Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Had the best ride today!

That Mac, he sure does keep me on my toes! After a couple weeks of not riding because it was snowy and cold, it finally got warm enough that my fingers wouldn't freeze off when riding. I've ridden in the new saddle a few times in the arena and on the trail and there's a bit of rolling side-to-side, so the saddler is going to send me some shims and I have a new saddle pad on order. I also ordered myself some offset-twisted stirrups so that twisting the fenders won't hurt my knees. I did get them pre-twisted, but with my right knee (where I had surgery), it still isn't enough. I should get the shims and pad this week and the stirrups will come later. Hopefully they'll do the trick. In the meantime, I have been on a few trail rides and LOVE this saddle for trail riding! It is really comfortable and one day I almost thought I had a heated seat! Really, I don't know how/why it would feel that way, but my buns were toasty warm and comfortable.

Until I get the rolling sorted out I've been doing arena work in my dressage saddle. We took a week off during the holiday when my parents were visiting so I just got on again the other day. Boy Mac was a spitfire! Some days he wants to play along and some days he just doesn't.

I got out my lunging caveson and so have been doing some lunging/groundwork before getting on (I was inspired by a Philippe Karl video that showed him doing groundwork with a young stallion before riding). A couple days we had lovely and impressive leaps in the air, but the last couple of times have been uneventful. I work on large circles, spiraling in/out, trotting over poles, and circumnavigating the arena with a series of circles. Then I do shoulder in and haunches in in-hand, and finish with some flexions in hand.

The past two rides I had were absolutely fantastic!!!!! I think it helped that he was able to loosen up and stretch over his back without me up first, and then after doing some specific exercises at the walk we went to the canter. That really seemed to get him loose and supple and so the rest of the ride was just great. I'm on cloud nine. It was one of those rides that I just want to tell everyone about, so here I am. We worked on transitions, SI/HI, counter canter, collected trot - medium trot, and some cavaletti pole work (cloverleaf pattern). He felt really straight and supple and light and forward and it was just wonderful!

I'll try to get a video or at least some photos in the new saddle when I've got it set up to my liking.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 6, 2013

I got my saddle . . . yes, really!!!!

I received the saddle Wednesday evening but didn't have a chance to do anything with it other than take a picture, because it was time to feed the horses dinner and do my chores. If you'll remember, I got a Crestridge saddle - they built a Wade seat on a Sentry tree, since Mac had been fitted with the Sentry and seemed to like it. Based on his measurements that I sent in, they thought he'd need and extra-wide vs. a wide. I had tried both on him, but on different days so didn't have a complete chance to compare one to the other, but I do remember that he went better in the extra-wide than in the wide. The thing I didn't like about the EW, though, was that the twist (area between your thighs) was too wide. But I liked the width of the twist in the W tree. So they built up the seat so that it feels like a W even though the tree is EW.

Yesterday I went for a first ride. The bad news is that because it is so cold we drained the water out of our irrigation pipes so I couldn't water my arena and the footing is very hard and frozen. The good news is that I did get to at least make adjustments (took me forever to figure out how to lengthen the stirrups with the Nevada twist in there!) so that the stirrups are right for me! We walked around for a bit and went for a short trail ride.

I couldn't decide between a 15" seat and a 16" seat, so went with 15.5". I'm really happy with the 15.5" seat. The 15" would have been too small and while I think the 16" would work, I'd probably have to scoot my butt back to get into the sweet spot of the saddle, and then my legs wouldn't be underneath me as they are with the 15.5". With this saddle I feel more like I can move with him in the saddle vs. moving IN the saddle (with a seat that's too big), if that makes any sense.

Some things that I pay attention to with Mac to know if he likes a saddle or not will help me decide if/how well he likes it; so far the signs are good. Mac stood completely still for saddling and didn't try to bite the side of the trailer or the air or turn around to try to take a bite out of me. He stood happy and relaxed and patiently while I tacked him up (and spent 10 minutes or so trying to adjust the fenders); when I was feeling under and all around the saddle, he "dropped" and so I think he was pretty happy and relaxed! Another thing I monitor on him is how he walks down hill. When he's feeling good and he's happy with his tack he is very forward going down hill, which he was today for the short little ride we went on.

I love the color - I was worried that it might be a bit yellow, based on the color swatches on their website, but it is a lovely chestnut color. The craftsmanship is excellent and it looks and feels very well made - moreso than some more expensive saddles that I tried where I found irregularities and uneven work.

We're supposed to have rain and snow for the next couple of days so I think I'll be able to go for a long trail ride on Sunday - I didn't ride long enough yesterday to get a good sweat pattern to look at.

One suggestion I might offer to the company would be to number the holes on the fenders because I had to take the long strap down and count from the bottom to make sure I got them on the same holes. I don't anticipate changing stirrup length a lot, but it would have minimized some frustration up front when my fingers were frozen and didn't work very well!

Their saddles are made so that you can "center-firing" the rigging (use the back ring you see in the picture above, as well as the front ring - this stabilizes the saddle more on the horse's back). I'm familiar with this and have done it before on another saddle, but there are only 11 holes in the latigo (the holes only go halfway down the latigo) so I don't actually have a hole to put the cinch buckle in. My cinch is long enough that with other saddles I've tried I've been able to use this feature. So I'm thinking that my latigo should either have more holes or perhaps I need to get a bigger cinch? On their video I see that the cinch ring is right up by the bottom of the saddle but my cinch is only long enough to go just above the elbows.

Looking forward to a long trail ride on Sunday so I can get a better idea of how it feels for Mac, but so far I like it!


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New videos!

Actually, I'll start off by saying I ordered a new saddle - a Crest Ridge. It will have the bars of the Sentry but the seat/horn of the Wade model. I hope I like it! I know the Sentry bars fit Mac and it turns out the extra-wide should fit him better than the wide. Now I wait for six weeks or so! Can't wait to report back with hopefully good news that we both like it!

Now to videos. I got Colin to video my ride on Sunday and I was so pleased. Usually when I get a video of my riding, I don't like it or it doesn't look like how it feels. Or when I know the camera is rolling I get tense and then don't have a good ride. But on Sunday I didn't have tension, had a great ride, and only had to edit out one small part that I didn't like.

Here is the first of four clips. This is our warmup where we did some baby lateral work like shoulder in and leg yield and then canter.

The second clip shows us doing trot work. It is hard to get a feel for what we were doing because the straightaways were sort of at the wrong angle, but we were shortening the stride on the short side of the arena and lengthening (which compared to a normal horse looks just like a regular trot!) on the long side.

In the third clip we are working on walk-canter-walk transitions on a figure eight. You can hear me telling him what a good boy he is after one of the transitions.

The last clip is doing a few small canter circles. This is new work for us and a bit more challenging because he has to keep himself together and not fall apart.

I'm trying to ride him in a more "up" frame (which is a word I hate, but you know what it means) and balance it out with stretching. These videos are finally a place where I can look back to see really great progress with Mac. He's doing so well in his work and even if he might get frustrated, he tries and he never says no. I love that horse!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

New saddle!

Gotcha! I still don't have a new saddle!

I tried a couple McCall saddles - well, I actually only tried one on Mac because on the other one I could feel the stirrup leather on the underside of the saddle and didn't want to bother riding Mac in it because I'd be worried that it would be a pressure point for him. The other one I did try but didn't buy it for a few reasons - for one it was too wide and/or had too much rock in the bars. Another reason was that I was less than impressed with the workmanship - there were a couple of things that were not right in that saddle and it made me leery of ever buying one.

