Wisdom Isn’t Popular

IMG_0690(Fuzzy Rascal, late winter 2014)

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Leadership. Respect. Alpha. These are buzzwords in most “natural” horse training circles today. I get that some people struggle more than others to understand these concepts and how they apply to horses, but having grown up around farm animals I’ve grappled a bit less with this. That said, I’ve found it hard to verbalize my idea of a harmonious equine connection, and to be more specific, how one achieves that with a horse. Until now. Finally, a trainer and clinician I’ve been reading for a few years has eloquently (and simply) explained this nebulous relationship.

Clarity. it’s a beautiful thing!

Going Pro

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(Click on photo for better resolution)

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It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. Needless to say, I’ve been pretty busy. Dharla has been boarded at the stable a few miles from my house since early October. My last few posts were about my attempts to ride her through the woods to the stable, none of which (thanks to a small cow farm) work out as I’d hoped. I finally caved and called the trainer who promptly showed up with a trailer. After a small amount of prompting Dharla loaded right up and we delivered her to the barn in ten minutes. That was a lesson in keeping things simple. (Rolls eyes)

We gave Dharla a couple of days to “settle in” at the new barn. I did some hand walks and the trainer (Dawne) lunged her in both the indoor and outdoor arena. Basically, we gave her some time to get used to the new surroundings and routine. Overall, I thought she handled the change like a champ. Around the fourth day or so it was time to get to work, so Dawne tacked her up and hopped on. Again, Dharla coped fairly well. Dawne didn’t ask too much of her on the first few rides, she just wanted to get to know what makes Dharla tick and let Dharla get to know her.

At the beginning of the first full week I went to get Dharla from her paddock and she was three-legged lame. Good grief! We couldn’t find anything obviously wrong with her leg or hoof and so we assumed it was probably an abscess. The big change in footing may have been the culprit, but the timing was really unfortunate. Unsure how long she might be out of commission, I had to contemplate bringing her back home to convalesce. I wasn’t going to pay top buck to have her just standing around when she could come home to do that. We packed her hoof with a dressing, put her in her stall and by some stroke of good luck she was 100% sound the next day. We’re still not sure what the problem was as we never saw any drainage from an abscess, but it could have been a minute pin hole. We gave her another day of rest and then training commenced again.

The problems I’ve been having with Dharla at home didn’t take long to bubble up to the surface. Mind you, it’s nothing earth shattering, but the things I’ve been questioning and trying to “fix” were not in my imagination. It didn’t take long for me to see this might be a lengthy process. Not that I’m in a hurry, but what started out as getting a month or two of professional help has turned into probably keeping my horse in training through the entire winter. For now, the plan is to keep her in full training for at least three months followed by a month or two of partial training. We may (or may not) take a few week break in between things, but she’ll still be getting ridden during that time.

From what we can see, Dharla has two separate issues. The first isn’t always necessarily a problem, but depending upon the situation it can morph into one. Dharla can be overly reactive and spooky. I’ve talked about this problem almost since I started blogging about our riding adventures and it’s never really gotten much better. In fact, at times it seems like it’s gotten worse. I’m aware that spookiness can be a symptom of a myriad of other problems and I haven’t ruled out having her checked or tested some of the more likely possibilities. (Lyme & EPM) I always try to give Dharla the benefit of the doubt when she reacts strongly to something that frightens or bothers her, but I can’t deny that all my patience and our repeated exposure to those things hasn’t paid off very much.

What’s more intriguing is that when given the chance to explore something that she reacts to initially, Dharla often doesn’t act frightened of the scary object. For example, she’s been acting terrified of one corner of the inside arena. That particular corner has several different objects temporarily stored there, so we decided to pull a bunch of the objects out into the middle of the arena to see if we could figure out what (exactly) was bothering her. Turns out, she seems to have been frightened by two large planters with silk plants in them. Yet, once the planters were out of the corner she showed absolutely no fear of them whatsoever, and walked right up to them boldly and stuck her nose in the flowers. She proceeded to walk, trot and lope a circular pattern around the planters with no hesitation at all. The next day the planters were back in the corner and she went back to shying halfway across the arena every time we came anywhere near that corner. Once again I allowed Dharla to (slowly) advance into the corner and explore the planters gingerly, and once again she showed no fear, sticking her nose right into them. But once we returned to the other end of the arena she immediately fixated on that corner and started “worrying” about it and resisted going anywhere near that end of the ring when asked.

