Saturday, September 12, 2009

Dawn Walks a Pattern, Scout's Foot and a Few More Pictures

Dawn and I had a good session yesterday. We groomed and tacked up - less worries about the girth - and went to the arena. We did some more work with our ground pole. We did the one-front-foot-over-and-stop and two-feet-over-and-stop again. She did well with this and then she stepped on the pole with one of her hind feet as we walked off. That made her want to rush over again, so we had to do a couple more goes until she settled down, stopped worrying and was able to do the exercise again. I was actually glad that this little trouble arose - she needs lots of chances to successfully overcome small worries with my help to slowly build her trust and ability to calm down and refocus on the work.

She also remembered her backing in hand with the halter - the softness came through her whole neck and body - particularly that troublesome area right in front of her withers - very quickly on the first try. We did the backing from time to time mixed in with our other ground exercises, and each time she did it very nicely and softly. As her backing has gotten softer, keeping straight while backing has become easier - there's no brace with a part of her body to distort the motion.

We also briefly reviewed her turn on the forehand in one direction - instantly perfect - and I now don't even have to touch her for her to do it - I just slightly move my hand towards her side. We then started work on the turn in the opposite direction. This took a few tries to get right. First she wanted to back while doing it - I just took the lead and gently tipped her nose towards me and she instantly got it. I'll be able to drop the nose-tipping very soon as she gets the idea of responding to my hand (first pressure and then slight motion).

Then I mounted up. She came right up to the block, stood quietly while we got ready - I tested by putting my foot in the stirrup and touching her side with my toe - and then I just got on, moving slowly and smoothly. All fine. I put my foot in the right stirrup and adjusted my position (on purpose to make sure she was OK with my moving around in the saddle from side to side and front to back) - she was fine and stood well. Then we moved off at the walk - I kept a very light contact. Before I got on we had placed three cones in a triangle with about 30' sides - Dawn helped me with this and was completely fine with it as I picked up, shook, carried and dropped the orange traffic cones.

It was interesting as she walked off - she was slightly wobbly for a few steps. I weigh about 20 pounds more than my daughter and I'm about 3 inches taller. The saddle weighs about 10 pounds. So there was more weight than she's used to, and our combined center of gravity was higher than when my daughter rides bareback. She got used to it after a few steps. We did a simple cloverleaf pattern using the cones, and all I did to direct her was use an opening rein for the turns around the cones and I kept my eyes on where we were going for the straight parts. We did the pattern a couple of times in each direction - we can work on straightness and precision later. Her pace was regular and relaxed. I didn't ask for any softening with the bit yet - we'll do that from the ground first. Then we walked away and I got off. This time I didn't use the mounting block, but dropped my right stirrup, swung my leg over, stood for a second in the left stirrup and then dropped it, keeping my weight on my hands on her neck and below the pommel on the offside and jumped down. We'll end up with me doing a more fluid dismount where I drop both stirrups before I swing my leg over, using my hands to support the jump down - this is my preferred way to dismount but I can't do in on Maisie as she's so tall and it jars my knees too much - Dawn is much smaller so I can once I get the hang of it again.

I took her straight in to dinner when we were done, with praise and treats, which were well deserved. Then Maisie and I took a brief trail ride - it was late enough that the mosquitoes were ferocious.

One of our next work sessions is going to involve more lunging - with more work on her doing transitions off my body language and energy level. She was starting to get this a bit in our earlier sessions - her first inclination on the lunge is to just go around and around and zone out rather than paying attention. I had been using some voice commands as secondary cues, but do want her to get the idea of watching my body for cues. So this morning when we led out, I worked on a "hesitation" exercise - it's a little bit like the "momentary transitions" work I've been doing with Maisie under saddle. Dawn when leading now stops well and backs immediately if I turn and walk towards her. The ground work has made her more attentive to me, which is real progress. This morning what I did as we were leading to the pasture was to momentarily slow down my walk and then return to normal as I was leading. I didn't ask her to slow and speed up with the lead - I kept that loose and wanted her to watch me and slow and speed up instantly as I did. She did great at it - she really is making good progress at paying attention to what I'm doing. I'm hoping this leading work will translate to improved attention on the lunge - we'll have to try that out.

When I was leading out yesterday, Scout was off - he was slightly favoring his left front. So I stopped him in the barn aisle and picked his feet, just in case. And indeed there was a rock embedded in the dirt in his foot, over the sole between the frog and the hoof wall. He was still sore as we led out - I thought he might have bruised his sole. Sure enough, this morning he was really off - he hardly wanted to weight the foot at all. He's probably developing a hoof abscess. I kept him and Joe in a small grass paddock so his owner can take a look at him.

Finally, here are a couple more photos. First, here are some Common Milkweed pods that had a marvelous, almost luminous, pinkish color:

And some really beautiful New England Asters:


  1. Your work with Dawn sounds as if it is coming along really well. I'll bet by the time your daughter gets home she will not recognize her horse and how she goes.

  2. Another great session, you must be very pleased indeed with Dawn :)

  3. Excellent work with Dawn! You are making really good progress with her. I'm glad. She deserves a chance to learn quietly and comfortably.

    Hope Scout feels better sooner than later. It's really sad to see a horse with a sore foot. I can't even imagine how painful an abscess must be.

  4. Dawn is one smart cookie...she is picking things up FAST! One of the drawbacks to those smart ones is they remember the bad things just as well as they remember and learn the good things!

    I have a couple of milkweed "stands" in the pasture that I mow around. Did you know milkweed is the only plant a Monarch butterfly will eat and lay it's eggs on?


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