I've been to the tack store and gotten a few saddles on trial but none of them worked, either.

My saddle fitter came out again on Thursday and brought a couple Steele saddle tree forms with her so that we could put them on Mac's back and see what's what. Well, wouldn't you know - the trees that were the worst fit on him were QH and FQH. Of course that is what most factory made saddles are built on. They have too much rock and angle for Mac's back. And wouldn't you know what IS a good fit for him? A MULE tree! Mule trees are shorter in the bars and also have less rock than other trees. So now at least I have an idea of how to continue my search. While she was here I tried a Crest Ridge Sentry on him and liked it. I had tried one at our last appointment but found the twist too wide. This one that I tried was narrower and felt very comfortable - while the twist felt narrower, it didn't feel too narrow so that it felt like my seatbones were hanging off the side. Now I need to contact the Crest Ridge people to talk to them about trees and what they have in stock. Other saddles that were suggested were Allegany so I'll get in touch with them as well. Close . . . I'm so close!

In the meantime, Mac continues to do well in our dressage saddle. Today we worked on 15-meter canter circles and counter-canter. He seems to have grasped the concept of shoulder-in and so that has been a fun progression. We do a little shoulder-in, switch to haunches-in, then strike off into the canter. We do simple changes. We do fun cavaletti exercises with trot-canter transitions thrown in the mix. It is like weight lifting for horses! A trail ride is on the agenda for tomorrow, it is always nice to get out of the arena and goof around on a loose rein.

Sad news

It is with much sadness that I report that Tomato, my husband's horse, had to be put down a couple weeks ago. Tomato had an acute neurologic episode last year and since then had been managed with daily Previcox. A couple months ago the Previcox was losing its effect and Tomato became more ataxic to the point where he could not walk in a straight line. Instead of waiting for the time when he might fall down and hurt himself, or someone else, or when he would go down and not be able to get up, we let him go on a beautiful fall day after grazing in the pasture and enjoying a mouthful of carrots.

Rest in peace, Tomato. You were most definitely the best horse - full of heart and strength and leadership and kindness and I enjoyed our conversations. Even though Colin didn't believe it, I know you understood me and always answered my questions with a shake or nod of the head. Little girls loved you. We loved you, too.

We do now have another companion horse, Sunny. Sunny is a 16-year-old paint who is retired due to a suspensory injury. His only job is to be here for Mac so Mac doesn't get lonely. That is working out well, but Mac is not as nice a boss as Tomato was. While Mac hasn't hurt Sunny, he's not very friendly to him, either. Sunny is very happy to have green grass to munch on . . . and a bit of alfalfa at night doesn't hurt, either!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I hate saddle shopping!!!!!

ARG!!!! So I had a local independent saddle fitter come out to try some new western saddles on Mac. We came up with three options for me to ride in. The first was too wide. The second I just didn't like. The third one I loved because I felt it put me close to Mac and didn't feel too different from riding in my dressage saddle. But. They didn't want to leave the saddle with me for a trial period because they needed it for other customers.

So I ordered the saddle from the saddle maker and it came promptly - right in time for a Bryan Neubert clinic that I was going to attend (which I'll blog about separately). I didn't even get to ride in it before I arrived at the clinic.

During the clinic, I realized the seat size was too big for me. The fit for Mac was okay, but not perfect. I was worried about the fit of the front of the tree - it is a bit too wide so that the top portion (near his withers) is tight and the bottom portion (near the elbow) is wider and doesn't make contact with his back. This means that more weight is distributed over a narrower portion of the bars. I didn't have a good pad with me, though, and was fussing around with various adjustments. The saddle also seemed to slip side to side more than I'd like.

I got photos of the sweat patterns, which weren't as I expected to see them - they showed a wider area of dryness - was that more pressure or no contact? You can see how on this side the rear sweat pattern from the saddle also seems like it is a bit off center - maybe because it rolls around too much on his back?

The saddle maker was kind enough to send me a saddle in a smaller seat size, which felt great for me, but I was still getting the same kind of pressure at the top near the withers than I'd like.

So I went to the local tack shop and they had a Martin Wade (Martin is the brand, Wade is the type of tree) that I took home on trial. I liked the saddle . . . mostly. Mac seemed to be more forward and free in his movements than with the other saddle, but the seat was too big for me so I wouldn't buy that one in particular. I set up the video camera to get a bit of video of me riding in it.

I thought I'd still keep looking so went to two different tack stores to pick up two more saddles. Nope. One was just way too narrow (which was too bad since the saddle was beautiful), and the other just wasn't comfortable for me once I started riding in it.

How hard can it be to find a western saddle? I don't feel like I'm totally shooting in the dark. I mean, there are certain things I'm looking for, so I can cross a couple of sub-categories of saddles off my list. It just takes a lot of trial and error and experimenting.

The saddle maker of the saddle I thought I liked has offered to do some custom shimming to the tree to make it a more appropriate fit. I've got to consider that, but think I'll probably decline his offer and keep looking.

Did I say ARGH yet???

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Saddle review - Freeform western saddle

I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Freeform western saddle that was coming on trial. I've had a Freeform Classic in the past and loved it for the trails, but when it came to arena work, it just didn't feel right - I couldn't get my legs in the right place and the saddle moved too much. I was hoping this saddle would be different.

The first day I got it and rode in it, I didn't like it. Same complaint as last time - I felt just *too* bouncy and all over the place. Mac was nice and forward, but I just couldn't find the right spot.

The next day I went on a trail ride in it and liked it much better. We walked, trotted, and cantered on the trails, went up and down hills, and had a normal trail ride. I got a good sweat pattern with a dry line down the spine and thought there may be hope. Here's how we look in the saddle.

Then I tried it in the arena one more day but again couldn't get with it. I just don't find it works well with dressage-type flatwork. As Mac's ribcage moves, the saddle goes to one side or the other with it (which in theory sounds like a good thing, but it makes me feel like I'm wobbling all over the place). If Mac decided to spook or buck, I'm not sure what would happen. That plus it made my knees hurt because of the fenders being stiff, and my hips hurt as well.

So I'm sending it back. Sigh.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Yesterday's lesson

I had a lesson with a new trainer yesterday. The lesson was more along following the things I've learned by taking this different path with Mac, so most of it was ground work. Lisa, the new trainer, came to my place to work with us and asked me about challenges with Mac. The two things that I need to learn how to help him with are his braciness (is that even a word?) and his reactivity. Sure enough, she saw his reactivity when she had me do an exercise with him and I shook the flag and he, well, reacted boldly. She saw and understood that he has a strong instinct to flee and so she had us do a few different exercises to work on that; at one point she took him and showed me a new exercise that I'll try on my own.

She had an interesting explanation for a couple different horse personality types. A fearful horse, she explained, will spend a lot of time in fear mode, then move into defiance mode, but won't spend a lot of time there. A bold horse will spend a little time in fear mode, and more time in defiance mode before deciding to be with you. In the case of a horse being in fear mode, we should keep calm and have an energy that doesn't escalate the situation. There may be times when the horse is in defiance mode that we have to be a bit louder to be clear with what we're asking. In either case, she said we should have black and white boundaries of what we want, no grey areas that might confuse the horse.