This sort of thing has grown very frustrating. I’ve tried letting her explore things while using praise and rewards to encourage her and I’ve tried simply ignoring the scary stuff. Nothing seems to work. It’s like once she fixates on something she simply can’t get her focus back on track. I don’t think it’s a trust issue. Dharla has shown a complete willingness to trust me in many different situations. For now, all I can say is that I’m pretty stumped.

Dharla’s second issue is a noticable right-sided stiffness and unwillingness to bend when moving in a clockwise direction. She’s pretty good at the walk and jog, but once the pace moves beyond that she braces and stiffens up. She does this whether the trainer or I am riding her. She also reacts very strongly to any use of your right leg, either squirting ahead quickly or giving a little cow hop from the hind end. It was suggested that I have a chiropractor evaluate and possibly treat Dharla, which I’ve done. I can’t say I’m seeing any major progress with this yet, but at least I feel like others are seeing it and I’m not losing my mind or imagining things. (Both the chiro and the trainer see exactly what I’ve been talking about)

Obviously, my riding form is probably a contributing to Dharla’s stiffness, which is another reason why I wanted to work with a professional trainer. Part of the problem is that Dharla is still very green at being schooled, but the other half of the equation is that while I’ve ridden nearly all my life, I’m not a schooled rider. I don’t think I’m doing anything to precipitate Dharla’s spookiness, but if I I can learn to communicate with her better then some of the other problems will probably work themselves out.

Overall, Dharla has been doing very well. I think she adjusted to the change in lifestyle pretty nicely. She seems content, cooperative and happy at the barn and I see (and often ride) her every day. It’s been an adjustment for us both. I’ve never had a horse in a “big” barn and so there’s lots for me to learn about that lifestyle too. I miss having her at home, but I’m enjoying some of the perks of having her at a bigger place. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be able to keep riding her this late into the season if she was at home. Hunting season is in full swing, making even a simple trail ride a bit too uncomfortable. I’ve also enjoyed meeting other riders and their horses and hearing their personal stories about their journey.

 I believe it will be beneficial if I can keep working with Dharla through the winter. Cold, but better than just having her stand around most of the next four months. So keeping her there longer has forced an investment in some new winter apparel for both Dharla and me. I needed a better pair of cold weather riding gloves and Dharla needed an entire wardrobe upgrade, including a medium weight stable blanket and a new turnout rug. Normally, I’d let Dharla grow a nice fuzzy winter coat and only blanket her on those wet, snowy or rainy occasions. But since she’s being ridden daily we’re keeping Dharla’s coat a bit shorter. The barn has Geo-thermal heat and with the added body heat from all the horses it maintains a pretty comfortable temperature during the winter months. But the indoor arena gets downright nippy and after a workout the transition for a damp horse can be uncomfortable. A new wardrobe means Dharla can make the transitions between temperatures with ease.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens over the next couple of months. I’ll be shifting from full board to rough board, which simply means I’m going to provide the hay, grain and daily stall cleaning service. This will help make our stay there a bit more affordable and will allow me to spend more on the training than the stabling. I’ll try to update things here as we go along on this journey!

Tarps 5-25-12

 

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A few days ago one of the ladies I was riding with said something to the effect of, “If I didn’t know better, I’d almost think you were riding a Quarter Horse.”  I had to chuckle, because I wasn’t sure if that was meant as a compliment or an insult! (I’m pretty sure she wasn’t trying to insult me!) My mare does have a very ‘athletic’ build, though I’m sometimes a bit bothered by her low-slung belly. She’s NOT fat, that’s just the way she’s built. But what I am proud of is how beautifully muscled she’s become. Not that when I got her she was in bad shape. But she wasn’t a trail horse and the miles and miles of hills and long trots we’ve been doing is paying dividends in muscle and conditioning. Dharla does have a very nice butt if I may say so myself:

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What she doesn’t have is a great neck and that’s something we need to work on. It’s time to start encouraging better head carriage and get her neck muscles built up so she’ll carry herself properly. That’s not too important out on the trail, but it IS important for overall strength, balance and confirmation. In fact, if I’m understanding this correctly, proper head carriage will help round her back and tuck her tummy up a bit. Tia had beautiful collection and framed herself naturally. In other words, I didn’t have to work very hard at getting Tia to collect. Dharla is a totally different story. While she’s not a star-gazer, she does tend to want to carry her head more upright until she’s fairly fatigued. Then her head comes down and her nose comes in. Even when I lunge, her head tends to go up and her nose goes out more than is should. Eventually her head carriage improves as she relaxes, but that takes awhile.

