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.