Saturday, March 26, 2011

Yes, This Is What I Want

I had the best ride yesterday, maybe one of our best ever. The energy and forward were there, but also quick responsiveness up AND down, and no attempts to rush. He was right there, listening, responding, trying, trying, trying to please. Do horses blow when they are happy with themselves? I have to wonder, because it seemed Rogo knew he was doing really well (I kept telling him he was) and when he'd finish something he finds a little more difficult, like a leg yield or 15 m canter circle he'd blow and blow with what seemed like pride in his accomplishment. Maybe I'm putting a human emotion on a horse? Sure seemed he was happy with his performance too though. 
Since I started riding again (after only 2.5 weeks off!), my legs had been moving around terribly. Oh, it was awful. So discouraging. Maybe because of the big, big movement he's had since we're outside again, but I felt like it was my first time on a warm blood :( . Yesterday I took my stirrups up a notch. It felt awkward at first, but I stuck with it and guess what - my legs were much quieter. I better get back to the exercises I was doing in the saddle to lengthen and strengthen my legs. 
This all relates of course to strength and flexibility and balance - the lack of which I wrote about in my last post. I got lots of moral support on that one, and learned a lesson - lots of barn chores and riding several horses a day counter-act this. Both Shannon at A Work In Progress and Grey Horse Matters remarked that back when they did this riding a big warm blood was no problem :) so I've been cleaning stalls like crazy (but haven't yet ridden Dan since he came home - guess I better).
One more note I want to remember - I hadn't been feeding Rogo any hay before riding him since I came home. The timing just worked out that way. Then a few days ago I was getting ready slowly, so gave him a flake of hay. He was as slow and lacking energy as he was in the small indoor. Yesterday as an experiment I gave him just part of a flake. He was the best yet. He was a little too forward to focus on work with no hay when tacking up, too lethargic with a flake, and just right with a small amount of hay. Maybe a coincidence but I'm going to continue to experiment. I know I sure don't feel like working when I have  a full belly. We feed hay five times a day, in small quantities (a flake or two each), so they never get too much or go too long without, but maybe I need to be more careful with the timing related to riding.
Our lessons with Joan start a week from today - Yeah! I have a week to get into shape. I'm going to review my equitation, warm up and test riding goals and synthesize things for a spring program over-seen by Joan.

Monday, March 21, 2011

He's Getting Stronger, I'm Getting Weaker

What happens when a five year old warm blood and a fifty+ year old woman start back to work after a short lay off? The five year old gets stronger with every ride. The woman gets more sore, stiff and weak! How did I get so out of shape in two or three weeks? You lose muscle ridiculously fast at my age :(
The riding ring was in great shape today. When I arrived home from my meetings in Halifax Doug had the outdoor speakers on and music playing as he rode Savanah - they looked great and it looked very enticing. It was just before dark so I jumped on Rogo. Kaboom - he's just starting to feel and use his power. It's built with each of the rides since I got him home, this being the third. It's an incredibly fun ride, but as  I write this I realize that since it's quite different than he had been in the indoor, this would contribute to my fatigue too. There is just sooo much movement there. Trying to be soft and encouraging/supporting, while also helping hold it together, i.e. not getting strung out, is HARD WORK, physically and mentally. Our warm ups and routines were familiar, but now he needs much faster thinking on my part and I have to stay so focused. 
He isn't normally spooky, but tonight he took a giant spook (power gone bad) and galloped half the length of the arena before I got him stopped. I thought I'd come off, as the sideways jump took me completely by surprise and I lost my balance, but he didn't buck at all so luckily I stayed on. I rode him back to the scary place and it turned out to be one of our cats in the grass. This should be routine for him and normally it is, but I guess I have to cut him some slack as he gets used to being outside again and also feeling very good. We went right back to work and he was great. 
We've back slid in a few areas - the center line is crooked again, halts are crooked again, head is coming up again. But he's better in some key areas too - more forward, more responsive, lateral work coming, bending is good. Life is good.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Who Are You and What Have You Done With Rogo?

