Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Whenever people post about their goals with their horses, I am always struck by the fact that I don’t seem to have many goals these days. I used to. I used to show cutting horses obsessively, and at another stage, I was equally obsessive about team roping. Last year I obsessed on the trails across the road. I had to be out on them every day or I wasn’t happy. I bought a horse just to ride those trails (See The New Horse-- May 08 and The Trails Along the Ridge-April 08) But somehow or other I’ve lost the need to obsess on my goals, at least for the moment.
I’m not sure why this happened. It may be in part because my son’s horse, Henry, colicked at the end of January (see Colic—Feb 09) and had to go to colic surgery to save his life. The whole process of his rehab took much of my energy and time for the last three months, along with the need to finish my eleventh mystery novel by my deadline. (I’m glad to say the book is finished and we’re riding Henry again.) But somehow, in the process, I lost my need, or even my ability, to focus on goals with my horses. I just had to let go, and realize that a lot of things are out of my control (like whether my horse has a giant stone that needs to be removed from his gut). And the funny thing is that suddenly, I’m happier.
I still ride. I ride when I can, when I feel like it. If I get out on the trails every week or so, that’s fine. I enjoy myself immensely. If I need to spend hours riding Henry at the walk/trot in the riding ring in order to leg him back up, that’s fine, too. I enjoy doing that. If I don’t ride, I enjoy walking down the hill to feed my horses and do the chores. I’m finding it’s a real pleasure to detach from goals.
Its not that goals are bad. While cleaning out my closet the other day, I came upon two trophy buckles that I hadn’t glanced at for years. They reminded me of a time when winning a reined cowhorse class or a cutting meant a lot to me. I’d worked and worked to win those buckles. It still brought a smile to my face to see them.
But as time has passed, I’ve realized that the one thing that means the most to me in my life with horses is freedom. I want to feel free to do what I want with my horses, however much or little that is. What I don’t want is to feel trapped.
I’m not sure if others had or have this problem. Maybe its because I’m a Catholic school girl. Maybe its because I rode with my uncle for years and he was a very driven personality. The horses had to be ridden every day. Maybe its because I rode for a lot of trainers. I don’t know. All I know is that for years I felt guilty if my horses didn’t get ridden at least five or six days a week. I felt guilty if I wasn’t actively competing every weekend. I felt guilty if I didn’t do well at the competitions—obviously I hadn’t worked hard enough. I felt relieved if I won, but then, there was always another competition to worry about. In short, I spent a lot of time feeling that I had to do this or that with my horses…or feeling guilty if I didn’t get it done.
My current goal is just not to go there. If I want to ride, I do. If I don’t feel like riding, I don’t. My horse all live turned out in big spaces, so they can run and buck and play as much as they please. They are well fed, slick, happy. I have totally given myself permission just to feed them and care for them, if that’s what I want to do.
As it turns out, I still ride three days a week or so. Just cause I want to. It’s a completely different feeling. Instead of feeling driven and guilty, I feel free and happy. I enjoy my horses much more than I used to. I worry less. Its been good for me.
I don’t regret all the time I put into competing and training. I had some great experiences then, too. I learned a lot. But I’m glad to be in a space now where I don’t feel so driven. If I’d rather stay home and smell my roses, I can do so, and feel good about it. Letting go of goals is teaching me about freedom. I’m planning on paying attention to what the universe is trying to show me. That’s my goal. Wish me luck with it.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Today I thought I’d write about a horse in my barn who is a shining success, against all the odds, a horse I helped train, and am very fond of. This would be Mr Twister, my one boarder, who belongs to my friend, Wally.
Wally bought Twister six years ago when the horse was a very green seven year old rope horse. By green I mean that this grey QH gelding had been broke at five, ridden very sketchily since then, and had been roped on for all of ninety days when Wally bought him. What Wally needed was another horse to compete on. What he bought was a project. Why?
There’s no easy answer. Wally and I have been partners on many horses, and I’ve trained quite a few young horses for him. He has always respected my advice when it comes to picking horses out. We both knew what he needed. But the two of us saw Twister at a practice roping, for sale cheap, and we both fell in love with him.
“I really like that grey horse,” I said.
We agreed he was too green.
Wally called me that night. “What do you think if I buy that grey horse?”
“Well,” I said, “he’s too green. But I like him.”
We tried him.
He was really green. And ill-broke. He had no idea how to give his head. He had no rein. He carried his head way up in the air. He had no idea how to stay in the lope for a full circle. You could rope and turn a steer on him, but it was very crude. He wasn’t a particularly well made horse, and looked too light to be an ideal candidate for a rope horse. Both Wally and I rode him.
We decided to buy him.
Why, you might ask. A lot of people asked us that. Several people said we were nuts. Nobody thought it was a good choice. Plenty of people told Wally he shouldn’t listen to me. So, I am happy to report that, six years later, Wally is “delighted” with Twister and having a blast with him.
Back to why. What did we see in this horse? Well, to begin with, when I first saw him, it was the look in his eye. Twister was green and ignorant, he was being ridden by a horse trader who had never ridden him before, and yet this young horse was trying really hard to do right. You could see it all over him. Despite his many flaws when it came to performance, he was trying. I saw other things. He was fast enough. He stuck a leg in the ground well. But it was the look in his eyes that told me that this, despite the odds, was a good-minded horse.
Then I rode him. Again, he was ignorant. He wasn’t just not very well broke, he was ill-broke. He didn’t have the smoothest gaits. But when I attempted to collect him at the lope, despite the fact that I think it was the first time that any one had ever tried it, he gave me his head for a few strides and loped in a gathered frame. That was big. And…here I am going to have a hard time putting something in words…I felt secure on him. Twister was and is a flighty, ampy, prancy horse, with a tendency to spooking and pulling back, and to look at him, you wouldn’t suppose that you’d feel particularly secure on his back. But you do. Everyone who has ever ridden him has noticed. No one has ever fallen off of him. He’s just that kind of horse. For all his faults, he gives you a good feel.
