Tarps 5-25-12



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:



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  …


April 6, 2012


I’m still unable to ride, which is frustrating to say the least. In rethinking this whole eye surgery thing, perhaps I should have waited until the dead of summer to have it done, since I don’t typically ride once the outdoor temps and humidity creep up. I dunno. It’s too late now to cry over spilled milk.

I’m allowed an hour up and about for every hour I spend face down. That’s a good deal compared to having to be face down around the clock like I was all last week. So yesterday I took Dharla down to the ring and worked with her a bit on basic stuff like backing, and moving the hindquarters and shoulders. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to lunge her or not. My vision is still very impaired. My sight in the right eye is blurry from being dilated and I have almost no depth perception. That tends to throw off my equilibrium. It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve done anything with Dharla and I didn’t want to allow her to get into a position where she might try to take advantage of my impairment.

Still, I wanted to try, so we just started out with a walk/trot on a shorter line. She was so well behaved and listening nicely that after a few minutes I decided to switch over to the long line and see what she would do. She ended up working very well for me. She got a little feisty at the first clockwise canter, so I decided to let her have at it and then when she wanted to come back down I continued to push her more. That made an impression on her the next time I asked her to pick up a clockwise canter she was all business.

All together we worked about 45 minutes, which was long enough work up a little sweat. The gnats were getting nasty, so we headed back up to the barn. On the way back I stopped to let her munch a little green grass in the front yard. She gets kind of worried when we go someplace she’s not used to going, but the lure of the green grass soon had her ignoring her fear. Aldo had left to go riding with Bullet, so when we got back to the barn I hung out and brushed Dharla and combed out her mane and tail. I gave her a nice pile of hay and we just kept each other company for a bit. Dharla always seems to enjoy being with me and she didn’t holler for Bullet at all until after I left the barn. When she gets worried about being alone, all I have to do is step out the front door and call to her and she settles down. I think she just wants some reassurance that she’s not alone. She’s such a smart cookie, that girl!

It felt great to be able to spend some time with my horse. I’m really itching to go riding and I hope I get the thumbs up to start again next Friday!

Feb 7, 2012

Watching the competition


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

Jan 19 (revisit) 2012

Pony Pulls


Well I actually did get out and do a little something with Dharla yesterday. About mid day I went down to the arena to throw the Frisbee and ball for the dogs. The back yard was still too icy to have them chasing after things and they were dying to burn off a little energy. Not wanting to invite an ACL injury, I thought perhaps the riding ring might have slightly better footing.  Three quarters of it sits in full sun at least half the day and it’s flat, which is more than I can say for my back yard! So we ventured down and found it to be in fairly decent shape. A good portion of it was still frozen hard and a bit lumpy, but the sunny side had defrosted some and was perfectly usable. As I tossed the Frisbee and ball for the two canine maniacs the sun felt marvelously warm and inviting. Having just given the horses their afternoon hay, I decided I would bring Dharla down in about an hour or so and do a little ground work and maybe even ride a bit.

When I went out to the barn an hour later the skies were beginning to cloud over. Determined not to be dissuaded, I tacked Dharla up, stuffed a strand of bailing twine in my pocked, grabbed my stick and gathered up my helmet. It was about 34 degrees, but the steady wind that has been so prevalent (and such a pain) was absent. Only the occasional light gust of winter air rustled the branches overhead as Dharla and I started our walk down to the ring. She was her usual blowy and snorty self, but her overall demeanor was one of energy, not fear.

When we got to the ring we did our usual routine, which is to walk the perimeter of the arena several times  in both directions. I do this partly for my own mental warm-up as well as to allow Dharla to thoroughly scope out the area and reassure her that there aren’t any arena ghosts hiding in any of the corners. I have a strong suspicion that our arena is an energy “hot spot” on our property and it’s location and setting tends to contribute to my horse’s spookiness. There isn’t much I can do about that except follow a very distinct routine, give her plenty of time to check everything out and reassure her a lot. Nothing “bad” has ever happened in the arena so my expectations are for Dharla to do her best to get on board with the business at hand.