She has a bosal that she brings with her and we tried to put it on Mac, but his nose is so big that it didn't fit. Hers is a 9" and he clearly needs a bigger one. I'm going to a Bryan Neubert clinic at the end of the month and I'm hoping he'll be able to help me find a size/style that fits Mac.

At the end, for the last 20-30 minutes, I got on. She had me do some bending exercises which are exercises that I've done in the past, but she suggested a different way to do them that did work better, both for my position, and for taking the brace out of Mac and producing a softer result.

It is so interesting to be taking this path. Surely I could get on and WTC and "just ride," but I find the work I'm doing to be very interesting in "getting to" Mac, in changing his responses from hard to soft, in creating a partnership, in getting to what makes him tick and how we can best work together.

I've got a new saddle on trial - a western-style Freeform treeless saddle. It just came in the mail yesterday (but too late for my lesson) - can't wait to try it today!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Silly video

Ever see video from a helmet cam perspective? That's where the rider has a little video camera on the helmet and you can kind of get the feel of their ride from seeing it from there view. Well, I don't have a helmet cam. But I do have a cell phone with a video camera!

On yesterday's trail ride I decided to get out my cell phone and record a couple minutes of my ride in the beautiful pine forest. To do this, I had to take off my glove (I don't know about you but I can't handle a cell phone with gloves on), stuff it in the pocket of my fishing vest, take the holder off my phone and put it in the pocket also. Hold the camera in my right hand at the right height and hold my reins and my whip in my left hand. As a side note, I carry a dressage whip on the trail for many reasons, least of which is using it on my horse! Every now and then if I have good timing, I can actually swat a fly with it! I use it to mostly clear any cobwebs on a trail...those one-stringers that go from tree to tree and get on your face and are really annoying. I also use it to scratch my back, to get bugs off of Mac's neck, to flip his mane over just 'cause, to move a branch away, and I'm sure some other things that I can't remember at the moment.

Anyway, back to my video. So I've got my reins gathered, the camera on, and I'm ready to go. Off we go to a walk, then a little cluck up to a trot, then a little squeeze into the canter until the trail starts a slight gradual downhill and we go back to the trot. You hear my vest moving around a lot at the beginning so I sort of have to have my reins long enough that my left arm can be across my vest holding it still so it doesn't jostle all over the place and make noise. Then I've got to alternate looking in front of me where I'm going and at the phone screen to make sure I have Mac's head in the camera. And I decided to post the trot, too, so you'll notice that movement as well.

This part of the trail is covered in crushed rock/gravel, so his footsteps are really loud . . .and he's barefoot, so that's cool.

At about 1:50, I think, you'll hear me exhale loudly. That's my "downward shift" cue to walk. Then later on I also do it again and that's my walk-halt cue. Of course I use my body, too, but Mac really listens to that breath.

So here's the blurry and wobbly video for you to enjoy!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Ok, not lions. And not tigers. But one bear - oh, my!

On Sunday Mac and I had a lovely trail ride with some new friends (Mac's girlfriend from the Buck Brannaman clinic and her mare friend) - we went up to the forest to enjoy a light rain shower in the tall pines as we guided our horses along the single-track trails through the trees. Just as we were walking down the last 100' of trail to turn to a smaller trail that would begin our loop home, a BEAR crossed our paths!

I've been trail riding at this location for 9 years now. I know there are bears up there, but until now I had never seen one. Based on the short time I got to see it, I would estimate that it was 400 lb. or so, so not a huge bear, but certainly a bear of substance (well, aren't they all?).

Deciding that chasing after a bear wasn't the wisest thing to do, we turned around to take a different trail back. The horses weren't hugely spooked, but they definitely knew that something big and potentially scary crossed their paths. As we turned the other way, there was just a bit of tension in the air.

My words as a yoga teacher kicked in and I followed my own advice. Sensing the potential tension in the situation, I focused on my breathing. I frequently talk about how changing your breath can change your body's response - and as riders, we know that our horses feed off of our energy, so changing our response changes their response. Recognizing that my breath could help keep anxiety to a minimum and create a sense of calm right away, I focused on breathing into my belly. Inhale, belly expands against waistband; exhale, belly contracts; repeat. I focused only on belly breathing, keeping my center of gravity low and my shoulders relaxed and releasing tension with each exhale.

And you know what? It worked! What could have been a scary situation didn't escalate at all. It took about two seconds for my body to respond and my horse to respond and we turned and went on our merry way down a different trail, loopy rein and all.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Pony rides!

My husband is horse shopping, which is always fun in theory, but never fun in practice. In order to get him some saddle time so he gets a little bit more "riding fit" for trying new horses, I gave him a lesson on Mac yesterday. Since Mac has been so good lately, I figured I'd get on and warm him up just to make sure he's in a good mood, and then give DH a lesson.

Well they both did a great job! Not that I expected Mac to take off bucking or anything, because I didn't, but I didn't expect him to be as accepting of a new rider as he was. Aside from maybe two other times when someone else has gotten on him in the past three years, I am the only person to have ridden him since I got him, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Mac did test DH a bit, by leaning into the left circle, mostly, but once I told DH how to ride Mac so that he's balanced, he got the hang of it and they had a lovely ride. They walked, trotted, cantered, and did some trot poles. Actually, compared to the other horses that we've had DH do a test ride on, his ride on Mac was actually the best!

Perhaps next time I'll get a picture - I think this will be a regular occurrence.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New videos - with new bridle!

Yesterday's ride was an exercise that served two purposes: 1) to prove that doing ground work before riding IS important, and 2) that I shouldn't be lazy about not doing ground work. I set up the video camera at the end of the arena, so the video quality isn't good - there's no following zooming-in and zooming-out, and at parts of the video I go out of view. Still, it is good to have on hand to show me what I need to work on. Which is not being lazy and skipping my ground work exercises.

I tried to do some of the ground work exercises under saddle and was moderately successful. For some reason the opening-rein-leading-the-inside-foot-in-a-turn is more difficult to the right. Had I not been so determined to NOT do ground work and prepared Mac ahead of time, it may have gone better. Well, something to remember for next time.

I also tried to do some backing exercises under saddle. Again, had I done my ground work beforehand, it might have gone more smoothly. Here's a video of us backing and then turning to the inside to change direction and picking up the trot; repeat.

I found Mac to be more braced than when I do my . . . guess what!? . . . ground work ahead of time. I tried to work through some of this with starting some leg yield work. I had actually done a modified leg yield zig-zag a couple days ago and it went really well. Due to the size of my arena, though, I had only room for a zig and half of a zag. Yesterday I cut the leg yielding short because I didn't want to go out of frame. Anyway, this video shows our attempt at that.

In our trot and canter work, I tried to work on keeping my hands steady and quiet, and I think I did a good job of that. After watching how Buck warms up on such a loose rein, I wanted to try that as well, but I turned out to be somewhere in between loose rein and contact, with my reins too long and Mac in sort of an in-between posture.

Here we are cantering left.

And here we are cantering right.

I was really hard on myself last night after watching the whole video. So of course I spliced it up into smaller videos that I didn't hate so much and when I look back on them today they don't look as bad as I thought. I was just disappointed in myself because I've been feeling like we are so *right there* together and in synch. And it comes from doing ground work. And I didn't do it yesterday, so I was working with a braced feeling and not the lightness that I have been feeling.

Well, lesson learned!!