I told Wally to buy him.
Wally liked the same things about him that I did. He bought him. And proceeded to have instant buyer’s remorse.
Because Twister needed a lot of work. He was not a horse that Wally could just take to the next roping. There was a lot to be done first.
Wally taught Twister to lope a circle. I helped as much as I could, but my training was mostly limited to giving advice. I had a lively two-year-old boy to look after, and I wasn’t in the horse training biz any more. This was the first horse that Wally had really trained without any active help from me (other than advice) and to begin with he missed the old system—the one where I did all the work. But he persevered. And Twister learned to stay in the lope, and collect, and lope a circle.
We worked on his rope horse skills. To begin with Wally wanted to give up. This horse isn’t going to make it, he kept telling me. He’s too hot, he’ll never score well, and he can’t run. He carries his head too high. Everything was wrong.
I kept telling him the horse would make it. Yes, he was high headed and chargy, but he could run enough. And he had a good mind. I devised ways of getting the horse quiet in the box. Unlike many horses, Twister really responded to being petted. When he became over-excited in the box, I had Wally get off of him and stand beside him and pet him. (Oh and by the way, this is something that most ropers would never do—we got a lot of funny looks.) As time went on, Wally could stay on Twister and pet him and get the same result. Pretty soon, he could just reach down and touch his neck and the horse would calm.
I watched Wally rope on Twister and helped him figure out what the horse needed. When Twister got too high, I would have Wally run out, stop the horse gently, back him up a few steps (gently) and then just sit there until Twister relaxed. People continued to tell us we were nuts and Twister wasn’t the right type of horse. I told them all they were wrong. Wally, a bit dubiously, persisted.
Twister got better. Slowly. I watched him and I had confidence in him. And Twister grew in confidence, too. He was a sensitive horse. Wally and I learned early on that you could not—ever--hit this horse. You couldn’t even yell at him. He would be upset and afraid of you for days if you did. He was light sided and needed no spur. You needed to stay light on his face or he got upset. He remained high headed and a bit chargy. But he learned to be good in the box and to work well in the arena as a head horse. Wally started to compete and win on him. People stopped telling us how wrong we were. Twister even filled out a bit and became a decent looking horse. All seemed well.
And then Wally fell off a colt and hurt his shoulder. The shoulder mended, but in such a way that Wally could no longer throw a strong head loop. He could throw a heel loop. But Twister had been trained to be a head horse. A chargy high-headed horse is not an unreasonable choice for a head horse, if he has certain attributes. But a chargy, high-headed horse (who doesn’t cow much) is nobody’s choice for a heel horse. Still, Wally was really fond of Twister at this point and didn’t want to sell him. I assured him that we could turn the horse into a decent heel horse.
Everybody said we were wrong. Everybody said we were stupid to try. Certain roper friends told Wally he shouldn’t listen to me (the same ones as before.) But Wally persisted.
And for a while it looked stupid. Twister was really not a good choice for a heel horse. He was too chargy. He wasn’t very cowy. He was high headed. About all he had going for him was that he would stop hard. And he wanted to do what was asked of him.
I’m sure you all can guess the rest. Twister tried. He did his best to understand this new event. He trusted Wally. He tried to learn. I watched and helped as much as I could. We used many of the same tricks I’d worked out to teach Twister to be a head horse. And Twister learned. Wally took his time. He heeled on Twister only as much as the horse could handle it. It took awhile. But this year, now that my good horse Plumber is too old to be very competitive any more (Wally had been using him as his heel horse for the past ten years), Twister is finally really competitive as a heel horse. Wally is winning on him. And all those same people who said we were nuts are once again having to eat their words. It makes me really happy.
Twister has just recovered from a mystery illness that gave him a slight fever and some pussy discharge from his nose, and both Wally and I are hoping that he has a long life ahead of him as a rope horse. He is one horse who succeeded against the odds—and the naysayers—and I’m proud of him. He’s proven for me, yet again, that a horse’s most important attribute is his mind. And that a good-minded horse comes in many forms. This hot, flighty horse who had such a rough start, wouldn’t strike many people as good-minded….but he is. Wally and I have agreed that Twister has earned his home. He will live with me until he dies, and I’m glad to have him. Here’s to Twister—the gallant horse.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Well, it's in the seventies outside and my twin three year olds are throwing a football (foam, with cartoon characters on the outside) around with the sitter while my seven year old sniffles on the couch with her inevitable springtime allergies. Poor baby. She is delighted with her latest gift from Mom and Dad. We were attending a silent auction and won her a day following a veterinarian around. For a girl dedicated in all ways to animals, this is a little slice of heaven. Allergies aren't a good mix for an aspiring veterinarian, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
She's taking a break from horses right now and is doing theater, tae kwon do, swimming and wants to start soccer in the fall. In the meantime, I'm trying to get to know the area barns a little better so I'll know my way around when the time comes.
I've been at a total of seven barns in the course of my career and each barn had it's own personality. Finding the right home for your horse is so incredibly important, and it becomes even more important when you're trusting a trainer with a precious child.
When I think back on the barns I've been at, I lucked into a couple of good ones and then we relocated. I had Spencer at that time and chose a barn in the new area mostly for the physical plant, turnout, and because I really liked and trusted the barn manager, so I knew Spencer was in good hands. The training wasn't that advanced, but that was okay because neither was I.