After circling the arena several times I picked up my training stick and we started working on our ground exercises: moving the haunches both directions, backing, moving the shoulders/forequarters. Dharla is doing quite well with these and although she doesn’t show signs of compliance to the degree that I would like (head-dropping, lip-licking) she does seem to relax and performs very well. It’s not that she doesn’t lick her lips or drop her head … she does. But she doesn’t do it as overtly as I’d like to see.

We reviewed ground work for about twenty minutes, but as we did so the weather began to deteriorate. The gusts of wind got stronger and ominous clouds began to fill the sky overhead. It was my original thought that I’d mount up and use the ring a bit to work more on some specific (mounted) exercises, then maybe venture down the dirt road, pick up a short woodsy trail and ride home from a different direction. It wasn’t a lengthy route, but it would be a change of pace.

I didn’t plan to do anything fancy in the ring as the footing wasn’t the best, but about half of the area was suitable to use as long as we just walked. I checked Dharla’s girth, attached my reins and mounted. I could immediately feel Dharla bunch up with tension. I wasn’t particularly buying it. We walked around the arena quietly. I simply asked her to move forward and nothing else. Given our ring isn’t huge, we traversed the area several times, making small circles at both ends and practicing our one rein halts at random. Dharla was still tense, but cooperative. Twice I felt her hunch up as a strong gust of wind blew, and I knew she was thinking about bucking. But I kept her moving forward and the moment passed. Unfortunately, even though we didn’t have any sort of incident, the fact she thought about it bugged me. I’m not used to riding a horse that thinks about giving me crap every time I get on it. Or maybe I’m wrong and reading too much into this? I dunno. I’m prone to dwell too much on the negative.

About fifteen minutes into our ride (still in the arena) I could hear a large truck rumbling up our road. I stopped Dharla and listened. Was it going to come down the dirt road and pass the arena? There’s only one place in the arena where we can see the dirt road and anything that’s on it. Sometimes that has been known to freak Dharla out because she hears something, but can’t see it. Our ears followed the rattling, belching truck up the road, then heard it slow down at the corner. Yes, it was certainly going to come our way. I walked Dharla toward the spot where she could see the truck and dismounted. We stood and watched together as the noisy truck rumbled past. Dharla was alert, but in control of herself. I was pleased.

After the town dump truck passed and rounded the bend I remounted and continued to walk Dharla around the arena. We could still hear the truck off in the distance. Unfortunately, the truck had driven in the direction I was hoping to ride after I finished in the arena. The dirt road is very narrow and not in the greatest shape and I was concerned that perhaps the town truck was going to be working somewhere over the next ridge. It probably wouldn’t be a very good idea to ride that way if that was the case. As we walked around and I pondered the choices, a sudden snow squall began to erupt. Discouraged, I decided we’d had enough. So far things had been a bit tense, but I’d accomplished everything I set out to do and I know that’s a good way to end things. As I thought this I started to hear the rumbling of the dump truck.. Good grief … it was coming back up the road toward us again!

I walked Dharla to the center of the ring and dismounted. We watched the truck approach, then as it vanished out of sight I listened and heard it take a turn toward my house. *Sigh* Being our only route home, I remounted and we worked a bit more on neck reining, halts and turns. (All at a walk) Eventually, we heard the rattling truck drive past our farm and back down the road toward town. I dismounted again, gathered up my things and we headed up the road to the barn.

Overall, not a bad ride or work session. I struggle with feelings of inadequacy and worry that I’m not skilled enough to get my horse where I’d like her to go. I really don’t have the foggiest idea what I’m doing or whether or not what I’m doing is even what I ought to be doing for her. I think I know her weaknesses, but I’m not sure how to help her strengthen them. I’m just kind of plowing through life hoping that at some point we’ll default our way into improving. I still fantasize a lot about sending her back to her trainer for a couple of months this spring, but I’m afraid that’s probably just wishful thinking. We’ll see.