Today I DID do ground work before riding and had a very lovely ride, thankyouverymuch. I just don't have any video to prove it! ;-)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

And the work continues

So armed with a headful of new ideas from the Buck clinic I came home to practice what I learned. For the first few days after the clinic I continued to work Mac in the rope halter before I got on. Soon enough, though, I decided to just bridle him right away and take him out to the arena. I still do a bit of ground work before mounting, but in the bridle instead of the halter.

Some of the exercises I do are the "drift" exercise, moving forward and back from a soft feel (with me standing in front of him), backing in circles, and moving "off the leg" from a bump with the stirrup. Then I get on and work on the short serpentines, small circles with the front crossing over, small circles with the hind crossing over, then putting those together for the 180/180 exercise. I also work on longitudinal flexion after doing those lateral flexion exercises. At the halt I ask him to give to contact and then release. From there, I move into backing, and then backing and finishing with moving the front legs around 180 to change direction. Of course in a perfect world this would all go smoothly and easily, but each day is new and some days are better than others.

Today was the first day I rode Mac since last Wednesday, as I work a full day on Thursdays and then Friday went out of town with Paddy to drop him off on trial for a lease. Then I had to work a full day yesterday. The wind is up today and Tomato (my husband's horse) has now realized he is alone in the pasture and so was calling out a bit while I was out with Mac. Mac was very good and did not call back and did not seem nervous in the least to be out alone - not that he ever is, but circumstances have changed with us now having two horses instead of three.

Mac was a little looky with the wind blowing, but he was very very good! At the times he wanted to drop his inside shoulder and move away from the rail, I slid up on the inside rein and practiced a 1-rein stop. After all the warm-up exercises mentioned above, we had a trot around and again when he was feeling a bit distracted I worked on circles. I talk to my horses when I ride, so I told Mac, "I have all day to ride you. I have nowhere to be but here, so we can work on figure-8 circles until the cows come home - which is not a good deal for you, my friend, since we have no cows!" Adopting this mind set let me settle into the work and he settled into the work also. I worked on refining my geometry and making good circles and finding opportunities to soften so he could be rewarded for carrying himself in a soft way. It was a great approach and we didn't have to spend too long on the circles.

We went to more trot work with the feeling of collecting for a few steps, and then moving out down the long side; collect a few steps on the short side, move out on the long side. That went really well! So from there we worked on transitions and then moved up into the canter and did some transitions there. It was a great ride.

I'm really enjoying this connection with Mac, and I think he's finding me to be trustworthy, reliable, consistent, and a good leader - at least I hope so, anyway!

I'm working on seeing if I need to adjust his saddle at all so while I was taking pictures for the saddler, I got one of him standing tied. Unfortunately the shadow from the pole is right on his face so you can't see how cute he looks, but you can see my new saddle pad!

Friday we meet up with his girlfriend Winnie for a trail ride - THAT should be FUN!!!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Buck Brannaman clinic report - day 4

Sigh. It was the last day of the clinic. As I mentioned, I bought a western bridle and had one of the guys at Frecker's (the saddle shop that was selling lovely saddles and bridles and bits and spurs and mecate (is the plural mecates?) and bosals and all sorts of other wonderful things) assemble the mecate and headstall with my bit. I had to watch carefully because when I got home I bought a new bit (they were sold out at Frecker's at the clinic) and would have to disassemble and reassemble it on my own!

Here I am at home, trying to figure out the mecate before taking it apart and putting my new eggbutt plain snaffle on.

Anyway, on the night of day 3 I had already done my riding homework and Mac had been so good that I just put the new bridle on him and practiced flexions. My first reaction was that I could "feel" more - or maybe Mac could feel more, because it seemed I could have a lighter contact with the mecate to get the same response as in my english bridle but with a heaver feel. I wonder if it is the weight of the mecate rope and the slobber straps that offer the horse a "pre-cue," so to speak, to tell him that something is coming? In any event, it was an interesting difference.

So the last day came and Buck wanted us to be ready to ride in the clinic right away; meaning, do your ground work before class starts and be ready to get on. When I brought Mac in to the arena ahead of time, as I had done every morning prior, he was quiet and settled. There didn't seem to be any tension, and I felt like I didn't have to do as much ground work as the previous mornings in order to get him to the same soft and ready-to-work spot. So, gulp, I got on. There were a couple other people mounted but everybody else was doing ground work. Mac felt so good underneath me! I practiced the one-rein stop from the walk, we trotted forward, we trotted in circles around other people, and if I felt him falling in to the circle, I would use a modified one-rein stop to get him to disengage the hind end, then continue forward. I think this is what Buck was referring to as the drift, so I'll talk about it for a moment.

Buck spoke of the drift in the classes, but he didn't have anyone practice it. I think I was actually already practicing it, so I think I understand what it is. When having the horse circle, change your body position and rope position to move back toward his haunches so he disengages for a couple strides. Then ask him to move out on the circle again. So you don't come to a stop, you have the horse just cross over behind for a couple steps, then go forward again. This is an excellent set up for the very thing that I tend to have trouble with when I first start a ride - Mac will get heavy on his inside shoulder. What he needs to do is line up his haunches and he also needs to understand the connection with my rein to his hind leg. This exercise helps with that and was one thing I was practicing before class started.

The last morning of questions someone asked about a horse who is terrified of cows. Buck had an interesting comment about horses and cows. I'm paraphrasing, of course, so I hope I'm correctly summing up what he said. He said the first time he heard of a horse afraid of a cow, he thought it was a joke because in his experience with working ranch horses, horses inherently know they are superior to cows. Horses are faster than cows and they know they can move them around. Otherwise, he said, we'd ride cows and rope horses . . . that got a good laugh. To work with this problem, change your approach (your, as in the person) to the cow. Instead of being scared of the cow and thinking you hope your horse doesn't spook at it, think "I'm gonna git you, cow!" and move with the intent to move the cow. Once the horse realizes that he makes the cow move (just like the dominant horse makes the lower horses move), then the story changes and the horse becomes confident.

So back to the riding part. We all mounted up and Buck had us working on the same things the other classes had been working on from day 1: short serpentines and the 180/180 exercise. He watched us as we played around with that for a while and I'm happy to say that Mac was totally focused on me this last day, and I was totally focused on him. I wasn't worried about where other horse/rider combinations were, I wasn't worried about who was doing what, I completely forgot that there might be anyone watching us (even Buck!), and I was really in the moment and in the exercise. Now, that doesn't mean I did the exercise perfectly, of course, but I did have moments of getting it and so I would keep hunting those moments.

After working on those on our own for a while, Buck had us see if we could take a soft feel on the reins and practice a bit of longitudinal flexion at the walk. Then we'd take a soft feel and stop; then walk forward; then do a serpentine or 180/180 - basically we mixed it up a bit with all the things we had been practicing. He had us change direction with purpose, paying attention to our timing . . . this is a funny thing. Not ha-ha funny, but interesting. I find I'm guilty of this so often, and I saw other people in the other classes were, too. When doing an exercise, one can be so intent on trying to do it right - there's a lot of try there and a lot of attention to detail. Yet when the exercise is over and we stop for a break or chit chat, we stop feeling of the horse, we stop riding. The first time I noticed he drew attention to this was with one of the riding classes earlier in the clinic. When he asked people to reverse direction, they just fell apart and stopped focusing on their feel and timing. I don't know why that is, but I get it and I'm guilty of it as well. Basically, we should be riding with purpose and quality all the time!