I bought Topper and stayed there for several years until Topper injured himself and needed surgery. The barn manager had moved on by that point and I needed a barn where veterinary skills were top notch. I chose a barn, thinking it would be temporary, where the trainer was excellent training both horses and riders and was a vet assistant to boot. Now, the facility was old, the stalls were small and there was no indoor ring. This didn't worry me as I wouldn't be riding much while Topper healed up & Spencer came to live with us and was happy trotting around a few novice riders at this place. When I went I told the trainer there it would probably be for about six months and he was fine with that. Surprisingly, in that time frame I rode one of his horses and learned more in those six months than I had in the three years previously. So I learned a valuable lesson. Creature comforts come second to the quality of the horse care and the training.
Unfortunately, when I moved up into a senior management position I needed a barn where they had staff to tack & untack, etc., since I was going to be lucky to get to the barn a few times per week and time would be very tight, so off Spencer, Topper (now healed) and I went again. Now I may have been happy without a large facility with an indoor but I don't think Spencer was. Usually Spencer was a bit resistant to loading. However, when the trailer pulled up I loaded Topper first, looked back and saw Spencer take one step at a trot, one at a canter and leap the rest of the way up the ramp and into the truck, pulling the driver and his lead rope right along for the ride! Topper and I executed a sideways leap of our own just in time!
When we arrived at the new barn, Spencer pranced down the ramp, head held high, and sauntered into his new stall with an expression that was an equine version of 'finally, accommodations suiting my illustrious presence.' (Spencer was always a sweetheart, but he knew his worth & wasn't afraid to let me know it.)
Now I'm barn shopping again. First order of business will be to evaluate the quality of the training. Since my daughter isn't riding right now I suppose I'll be taking a few lessons at different places while I try to get the feel of them. Wish me luck!
Sunday, April 19, 2009
For this next part, Conrad had several riders demonstrate the importance of the proper seat. He started with a rider being lunged and went over several beneficial exercises. I apologize that I didn't write any of these down. Instead I bought Conrad's new DVD which covers this part. Mostly what I wrote down are quotes, so here goes.
The Rider’s Education
In dressage everything depends on the rider. The best horse in the world means nothing if the rider can’t ride.
The rider needs to understand what it means to sit on the horse in harmony. She must be connected to the horse. The rider's hips must move with the horse. The legs should not grip, but be there on the horse's sides.
The rider's body is like a shock absorber. The body takes the motion and gives it back to the horse (recycles it).
Body awareness is essential. You must be trained to feel each body part as you’re riding, such as your big toe, your little finger. (Conrad does believe feel can be trained, while many instructors don't.)
You must have the right lunge horse. You cannot sit on a piece of wood. The horse must go like a dressage horse.
Mental fitness is very important. Being able to sit quietly and handle your body is a prerequisite for mental fitness.
There was a question about why many riders in symposium rode with wide hands. Riders need to have an open body position. The hands together position came about because of the military and the need for the horses to be ridden eventually with one hand. This is not necessary now. The hands together position fosters stiffness in the shoulders. (I can vouch for this. I'm very stiff in my shoulders. I found that keeping my hands a little wider really improved my ability to ride with a soft, following hand.)
A good riders has a natural springing down of ankle. The body is flexible. The rider maintains the same seat now matter how big the gaits. World class riders must do it by feel and mental fitness. Feel comes out of the seat.
There is no such thing as an ideal seat. It all depends on the person’s body type and abilities. Some riders have a good seat but don’t look so good on a horse. Others look good on the horse but really don’t have a good, effective seat.
Feel must be trained and can be trained. Timing and how we do it is what’s important.
Principle of giving aids:
- Prepare (flex neck to inside)
- Reward—such as stretching which opens the back
For a halt, flex neck to inside (prepare), close legs (do), and reward (release pressure).
Horses anticipate, so control anticipation by warning them that something is coming.
The weakest rider in the world is stronger than the strongest horse if you can bend the horse.
Conrad used a support rein for one rider: Use only one rein, fasten to girth between front legs, run through flash. Do not use to pull down the neck. Put it on the horse’s hollow side.
The biggest problem riders have is if it doesn’t work, do it harder.
A good excercise to increase mental fitness and body awareness:
Volte in walk, canter at wall, go large, volte at end of long side and walk.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Prince is a chestnut – a typical redhead. Hot temper and passionate nature. He used to be a pain both on and off the track. Luckily, he seems to have matured. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still an ass around the track. It’s one of the reasons we keep him with a trainer who stables on a farm.
Let’s hope this season will be just as great for Heart’s Prince as the last.
Photo by Linscott Photography
Friday, April 17, 2009
Ahhhh. Springtime in the Rockies.
When I was a girl in high school my horse, Mort, was kept at a self care boarding stable (OK, it was a couple of lean-tos and some sagging barb-wire around 20 acres) down the street from our house.
Because I was young, eager and didn't have a drivers licence, I walked the few blocks to care for my horse twice a day. There were two routes to take. I could walk down our street, Midsummer Lane, hang a right and take Serendipity (no kidding) to the end of our neighborhood, cut through a few fields and get to my barn about a half mile later. Or I could cut through the Moline's side yard, cross their backyard, crawl over their fence, run through the ditch and end up in my pasture, about half the distance.
The Molines were fine with the arrangement since their daughter, Melinda, shared the stable with me.
The biggest obstacle between me and my horse was the ditch.
Village 7 was built on the prairie on the outskirts of Colorado Springs. When the realtor's had set the tractors in motion to tear deep into the heart of the prairie and began building the multiple "village" neighborhood they encountered Nature's own irrigation system. Our part of the neighborhood, Greenway Village, was built on a flood plain.
Which pretty much guaranteed every severe rain or hail storm covered our brand new landscaping with 2 to 4 inches of water.
So the realtor's built the ditch.
The ditch was a man-made waterway constructed on the outer perimeter of Village 7. It was about ten feet deep, about the same across and then ten feet up. The sides were angled, but steep.
If I got a good enough run at it on the way down I could usually expect my momentum to carry me up the other side. If I had a record of my scabbed hands, elbows, knees and chin you would understand why I say usually.
