Saturday, January 31, 2009

The racehorse is still in the house

I've been making really good progress with Bar on the ground, amazingly good, actually. He is responsive and cooperative, and really trying to do what I ask of him, even when my directions are not very clear.

It's awesome.

But I still haven't been riding him a lot, and this week--yesterday in particular--underscored the need to get back in the not-so-proverbial saddle a lot more regularly.

Tuesday, I had a pretty good ride. I was working on flexing and one-rein stops, and having him walk and trot on a loose rein. The walking was no problem, but asking Bar to speed up on a loose rein can be an invitation for racehorse-like launches. He was pretty good that day and I got him to give me a nice (if fast) trot on a loose rein. We didn't move onto the canter because I'd already worked him over an hour--including the round pen--and he'd cooperated quickly, so we could end on a good note early on. I'd also ridden Lena earlier that day, so my body was starting to feel a bit over-worked. I'm a wuss, I know.

Yesterday was a whole other story. I think if I'd put him in the starting gates on the track yesterday, he would have left every horse in the dust. Now, the ground work went great and one of the ladies at the barn even asked me if I'd worn him out because he was standing so calmly as we talked. As if that would ever happen. I think I'd have to lunge him for hours in deep sand before he'd ever be worn out. No, I just had him calm and paying attention to me, which is one of the benefits of the ground work I've been doing.

Then I got on.

Again, he was great at the walk, going over obstacles, etc. But Bar sometimes has a bit of a short attention span, and I think he thought it was much too nice a day to be in the arena. He certainly wanted to run and would give me two steps of a trot before launching--and I mean launching--into a canter. We spent a lot of time practicing our one-rein stops. I told him he was making things way too hard. He said I was being way too picky.

I knew I couldn't give up, though, so I kept at him until he gave me one loop around the arena at a trot on a loose rein without breaking into a canter. I didn't care how fast he trotted as long as he trotted until I told him "whoa," and we stopped after that. Then I rewarded him with a walk down the driveway and a rubdown for all his self-induced hard work.

It's the first time in a long time I've pushed him hard, though this was mentally hard, not physically hard. I feel good because I wasn't scared for the first time in a long time, and I was able to stay with him and stay consistent with my commands and expectations.

It really points out how much more work I need to do with him under saddle, though. I'm still going to do the ground work, and even add new things as I go, but it's also really important that he and I both know I can control him and work with him from his back, too.

I'm going to have the biggest biceps of anyone at the barn after all this, I swear.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bar tries to be psychic

Bar is very, very routine oriented. He likes things to follow a certain order--not only likes it, but expects and anticipates it. Considering his earlier life, that makes total sense, but sometimes it's hard not to laugh.

Today I took him down to the round pen to work him. That in itself was a good challenge for him because Peter was riding another horse in the arena which allowed me to set Bar up to deal with that situation, not freak out, and stay focused on what we were doing. Happily, Peter doesn't rely on me to keep my horse under control in order for him to keep his horse in control. He deals with the horse he's riding, which allows me to work with Bar and train him without worrying about upsetting someone else. (What a concept, eh?)

We got through Bar's warm up, which was a little wild since he hadn't been out in a day or so, and because he was showing off a little. But he listened and changed directions when I asked and I was able to keep him focused on me, rather than Peter and the other horse. That's a big deal for both of us.

After that, we did our normal ground work, yielding his hindquarters, backing up out of my personal bubble, following off-lead, etc. Then I switched the routine on him. Instead of being done, I asked him to trot. He backed up. He swung his hindquarters away from me, ears flicking back and forth as if to say, "What?! Aren't I doing what you want?" I did get him to trot for me, both directions, but I had to stop laughing first. It was somewhat deliberate on his part--a new avoidance technique--but instead of him pushing past me and ignoring me, he was at least trying to get out of my way by doing something familiar he knows gets him praise.

You know? That's not such a bad step for us all things considered.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Training times two

Despite the circumstances leading to it, I am enjoying the time I have to work with both horses. My body is weary and my muscles are complaining just a little, but that balances out the raw spot of worry and fear in my chest. Most of the time, anyway.

Having the time to work both horses means I've actually ridden both of them in the last two days. Lena has helped me remember, yes, I actually can ride and ride fast while being relaxed. Not that she doesn't try stuff, but my confidence is definitely higher with her, which in turn leads to better communication and cooperation. So even when I'm riding her, I'm learning about how to ride Bar better. Riding him, I'm able to be more relaxed, confident, and clear in my commands. He doesn't always like it, mind you, but we're making progress.

I'm also getting to do the massage and body work on both of them that I like to do, but that falls off when I have no time on my hands or when I'm away. Lena's hip had been showing signs of acting up again, so I've spent time working on it and on her back for the last two days, which seems to have helped loosen things up. With Bar, it's less sore spots as getting him to relax and let me groom him or work on his body at all. He's a little more touchy, unless I'm grooming his mane and tail or working on his lower legs. He will stand still forever as long as I'm working those areas, but the neck is an entirely different discussion as far as he's concerned.

As always, I'm getting just as much training and attention out of this deal as they are, though a little less massage. Their healing powers work wonders on my battered psyche, though.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Horse therapists

Be careful what you wish for, sometimes it happens in unexpected and traumatic ways.