Buck mentioned a time when he was riding one of his horses . . . actually, I don't remember the set-up, but I don't think it was in a clinic. Anyway, he came in from his ride and someone asked him how it went and he said he had a good ride. The other person said "but you didn't do anything, you just stood there!" Buck commented that to an outsider maybe that's all it looked like; but to him, he was developing feel and timing the whole time. He was working with the horse on such a subtle level of shifting weight in response to cues that to someone who wasn't paying attention, it looked like nothing was going on. That level of subtlety is certainly something to strive for!

In our closing circle Buck said he was proud of all of us - we tried hard, we did good work, the horses progressed throughout the clinic. On the first day he said he "hates Fridays and loves Mondays" because Fridays are a bit chaotic, but Mondays are the days when it all comes together and you can see the results of everyone's efforts. It was a bit melancholy, too - the energy had changed because we'd all be leaving after this.

I wish I could do the clinic justice in my writings here. He shared so many stories, but if I wrote them all down at once it would make your eyes bleed from reading them! I learned so much by watching so many different teams work together. I learned so much by listening to his lesson-disguised-as-an-anecdote. You may think he just has funny stories to tell, but each one is a lesson in humility, grace, leadership, and life.

My goal is to continue attending clinics, to continue watching my 7 Clinics DVDs over and over and over again, to seek out quality people to learn from, to trust my own instincts when it comes to my horse, to never stop learning. It was truly a life-changing experience. And you know what? The last day Mac didn't call out to anyone while we were in class - that was my question for Buck at the beginning, and at the end, I had Mac's full attention. Well, almost . . . at the very end of class, in our closing circle, Winnie his neighbor and new love did quietly nicker at him - and he nickered back.

There was a photographer there who was taking pictures but I think it will take a while for her to get them up, so I'll share just one more that my friend took. This is me and Mac. I'm hot and sweaty after day 2 and I'm waiting to have my picture taken with Buck. Mac is calling out to one of his many friends, so his nostrils are flared. But I love the alert expression in his eye, the strength of his head, the trust he places in me to lead him through this adventure.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Buck Brannaman clinic - day 3

Mac was calmer the morning of day 3 - not that he was ever NOT calm, but it took less preparation to get him settled after walking into the arena. Again, we started with ground work and this time it was practicing the in-hand flexions that were our homework. We did some lateral flexions, longitudinal flexions, and backing in hand from the ground. For the backing exercise, he wanted the horse to be able to back in a straight line (it was ok to use the wall) by a soft feel on the slobber strap and then come right forward from a soft feel as well. The goal here was to get rid of any bracing that the horse holds in a transition from forward to back / back to forward. Eventually he said we would want to try to just rock the horse and shift his weight without him taking a step - shifting from side to side or front to back to front to back, etc.

The next backing exercise was backing in a circle. Basically the horse is slightly flexed in one direction, and the feet move in the opposite direction to create the circle. As I found out in my homework from the night before, it is much easier to break this down into quarter-circles before attempting an entire circle at one go. Eventually under saddle you would be able to do this exercise and then using an opening rein move the forehand over like in the 180 exercise . . . you're just going backward first.

Then Buck told us to mount up and we'd start our work under saddle. He mentioned riding with the flag and how you might do that and ride one-handed so you can use the flag as a back-up aid, or also to get the horse used to having the flag coming from above while under saddle. Here's Mac with the flag:

And another where you can see he's going to step over with his hind end (I think that's his girlfriend's butt in the foreground):

And Mac trying to get Reuben's attention because they were friends:

Buck had us work on one-rein stops, then standing and then moving the hind end over. We also were to work on shallow serpentines - OMG, it is so much harder than it looks and sounds like!

It was very impressive from a chaos standpoint. Whereas he had the afternoon groups working all in the same direction, since we started off practicing mostly non-forward-moving exercises, everyone ended up going every which way! I got so bogged down in moving feet that I wasn't executing the exercise very well. Every time I looked up to move, it seemed like someone was right there and so I'd circle some more. Gah! I will say, though, I got the feeling of how it must feel to train a horse to do a spin! It was fun to figure out that opening rein and linking it with a front foot and feeling like the degree to which you open your rein, or the timing thereof will tell your horse how long to hold that foot in the air and/or how far to move it over. What fun!

And speaking of spins, Buck went into a discussion about the difference between what he teaches and reining spins. IIRC, reining spins have the horse spin on the inside leg and he wants the horse to have the outside leg planted. He said it was more practical for working cows the way he does it, otherwise the horse wouldn't be ready to move out at a canter on a moment's notice.

As we were working our way around the arena in our serpentines, we got to the point where there was a flickering sunbeam on the ground that caught Mac's attention. Buck had the same situation with Reuben on the first day and used it as an opportunity to keep Reuben in "the rectangle" and centered and focused on Buck. So I did the same with Mac and he was very responsive. He did have to give it a good look, though.

Finally we were relaxed enough to have a little trot. Sheesh - I so look like a hunter in a western saddle!

So that was day 3 - a lot of just figuring out timing of aids and how what we did on the ground transferred to what we were doing under saddle.

And because I drank the Koolaid and it tasted good, I bought Mac a western bridle. I took the picture in his stall so it was hard to get a decent shot, but here it is.

Now I'm bummed out, though, because my saddle is black and my bridle is brown. I bought a saddle blanket that kind of ties them together but I want them to match!!!!!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Buck Brannaman clinic - day 2 report

I'm having a hard time remembering the specifics of day 2 at this point - it was all a blur in hindsight! I think it was more of the same to start, so we were to work on moving around the arena on the ground, not just doing the half-circle exercise in one place. This is really hard and I actually ended up doing something a little different because I felt like that was what Mac needed at the time. Instead of going around the whole arena, I worked on the fence-line near the stands, since that seemed to scare him the most. What I worked on was simply the half-circle exercise but with me standing in place (like in day 1 . . . we were supposed to be walking in a straight line, though). I'd pick a spot along the wall and work there for a bit, then move to a different spot on the wall and work there, and so on. What I did (and I'll refer back to this later so make a mental note) was to create a "chute" of sorts whereby Mac had to pass between me and the wall. At first the chute was wide, but I slowly narrowed it so he'd have to go closer to the wall to stay out of my bubble. There were points where I would open the door (ask him to "follow the feel" of my lead rope) and he'd hesitate. All I would do is quietly raise my flag - I didn't shake it, I didn't make my energy loud, I just raised it from pointing at the ground to pointing at him behind the balance point - and wait. I didn't increase my energy because I could see his little brain trying to decide if he could trust me and if it was safe to go through. And he did trust me, and he did go through (and as soon as he made a step forward, I lowered my flag). After a couple times of decreasing hesitation, he went through with no trouble so I'd move to a different spot.

Here we are goofing off at the beginning of class before the work started.

Back to what I said to remember for the future. Buck worked on the very thing I mentioned earlier about Mac with regard to thinking and trying to figure something out. There was another horse who didn't understand how to follow the feel and the invitation to move forward. He took the horse from the owner and did a demonstration on how to get it to work, as I mentioned in my first update. If he could see the horse thinking and considering and trying to make a decision, he wouldn't up the energy, he'd wait on the horse to figure it out.