As time went by I became pretty adept. I even got to where I could run through the ditch carrying my 45 lb. saddle and bridle. You see I kept my tack at home. I have to admit, that ditch helped me to become quite the bareback rider.
On a morning like the one I woke up to today, I would stall as long as I could before I left to feed. Sometimes my Dad would give me a ride to school on wet, snowy days. If he did, he would often take me to the barn to feed on the way.
I would wait to see if he settled into the morning paper as he ate his single soft boiled egg. My Dad would carefully remove the top of the egg nestled in the shot glass we used as an egg cup. If he then shook open the sports page I knew I was doomed.
I would pull on my coat and hurry up the road, fully aware that now my dawdling had put me behind and I might miss my chance at a ride to school. I didn't have time to take the long way around.
The ditch had a wicked habit of icing over on mornings like these.
I would stand on the rim, the ice covered sides dropped below me like the Grand Canyon, and I would breathe deep, steeling myself.
I could hear Mort's impatient whicker.
I could feel the clock ticking.
Melinda Moline would pop over her fence and blast through the ditch, laughing, as she slid and leaped and ran up the other side, light as a white tail doe.
I really hated her sometimes.
I would throw myself over the side with a yell and chase after her. Suddenly my arms would begin to pin-wheel, my big wonky boots would head in two different directions and SPLAT! I would be on my back in the dirty, heavy snow.
I would look up at the grey, merciless sky and feel the big fat flakes melting on my hot, flushed face. I would sigh a little as I felt the trickle of gray snow water working up my back and soaking my school uniform shirt. Great.
Then with a roar I would jump up and launch myself at the side of the ditch.
I would make it halfway up, scrabble at the opposite edge, just inches from my fingers, slip, slam and slide to the bottom. Again, I would throw myself at the side. Where I would whack my knees and elbows and slide to the bottom.
Melinda Moline would come skidding down the wall, jump over my prone form, her happy "See ya this afternoon!" ringing in my ears as she whipped up the other side and back to her warm, toasty house.
Finally, I would stand one last time, take off my gloves and my coat and throw them up to the field above me.
I would face the opposite wall, run halfway up the side, turn midway before the ice could catch me, and race back towards the other side, hoping my momentum would propel me to the top. I would lunge desperately at the rim, just make it and scramble to the top.
As I stood, my last clean shirt torn and covered with nasty, gray, ditch muck, I would scoop up my coat and gloves and drag across the pasture to feed my bucking and hollering Mort.
Of course I still had to make it back.
I love spring in Colorado.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
I am addicted to Janet’s mugwump chronicles blog. I read every single comment and am fascinated with the discussions. A lot of very nice folks gather there to talk about their horses and training issues. Its lots of fun. And it frequently gives me something to ponder.
Not so long ago someone posted there about wanting to get her bossy, cranky mare to be her friend. This mare reminded me a great deal of my little trail horse, Sunny. I have posted before on this blog about Sunny, see “The New Horse” (May 08) and “My Little Palomino Plug” (Dec 08). But I thought it would be fun to tell you all about how I was able to get this recalcitrant little mule of a horse to become my friend. Especially in light of the posts on Janet’s blog.
From the day I bought him (New Year’s Eve 2007) Sunny watched me attentively whenever I was around. It was kind of unnerving. I’d go down to the barn and my other horses, sure I wouldn’t feed them, would eye me in a relaxed way and carry on with what they were doing, unless I walked up to their pens. Not Sunny. As soon as he saw me, Sunny would leave whatever he was up to, march across his pen and park himself as close to me as he could get. He would then proceed to watch me as I went about my chores. Even if I just sat down in my chair and did nothing—other than watch him back—Sunny persisted. He could watch me for hours at a time.
Now, you might think this meant that Sunny liked me, and maybe in a way he did, but it wasn’t as simple as that. When I did go to his pen to catch him, Sunny was determined to test me. The very first day after I got him home, I walked confidently into his corral to catch my new acquisition. Bear in mind that Sunny had been sold to me as a family horse and I’d known the horse for several years and knew he would pack beginning riders down the trail. I had every reason to suppose he was gentle. As the route toward his left shoulder was blocked by a big mud puddle, I decided to walk behind him and around him in order to catch him. Imagine my surprise when the gentle kid’s horse swung his butt around, humped up and popped his back feet in my direction.
Now, he didn’t come anywhere near me. And he didn’t mean to. This was a threat, not a blow. But no horse of mine is allowed to threaten me in any way. So I caught Sunny and proceeded to beat the crap out of him with the end of the leadrope.
However, this procedure did not go unchallenged. Sunny was not at all sure that I was the boss of him. He thought there might be room for argument. When I whacked him on his shoulder as hard as I could, he flew back and hit the end of the rope, trying to drag me backward. Some might have thought him intimidated, but it wasn’t so. I jerked him to a stop and hit him again. And again. This time he tried to jerk his head away and swap ends to kick at me. I snatched his head back to me and hit him again. And again. Sunny then charged forward, in the run-over-the-top-of-you maneuver. I jerked his head around and continued to beat on him. He leaped sideways and tried to pull the rope out of my hand. I was getting tired. But I kept jerking his face and hitting him.
Now some of you may consider me a fairly abusive horseman at this point. You may be wondering why I was still hitting this little horse. I’ll tell you why. Because I’ve dealt with horses like this before. Horses who will test for dominance. You need to know how to read such a horse. And if you take one on, as I was taking Sunny on, you need to keep on until the horse shows submission. Or you just go backwards.
Sunny had shown no sign of submission. I kept beating him. It wasn’t bothering him all that much, to tell you the truth. He’s a cold-blooded, tough-minded little guy. But in the end, at the point where I had worked up a pretty good sweat and was getting out of breath, Sunny gave up. His head came down, he made mouthing motions and he just stopped. I stopped, too. And the horse immediately stepped forward and put his face up to me in a very submissive way, asking for a pet.