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


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

Dec 30, 2011

I hoped to get out and ride today, but things didn’t work according to plan. The guys decided to ride around one and not knowing for sure what that might entail, I choose to opt out and go for a ride a bit later on my own. However, an hour later when I went out to get Dharla ready to ride, she had worked herself into a nervous frenzy at Bullet’s absence.

Typically, when the guys go off and ride we put Dharla in the smaller paddock. I feel a bit better knowing she’s in a little tighter confinement where she has everything she needs: food, water, shelter and a small area to walk around freely. The idea is that she still has her freedom to express her angst, but won’t be tempted to do anything foolish. Or so theory has it. When we lost The Bean, we lost our “babysitter” horse, but initially Dharla wasn’t all that disturbed when Bullet left on a ride. However, in the two months since Bean has been gone there has been a shift in energy and Dharla seems a bit more anxious when Bullet rides off.

So an hour or so after the guys left I went out to tack up, only to find Dharla totally unwilling to cooperate. Hm. Could I have pressed the issue? Sure, I could have. But I honestly wasn’t in the mood. I guess it all comes down to how badly you want to ride. It was a very nice day, unseasonably warm, but a lot of people were out and about on foot and bikes. Truth be told, that isn’t my favorite time to ride. So I decided to pick a different track.

I slipped on Dharla’s rope halter (even that was a test of wills) grabbed a fifteen foot lead rope and my training stick and we went out into the (larger) muddy paddock. Dharla was head-up and snorty. We walked. I led her around the muddy paddock for about ten minutes until I saw her head drop and she was licking her lips and beginning to relax. Once she wasn’t feeling quite so large and in charge, I started working on moving her hindquarters. I worked both sides several times until she was taking three good steps in each direction with only very light taps for a prompt. As she began to start using her brains she settled down more, which is typical for this mare.

I wasn’t content to stop there, but the paddock was too slick to do much else. I contemplated walking her down to the arena and lunging her, but I could tell she was still pretty fired up. Did I want to end there, on a good note or risk moving to a bigger area and working on something else that had the potential to deteriorate? Since I was giving up my opportunity to ride I decided my horse was going to work anyway. I led Dharla to the gate and we headed down the road to the arena. It was like waking on pins and needles the whole way. Good grief. You’d think we’d never been down this road before in our life. The whole time I was wondering if my horse is going to be a complete nut case when we get down to the ring. (Note to self: lose the negative thoughts … Ug!)

I started small. VERY small. I led Dharla around the perimeter of the ring three or four times. She was still very spooky and goofy, but I was quietly and gently not having any part of it. She got the hint. Next, I started walking her in circles with a couple of feet of lead line. My thought was, if she can handle walking, then trotting quietly with a couple of feet, then after a few minutes I’ll feed her a few more feet. The plan worked well, and gradually I fed her more line until I finally had Dharla walking and trotting quietly at the end of the fifteen foot lead rope. What I didn’t want was her flaking out at the end of the line or trying to pull any smarty-pants stuff on me. I always strive to avoid issues rather than have to try to fix them after they occur. I don’t know if that’s the right approach to take or not, but it just seems logical to me to try to set her up to succeed.

Once I had Dharla settled down a bit we took a little break and walked around the ring together again. I stopped in each corner and moved her hindquarters on both sides, then we walked some more. I stopped again and worked on backing her a few steps without touching her, then we walked some more. We did this for about fifteen minutes, then I walked her over to the gate and swapped out the lead rope for the lunge line.