I haven’t been pushing Dharla for any sort of specific refinement until now. We’ve mostly just worked on getting to know each other and trying to relax in this new environment. But it’s time to start nudging her toward some specific goals. Yesterday we did a little work down in the ring. Last week I introduced Dharla to a ground cloth. (Tarp) My goal was to get her to walk across a tarp that’s laid out on the ground.

I started by leading her out to the middle of the ring and opening the tarp. At first she was a little startled, like, “What’s this?” But I took my time and let her check things out. I slowly unfolded the tarp as she stood beside me. Once her initial curiosity was satisfied she pretty much ignored me as I opened up the tarp and weighted the corners down with a few large rocks. Next, I lunged Dharla in different corners and spots in the ring. Nothing too close to the tarp, but she could clearly see it. It was interesting to see how she reacted differently depending up on which eye was facing the tarp. We lunged in different places at different gaits until all the shy had gone out of her.

Next, I walked Dharla up to the tarp and asked her to step on it. It took a few seconds before she made an attempt, then shifted her weight back slightly. She didn’t try to back away, it was just a subtle weight shift. I gave her a couple of seconds, then asked again. Twice, she repeated her response, then on the third try she stepped one foot onto the tarp. I released the pressure and let her stand there with one foot on the tarp as I pet her and encouraged her with my voice. After a minute or two I asked for her to move forward a bit more. She complied and put her other front foot on the tarp. I released, praised her and paused. The next time I asked her for forward movement she walked boldly forward and we crossed the entire tarp. I stopped her on the other side and praised her liberally. After a minute or so, we circled around the tarp and did the whole process again, but with much less reluctance. By the third try Dharla was stepping onto the tarp with no hesitation at all.

We spent about five more minutes walking across the tarp from all different directions. I broke things up by walking around the ring a bit between crossings so each time we crossed was like a separate incident. After we finished that I put on her bridle and spent about twenty minutes riding around the ring at a walk and trot. The tarp was still on the ground in the middle of the ring. Oddly enough, Dharla did shy a few times at the tarp once I was on her back, but we just kept working calmly. It was pretty windy, which always amps her reactivity so we just worked on quiet walk/trot transitions, a little neck reining, stops and some backing. Simple stuff.

 I finally decided it was time to see if Dharla would cross the tarp with me up. I urged her over to the tarp and when I felt her hesitate slightly I gently asked her to keep moving. Much to my delight, Dharla stepped boldly onto the tarp and crossed willingly. Yay! We did a few tarp crossings from different directions, then called it a day. I was very pleased!

Now if we can just get that head inching in the right direction  …

Scattered

This is what Tia thought about schooling!

 

 

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My mind is all over the place today. As I was out feeding I got thinking about how easily I lose motivation. It’s like, once my horse is fairly reliable I start dogging it with the schooling. I just don’t have the experience to know what I should really be working on and I lose my motivation. I argue with myself about this kind of stuff all the time.

On one hand, I know my horse is perfectly capable of doing what I normally do, which is trail ride. Sure, there are things we’ll encounter out there that we’ll need to work on, but it’s not like every time we go out something new comes up. Meanwhile, there are scores of things I could (and should) probably be teaching her, but I really don’t have the means. For instance, I’d love to know I can load her into a trailer with ease in case I ever want to go somewhere different to ride. But I don’t have a trailer and I don’t have any experience teaching a horse how to load. Then again, the breeder got her here, so maybe this isn’t an issue? Same with ring work. I could keep riding her down in the arena, but am I working on the right stuff? I have no way of knowing. I’m not a trainer and a few lessons aside, I’ve never had any formal schooling myself. So I worry more about teaching my horse bad habits than I worry about not doing enough schooling. After all, it’s not like I’m going to need a perfect flying lead change out on the trail. Some would argue that not teaching my horse to be anything but a good reliable trail mount is irresponsible, but if I don’t have any aspiration to show and I don’t plan on selling my horse, then what’s wrong with just having a lot of trail miles?