I’ve seen this reaction before, many times. If you beat a horse who is asking you to prove you can be dominant, the horse will like you for it. Sunny was accepting me as the boss. I petted his face. We were friends.
All well and good. Unfortunately, Sunny needed to test this out once every so often. We’d get along fine, and then one day, as I was catching him or saddling him or something, Sunny would assay a nip, or pantomime a kick, or try to step on my foot. He never connected and he never meant to. He wanted to provoke me into proving I was boss. He wanted a beating. After I beat him up, we got along just fine until he decided to test me again.
Lest you think I’m being fanciful, Sunny displayed exactly this pattern when I turned him in with my son’s horse, Henry. He challenged Henry, and Henry put him in his place. Sunny remained submissive until a few days later when he challenged Henry again. And this went on and on. Eventually I separated them. I was afraid that Sunny’s need to keep challenging was going to get him hurt. And I was sick of the bite and kick marks on his shiny gold hide.
So, for what its worth, there are some horses that you can’t be nice to all the time. Strange as it may sound, these horses want and need a beating from time to time, and they angle for it. If you can dish out the required treatment, they will love you.
My little palomino plug nickers every time he sees me. He presents his muzzle for a pet any time I go near his pen. He shows every sign of being fond of me and is a reliable riding horse. I enjoy him very much. And every few weeks he tests me. And I let him know I’m boss. And we’re both happy. Sometimes that’s what it takes to be friends.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
The symposium started with the basic training of the young horse. Included in the demonstration: a 4-year-old horse 6 months under saddle and a 6-year-old warmblood.
Conrad stressed the young horses need three things:
How Conrad starts his young horses: A dressage horse is at its peak at 14-16 years old, and pretty much done at 21-22. He starts them at 3, puts them out to pasture, then brings them back at 4. The best work starts at 5. He doesn’t show his horses in the young horses classes at 5 as they aren’t ready.
A horse never makes a mistake on purpose. There is no reason for punishment, except in dangerous situations. Convince the horse by being nice to them. WB’s can be a bit of bullies when they’re young.
In the beginning of the ride, let them move in a big, regular forward trot. Keep the neck long so the horse can come over the back.
American type horses (non WB) can’t necessarily get over the back by going more forward. They go a little crazy, fall on the forehand and begin to run. A WB needs to be ridden into the hand.
A horse is only honest in the neck when he learns to push against the hand (when they give in and push away from the bit). You can ride bigger when the neck is softer. Make horse’s neck round with the inside leg. Turn on forehand works on spine and should make horse softer in neck.
- Leg yield on the wall then turn on forehand (makes horses that are strong in the hand soften). In 5 minutes, the horse will go longer in the neck.
- Trot, stop, turn on forehand, trot in the opposite direction. Horse should give in neck.
- Setup trotting poles on one half of a 20-meter circle. Canter half of the 20-meter circle then trot over poles on the other half of the 20-meter circle. Repeat until horse trots over poles without changing speed or head and neck position.
- Do lots of transitions when warming up. Mouth starts to foam and horse starts moving better. Do both sides. Let him stretch down and come to walk.
- Before trotting, give the horse a warning: Inside leg at girth, flex neck slightly to inside, move haunches out. When he gives in the neck, trot as a reward. Inside flexion makes neck rounder.
- Turn on forehand—softens the neck position.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Hope everyone is going to have a wonderful holiday weekend with some great time with their favorite horses!
Overall, I've been very fortunate to have received wonderful feedback on my first novel, A Dangerous Dream. However, I had an interesting comment from one reader that I would love to get some more opinions on. In A Dangerous Dream the setting is a hunter jumper facility whose trainers show at the Grand Prix Level. The junior riders are primarily training for Medal/Maclay. The barn manager is a talented woman with a gift for horse care, veterinary needs, barn and staff management who doesn't have the same level of interest in being in the saddle. My lead character, Melissa, is hired as her assistant. Melissa has a great love for horses and experience working with a veterinarian and teaching beginner level riders. What she does not have is a great deal of formal training in the saddle, either.
I wrote a scene where Melissa is taking a lesson and working on seeing her distance. Now personally, I was riding for many years before I really nailed this skill and to be honest, I was always hard pressed to be really confident about my approach when I was more than three or four strides out.
The comment from the reader was that no barn would hire a barn staff member to be an assistant who was not skilled in counting strides. I've been at a couple of very high quality barns where there was a barn manager or assistant I felt very happy trusting my horses' care to who weren't really great riders. Their focus, and their love, was for caring for the horses from the ground. This was perfectly okay with me as we had trainers to school the horses.
What has your experience been? Do you feel the staff at a hunter jumper barn need to be comfortable with jumping in order to meet the job requirements of caring for the horses?
I'm going to have many more books (I hope) with equestrian settings, so I definitely want to make sure my settings are realistic to my readers.
Happy Holiday, Everyone!
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
My son had his first fall off a horse not too long ago. After several years of riding independently at the walk trot and lope, and going on hundreds of multi-hour trail rides, some through pretty rough country, my little boy managed to tumble off Henry, his horse, while being led around the arena at a walk. Ironic, huh?
As those of you who read this blog know, Henry went through colic surgery at the end of January, and for two months was confined to a stall with hand walking as his only exercise. After the first month, Henry wore a belly band, to support his healing belly and prevent hernias, and I was given permission for my son to sit on Henry’s back while I walked the horse. This was great for my little boy, who really missed riding his horse. Sitting on the belly band was much like sitting on a bareback pad and my son got very comfortable with it. As instructed, I kept the horse on the lead rope and at the walk at all times. So far, so good.