Buck was all about patience and waiting on the horse, which was so refreshing! If the horse said no, then Buck would show him the right answer and try again until the horse showed some try. When the horse was trying, Buck would wait on him to get the right answer and Buck would let him just stand there for a moment and think about it, then go back to the exercise, perhaps on the other side.

So keeping that in the back of your mind, I came up with a theory on how Buck works with the students in his class. I've heard people say that Buck seems to ignore people or not give everyone attention. First off, I will say that if you have a question, he will take his time to answer it for you. The beginning of each class is a lot of standing around and talking because he is answering questions and explaining things. I asked a question before class "started" every day, but once under saddle or doing exercises I got no instruction from him (except for one comment where he said "good timing" :-D ). I think the reason for this is the same as what I mentioned above with the horse. I think (and I could be totally wrong) that if he sees you trying to figure it out and he sees that your tries result in a correct response (eventually - it is hard to get on the first try!), then you are going to have a better understanding of how to get it right than if he told you all the time what you were doing wrong. Does that make sense? If he saw me doing something and I was close to getting it right, and then the next time I got it right, then the next time I didn't, but I did get it right two times after that, he would see that I'm progressing in my learning and the best way for me to learn is to get feedback from the horse. The horse's correct response is the best lesson and that's what will make it sink in more than anything. I hope that makes sense.

Here's a picture break to look at Mac because he's cute in a big-head sort of way.

At the end of day 2 we put our bridles on and worked on flexion for just a little bit, and that was to be our homework for the evening. Working on lateral flexion from the ground was (of course) the precursor to getting it under saddle. Buck looks for 3 things from lateral flexion: bend (turning the head to 90 degrees), poll higher than the withers, and ears level. He is adamant that if the ears aren't level then the horse will be out of balance. Of course, in the beginning you're not going to get all three at once, so start by just accepting one thing as correct. Then as that is consistent, wait on the horse until he finds the next thing and build on that, etc. Again, this isn't something that we force our horses in to. We ask, wait for them to offer the correct response, and release immediately. If you take up the reins and the horse just starts to bend, reward that and build on it. When he's getting the correct bend, then wait for him to bring his poll up (if it is too low) and as soon as he does a minute lifting of the poll with the bend, then release. Build on that. Then once he's got the bend and the poll up, wait for him to level out his ears. Once he does, immediately release. And so on and so forth. Giving breaks for really good tries is important.

Buck said lateral flexion comes before longitudinal flexion, so after we practiced the lateral we moved on to longitudinal. Same thing. Poll higher than the withers. Ears even. This time the head should be centered. Reward for tries and progress from there.

Here we are practicing some longitudinal flexion.

So our homework after day 2 was to practice these flexions and also to combine "leg" into the mix with lateral flexion. So once you are in lateral flexion, use your stirrup to gently bump, bump, bump behind the balance point. Again, quietly and gently, and wait and see how light you can be with that aid to get the horse to move over behind. Release once he starts moving so he knows that's what you want is movement. Repeat. As with all the other exercises, be patient and wait on your horse to figure it out and release immediately once he gives you a try.

Buck is gracious enough to spend time at the end of the day signing autographs and doing pictures if people want them . . . which of course I did!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Buck Brannaman clinic - day 1 report

Last weekend I went to the Buck Brannaman clinic and am happy to report it was the best horsey experience of my life. I was nervous ahead of time because I didn't know what to expect, but it was the most amazing weekend - it is hard to come down from the high! I didn't take any notes because I wanted to watch and absorb everything I was seeing and hearing and if I stopped to take notes, I'd miss a lot of the action. So my reports are going to be from what I remember . . . but I remember a lot!

First off, the reason why I went in the first place. Exactly a year ago Mac bucked me off HARD at our second show. I had taken him to a show the weekend before and he was great, but this show was a different story. Looking back on it (and I had this realization right away), it was my fault, as I didn't prepare him properly. I was so used to my TB, who is easy-peasy at shows, who never needs lunging, who doesn't have to walk around to get used to anything, who isn't much bothered by other horses or people, that I forgot that Mac may not have been so easy. After he bucked me off, I got back on and rode and did two classes the next day, but scratched after that. I was in pain and I just couldn't take any more. I did what I could to work through the potential fear issue, but the physical pain was too much.

After that, I took a look at my program and what I was doing and realized I needed more help - and a different kind of help - to get me through these issues. I needed tools to help me get into Mac's head, to help me help him, to work with him so that I would be his safety net and that he wouldn't go running and dump me if the shit hit the fan and he got scared. Regular dressage training wasn't going to cut it - I needed someone who had experience working with mustangs and troubled horses.

I spent a couple months with someone who started me off in the right direction, and after feeling what a difference the "natural horsemanship" training made in Mac's rideability, I was eager for more. [Sidenote: I hate to call it "natural horsemanship" but that is a buzzword these days that most people understand to mean a more in-depth program of ground work, which is where we needed to start. Really, it is just horsemanship and getting more involved with your horse than just getting on and riding, but that's a whole debate I don't want to get into!] I had heard about Buck Brannaman's 7 Clinics DVDs and after much debating with myself about whether or not they would be worth it, I decided to buy them. That was maybe 3-4 months ago. And yes, they are worth it. Right away I started working on the exercises, and right away I started to notice a difference in my horse. On a whim I looked up his clinic schedule and when I saw he was coming my way, I sent in my application to ride in the clinic.

Ok, so that's the long background. I did the Foundation Horsemanship group, which was mostly groundwork and some riding. The first day as we stood around at the beginning, Buck asked if anyone had issues they wanted to address. I told him that Mac gets attached to other horses and loses focus on me...especially with mares. He's not herd-bound in the sense that I can't take him anywhere away from horses, because that actually isn't a problem. It's if we're in the company of other horses that he is so interested in them that he doesn't pay attention. Buck said that the exercises we'd work on in the clinic would help with that. He said that through keeping the horse in "the rectangle" and centered with you, that eventually the horse will seek that out himself and the distractions won't be an issue.

If you've watched the 7 Clinics DVDs, then you know what we did in the clinic. I'm glad I watched the DVDs and had been practicing the exercises, because I felt totally prepared. This first day we worked on making a circle with correct bend. We worked on getting the horse to "follow the feel" - doing this on the ground with the lead rope is just the first step, but will carry over to everything else - by opening the lead rope and inviting the horse to go in that direction. If the horse didn't reply, we'd give a little shake with the flag behind the balance point (girth area - flank or butt) to encourage him forward. If he didn't go, follow up with a more energetic response. We worked on bringing the rope back toward the hip and stepping in to the hip to disengage the hind end, getting the horse to cross over and come to a stop. We worked on backing. We worked on each thing separately, and then put it all together. He does a really good job of breaking things down. We also worked on the difference between a neutral lead rope that has no life in it and an active rope that is telling the horse to do something. We worked on getting the horses used to the flags and having them stand there while we moved them around the horse - and the horse knows to stand because the rope isn't telling him to do anything and our energy isn't being directed at him.

Here's a picture of me waving the flag around . . . notice Mac is relaxed and isn't reacting because my lead rope and my body energy aren't instructing him to do anything.

At the end we practiced a half circle exercise while we were standing still and moving the horse around us. So go a half circle, move the hindquarters over, stop the horse, direct the horse in a half circle in the opposite direction, repeat. Then our homework was to do that while walking in a straight line - so we would walk forward in a straight line and the horse would do half circles in front of us whilst we continued to walk. It's hard to get that timing right!