We started on the lunge line the same as we did the lead rope; in iddy-biddy circles, fed out a couple of feet at a time with good behavior. We moved all around the arena working on her walk/trot transitions. Overall, she was great; quiet, accepting, listening to my voice and body cues. She spooked once at the far end of the ring, but didn’t go off like a rocket. (Yay!) We worked our way up the arena toward the “big scary spot” and circled there (both directions) until she lost her wide-eyed expression and relaxed. By the time I decided we were finished I had myself a different horse. On walk back up the road to the barn Dharla’s head was level and her breathing calm. When we got back to the barn I decided to leave Dharla in the bigger paddock that has access to the main gate. I stayed out with her for about fifteen minutes and picked the paddock. I wanted to see what she’d do, see if she’d revert back to her previous nervous, pacing, whinnying-for-Bullet state. She did not! (Yay!)

In conclusion, a couple of things:

1. Good on me for using my head (not my emotions) and finding a constructive substitute for riding. I tend to view “not getting my way” as defeat and often use this emotion to draw a line in the sand. I’m learning to do what’s right for my horse and (I’m hoping) we’ll both be better for this in the long run.

2. Along that same note, I’m learning to look down the line more: forgo instant gratification. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had such a green young horse. It’s easy for me to get frustrated by (what feels like) a lot of endless repetition. I have to learn to believe in my heart that Dharla is making progress, even during those times when it seems like she’s not. It’s all good.

3. Keep setting us (both) up for success! If you don’t have the confidence to take a specific path, choose a path (however small) that you do have the confidence to take. Even small steps can be constructive.

4. When my horse acts out, it’s not about ME. It’s not because I’ve failed her (us). It’s not because she’s a miserable cuss. There’s usually a reason. Try to see the situation through her eyes and find a remedy that fits the circumstance. (In this case, doing some simple, easy ground work to take her mind off missing her buddy and getting her to focus on me for a while.)

Tues, Dec 13

Not enough hours in the day this week to get what I need to do done and try to ride. And it’s bone-chilling cold. So one of my projects today was to go through my stash of winter clothes and dig out my Under Armour cold weather gear. I’m going to need an extra layer if I want to do anything outside now.

Since I didn’t have enough time to ride I headed out to the barn around 3 PM and threw Bullet in a stall so I could do a little ground work with Dharla. Rather than take her down to the ring I figured I’d just isolate the buckskin and use the upper paddock. The footing was a bit greasy because the ground has been trying to freeze, then thawing again when the sun hits it in the afternoon. So it was a bit sloppy.

We basically did a repeat of yesterday: Rope desensitizing, then stick desensitizing followed by moving the hindquarters. I’ve noticed that while Dharla totally accepts the rope and stick work, she tends to hold her ground, but flinches the first few times I throw the rope across her back on each side. She’s definitely better on her left side than her right, which is typical I guess. I just tried to stay very relaxed and encouraging. Hopefully as time goes on she’ll lose the flinch. Still, she holds her ground and eventually relaxes, so I’m not sure if the flinch is even an issue or not.

Moving the hindquarters went even better than yesterdays session. I was able to use a corner of the paddock to help keep her from trying to just walk forward. Again, she only seems to do that on her right side when I go to move her hindquarters to her left. All in all, she did well though. I’d like to see her drop her head more, but hopefully in time. She’s not resisting at all, nor worried, just tends to get that head up thing going. She even seems to relax with that head up. Odd, that. Once I touch her and rub her neck that head drops right away. She’ll get there.

I ended by doing the rope slapping desensitization exercise. Basically, I stand beside her and swing the stick so the rope slaps the ground beside her. I started by using fairly gentle slaps a good distance out from her body. She accepted that well, so I increased the pressure and moved the rope a bit closer. I was surprised how well she did. I worked both sides twice and was please with her acceptance. I had a little trouble with rope/stick/hand coordination. Because the ground is getting hard the rope tends to bounce back when it slaps the ground. In a sand area that doesn’t happen and I need to be VERY careful that the rope doesn’t ricochet back and hit Dharla’s legs. That would totally defeat the whole purpose of doing this exercise. I’ll have to try this down in the arena and see if it’s better down there. If so, I won’t practice this in the paddock. Too easy to screw it up!