The trouble was, as we neared the end of March, Henry began to feel pretty good. Too good. Being confined to a stall with just handwalking for exercise was turning my gentle bomb-proof kid’s horse into a pretty snorty character. Nonetheless, he seemed to know that he needed to behave when he had a kid on his back. And my son had a lot of experience riding this horse, and had stayed on successfully through many minor incidents. I had Henry on the leadrope after all. So I didn’t say no when my son asked to be put up on his horse one windy March day.
Of course, I had just mentioned to my husband that this was the wrong sort of day to ride. A storm had gone through the night before and the weather was chilly and unsettled, with sudden, vigorous gusts of wind whipping through the trees unexpectedly. Horses all act like asses on days like this, I said.
But Henry still needed to be walked. I got the horse out of his stall and he was prancing a little on the leadrope. I gave him a few jerks to remind him to pay attention, and he straightened up. I had definite misgivings when my son asked to ride him, but I legged him up on his horse with a warning to hang on, that the horse was feeling good.
Unfortunately, my kid was feeling pretty confident. I’m just leading him around the ring at the walk, after all. The day before he had ridden my horse, Sunny, and successfully loped him. Depite my many cautions on that day, he’d replied, “Mama, I can handle anything this horse can do,” and in fact, he did handle Sunny’s rather fresh behavior, including a crowhop, with no problem. (Mind you, both these horses are really gentle, safe horses, but all horses tend to show a little life in the spring.) So, my kid pretty much ignored my warning about hanging on.
Well, we only made it once around the ring before the wind blasted through some nearby trees and Henry jumped. It wasn’t much of a jump; I had him on the leadrope and could stop him. He just popped a foot and a half to the side. But my son wasn’t paying attention, and came off, landing on all fours in the soft (rained on the night before) sand of the riding track. I knew immediately he wasn’t seriously hurt. But boy was he upset.
Up until this point in his life, there had never been a downside to riding. He’d never even been scared. He’d seen others get bucked off, he’d had close calls, but somehow the absolute visceral truth that when you fall off these critters and hit the ground it can hurt and be seriously scary, well, that had just never really sunk in. Until now.
There were tears and complaints that his leg and arm hurt, and he stormed up to the house, insisting that he had to go to bed, if not to the emergency room. Since I had both seen his fall and checked him out carefully to be sure he wasn’t damaged, I was pretty sure we didn’t need the ER. And he walked completely sound as he headed for the house.
It took me the rest of the day to help him see that having his first fall was part of his progression in learning how to ride. And though I didn’t tell him this, I was actually pretty grateful. I had grown more and more uncomfortable with his level of confidence, which I felt was unrealistic, more like over-confidence. And yet, it was very hard for me to undermine him and tell him he couldn’t do this or that with a horse. Sure, I overuled him when I felt the risk was too great, but as much as I could, I let him try the things he wanted to try. But I dreaded him having a serious, scary fall simply because he didn’t understand the risk and felt there was no downside to what he was doing.
So, I am grateful that Henry taught him a simple lesson, relatively painlessly. You need to be careful around horses, you need to pay attention. They can hurt you. Without even meaning to. Henry had no intention of dumping my kid. He just jumped because he felt good and the wind startled him.
My boy rode Henry again that afternoon. This time he did not forget to hang on. Henry behaved himself. My boy is still a confident rider. But now, he’s a smarter confident rider. Because he understands the downside.
This is something that has been a big part of the decisions I make around horses for a long time. I’ve been bucked off plenty of times in my life. I’ve hit the ground hard. I’ve never been seriously hurt, knock on wood. But I realize that I might be seriously hurt if I hit the ground now. If I’d taken the simple little fall my son did, I’d have landed with a much bigger thud, and probably at least sprained my wrist or ankle and been laid up for awhile. At 51, I don’t bounce like I used to. The ER would be a very likely scenario. So, every choice I make about which horse to ride and what I’ll do or not do, is made in the light of the fact that I don’t think I can afford to fall off. I know the downside of riding. I’m glad my son knows it, too, and is in one piece to tell the tale. Thank you, Henry, for a very well-timed lesson. We needed it.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
It seems like we're on a dressage kick, here at EI. The following text consists of the rest of my notes taken during a clinic given by Michael Barisone in 1995. I had the privilege of not only listening to Michael teach but of watching him ride his beloved horse, Comanche, during the lunch break.
Michael Barisone has been a part of the American Dressage scene from the USDF Junior/Young Rider ranks winning his USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medals. But it was with Comanche the white faced KWPN Dutch Warmblood gelding by Naturel, that he rose to true prominence and became international team material. Since 1991 when they finished six overall and qualified as second alternate for the Pan American Games, Barisone and "Chuck" never missed the USET top 12. As a member of the 1998 USET Developing Rider Tour, they were the "clinch" ride that won the Team Gold Medal at the Nations Cup in Hickstead, England. Sadly "Chuck", who had developed serious health problems shortly after he returned to America, did not survive, despite a valiant effort to save him.
Michael and Comanche
Watching Michael and Comanche go through their paces was an eye-opener. The horse was magnificent and performed beautifully, listening to aids that were mostly invisible. The key point I came away with was that, through consistent aids, repetition, and skilled riding, you can teach the horse to respond to the lightest aid.
More Fine Points from the clinic:
When the horse acts up or backs off, stretch up and put the leg on more. When in trouble always use the leg. When the horse lifts his head up and hits the bit, slide the bit left, right, left, right, but don’t move the horse’s head left, right, just the bit. When a horse won’t take the contact on one rein, take on both reins and go forward, then it should take care of itself. Take/give, always give. Do lots of transitions within the gait to get the horse’s attention and focus. Do a little shoulder-in and counter bending to get soft. An open hand is a hard hand. A closed hand is a soft hand. Leave your hands’ connection with the reins firm, but when you soften, you soften with the wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Set up everything you do so that it will work. Ride the short side as a straight line. Take time to plot your path, and make the horse stick to it. This is good practice and training for the horse. Keep thumbs up, look up. Keep arms soft and elastic, with constant contact, like draw reins. In the trot, ride forward from the leg. In the canter, ride forward from the leg and seat.
