Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Working From the Outside In, or From the Inside Out?

OK, here's where we start.  Think of this circle in the following way: layer one is the technique you use when working with your horse - the rein, seat and leg aids - the how.  Layer two is what you're trying to accomplish with your horse - the task, the job - riding a hunter course, doing a pattern, working with a cow, going on a trail ride - the what.  Layer three is who you and your horse are, separately but also together.

I think the question for many of us is whether we ever work at level 3, or whether we spend all our time at levels 1 and 2, learning and then fine tuning our aids with a focus on some specific thing we want to accomplish with our horses, working on the outside of the horse.  Now, there's nothing wrong with any of that, provided the horse's interests and well-being are taken into account.

But there's more, so, so much more - that's what level 3 is about.  Level three is about energy, and feel, and what the horse is thinking and feeling, and ultimately, about trust.  It's about who you are with your horse, and who your horse is with you.  And it's about what you bring to the horse, and your attitude to the horse.

I've worked for a number of years with Mark Rashid - many of you know this.  Every time he's in my area, I try to ride with him, and I've been to Colorado twice to learn from him.  The reason I continue to work with Mark is that he's firmly focused on level 3, and this involves getting to this level right away with a horse where you could fuss around forever at levels 1 and 2 and never fix the problem.  And he's focussed on getting people to level 3 themselves - softness is something we offer to our horses for them to join with us together in doing.  There's plenty of useful technique to learn, but getting to the center, that's the real prize, and it requires dedication and attention and wanting to make things better for the horse.  One of the things I prize about Mark is that he often asks: "How is the horse feeling about that?"  It's all about having the horse feel better on the inside about what you're doing together - this guides all my work with horses now.

I could go on about how I'm trying to work on this together with my horses, and I probably will, but right now, I'd like to present (with her permission) a series of posts done by Annette at News from Oak Creek Ranch about the experience her husband Brett and his horse Mufasa had at one of Mark's clinics recently - these posts are on my sidebar for a reason.  Mufasa was a horse with some serious trust issues.  Mark didn't mess around with technique on the outside, he worked to get to the core, the heart - the place where the horse - a good horse who tried so, so hard - was worried, hurting and uncertain.  I think you'll find the whole series pretty illuminating.  I found it pretty darn inspiring.

Mark Rashid: Day One
Another Amazing Session With Mark Rashid
Mark Rashid Clinic: Day Three
What I Learned From Mark Rashid

Mark is an expert - there are no two ways about it.  I might add that with Mark, there's no "moving the feet", round penning for "join up", or talk about "making the wrong thing hard" or "respect".  Mark doesn't work with horses in a traditional manner, but he isn't a NH trainer either and refuses to use the term.  I'm sure there are also very good traditional and NH horsemen who respect the horse and get to good results using a different approach, but I've found that Mark's approach really resonates with me, both in terms of ethics and effectiveness. He just works with the inside of horses, and the inside of people, so they can feel better about working together, and therefore work together much more effectively.

But each and every one of us can take steps to get on this road together with our horses - you don't have to be an expert - you can start where you and your horse are today.  Transformations can occur - primarily in us and in how we build our horsemanship into our lives, and how we interact with our horses - trust me, I know.

And the exciting thing is that, although I've come a long way already, I've got a long way to go and I'm excited to be on the road together with my four fine horses.  If you want to know more, there are a whole series of posts on my sidebar about a number of Mark's clinics, both ones where I've been an auditor and ones where I've ridden.

Friday, March 20, 2015

New Mare Introduction and Five Rides

There's a new mare in our herd, and she went out for the first time Monday, after spending several weeks in a pen next to the mare pasture. The new mare - her name is Misty (our mare herd now has a Misty, a Missy, a Maddie and a Maggie - M must be for mare) - is the buckskin on the right.  She's Impressive bred and a HYPP carrier, although she's never had any symptoms, and had two foals (before her current owner) - the QH industry bears a lot of blame for perpetuating this genetic problem to the detriment of horses.  But she's a very sweet mare.

The small sorrel mare approaching from the rear is a mustang mare who makes a practice of very aggressively chasing new horses and biting them and then whirling and trying to kick them - she's sneaking up and Misty seems unaware (photos by Misty's owner):

The new mare is pretty much attached to Dawn at the hip - she knows Dawn from a long history together at our old barn - Dawn moved from there three years ago.  Dawn and this mare were never special friends, but Dawn tolerates her, within limits - she'll snap at her for clinging too closely, but will also get between her and other mares who are trying to be aggressive.