Remember all my agonizing and navel gazing around Rogo's energy level? Well duh. If I'm fortunate enough to still be riding and blogging about Rogo next year, please remind me that small indoors in the winter, or heat in the summer make him less than energetic. Today neither of those conditions came into play. He was forward, forward, forward - Yeah! Oh what fun.
Because it's still fairly wet in the ring, I thought I'd do a little hack. He'd only done this twice, last fall. When I went to bring him in from the pasture he was so silly - racing around, etc., etc., so I knew a hack wasn't a great idea. I jumped on in the ring and we had a great time. We did a lot of walking - leg yield, shoulder in, free walk, small circles keeping rhythm, etc. He was VERY forward so I asked for a shoulder fore in trot to the right - he aced it. Yeah! Then I asked for the same in left. Not as good. He wanted to barge forward and not bend. He had been even, finally, before our short lay off, but clearly the right is more flexible again. No biggy. We'll work on that. We did lots of leg yield each way in walk and it went well. With the ground wet and the pressure off to do more, it seemed simple.
Then we did 20m trot circles both ways and then added in canter. He wanted to take off at a gallop down the long side every time we hit that part of the circle, so we did trot canter trot transitions on the circle and that worked well. I don't want to give the impression he was wild - his canter was elevated yet controlled when we were on a circle. It's just that he wanted to go large and gallop. I can't say I blame him and I certainly didn't punish him, but I made him respond to transitions and steering, which he did nicely.
After riding we finished with some clicker training stretches. All in all a fun and productive day with my sweetie. It's still coolish and wet here, so each ride has to be squeezed in between rain storms. I treasure them all.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Finally, A Short Training Session

The ring was dry enough today that Doug raked it and I had a short training session with Rogo, probably only about twenty minutes. I kept it short because although the footing was okay, it was still a little wet and also except for the one walk around the pasture this was our first ride in about two and a half weeks.
I'm so happy to be able to ride in our ring already. We had in-ground drainage installed last spring and it made a huge difference. It dries much faster now.
I tried to be intentional in our training session, while recognizing w/he'd be a little stiff. We started with walking - forward, marching, bending in and out, small circles with good rhythm, and keeping a good contact. He pretty much had contact nailed at the walk before the break, but he wanted to put his head up a few times today. Maybe because there's more to look at outside :).
We trotted after that, starting with circles and then going large. He was quite forward today, so circles helped me to gauge when to do the long side.  The time off and being outside have really been a benefit to his energy and forwardness.
After trot circles we did canter circles and then crossed the diagonal and transitioned to trot. The canter was lovely - he had lots of energy but responded nicely to aids.
He was a little stiff throughout and thus our figures weren't perfect, but he was bending and giving me good tries. I didn't do any leg yield or shoulder in, but we did a little shoulder fore each way and that was fine.
What I'm happiest about? Two things:
  1. There were things he did easily last fall that proved a challenge over the winter in the small indoor, and they instantly came back. Phew. For example canter circles and crossing the diagonal in the canter grew challenging at times over the winter and were a non issue today.
  2. That although he was understandably 'up' he also behaved perfectly, without lunging and was a joy to ride. That was the best part!
A couple of cute  Rogo stories:
  1. He's figured out that I give him a treat when he does his left / right bends (previous videos), so now he starts doing the bending to ask for something. He wanted out of his stall today, so he went to his door and started turning his head back to his side and holding it there. I hope I haven't created a monster.
  2. Once I was on him, I realized I'd forgotten to shut a gate and it was standing open in the way of riding. I thought I'd try a little trail class trick and go over and maneuver us into position for me to close it, to save getting off. I got us in position, pushed the gate and made some headway a couple of times, but it was dragging on the ground. While I paused to try to figure out what to do, Rogo turned into it, put his nose against it and pushed it about 18 inches. I thought it was just a fluke, but then he pressed his nose into it again and closed it the rest of the way. How smart is that :). I love my sweet boy.
We've been looking at potential land for the horse business. It's fun. We have another appointment in the morning.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

First Ride At Home

I actually got out for a ride today - my first since bringing them home. I thought I was being optimistic when I suggested it would be two weeks before I could ride, but it was a week ago today. Here's what it looked like a week ago, the day they arrived home:

And here we are today, same back corner you can see above:

The footing wasn't good enough to do more than walk, but I love walking and could do it for hours. We did a little leg yield and shoulder in, both ways and after a bit he got reasonably supple. We also did some small circles, keeping our rhythm. It was challenging on the rough ground, but fun. He was good as gold and it's the first time he's been ridden outside since Nov. or Dec., and the first time he's been ridden in about 10 days. Not bad for a five year old (almost six - another month).
We did a little ground work and I'm benefiting from the feed back I got on it, but we really need to get outside the fence to work in areas he is a little more 'hot'. Today wasn't the day for that - I want to get him back to regular work before taking him outside his comfort zone (no need to invite trouble).
Joan will start our lessons in a couple of weeks. Can't wait!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Checking In Re The Wish List