Barisone & Neruda
Close the inside leg, sponge inside rein, sit down, stop with the outer rein. Feel when your seat goes down, down, down, in each canter stride; then when your seat goes down, that is the time to use the outer rein to ask for the transition to trot.
When leg yielding, the inside leg pushes the horse out to the rail, keep both hands to the inside to slow the forehand. The forehand usually speeds up and gets ahead of the haunches in the leg yield, which you don’t want. Sponge the inside rein to keep the horse soft.
In the ten-meter circle, or any circle, the hands move to the inside to guide the forehand around, while the inside leg is on. Sponge the inside rein.
Ride deep into the corner, then straight out of the corner, then ask for the shoulder-in. Inside leg on, move both reins to the inside to move shoulders to the inside. Sponge the inside rein, steady outside rein. Look up to the end of the ring. Keep the inside leg on. Straighten the horse before riding into the corner, keeping your inside leg on so he doesn’t swing haunches in instead of moving forehand back to the rail. Ride deep into the corner. The inside rein should be very soft during the shoulder in. Test him by giving the inside rein, if he falls out he’s not listening to the inside leg.
Half halts are a crock. You teach a green horse to go forward from the leg and to stop from the hand, then all of the sudden, in a half halt, you try to tell him to stop and go at the same time. What is that? When you use the leg, you must allow him to go somewhere.
The Double Bridle
The curb rein goes where snaffle rein usually goes, and snaffle rein goes between next fingers towards the thumb. When you want to flex longitudinally, use the leg first, then the curb (both reins always) by rotating the hands so that the curb comes into effect. Then give. Leg, curb, give, leg, curb, give, leg, curb, give. Eventually the horse will give in his jaw and pole when you apply the leg because he knows what’s coming next, so he “gives from the leg” and you don’t even need to touch the curb.
From the diagonal, aim for the corner, keep inner leg ahead (at girth), outer leg back, reins to inside. In the pirouette ride the neck down with a soft inner rein. Approach in shoulder fore so horse is already bent, outside leg touches with the spur on every stride in pirouette. Move outside rein out to slow pirouette, move outside rein against neck to speed up the pirouette.
If you’re doing four tempies, count 1,2,3,change, 1,2,3,change, 1,2,3,change. If doing three tempies, count 1,2,change, 1,2,change, 1,2,change. Be quick in using the leg.
High Tense Horse
If you’re riding a high horse who lacks focus, never stay in one thing too long. Always keep them guessing. Do lots of transitions within the gait. Don’t stretch too low with reins too long because you can’t trust the horse. If the neck comes up, use your inner leg, vibrate inner rein, flex rein, but always give. Don’t hold the horse’s mouth. Do lots of figures. When the horse is tense, do everything you can to loosen the back. Move the horse in and out like an accordion to loosen back.
Don’t do flying changes in the corner, because the horse will learn to do it on the balance change rather than listening to the aids. When introducing the flying change, ask for a change then don’t ask for a change. When they think you aren’t going to ask for a change, ask for a change. Ask for counter canter; then on the long side, ask for a change to true lead.
Sitting the Trot
Don’t worry about more trot when you’re trying to learn to sit the trot. Build the trot a little at a time as you become more comfortable.
Another video of Michael riding Neruda.
Visit Michael's website
One last note that is not horse-related, but if you like reading mysteries, Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention is coming to Indianapolis this October.
Happy reading and riding!
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Merriam Webster defines an epiphany as: an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure; a revealing scene or moment.
After 30 years of riding dressage, I finally get it. Giving credit to my past and present dressage instructors, I've gotten it before in bits and pieces. I understand the theory and how it's supposed to work. I understand what it feels like to have a horse through and moving freely underneath me. I understand what I need to do to get my horse going correctly.
I just didn't do it.
Oh, maybe I'd do it in a lesson or after a particularly inspiring clinic, but it never lasted more than one ride then I was back to my familiar routine of circles, going large, and transitions to get my horse round, listening to half-halts and coming through. Those are all the things you're supposed to do, right?
Well, yeah, right.
Only it didn't work. Not for me. It didn’t take long before my big, opinionated mare started pulling, and I started pulling. She dumped on her forehand and went faster. I pulled harder. I'd go back to my repertoire of corrections. And things would get worse.
On paper I was making the classical corrections. On horseback it was a different story.
So what was this epiphany?
I was doing the right things but not in the right way with the correct amount of variety and difficulty. I was making it too easy and too boring. There is an exercise to fix every type of problem.
How did I come to reach this epiphany?
After fourteen hours of listening to Conrad Schumacher at a symposium last weekend, it hit me like a sledgehammer. The man is a master, and I bow to the master. Normally, I go to something like that and leave thinking: That was wonderful, but I could never repeat it at home. Not so with Herr Schumacher. He made everything simple and easy with his basic instructions and his exercises.
Most of what he said I'd heard or read before. It was a combination of watching several talented horses and riders and listening to what he had to say about systematic training that finally sank into my thick skull, and I knew I had it.
So how has this changed my riding? I stopped doing endless 20-meter circles. Now I do something on a 20-meter circle. I shoulder-in, halt, reinback, turn on the haunches, change directions, etc. I do lots of things and think about how those things affect my horse’s way of going.
So for the next few weeks, I’m going to post my notes from the symposium. If you ever get the chance to see Conrad in a symposium format move heaven and earth to go. It’ll be worth it.
I'm off to ride right now.
