobblies. I came back to the tunnel and halted inside it. Harley stopped completely square, and stayed still. Hrmmm.. maybe it was my posture. I asked for a halt away from the tunnel, and remembered to keep every part of me still, not leaning one way or another, and keeping my upper body still. Wiggle Wobble. Grr!

I repeated this for at least fifteen minutes, and ended with him halted in the tunnel, stopped square and still. NOT how I wanted to end the ride, but since nothing I tried prevented the wiggly wobbles, still and square anywhere had to be the ending point.

We worked total for at least an hour. Back to the drawing board and a few days to think about what we did, and how we're going to fix it.

4/3/2011 Lazy Baby

Harley's good day took a vacation. Instead, on Sunday, he was almost a burden. Just on the longe line, he repeatedly knocked poles down off the rail razors, tripped over others, and either avoided them or tried very hard to avoid them. At the canter, he was changing leads without notice, and constantly trying to break gait. Lazies.

I added the neck stretcher and the bit. Lazies more. He was bending his nose in a LOT, or holding on to the bit, gnawing on it angrily. If I'd get after him, he'd get short strided, lazy more, trip over more things (even a weed or two a few times). I took him away from the poles to the center of the arena. He then started hanging on me on one side of the circle, and tearing away too close on the other side. Dragging me all over the arena, he found himself at the opposite end, and with fence to hold him around, I was better able to force a more rounded circle.

The south winds were howling, with a looming cold front on the way. Harley used this to his advantage, flaring his tail and nose up a few times in the sharp breezes. When the neighbor children began shooting their little rifle *pop Pop POP*, Harley again took off at a gallop, eyes all a-fright, boogering himself around the arena trying to find the source of the loud noises and gleeful screams. tempts me to take my .45 pistol out there and blow a few rounds into the dirt to get their attention someone's out there.

After approximately 30 minutes, he finally settled into a decent working trot. I transitioned him in and out of trot to working walk a few times (still on the neck stretcher), and then I finally gave up. A mild victory, as I insisted he keep at it until he worked properly.

On our way back to the barn, something else spooked him. He tried yanking the lead rope out of my hands, and when he hit the end of the rope on his nose and poll, he stopped, and turned to face me, about 45deg angle to my shoulder. At least he didn't carry me across the pasture, right? Better, at least he didn't turn his butt to me.

4/2/11 Comfy!

Weather was a little warm and muggy, but Harley came up for halter and grooming quietly. I became slightly brave, and saddled him dressage. Out to the arena we went, all my longing goods, and riding accessories. I felt loaded down for a day at the arena, and felt it kind of amusing I was planning on an hour work, tops.

Harley longed out on the line pretty well. He hopped over a few poles without incident. With a few successful leads at canter both ways, I eased him back to a walk, and then added bit and neck stretcher. Again, more success. Harley has gotten better about staying off the pressure, bending at neck and poll at the walk and trot. His canter on the stretcher is relaxing his neck, but he still sticks his nose out. All in good time, that should improve, too.

Bravery took over, and I took all of Harley's longing gear off, put on my helmet, added reins to the bit, held my breath a little, and mounted up. As soon as my legs were settled around him, I dismounted. And I mounted again, wiggled around, and dismounted. Finally, I took one deep breath, and mounted one last time. I wiggled, I leaned to each side a few times, I leaned forward, I leaned backwards. Another deep slow breath, and I squeezed my legs.

After not moving in the slightest for all the mounting, dismounting, wiggling and jiggling, Harley responded to my legs, and walked off. I only let him walk about twenty feet before bringing him to a halt again. With a gentle rein and squeeze my knees, he stopped. He shifted his weight underneath himself, and I squeezed him off to walk again. We repeated the walk and halt a number of times, mostly for my mind, ensuring he'd go when I asked, and more importantly stop when I asked. Many direction changes, a good dozen halts, and I asked him to trot. I didn't let him trot off much, maybe halfway around a circle, and we were back to walk. His transition from trot to walk was good as well, responding to very little pressure. I repeated this, twice, both times going right. yes, in the big picture of life, I should have done it left, too. however, this isn't big picture day, this is ride my horse a little, boost my confidence and his. At the trot, I briefly focused my post to a speed I felt comfortable with. Almost immediately, I felt Harley's motion hesitate, and then move in sync with my body. Incredible...

We worked a total of about an hour. Approximately 15 minutes of that under saddle. I can say, I have missed my dressage saddle comfort. I didn't realize how much I was missing it until I sat down in it and asked for forward. My cues can be lighter, my body can move and Harley responds. I don't need to shove my hips around to make the walk bigger, and I don't need to nearly kick him for forward. The halts are nearly as light, shifting weight and settling my body. Delightfully comfy.