Just the other day, I was wishing I had more time to spend working with the horses. I'm making significant progress with Bar using the new training methods I'm trying and it's so cool! I realize patience is also important, but we are talking about me, here.

Then yesterday, 30 people from my company (about 13.5%) got laid off so O'Reilly can try to weather the economic downturn. I was one of them.

Naturally, I headed straight to the barn after I left the office for the last time, small box of personal items on the back seat of my truck, wads of Kleenex in my pocket.

I worked with Bar and even convinced Lena that the new rope halter was not going to eat her, which was a big step for her. I sat in the sun, cried a little, had my hair nuzzled, handed out treats, and scratched soft velvety noses. I brushed mud from both of their coats, cleaned feet, and put Show Sheen in their manes and tails.

I can't control the economy, and I'm not quite sure exactly where my next step is going to lead, but I do know that--right now, at least--nothing beats the simple and clear interactions these two four-legged therapists offer. Nothing. Thanks, guys.

And thanks again to Derrick Story for helping me take pictures of my dark brown horse. Derrick was also a victim of yesterday's layoffs, but he's still my go-to guy for photography advice.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Training adventures and resolutions

As I'm reading more and trying new things with Bar (and Lena, too), I'm learning a lot about myself and about my two horses. What works, what doesn't work, how to switch my attitude based on each horse and each exercise, etc.

Our two horses are very different in most every way, evidenced recently by their reactions to the training tools we're using--a crop-like device and an extra-long lead rope. Bar takes them all in stride, seeming to know they are just an extension of me, easily handling the transition between the tool asking him for something and the tool just being in my hand, scratching his head or rubbing his neck. Lena looks immediately suspicious, snorting, dancing around, big brown, worried eyes looking at me like she's sure I'm going to start beating her any second. With her, we're really going to have to start from the very beginning to get her much less sensitive to anything out of her comfort zone. You know, things like an extra-long lead rope. Or her blanket some days. Or the sign in the arena that was there yesterday.

I've worked a lot more with Bar--as is often the case, Lena has not gotten as much of the time and training because Bar is the "problem horse," so I will have more on her later. I know with him, I really have to watch what I'm doing pretty carefully because I trip over myself on both extremes--either not aggressive enough or too aggressive. He really needs just the right blend from me or he just gets confused and upset, and that's not a good combination. We're getting there, though. I have to remind myself that every step forward is a good thing, no matter how small it may seem at the time.

We have two different attitudes to work with, but I think it will really help both horses a lot to keep doing these exercises. It may not even necessarily mean doing all the exercises perfectly all the time, just using them to reinforce the attitude that I'm the alpha and they don't have to worry as long as they listen to me.

I have been accused a lot of my life of being bossy, but if I think about it, the times I've been the most bossy (not assertive, bossy) I've felt the most insecure. I think I can use that to understand why my horses need me to be assertive and take control. When I felt that the situation wasn't being controlled correctly (or at all) by the person who was supposed to be doing it, I took over. That's what the horses will do if you don't take charge of them. They have to. Otherwise they don't survive. And you have to prove that you deserve their respect every single day. That's the deal.

Some horses give that up easier than others. Mine are a little tougher that way, but I think they will not only give control to me, they will relax and be happier when they do. And I'll bet it won't always be such a battle to get it, either. Bar is actually happier to relax outside my personal bubble than he is pushing at me for a cookie. It gives him boundaries and herd structure he can understand, and he thrives on praise and knowing he's done what I've asked him to do.

And maybe I can even stop being so hard on myself about not doing every little thing perfect every time, maybe let this whole thing flow and progress and even have some more fun while I'm at it. (Kinda like Katie and Lena are having in the photo above. You know, fun.) That's as close to a New Year's resolution as I'll ever get, but it's not a bad one.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Wrapping up 2008

Yes, I haven't done a post since October 2008. Pathetic!
While I haven't been writing, a lot has happened!!!

Here are some brief updates:

October -
We went to the state championships and had a blast!!!! We had a week of training at Ellen's house before venturing down to LA, which really helped to prepare us for the show. We had a whole crew showing - myself, Katey A., Susan, and Eva. We all had a great time showing together and all the horses were really good. Willoughby surpassed all expectations. Our warm-up class went extremely well and he won the class. Overall he came out champion in the 1st level adult amateur USDF class and reserve champion in the CDS 1st level adult amateur class. I was really pleased with all my tests. The only thing we messed up on was our shallow loops in the canter - he broke once in them on both 1-4 tests. But oh well! He tried so hard and I was so proud of him! After the show I left him at Ellen's for 4 weeks becuase I was traveling a lot for work. Ellen worked hard on getting his canter really strong in preparations for changes.
I got my horse back! Yeah! We mainly worked on getting his canter nice and strong. Thanksgiving, family, ect.
More work on the changes! I went to clinic in Davis with Ellen and we worked more on the changes and his canter. So exciting! I admit, I've been a bit of a slacker this month with all the holidays. But I've been productive in other areas like wedding planning (must do now so I don't have to worry about this summer when I'm showing) and being social! I had a life for a couple of weeks!

And now we're in 2009! Hard to believe. I'm starting off the year with a big bang. I'm visiting Ellen this weekend for some intensive lessons to work on our changes. My goal is to show 3rd level this year so we have a lot of work in order to be prepared for our first show in the spring. It will be a very busy year and it will be a juggling act trying to balance it all! But with a little planning and an early start, I think we can do it!