Friday, April 3, 2009
I am an irregular reader of several horse magazines. Most of my favorites are geared towards the western rider. I read a high tech performance magazine, a ranch horse magazine and a magazine geared towards women who primarily ride western, among others.
I have noticed over the years that Colorado trainers are sorely under-represented in these publications.
It isn't because they aren't any good, there are Colorado trainers in the top-ten of the major world shows every year. I don't think it's because they aren't good looking enough, trust me, there are some hotties out there, so what is it?
I had myself a little AHA! moment. Maybe, just maybe, there isn't a Colorado writer pursuing these trainers.
I have been pounding the keys for the paper on a daily basis for going on 8 months. I am not even on the B-list as a journalist yet, but I have been working hard on cleaning up my prose and learning to write "just the facts, ma'am, just the facts." I also have gotten pretty good at giving a pertinent interview.
After spending many years hanging out with the reined cowhorse crowd, I have a good rapport with most of the top guns, both open and non-pro. I was never good enough to be threatening to anybody, but was just good enough to be helpful when asked. This got me some good connections and a few strong friendships.
I also know a few cutters, a reiner or two, some of the major players in Ranch Horse Versatility and even an all-arounder.
So here's my big plan.
I called a friend of mine who has shot to the top of his game in the last couple of years. So this Sunday I'm going out to his training facility and we're going to visit. I'm taking the kidlet, who's a pretty sharp photographer and she's going to do her thing.
I've been studying my target magazines, how the story runs, what kind of photo's they like, that kind of thing.
I think I'm ready.
I'm going to give it a shot.
I'm a little nervous.
All advice is welcome.
Here I go.
I mean it.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
By Laura Crum
If you didn’t catch the first part of this story, see “Dannyboy” (March 09).
So, Danny, my quirky horse with the bucking issue, had finally overcome his bronco tendencies under the guidance of my cowboy friend who could ride a horse that bucked. He was ready to compete in the big time as a team roping horse. We were all proud of him. The horse was really talented. He could start hard, run as fast as any horse we knew, he would put a leg in the ground and check and pull a steer as well as any head horse. He was rock solid in the box. He was well broke, would spin and slide well enough that a reiner wouldn’t sneer. He was tough minded, and could make run after run without getting excited. He had every virtue a rope horse needs. And he was a pleasant, kind, cooperative horse to be around. One hundred per cent sound. Though plain-headed, he was well made. He still thought about bucking from time to time, but was easy to talk out of it. My friend had already been offered a lot of money for him. He was seven years old. And then, one morning, I got the call.
“Danny’s hurt. Bad.”
The story was a strange one. Danny was turned out in a large field, and my friend had driven in one evening after dark to feed. The horse was familiar with this, but for some reason, he had come running in and had run right straight at the truck. My friend came to a stop and thought the horse was going to come right through the windshield. But Danny buried up right as he got to the truck and slid half under the bumper, falling down as he tried to get up. He ran off on all four legs and my friend thought he was fine. But the next morning the horse was three legged. (Since then I have heard of other horses that did this; people tell me they are blinded by the headlights and try to run between them.)
We hauled the horse to the best vet I knew, who said that Danny had thoroughly torn up his stifle joint. If he was given sufficient rest (and the vet said the only other horse he knew of who had this injury and recovered, it had taken several years of pasture layoff) he might be ridable. Probably never sound enough to rope on, though.
My cowboy friend wasn’t interested in keeping the horse. It was up to me to decide what to do. I could put him down or keep him myself and give him a chance.
Logic dictated I should put the horse down. Even if he were sound, I wouldn’t have chosen him as my riding horse. I didn’t want one that might buck. And now he might never be sound again. But Danny looked at me with his big kind eyes and I just couldn’t do it. So I kept him
I gave the horse his several years of turnout. And he did become riding horse sound. He was still a touch off in his right hind, but the vet said it was just residual arthritis issues. Danny would, mostly, warm up out of this and look completely sound. I let another young cowboy friend of mine heel on him for a couple of summers. Danny did fine, though we had to keep him on Adequan, warm him up extra carefully, and he still had days where he was too sore to use. It was an off and on thing. He was still very fast, cowy, good-minded, a terrific rope horse. Everybody admired him. He was still the nicest horse to be around that you can imagine. He would have done fine as a horse for light riding, but how do you place a horse that can only be ridden lightly because of an injury, but also might buck you off? Because, oh yeah, Danny would still occasionally buck. Whatever form of cinchieness he had, it never really went away. Once in awhile, for no reason we could predict, he’d “catch himself” and start bucking. He didn’t buck that hard any more, and he’d stop if you yelled at him, you didn’t even have to spank him. He never bucked anyone else off, but I still wasn’t game to let inexperienced people ride him. Hell, I wasn’t game to ride him myself. I’m too old and out of shape to want to wonder if/when my horse is going to start bucking.
So, I retired him. He lives in my pasture, is plenty sound enough to run and buck and play, though he isn’t quite 100% sound. He loves attention, loves to be petted, is still a pleasure to be around. Kids walk out in the field and hug him. My little boy loves him. Easy to haul, easy to trim, cooperative about anything you want to do….that’s Danny. Everybody likes him. But every time I look at him I shake my head. What a great horse he could have been. But for bad luck…
Still, Danny had good luck in a way, as the photo below will show. That’s Danny and Gunner (my 29 year old horse) as they look today. Not such a bad life, don’t you think?
I modeled the colt called Danny that my protagonist, Gail McCarthy, starts, in my seventh book, Hayburner(reviewed last week by Janet on her mugwump chronicles blog---and by the way, I highly recommend a trip to that blog today), on the real Danny. So, if anyone wants to read a few more stories about Dannyboy, there’s your chance.
PS—For those who are interested, I finished my 11th mystery this week. The ms is printed and will go off to the editor tomorrow. So, “cheers” is particularly appropriate.