The first couple of days, there was lots of running and chasing, and a lot of chaos - the new mare and Dawn (in rain sheet) are at the back of the melee in this photo - the buckskin mare at the front can also be quite aggressive:

At one point Dawn actually slipped and fell on her right shoulder during a chasing episode, but thankfully she seems to be OK.  The new mare has several big bite marks and also got kicked at least once in the butt that I saw - no serious injury from that.  Herd introductions are sometimes stressful, but horses benefit so much from turnout with other horses.

Things seem to have settled down a bit by today - there's less chasing and running, but Dawn and the new mare aren't getting much to eat at the bales, and I've been giving Dawn some hay after our rides to compensate.  The new mare is now tolerated by a couple of the other mares, and I think things will be OK within a few days.

Today was actually a five-ride day - it's been a number of years since I rode that much.  I rode Dawn and Pie in the morning - Pie's been coping very well with the distractions and the unusual ride time all week.

There's a lady at our barn whose horse has permanent unsoundness due to fetlock issues, and our barn owner kindly is allowing her to ride one of her paint horses - a nice gelding named Blue.  The lady was having some issues with him in her ride - he's different from her old horse - and really didn't know what to do.  She asked if I would get on him, to see how he's be for me, and I said sure - we let the barn owner know and she was fine with it.  I did a few minutes of leading work to be sure he understood my personal space, and asked him to stand still on a loose rein for mounting - he did although she'd had trouble. He turned out to be a lovely horse, very sensitive, well-trained and responsive, and he rode very well for me.  The lady was worried that she didn't know how to ride him  - her old horse was much heavier in the bridle and she was used to using a lot of leg - she was very nervous and that made him worried - but I told her she just needed to have a plan of what to do if he did things she didn't expect.  She'll ride him again on Monday, and I told her I'd be there to help her out if need be.  I think she'll be fine with him - he's very willing and responsive - but she needs to relax and sit up and breathe and not haul on the reins when she's worried - just softly turn him - if she can do that, he'll be fine for her.

And then later, I rode Missy and Red.  All horses were excellent - it was a very good horse day.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Red Photos Before a Ride

Another boarder took some good photos of Red and I before a ride last week - they really capture his sweet, intense personality:

Friday, March 13, 2015

On the Importance of Practice: a Riding Fool, with Delightful Dawn, Magnificent Missy, Premier Pie and Radiant Red

I'm going to run out of alliterations someday soon . . .

I'm a riding fool, I admit it.  Some people at my barn say I'm crazy, and some of my friends who don't  do horses ask, with a look of concern on their faces, "you spend how many hours a day at the barn?"  Sometimes I explain, and sometimes I don't.

I don't just ride - for me riding, and spending a lot of time with my four wonderful horses, is a delight and also a spiritual practice - I'm present with my horses in a way that I'm rarely present anywhere else.  And riding is also the practice of an art form - my goal is to get better - more connected with my horses and less in their way - slowly, every day, and that doesn't happen without practice, trying things, failing and succeeding, and without the guidance and input of my teachers - my horses.

Today was a four-horse riding day, and it was splendid.  It was a lovely, sunny day, with little wind and open arena doors - we made it to 60F!  I changed coat/fleece/windbreaker combinations at least three times during the day.  The horses are still carrying most of their heavy winter coats, so we didn't work that long.  The pastures are a half muddy/half icy mess, so no riding outside yet.

Dawn was up first, early in the morning.  We had a lovely ride, working on some more sustained trot work, and also shortening/lengthening at the trot.

Missy was next.  I just got and rode, after only a little bit of leading work.  Dawn didn't call for her today, and Missy only called once.  Her forward at trot was pretty much automatic, and we worked on her stretching down and bending.  Bend to the right is still a bit harder for her, and I suspect that she's tight in her left shoulder and left neck.  We'll have a chiro appointment after her teeth are done in a couple of weeks.

In the afternoon, I came back to the barn and rode Pie and Red.  Pie and I had an excellent session with lovely, forward, soft trot work and some very nice relaxed canter work.

Red, despite the warm weather, was raring to go.  We did a bunch of very nice stretching down trot work, and his canter was delightful on both leads.  Then we did some more trot work and some trot/walk/trot transitions, working on carrying the energy forward into walk and taking up trot again on my exhale.