Sometimes I daydream about different things, like having a trailer and a horse that I know loads so I could take her to a nearby stable where we could take lessons together. Since that isn’t possible, then I daydream about boarding her there for a couple of months so I could take lessons with her. But then Bullet would be left home alone …. not that he couldn’t adjust to that, but it would be a bit chaotic for awhile. And I’m not sure how Dharla would do being moved to a new place, albeit temporary. Would she be a spook machine? Would I have to spend weeks just getting her settled in and adjusted? And I’d have to let go of all my control issues. Not that I don’t trust the place where I’d board her. I do. But I’m just a wee bit of a control freak when it comes to the care of my animals.

OK, I’m a huge control freak.

So this is the kind of stuff that rattles around in my brain as I’m picking the pasture, waiting for the horses to finish their grain.

Feb 7, 2012

Watching the competition

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Too cold and windy to ride. I took Dharla down to the arena to do a little ground work. More moving the hindquarters, forequarters and backing up. She’s getting very responsive to my requests and relaxing more and more. I lunged her (at a walk) on a medium length line and practiced our stops and getting her to turn in to face me and give me both eyes. I think she was taught to whoa and just stop where she is, not turn in and face the handler. We also worked on getting a nice change of direction and quick departure. Once she got the idea of what I was asking she did well. Better counter-clockwise than clockwise today. She seemed pretty relaxed even though it was quite windy and we could hear Bullet hollering up on the hill. Silly boy!

In a previous post I talked about putting my horses on a couple of dietary supplements. The products I’m trying are to target specific concerns, but the more I think about it the more I’m thinking I might consider putting both horses on an all-around vitamin & mineral supplement. Neither horse gets or needs a lot of grain and I’d rather switch them over to oats, which means I’ll need to add some supplements anyways, so I might as well get them used to eating it while I can still add it to their regular grain. I’m not looking to throw money at a supply company, but I do think they’re probably lacking a bit in this department.

And while I’m on that subject, I wonder how many horse riders spend as much time making sure they’re in as good of shape as their horses? I mean, we know regular exercise and conditioning is important for our horse’s health and performance, but what about us? I’ve been a weightlifter for slightly over 32 years … long before weight training was in vogue for women. And along with weight training I’ve followed a regular cardio and stretching routine for equally as long. I know all that sounds like a lot of work, but I’ve got my exercise program pretty much down to a science and it doesn’t take up that much time. I like to think of it as making an investment in myself because if I’m not healthy then who’s going to take care of (and ride) my horse?

So in light of that thought I’ve decided I’ll notate my own training at the bottom of this blog. It will be in lift-speak, which is to say that I’m not going to write everything out because I know what it means and that’s all that really matters.

RTM: 4/415c/40m, S, Y

Contemplations

I’ve done a lot of thinking the last 48 hours about my relationship with Dharla and I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.

1. I need to quit basing my progress on what other people have done with their horses.This is MY experience, not theirs and taking three years to do what they did in three months does not detract one thing from the finished product. I need to keep reminding myself this is a JOURNEY, not a destination.

2. I need to give up my need to turn every step into a me or her situation. If she’s not ready to do something then WE’RE not ready. Period. And since we’re a team, that’s really important to remember.

3. I need to look at this as a good opportunity to relearn how to be more optimistic. I used to be, but I lost my sunny outlook somewhere along the line. Having lots of bad shit happen to you is really not an acceptable excuse anymore. Get over it and move on.

4. I need to constantly look for any little willingness to give to my requests and revel in Dharla’s naturally good disposition. Don’t nit-pick a sweet horse to death!

5. I need to quit thinking I’m going to change 45 years of my own bad habits overnight. Learning and putting new information into action takes time. Nobody perfects everything right away, including the ‘experts’ who are teaching. They’ve had years upon years to learn what they know and have tons of different horses and riders to prefect their methods on. In contrast, I’ve only owned three (of my very own) horses. My pool of exposure is far and away more shallow than theirs. Lighten up!!!

6. It’s too easy today get overloaded with information and end up with Paralysis by Over-analysis. Don’t get way ahead of yourself. Read, learn and apply the information that’s applicable to where you are NOW and don’t waste your time trying to grasp concepts that you don’t even need yet!