I watched the other groups, which were both riding - no ground work. There were a couple of really troubled TBs and one troubled Arab in the second group, so Buck had his assistants work with them on ground work while he got everyone else going under saddle. They worked on similar things that we worked on - circles with bend, one-rein stop, bending and moving over with the hind end - they just did it while mounted.

At the beginning of the day Mac was really nervous in the big indoor arena with buzzing lights and bleachers and people stomping on the bleachers and music over the loudspeakers and banners and all the commotion. He also immediately picked out the mares he liked and called and talked to other horses a lot.

I did ask Buck also about energy. I've worked with a couple trainers who HAVE A LOT OF ENERGY - like everything they do must be like yelling to a horse, or at least to Mac, because he got a little nervous just being around them. I've had people tell me that he just needs to get used to it and deal with it, so I asked Buck his opinion. He thought the opposite. He thinks that we need to be there for our horses to support them. So if that means that sometimes our energy is soft and quiet to offer them support or relief, then so be it. If our energy has to change to perhaps get their attention focused on us, then that's fine, too. It is a matter of dialing it up and down to meet the needs of the horse, not a matter of always being on high and making the horse get used to it.

So here's my day 1 takeaway. Buck loves the horses. He does what he does to help the horses. He doesn't care what discipline you ride - good horsemanship is good horsemanship. He's very gracious and humble and funny. He also said some people come to his clinics thinking they'll impress him and his response is "I learned from Ray Hunt. Do you think you could do anything better than him that would be impressive?" (or something like that) He is honest and straightforward. If he's "picking on you" it is because he sincerely wants to help you and sees that you're not in a position to do it yourself (there was one lady in the afternoon group that he sort of singled out) for some reason. You should pay attention and try to do what he is telling you - don't just do the same thing over and over and over again when he is giving you tools on how to solve a problem. Do what he says. He hates it when people ride with rope halters under a bridle - it is ugly. Stay out of his horse's bubble. If you ride, then come back and watch the other classes - he expects you to be there all day AND to do your homework.

Here's a picture of Buck and Reuben, the young horse he used in the first two classes of the day.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy horses!

Many thanks to our great neighbors who let our horses graze on their pastures in the spring! I want to say it is like crack cocaine for them, except they don't get hyped-up . . . so maybe it is more like marijuana for them. They go out for lunch and graze for a few hours and when I bring them in they are sosooooooo mellow! They stand around in a daze, like "wow, man . . .groovy" and just chill for a few hours when I bring them back home. But they don't get the munchies. So maybe it is like Xanax or something - I don't know! All I know is they are so happy and loving life right now!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Clinic season

So as a warm-up to the Buck Brannaman clinic at the end of this month, I went to a Jerry Tindell clinic about defensive riding on the trail. It was a great clinic - not just for the content, which is always helpful, but for getting Mac in a covered arena with 10 other equines where everyone was walking, trotting, cantering around, walking over a fake bridge, working in pairs, running up our butts, or stopping in front of us. Generally there was just a lot going on that he had to deal with - so much more than what goes on at home when we ride alone!

Mac was really so so so so so so very good, I was so happy with him! I was nervous at first, because riding in groups is, well, what makes me nervous! But he handled it so well and was a gentleman throughout the day. Jerry had us do some exercises that were stressful, but that was the point! At one point I tried to ask Jerry a question . . . well, I DID ask him a question. And his answer was to make me move; or, rather, make me move Mac. He didn't answer my questions with words, he answered my question with action and changing my balance and Mac's balance. Pretty effective, since words would have just gone in one ear and out the other, but the action of showing me the answer gave me the results and change I was looking for in Mac. Pretty clever, Jerry!

The "homework" that I really need to work on is Mac's hindquarters and moving them over and getting him to step under and release. If he won't release his hindquarters, then he carries stiffness throughout his body and then I REALLY can't move him over and affect change in his way of going. I've been doing exercises, but not enough. And I didn't really do them when I got on Mac at the clinic, so I didn't prepare him . . . which is just what happened a year ago at the horse show when he bucked me off - I didn't prepare him. I guess I was intimidated by being in a clinic situation and what would happen so I was too focused externally on outside stuff vs. internally on me and Mac (and I'm just getting this NOW as I'm typing - duh!). That's something to remember for the Buck clinic because I'll again be wondering what's to come.

I met the woman who puts together the Napa Valley Mustang Days and she invited me to come and bring Mac, so I look forward to doing that.

All in all it was a great experience, just aside from the things I learned from the actual topic of the class! I typed up a long recap of the clinic and here it is:

Some basic principles are (just as if you were not riding):

1) Be aware - know what is going on around you, pay attention to who is on the trail and what they are doing. Listen to your spidey-sense - do you get a bad vibe from someone? Pay attention to it! (For me it was also a confirmation to listen to my horse and what he notices. Mac is very alert and often will stop on a trail - head goes up, ears pricked. I have learned to pay attention to that instead of trying to just kick him on. He is always right and will hear someone coming around a corner that I couldn't have possibly heard. If we stand our ground, we can assess the situation vs. running into a bike blindly flying around the corner, for example.)

2) Posture. Both for not looking like a victim, but also for being secure in the saddle. Sit tall, don't slouch in the fetal position. If you are coming across something that requires your attention, sitting confidently and securely in the saddle will help to prevent someone or something from unseating you. If you get scared and curl up into a ball, you're screwed. ;-)

3) LOOK at the target (bad guy). Look him squarely in the eye and ride with purpose. You may put someone off by just looking at them as if saying "I see you, I know you're there, I am not someone to be messed with."

4) Movement. Being able to control your horse's movement is (obviously) key. Leg yielding either away from something (which is easy if your horse is nervous) or into something (which is harder because like it was said above, horses are generally trained to not get into people's space). Moving the shoulders, moving the haunches, going forward, backing up. You may need to move your horse's haunch into someone to get them to move away from you, or you may need to go forward and mow someone over. Your horse has to do what you want him to do, when you want him to do it.

So of course these sound like simple and easy things, but if the energy is up and you are nervous, or your horse is nervous, it is going to be harder. We did a lot of exercises to work in/through the nervous state:

1) Jerry walked around the arena, but with big, menacing, scary, purposeful energy. He didn't even have to wave his arms or shout or "do anything" that looked scary, but the horses definitely got the vibe and all shied away from him, so we had to practice control in trying to walk over/through someone.

2) Jerry was mounted on his big mule and worked with each of us on trying to get to us to unseat us. We basically went around in a small circle, each of us taking up half the circle, so to speak (his mule's head was at my horse's butt and vice versa, while I was bent away from him as he was trying to reach out and get me). Again here - look the target in the eye and sit tall. Have your reins short enough that you can control your horse's movement. Be solid in your position so that you can stay with the horse and not be unseated.

3) We each picked a partner and then rode stirrup-to-stirrup leg yielding into and away from each other.

4) We weaved through cones and a small space between him and the fence, again leg yielding toward him to push him away from us.

5) We again moved between him and the fence while he tried to grab us/the horse and we did whatever we needed to do to get him off of us. He tried to grab my leg and I kicked him!

6) Jerry has trained many horses for various police departments and he put us in some formations so we could work together to move a crowd (him and some helpers). We worked in "columns of two" and walked in various patterns (kind of like Simon Says - it was fun!), and then we'd line up to form a barricade line and move him and his group back, or have them walk at us and we would either hold them or move them back. He did this both with and without props (plastic water bottles being crinkled).