Overall, about 35 minutes this session. Very pleased. Glad we got this done today!

One Step Foward, One Step Back

It was a pretty chilly night and I awoke to the first real frozen ground this winter. I had roofers coming again bright and early, but I was hoping that once it warmed up some I could get out and try a training session with my new gear. I had to wait until about 1:30, at which point I went out and caught Dharla and slipped on her new rope halter. As expected, she was very “head up” and snorty. *Sigh* Arabians. You just can’t slip anything by them.

I put Dharla in her stall, threw the buckskin a flake of hay, grabbed the rest of my gear then went and got my horse. We cut across the paddock, out the main gate and began our walk down the road to the riding ring. Our ring is down behind our house and the only access to it is via the back road. It can’t be seen by the horses at the barn, though if they holler (and Bullet always does) the sound carries down through the valley and we can hear him calling. Dharla is quite familiar with this routine … we’ve done it a gazillion times, but she still has to blow and snort and look all around in case some evil Mountain Lion decides to suddenly leap out of the woods and eat her.

Once we got down to the ring I began with the rope desensitizing exercise. Basically, this involves casting a long rope over the back and around the front and hind legs of the horse repeatedly. It doesn’t hurt them, but teaches them to stand and hold their ground when something “scary” touches them. Dharla does great with this exercise and always has so I’m guessing it was done with her before I got her. She sometimes raises her head a bit the first few tosses, but usually relaxes and licks her lips soon after. I work this exercise from both sides until she’s calmly accepting the rope anywhere on her body.

Next, I move to using the stick. I rub Dharla with the stick all over, looking for any “Don’t touch me there” spots. She’s a little “heady” so when I move up her neck I usually find a DTMT spot and work it until she relaxes. The premise is similar to the exercise above and I do this from both sides.

After that I moved to something I haven’t done with Dharla before. Moving the hindquarters. Here, you use the stick to tap on the horse’s butt, increasing pressure every 4th tap until they submit and step their close side hind foot under their body and in front of their off side hind foot. A multitude of things can “go wrong” and it takes a bit of coordination to operate the stick, manage the horse and stay with them if they move. I had no idea how Dharla would react, so I began by tapping her rump gently and rhythmically, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 … increasing pressure after every 4th tap. It took about one and a half sets before Dharla quickly moved her hindquarters a step away from me. I was very pleased!

We worked on this exercise, getting to where I could ask Dharla to move her hindquarters three steps before I stopped tapping. After each success, I’d rub her rump with the tip of the stick, just like in the exercise before. She did very well, actually better than I had dared hope. I tried using less and less pressure and looking to see if she would move away sooner. I had moderate success, which means (to me) that we’ll need to do this a good bit more before she begins to develop a better sensitivity to it. She was indeed less responsive and cooperative on her other side, but that’s not unusual. She had a tendency to want to walk forward instead of stepping away with her hind end, so I tried to use the fence to block her forward motion. I’m going to review the DVD again tonight and see what Clinton said about how to fix that.

Overall, I was pleased with what we did. After that, I put Dharla on the longe line and we did some walk/trot circles in various parts of the ring. I have a length of PVC pipe laid in one corner of the arena, partly to desensitize her to foreign objects in the ring and partly to use as a cavaleti. I had her trot over that several times since it’s been awhile since we’ve been down in the ring. First time near it she hit the brakes and had to snort, but after that she figured out it wasn’t a big deal. Grrr. I find myself wondering when she’ll stop with the everything scares me routine, but I don’t have any answers for that.

After that I tacked up and went out for what I thought would be just a brief trail ride. Turns out I ended up with a bit of a battle on my hands because icicles are lethal aliens and can’t be passed. Ahem.