I just went back to check in on the wish list, and guess what? I'm actually working on the business plan for an indoor. I know I already told you this, but it seems incredible to me. At the time I wrote it, it was a pie in the sky pipe dream; now it is an (admittedly nebulous) forming plan - Doug's on board, we're developing a partnership and meetings are taking place. Yeah wine induced list!
I'm going to use Twitter to chronicle the journey re the horse business and just installed a gadget to display recent updates if you're interested in following along. 
Another plus from the wish list? It looks like we'll be back in training with Joan as soon as the ring is ridable. She'll take me back and fill in some holes in the basics (forward, connection, equitation,...). She's got the magic touch! 
Kacy - I just noticed you commented on the wish list and I wanted to say that it was reading your blog that made me add horse camping to the list. I'll be looking for more inspiration this summer :) I wish we had horse camping facilities here like there are in the US. Another business opportunity??? :)
It's a sunny day, perfect for working on the leading exercises many of you were kind enough to suggest, and for looking at potential properties. One more cup of coffee and the fun begins.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

We'll Be Riding Soon

Remember how much snow there was when we brought the horses home a few days ago? It was over their knees and they had one track up and down the arena. Now it's almost bare! Not long now...

Thanks for all the feedback on ground work outside an enclosed area. It being the first time I've trained a horse I didn't realize that I had to establish everything we did inside a fence again when we got outside a fence (duh). Also, growing, strong young horses need refreshers! I've got some really good ideas and exercises to work on with him, so we'll get right to it.

ps - not sure what that black dot in the sky is - might have been dirt on the window :)

-- Sent from my Palm Prē

Monday, March 7, 2011

Why Is Outside The Fence Different Than Inside The Fence?

In thinking about it, it wasn't really accurate for me to say in my last post that Rogo wants to be with me all the time. He pretty much wants to hang out with me when he's in an enclosed area - stall, riding ring, pasture - but last summer he ran from me when I was leading him on the beach with a halter and lead line. He also, after being very good to load and unload since I got him, decided last summer to race off the trailer and he ran from me once when he did this and almost went on the road in front of a truck. So, the point is, that just when I need him to be most obedient, for the sake of his safety, his obedience goes out the window.
I've taken lessons at least weekly and sometimes more since I went back to riding and they included lots of ground work and learning to train a young horse. I read extensively - reference books, magazines and blogs. I subscribe to and watch on-line training videos. I work with Rogo at least four times a week and often five or six times. I started leading him and doing ground work as soon as I got him as a two year old, before he was backed, and he was very well behaved. As a two year old I'd lead him for walks in the woods and he never tried to run away. Joan taught me leading forward, turning, halting, where he should be in relation to me, etc. and he did it all, frequently and well. We did nothing but ground work for over a year and he was as good as gold - not one issue or incident!
I think the root of the problem is what happened when I started lunging him the fall he was three and a half. He didn't want to be lunged, especially faster than a walk, so he'd pull the lunge line out of my hands and run to the barn. I had to close the barn doors, block off his escape, and elicit Doug's help to hold him. Unfortunately he'd learned that running from me was an option, and since he really didn't understand a bit at this point (he'd worn a bridle, but not been ridden or long lined) I didn't want to put a bit in his mouth to hold him. I used a lunging cavesson. I tried a hackamore, but that didn't work (he'd pull through it even to the extent of rubbing the skin on his nose), so I continued with the cavesson. For some reason being lunged made him nervous and want to take flight. He'd literally pass manure five times in ten minutes (I timed it), so I know he was upset, although I have no idea why.
Next I tried round penning him without the lunge line on when he ran from me (I was at an indoor for the winter by this point), i.e. running from me = hard work.
I could go on describing things, but you get the point. I realized that Rogo had been perfect in his manners and responses for more than a year because I'd never asked him to do anything he didn't want to do, outside his comfort zone, in all that time. He wanted to walk with me in the woods, walk and trot beside me in the riding ring, etc, so he did. I thought I was training him, but he thought we were hanging out together having fun (not mutually exclusive of course). When it came time to do something he didn't want to do, be lunged, he ran from me insistently.
We overcame it, but to this day I wouldn't consider lunging him in a strange place without the lunge line attached to his bit in some way. We've gone months without him running from me on the lunge, only to have him do it again in a new situation. When Cheryl started lunging him he did it to her, after being over it for a long time (I'd thought it was fixed at that point), and this brought it all back again.
So, he has in his head he can run from me if he wants, and he wants when he gets outside an enclosure. I wonder if he could do it under saddle as well. Cheryl insisted I let him hop out of the riding ring and gallop up a grassy slope when he first went outside at her place a year ago. I can't remember exactly why, except that she'd yell "let him go, let him go". It had something to do with making him enjoy cantering? Even though it scared me and seemed like a bad idea, I went along with it, but now I'm wishing I hadn't. It may come back to haunt me, given his propensity for taking off, but I digress.
Back to the problem at hand - what stymies me is how do you safely work on getting him obedient outside of an enclosure? All the ground work in the world inside an enclosure isn't going to make a difference. As I mentioned I did it consistently for over a year, without a problem and he still acts completely different outside an enclosure. He's so good when fenced that he'll 'lead' without a lead line (at liberty) and has since I first worked with him. He'll follow me in zig zags, away from the barn, away from other horse, halt with me, stand while I go do other things, etc.
Currently (since he ran from me when unloading last summer and almost went on the road in front of the truck), for the sake of his safety, I use a lead line with a chain when loading and unloading him outside the fence and I put the chain in his mouth. I know this is very frowned upon, but I'd rather hurt his mouth than have him run over or kill someone. He is completely respectful with the chain in his mouth and behaves well. I don't have to use it. I've never even used a chain over the nose on a horse before him, so this is new to me.
If anyone has any thoughts/advice on how to safely work on leading outside a fenced area I'd really appreciate them. As I mentioned, he's as different as night and day inside and outside a fence, so work inside a fenced area doesn't do it, and once we're outside safety is an issue. Also, I should mention, although his behavior is dangerous he's never tried to hurt anyone (strike, kick, bite, buck, rear, etc.). His bad behavior involves avoidance - running.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Happy Horses