That’s all for now. I’ll probably come up with more as I move forward.

Jan 25, 2012

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I got out on Dharla today. To say I’m missing Tia is an understatement for sure. The last few rides haven’t been exactly what I’d call fun or relaxing, not to mention that I basically dislike winter riding. But I feel like I don’t have much of a choice in the matter right now.

We started down in the ring because I’m not dumb enough to think I can just jump right on my horse after not riding in almost a week. So we worked on basic stuff like moving her haunches, backing, then some light lunging. Her attitude was very good throughout and she responded very well. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to ride so I tacked her up before we started just in case I thought I was up for it. Since she was working well and not being a jerk I decided I should do something more with her. I’d like to say I thought a nice walk up on the AL trail would be fun, but I knew there would be almost immediate issues with the rocky icicle spots. I can’t go very far without encountering something that she treats like it’s the big Boogie Monster. Still, I didn’t want to end with just a simple ground work session, so off we went.

As usual, she was wound tighter than a top. I mean, she started spooking at things before we even got off the lane that led to the ring. I just stayed calm and encouraged her forward. We rode past our lane to the barn where Bullet stood sentry at the gate, whinnying. She passed by without hesitating, which pleased me greatly. When we reached the AL trail it was deserted. We started walking in the direction that we usually go and she was moving at a crawl. I let her pokey her way along. I could feel how tightly wound she was, but I wasn’t playing into it. She spooked several times and invisible ghosts, but I just kept her moving. I don’t make a big deal out of make believe stuff.

It was only a minute or two before we reached the spot where she starts giving me crap about going forward, at which point we couldn’t even see the rock ledges or icicles yet. She stopped twice and tried to avoid moving forward by turning to the right. I countered and got her to move a couple of steps forward again before he hit the brakes. At that point I hopped off and grabbed the lead rope that I had coiled up on my saddle. I removed the reins from her bridle, clipped the lead onto her rope halter and led her forward. As we approached the icicles, I started circling her around me, forcing her to go past the rock ledge and icicles on both sides. Bear in mind that the trail is only about 6 feet wide here, so our “circles” were very small and our movement was limited. She wasn’t very worried about the icicles, but gave them the evil eye a few times as she went past. I just kept her moving.

We continued to do circles in the narrow lane between the rock outcrop. The ledge area extends for about 100 yards, with icicles hanging down in random spots along the way. We worked our way down the trail doing circles (both directions) until we reached the end. I stopped, rubbed her head and then started the same procedure going back the way we came. I used lots of verbal encouragement and praise. At any point if she seemed overly spooky I focused on that spot, sometimes stopping and letting her investigate the source of her fear. Actually, she didn’t seem all that afraid as we worked our way along. When we got back to the starting point I turned her around and led her forward again. When she seemed spooked at any point we either circled there for a bit and/or I let her investigate the issue more closely. Overall I ground worked her in that area for a good solid hour or more.

When I thought Dharla was acting relaxed and not bugged … I wouldn’t say she was licking her lips or really looking ho-hum relaxed, but she wasn’t freaked out by any means … I took her to the starting point, reattached the reins, removed the lead rope and remounted. I cued her forward was really stunned when she took 2 steps forward then stiffened up and tried to turn around and go home …. again. Huh? So what gives? Is this NOT a fear issue, but just a pissy mare thing we’ve got going on? She certainly didn’t seem frightened.

I circled her several times, then cued her forward again. She took one step and locked up. I circled her more, then cued her again. She took another step and locked up. This went on for about five minutes until we were finally standing about five feet into the rocky area. I let her put her head down and sniff the ice … same ice, Dharla, same ice! She took another step, then tried to turn for home again. I circled her more, then cued her forward. Slowly, we inched our way through the rocky area, one blasted step at a time. She stopped several times. I waited, then cued again and she would take one or two steps forward, then stop again. When we had almost reached the end I turned her around and we proceeded back through the same area the same way … one spooky step at a time. As we neared the other end I stopped her again and we did the whole routine again. She got a bit more willing and forward, but not much.

Finally, I decided to continue on a bit. As I rode along the AL trail I kept asking myself what the heck I was going to do next. I mean, there’s only so much I can do to get my horse comfortable with passing through this spot and there isn’t a whole lot of other places I can ride if I don’t. So it’s either conquer this hurdle or I can’t ride. Period. As I pondered this issue we approached the second rock outcrop with ice. I decided to turn her around and head back toward home before she had the chance to start refusing to go forward again. I simply didn’t have the time or gusto to go through another 60 minute dance of wills.