We live alongside one of those railroads that was converted into a State Linear Park. The Airline Trail (ALT)was widened to about eight feet and covered with stone dust. It passes through a corridor of this state that has quite a varied topography, which means there are many different things to see on this trail. Sometimes we must ride through places where the old rail bed was literally carved out of bedrock and steep rock walls rise about 2-3 stories on both sides of the trail.

That doesn’t make a horse feel real comfortable and in the places where the rock ledge is on both sides, a horse can get feeling kind of “squeezed.” Naturally, there’s lots of water in the form of small streams, puddles and even springs that seep and drip from the rock walls in places. In fact, in one area there’s a beautiful waterfall that gushes down the face of the rocks right next to the trail.

In another spot we have to pass bright blue picnic tables and benches right alongside the trail.


Believe me when I say that some of these things were very new and intimidating for Dharla, not to mention having to learn to cope with bicyclists whizzing past us form both directions and baby strollers being pushed by people who were usually walking with dogs of all shapes and sizes. I spent many rides just working on desensitizing Dharla to all these things, but the worst of our obstacles have turned out to be things I never in a million years would have dreamed would be such a problem.

And that’s only one of the trails I ride routinely! Believe it or not, that’s probably the easiest trail of them all, too. But all this stuff was new to Dharla when I brought her home last April. Granted, she was a “started” young horse, but the type of trail riding I would begin to expose her to here, was nothing like anything she’d experienced in her short life back where she was born and raised.

It turns out Dharla’s biggest trail issues are with odd things. She continues to be very uncomfortable by the steep rock cliffs that we pass through in several places along the AL Trail. Water was a HUGE issue in the beginning. I mean, I spent literally a ton of time just trying to desensitize her enough so she would step over a puddle or walk through a damp spot on the trail. Our first few real stream crossings caused a real battle of whits. But I persevered (and won) because you can’t trail ride anywhere here if you can’t deal with all different kinds of water.

Dead brush continues to be an occasional forward-motion stopper. Then we had that freak October snow storm that brought down tons of branches still bearing leaves. The town parks department sent workers out on the AL Trail and they pushed all the downed branches off to the sides of the trail. Now those branches have dead, brown leaves still on them that rattle like snakes in the breeze. Oh joy. Needless to say, we get lots of exposure to these things on every ride, which is good, but sometimes …. to the moon, Dharla!

Today’s issue? Icicles. I mean, really! With the weather turning suddenly colder the water that seeps down the front of the rock ledges has frozen into a beautiful display of icicles, which apparently Dharla has never seen in her life. Suddenly, she hit the brakes and stood head up, stock still. She blew loudly through her nose. I knew what her problem was right away, but I didn’t expect such a ridiculously strong reaction. She tried to do a 180 and head for home! Not so fast, little sister!

We circled several tight circles. I was silently grateful that this reaction had occurred in a spot on the trail where I actually could circle her. Sometimes I’m not that lucky. I pulled her out of the circle and asked for forward movement. She locked up again. So we circled more. We did this routine repeatedly as I hoped she’d soon find moving forward when asked much easier than the alternative. And every few circles I inched her a bit further down the trail until eventually, we were circling right next to the icicles. I pulled her out of the circle again, asked for forward movement and lo, she waked on with trepidation. We passed through the icicle area, turned around and walked back past them. Wash, rinse, repeat, until I was satisfied we’d be OK on our way back home.


I must admit, sometimes this gets tedious. I try to have a lot of patience, but I find myself wondering when (if) Dharla will ever become desensitized to all the things we meet out on the trails. I certainly don’t expect perfection, but I’d like to see her start to use the thinking side of her brain more often than the reactive side. I know we’ll get there … it’s only been 8 months.

All in all, It was a good, albeit short and chilly ride. By the time we got back to the barn I was freezing and anxious to get inside and warm up. Tomorrow’s another day!

PS. The horse in the header is/was Tia, my beloved Arabian mare that I lost at age 28,  Jan 2011. I decided to post her picture in the header as a reminder that the finished product is worth the work and the wait. I miss her every day.