Some other tidbits of information.

1) If someone grabs your body and tries to either pull you or push you to the side, straighten the leg of the direction you are being moved and use your foot in the stirrup to push off and keep you in the saddle (like if someone is pulling at me to come off the near side, I would straighten that leg to keep me upright - use it to push into the stirrup to counter-balance the pull, if that makes sense).

2) Do whatever you have to do to get someone away from you, so if that means kicking them or hitting them with your split reins, or hitting them with a whip then go for it.

3) Most people who would go after you don't understand the nature of horses, so you can yell and say "my horse bites/kicks/strikes" or whatever, and move into them to get them to back off of you. Just the verbal threat of something like that could/should warn someone off of you.

4) Yes, use your voice. And don't get engaged with the lost person who asks you to help them read their map (that was another exercise). If you don't get a bad/threatening feeling from them, you can tell them to stand away from you so that they don't spook your horse. If they follow your direction, they are probably not a bad guy. If they ignore you and continue to move in, they probably are and you may need to escalate by moving your horse toward them (depending on terrain, of course).

5) If you are on a single-track and someone has to pass you, have them pass you on the downhill slope.

6) If you are on a single-track on the side of a hill and you need to move for whatever reason, point your horse downhill so that if he backs up you're not going to back off a cliff (duh!)

I'm sure there are other things that I can't remember right now, but that was most of it. Jerry had really interesting exercises for us to work on, and his background in training police officers/horses was very useful. He was all about building confidence and bravery in the horse/rider pairs so that we have more tools at our disposal.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

New videos

I had a friend come up this weekend and so took advantage of her videography skills to get new videos of me and Mac.

The first video is a section of groundwork that we were doing (we did more than this, but this is the shortest of the videos). It was a good day because 1) it was kind of raining, 2) Mac was distracted by my friend videoing, her husband and my husband picking up stuff in the pasture across from the arena, and 3) I was able to work through some snorting issues with Mac (not shown on this video) and he didn't try to escape by running away or exploding.

The next video of me riding him. As you'll see I took the noseband off in preparation for the Buck Brannaman clinic. I wanted to see what it was like because he can be busy with his mouth. What I've found is that without the noseband, it is much more clear to me when he is being fussy with the bit and when he's being quiet with the bit, so it gives me another point of feedback. I think he does fine without it so I'm not really planning on putting it back on until we go to a show. While the video isn't very exciting, I like how he's steadier in the bridle than he has been in the past. He also looks happier and more relaxed to me.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Flying the flag

So I decided to get myself the "7-Clinics" DVD with Buck Brannaman. I had heard good things about it and had wanted it for a while but held off on getting it for no particular reason. Finally I decided to buy the series and I'm so glad I did!

The DVD is basically the out-takes from the movie "Buck" and takes place over a series of clinics from colt starting to under-saddle work. As I had been taking lessons on groundwork, I thought this would be a good continuation and hopefully give me new ideas. Did it ever! I will admit that I always looked askance at people who used a "carrot stick" or flags in doing groundwork with their horses. It was just so foreign to me and I thought it was for people who were afraid to ride that they only did in-hand exercises. Granted, I do think that it holds true for some horse people, but I've also come to realize what a great tool it is. I suppose it is more a tool for the handler, just as a clicker might be for clicker training - it is something that actually teaches the person to improve their timing and their aids and the timing of their aids.

In any case, I bought myself a flag (a bright orange one, as orange is my favorite color) and got to work with it right away. Since Mac seemed to be a little leery of it at first, I did use some operant conditioning to get him to accept it and not be afraid of it (meaning, I used treats, which really gets his attention and makes him place a higher value on whatever it is we're training). I used exercises from the DVDs and realized how difficult it is to get your point across accurately and at the right time, but with much practice, I did notice improvement in short order.

For example, I came up with an exercise whereby I would have Mac circle around me on the short side of the arena and then turn up quarterline and leg yield from quarterline to the rail. Doing this exercise to the left at the walk was fine and Mac caught on right away. To the right, though, he couldn't do it at the walk and trotted . . . our circles weren't very good, nor was going very straight. This told me that I need to work on his right side more because he seemed to not know what to do with me in that space. After the third day of doing this, we could complete it at a walk and he did it very well! That wasn't an exercise from the DVD, but a good exercise nonetheless.

So after working with this approach for a couple weeks, Mac is doing really well! I start every ride with 15-20 minutes of groundwork - having him move in pace with me, working on backing and coming forward, working on disengaging the hindquarters or moving the front away from me, moving off of a single leg aid, timing my leg aids or my hand aids very specifically - and so when I get on he is more "with me" and ready to work softly.

I also changed a bit about my bridle and he seems to go well - I dropped my bit a hole and I took the noseband off. Taking the noseband off actually lets me feel more directly when he gives and softens. I'm trying to be very diligent in using hands or legs, but not hands and legs at the same time. We're also working on "forward" (I mean, obviously we work in a forward fashion, but the concept of moving promptly and forward off my leg is something that I think I let slide a bit) and backing for a certain number of strides; turning on the forehand and haunches and/or a combination of the two are also part of our warm-up.

In any event, I'm very pleased with the way things are going.

I put my name in the lottery for the Buck Brannaman clinic in a couple months and was pleasantly surprised to find that I got in! I can't believe it! So I need to keep working on my homework to prepare. I will say I'm a bit nervous, as working in large groups is something that scares me, but that's what I need to work on so I'm looking forward in learning some tools to help me help Mac.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Happy New Year!

Wow, it has been a long time since I posted. A lot has happened since then. From October-December I had three funerals to go to - not pleasant. So I took a bit of a break from riding and, obviously, from posting on the blog!

Let's see - after our cow-working clinic I sent Mac out for a couple weeks of training while I went on vacation. When I got back from vacation, I only got a couple days to ride him before I went out of town for the second of three funeral services. He felt great, nice and supple and forward. He also seemed to gain a bit of patience while out for training as well, as he stood tied very well and, well, just seemed more patient!

When I got back from vacation we had a lot of rain and mud so I couldn't ride for a couple weeks. It wasn't until last week that I was able to swing a leg over. So basically, Mac has been out of regular work since before Thanksgiving. I think he thought he was retired or something! The first couple of rides last week weren't pretty - he was fairly resistant. My friend had given me a lunging cavesson for Xmas, so I put that on and put him on the line with side reins and let him fight it out with himself and he was much improved. He is definitely a horse who needs regular work to keep his "work ethic."

Yesterday I took him on a trail ride and went somewhere we hadn't been since at least the summer. It was a cold day and so I wore the quarter sheet blanket over his butt and my legs to keep us warm. We had a wonderful training opportunity on the ride. At one point we came to a line of sandbags put on the trail to divert water and Mac didn't like the looks of them. He stopped to stare, then turned to go the other way, then I turned him back and we walked forward. Bit by bit he got up to the sandbags and when he reached down to sniff them I rewarded him with a cookie. Then it was game on! He really responds to treats in situations like that so when he walked over then he got another cookie. As we turned to go down the trail (looping back toward home) I could see ahead on the trail at least four more lines of sandbags - great! Mac marched toward them, brave and bold and confident. Of course the cookie bribery didn't hurt! It was nice to get out for a couple-hour ride.