Heading for home she certainly had her “goin’ home” walk on. I slowed her down and made her move off my leg from one side of the trail to the other. (Our tracks look like we were drunk) I practiced one rein stops. I made her turn around and walk back the other way. Anything to keep her mind on ME and not on “whoopie, I’m going home!” As we approached the rocky outcrop she was very head-up, but not all that spooked. About halfway through the passage she suddenly spooked hard. I followed her gaze up and there on top of the rock ledges was a mountain biker riding his bike. I wished I had an Uzi. Thanks buddy. I just spent the better part of two hours trying to convince my horse that nothing scary is going to leap down off those ledges and eat her, and you have to happen along when I think I’ve made some progress and we’re on our way home. Great timing.

The rest of the ride was uneventful. I mean, we really didn’t go anywhere. All we did was work on being OK in the big scary place. I honestly don’t think I accomplished a damn thing and I know the next time I saddle up and head out she’s going to give me the same reaction there all over again.

I’m really discouraged. Between the shitty weather and the spooking horse, I’m a bit frazzled. I forget what it’s like to go for a ride just to relax and have fun. I’ve been riding a “project” for almost a year and I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere.

Time 1.45

Distance: crap

Jan 19, 2012

     It’s been over a week since I’ve ridden Dharla. Our weather has taken a turn for the worse and with single-digit temps and horribly high winds I haven’t had a chance to get out there and do much with her. Our ground froze into a clumpy, clotted mess after ten or twelve weeks of sliding around in sloppy mud. I kind of figured this would happen since it seems to be the pattern the last couple of years. Trouble is, this leaves me without a safe place to do even the most basic ground work. The area around our barn is a slippery mess and the footing in the arena is crunchy granola hard and knobby. I could probably ask my husband to drag the arena this weekend, maybe soften up the surface a bit, but until then I’m stuck just looking out the window at my horse.

I knew this would happen eventually, but the timing really stinks. I’m only a few weeks into a ground work program and I feel like every day that passes is a setback. It’s not like I’m training an unbroke horse, but still. I think daily progress and review is important for our relationship. I had some ideas I wanted to try out for the issues with the icicles along the trail. I plan to put a halter under her bridle and carry a 15′ lead rope on our next ride. I did this when I first started trail riding Dharla in case I ran into any problems, but I’d stopped doing it a few months ago since I never had to use it. My plan is to see how she acts as we approach the “scary spot.” If she begins to balk, I’ll dismount and use the rope to lunge her either in circles or back and forth past the icicles. These icicles are not “new” to her, she’s simply refusing to move past them. I’ve given her lots of time to approach the icicles with caution, walk past them multiple times each ride, see them from both directions, sniff them … you name it, we’ve done it and still she persists in acting like she’s never seen an icicle in her life. So I would like to see if I can “cure” her of her desire to put the brakes on and learn to trust my judgement … or suffer the consequences. (Lunging)

Hopefully, this will be a step in the right direction. I won’t always have the luxury of getting off my horse and working her in the vicinity of something scary. The trails we ride are seldom wide or flat enough to do this kind of desensitization work so I may as well take advantage of it on a trail that is suitable. I will have had Dharla a year in March and brought her home to my farm April 1st. 2010. It’s not like we haven’t had time to build up some trust in me. I would very much like to see her become a bit more willing to trust that I won’t force her to go anywhere or do anything that’s not safe. We’ve covered a lot of the same miles repeatedly and I know she’s not daft. She should be getting on board with the fact that I’m not going to ask her to do something she’s not ready to do.

When I first brought Dharla home I fantasized about maybe sending her back to spend more time with her trainer over the winter. His barn is just far enough away to be almost TOO far to think I’d get there several times a week, especially if the weather turns nasty.  And I can’t imagine not seeing my horse a couple times a week; it’s almost unfathomable after having her in my own back yard. But the benefit of more training for both she and I would be enormous. I’ve never boarded a horse away from home before and the idea is both forbiddingly scary and exciting. Although an indoor arena would be available for our use (a luxury those of us without constantly dream about) this trainer seldom uses it. I know that from riding under his tutelage last March, when the ides were blowing and the snow still lay in large drifts where plows had piled it. “Are we riding outside today?” I’d ask with foreboding. “Yup” he’d say, with a twinkle in his eye and a grin. “I don’t think horses see well indoors and it makes them spooky.”