Couldn't ask for a better day with horses.  And I have another post in the works - outside in? or inside out?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Marvelous Mares, Gorgeous Geldings and Mixing Things Up

It was a really good day with horses - helped by the best weather yet this year - it was in the 30sF this morning and made it to 50 in the afternoon.

The mares had the morning, and the geldings had the afternoon.  The mares were also gorgeous, and the geldings also marvelous . . .

Dawn was up first.  I put her on the lunge to start, and my objective was to have her do walk/trot/canter transitions, with halts thrown in, with no drama (that is, grunting, squealing or airs above the ground).  Adding canter upped the ante - if she's at all on edge, that'll bring out her emotions.  She couldn't have been more perfect, right from the outset - as often happens, since she'd ended in a good place yesterday despite all the shenanigans before, I suspected she'd start today in the same good place, and it proved to be so.

So I got on - first ride in over a month - and she was great.  We didn't work for long, as she's out of shape, but she did some very nice trot work, despite the arena doors being open on both sides for the first time.

Then I brought Missy in for a little groundwork session.  I had two purposes for this - the day before she'd been slightly off at the trot when we started, although she'd worked out of it and been sound by the end of our ride - it seemed like she was a little bit stiff on the left front/right hind pair after five days off from work.  I wanted to see how she'd be today, and trotting in a circle would really test that out.  I also wanted to start bringing each of my horses other than Dawn in for morning work, so that they'd be ready and willing to work no matter the time of day.  I've always ridden Dawn in the early morning, when no one else is at the barn, and won't change that - she very strongly objects to other horses in the ring (bucking, kicking, etc.) and at almost age 18, I'm not interested in trying to change her opinion.  The boys have almost always been ridden in the afternoon after bring-in, so they get the most turnout possible, but they and Missy could both use some separation from the herd in the mornings so work then becomes ho hum.

Surprisingly, when I brought Missy in, Dawn left the hay, followed us and stayed at the pasture gate the whole time I was working with Missy.  Dawn also did a lot of calling to Missy, who could see her through the open arena doors.  This was interesting, because although Dawn and Missy have adjacent stalls, Dawn's never shown any particular fondness for Missy - Dawn often attacks the wall between them - and doesn't hang out with Missy in the pasture.  But apparently there is some form of attachment there.

Missy and I did a bit of leading work - she's reliably good with this - and this gave me a chance to redirect her attention from the pasture and its distractions.  Then we did some lungeing - she doesn't care too much for lungeing, and there were some minor ear pinning moments, but she did very well.  We worked on walk/trot/halt combinations.  She was completely sound in both directions, which was good to see.  After settling into our work, she was also focussed and relaxed.

When I turned her back out, she and Dawn went trotting off together, and then Dawn proceeded to herd several other mares away from Missy.  Perhaps a claim is being made?  Later, I saw them in their usual places - Missy with her three special friends and Dawn elsewhere - who knows what's going on?

Tomorrow I'm planning to do some work in the morning with ropes with Missy - so she's not worried about them being around her legs - outside turns with a rope around her hindquarters, and "leading by the legs" - and then do some ground driving and perhaps a ride as well.  We'll see where we get to.

The boys and I had rides in the afternoon - having two horses to ride in the afternoon, rather than three, makes things much more relaxed and pleasant.  Red and I had an excellent ride.  He was nicely relaxed and did some good stretching down at trot, as well as shortening/lengthening.  We haven't done much canter work this winter - I'm a big fan of trot for even development of the body, and our arena is very small for cantering, but he was reasonably relaxed and we did some cantering for a change.  He enjoyed it a lot, I could tell, and wanted to canter more.  His canter is very elevated and engaged, very forward and quite remarkably lovely, but a bit hard to sit due to its animation.  A little rougher on the right lead - less so than last year - but that'll improve with work and further even development of his body at the trot.

I have to always remember with Red to dial down my internal energy level - he and I are very plugged in to one another, and if I allow myself to get excited or let my energy level amp up, he reflects this very accurately - he tends to be excitable and high energy anyway and I have to stay serene to compensate for that and give him the lead for how we should be together.  I managed to do this pretty well today, and he was able to do some relaxed trot work after our cantering.

Pie and I also had an excellent ride.  He was forward and soft, and I tried to pay attention to opening my right hip when we were tracking right.  We did some substantial work on the canter, particularly on circling with us retaining softness and balance and not falling on the forehand and losing the hind end around the bend.  The final canter circles were really excellent.

I'd say that was a pretty fine day with horses . . .