Rogo gave me a scare tonight. I went to put them in, after being out all day. I put Rogo in first, closed the door to the inside of the barn and walked across his stall to the outside door to hook it closed (their stalls have two doors - a door in from the inside of the barn and a door to turn out so they can go in and out at will). He used his nose while I was across the stall to open the inside door. If he got into the barn he could get outside - I hadn't closed the barn door that we use - so outside he went. Yikes! He was loose! He never tries to escape or open doors, so I hadn't thought anything about him opening his inside door. I went quietly out with his halter thinking I could just walk up to him, put it on, and lead him back in. He ALWAYS wants to be with me and has never been any problem to catch. Not tonight. He didn't actually run from me, but he moved away and didn't want me to hold him or put his halter on either. I finally got it on him, but then the horse that will follow me all the time didn't want to be lead in. It took some 'bullying' and very strong firmness to convince him he should go back in the barn. I was so scared! What if he took off and got on the road? I don't even want to think about it.
Doug pointed out that he's been standing in a stall with little to no turn out for most of the winter - why would he want to be locked in? Oh. Now I get it. Poor baby. Doesn't excuse the bad manners though. We have ground work to do. Coincidentally a friend just offered to show me some of her ground work techniques, so we'll be getting to work on it.
It was so fun watching the horses today. It was like it finally sunk in that they were home and weren't going back to where they were. They literally played - running, chasing, leaping, squealing - all afternoon. I've never seen them play for so long a time. I tried to bring Savanah in to brush her (she is shedding so much that when she lays down to roll and gets up and shakes I can see the cloud of hair from in the house). Normally she loves being brushed, but all she wanted to do is get back outside. When I feed them their hay they drag it outside, so I feed it outside now. It's like they've been depressed and are coming back to life. Their energy level is going up, up, up with each passing hour. 
I watched a show on TV tonight about animal hoarding and I'll just say I think we've witnessed a border line case recently. Things have been turning over in my head...
Doug and I talked more about the horse business tonight. It's just about the most fun undertaking of my life. I hope it comes together.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Horses Are Home!

I'm so happy to say that our horses are back home. It was challenging - there is still so much ice and snow here, lots more than you'd typically see this time of year. Here are a few pictures to show the snow, and the happy horses in their turn out.

So, as you can see, still lots of snow and ice. It's supposed to get up to 11 C. on the weekend, so things should start to look more spring like soon.
I haven't said too much about the boarding situation. Because I find the situation there sad I think it's best not to say too much. We did what we could for as long as we could. There were options to make things better that weren't, and are unlikely to be used, and I don't understand anyone making those choices. That's all.
Our horses are exuding a joyfulness that I haven't seen in them since they left home - they are rolling, running, playing, grooming one another, lying down to sleep, affectionate and happy. Even though the highs here today were -10 C. and Doug and I have been working outside for days to get them home, we just stood in the turn out gazing at them and being close to them, without even realizing the time going by.
Doug's brothers Gary and Greg came to the rescue in helping dig the trailer and barn doors out of the ice. Moving three horses in these circumstances (very icy footing that needed to be sanded, not conducive to trailer loading) was a bit of a scary undertaking, so having all three safe and sound and in our barn is wonderful. They were so good.
Obviously my training and equitation goals are on hold for now. It isn't at all unusual to be riding outside in March and our outdoor has in-ground drainage so it drains really fast. With luck, I'll be riding again in a couple of weeks. In the meantime maybe I'll play around with some clicker training and just enjoy them.
Also, it will give me time to work on horse business planning :)