Ug. Did I mention that I hate winter?

 

 

Jan 10, 2012

Busy day today. I went out and got Dharla around 10 AM and we took a walk down to the arena. We did some basic ground work, then added moving the forequarters and added some finesse to our lunging. Dharla was probably never taught to turn and face the person lunging her when stopped, so I’m working on that, then sending her the opposite direction. She got it OK a couple of times and so we ended on a good note.

Her backing is getting very good. Fast and as many steps as I ask her to take. She also backs very straight, which is nice. Moving her hindquarters is almost perfect on her right side, but a bit less so on her left. Not surprised there She’s crossing her feet nicely for about three steps every time on the right, with no attempt to walk forward. She’s a bit less coordinated on her left and sometimes tries to walk out of it. I tried the forequarter exercise, but I’m a retard and I decided to stop and go back and watch the video again before I try it. Sometimes it seemed like she understood what I was asking, but I botched it up enough that I decided to quit before I just confused her. Duh.

Time: 45 min.

Two hours later I went out and did a trail ride with my friend. It was basically a repeat of the same ride as yesterday only with a “babysitter” horse. Naturally, the icicles we less intimidating with a buddy along for comfort. It got a bit chilly toward the end. We didn’t get back to the barn until almost dark!

Time: 2.5 hours.

Distance: 6 miles

Jan 7, 2012

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Teamwork. Nearly every day I try to do some sort of groundwork with Dharla as a part of our team building. Sometimes it’s moving the hindquarters or backing or desensitization work of some sort and sometimes it’s an assortment of things. If the footing is good I might lunge her too, working on different things on the lunge line. With winter holding off on the white stuff I’ve been able to keep a fairly consistent schedule, which is quite nice. So it goes without saying that I could keep reblogging about the same old exercises, but that gets tedious to read and write. So from here on, I’ll just say that I did some groundwork and leave it at that. If I start a new exercise I’ll be sure to explain it and explore the results a bit before lumping it into the groundwork category.

Today I did two split sessions of groundwork. Initially, I went out in the morning and worked with Dharla in the paddock, but later in the day Aldo informed me that he was going to go riding, so I came up with another idea. I decided that rather than wait until he left and Dharla was worked up about being left behind, instead I’d go out when he went out to tack up and I’d halter Dharla and leave for the arena (down back, out of sight) while he was still getting Bullet ready to go. This worked marvelously for us. Dharla was none the wiser that Bullet was going to leave and we had a very nice training session down in the arena.

We did a repeat of the morning groundwork followed by some lunging. Dharla was a bit feisty at first, but I just kept her on a 15′ line until she settled down. Once she was working with me and using her brains I switched her over to the long line. We moved all around the arena, making a point of working in all 4 corners. She was a bit spooky at the far end by the pasture, but soon conquered her fears.

I picked up one end of the PVC pipe and decided to drag it around the arena as I was walking her. That caused a bit of a meltdown for a few seconds, but she soon realized the big bad pipe wasn’t going to eat her and walked quietly along beside me. I relocated the pipe to a new spot in the arena and then lunged her on both sides of it. This turned out to be a great idea … she was spooky when the pipe was in a different location so we worked on that until it wasn’t an issue anymore. Then I moved the pipe again, dragging it along beside us and she didn’t bat an eyelash at it. Then I lunged her alongside it at the other end of the arena until she decided it wasn’t going to attack her. Last, I picked up one end of the pipe and then dropped it beside us. At first Dharla jumped a bit, then she flinched, then after a couple of drops she didn’t move a muscle. When she finally dropped her head and licked her lips we called it a day.

Interestingly enough, when we walked back to the barn Dharla didn’t whinny or holler once for Bullet. She didn’t run around looking for him, which I expected she might do. I was pretty surprised by that and pleased. I put a little hay in the rack for her and she went to work on that, never once making a fuss about Bullet not being around. Amazing!

Thoughts: This girl can be a handful if she wants, but get her thinking and using her brain and she’s a totally different horse.

Work Time Total (2 sessions) : 1 hour