Friday, November 20, 2009

Dawn in Pictures and Maisie Works Too

Today, I was inspired by Jean of Horses of Follywoods, who often manages to work with - and even ride - all three of her horses in a single day. I made sure to go to the barn early enough that I would have light to work with both horses. I recruited my husband to take some pictures of my work session with Dawn. Due to the light conditions, some of these came out better than others, but I think you'll be able to see what we're doing.

Here we are, grooming ground-tied in the parking lot - the other horses are still out in the dry lots:

Once I had her saddled and ready to go, the first exercise we did was some crazy-walking. Here we're trotting together:

Then I attached the lines and we did some ground-driving:

Here we're starting an outside turn to the right:

I liked this picture of Dawn - you can tell she's paying attention to me:

She's just completed a nice back and has gotten a release:

Then I ground tied her to bridle up:

We did a brief session of backing in hand to confirm that she remembered our work on backing slowly, one step at a time, without curling up. I'm just starting to ask in this picture:

Now she's paying attention and beginning to soften:

And here's what I'm looking for - she's soft for her - I'd like to see more softness through her whole neck and we'll get that eventually - but she's relaxed (see her eye) and not curling up or rushing:

Then I mounted up - she came to the mounting block and stood on a loose rein:

She was worried and braced when I first asked her to back:

And then she did what she usually does, which I'm working with her to change - she curled up behind the bit:

Here I'm lifting one hand to ask her not to curl up - she's a little bit confused and worried:

But she got it:

In every backing set, we just kept at it until she got three soft steps back without rushing or curling up - it took a while at the beginning, but after she'd done it several times, she understood. Each time she was successful, we took a break and walked around for a bit - at first she was nervous, with head high, but by the end of our session she was relaxed enough to stretch her head down almost to the ground - I was pleased with this relaxation of her neck and mind since it will translate to our softening work.

Here's a set of backing pictures from the other side. She's distracted by something and is bracing at first:

I asked her not to curl up - in this picture I caught it before it happened:

Here she's looking pretty nice - not perfect yet but getting there:

I was very pleased with our work session, especially how her concentration, relaxation and softness improved through the session.

Then I took Maisie to the arena for a session. We haven't worked in the arena for a while. She was pretty alert and high. We walked for a while - her softness at the walk is great. Then we trotted, using the cones to do figures around. It was quickly clear that she was pretty excited, so we worked on speed regulation and controlling her excitement by circling in fairly small circles every time she started to rush, and then going on once she stopped rushing. We only had one Maisie Moment - a couple steps of spook/scoot/fishtail leap-buck - and she was very excited by that. We walked for a moment, and then went right back to our trot work, using circles to help her calm down. We finished well, and I was pleased with her too.

I'd call that a good day with horses!


  1. Those are fantastic pictures - yay hubby! Your words and his pictures really illustrate what Dawn's thinking.

    Are you familiar with Paul Ekman? He is one of a handful of psychologists who have focused their studies on the muscles of the human face. They can tell - after lots of practice - what emotions a human is feeling based on the muscles activated in the person's face. And they do some training sessions to teach other people to read faces.

    There are so many horse clinicians who try to teach humans how to read horse facial expressions, but I am not aware of anybody who has really studied the physiology of it. I wish someone would. Anybody can look at Dawn and see "soft eye" and "worried", but it's so hard to quantify exactly why she looks soft in one picture and worried in another.

  2. Great pictures and great result at the end!!!! Well done!!!!

  3. Kate - I love the pictures! They really help show what you are doing. Dawn looks so calm and happy ground-tied! What a wonderful goal for me to work toward. Do you ask for a back straightaway when you mount or walk first to get the "under-saddle-wiggles" out?

  4. I love the pictures, too. It's so good to see what you're writing about. You can see her trying to understand.

  5. Love the pictures, thanks to your hubby!!
    Great to see Dawn progressing so well!!

  6. I have just recently been introduced to horseback riding and i have enjoyed your blog (also your reading blog). i plan return visit to both soon!

  7. The pictures are great. Was it helpful to be able to look back over them after you'd finished too?

  8. juliette - once I got on, I did walk around for a minute just to see how she was feeling, but she was already warmed up from our ground-driving, and we were working on backing so we went right to it. If she hadn't been warmed up, I would have walked for a while, since backing can be strenuous.

    Nancy - thanks for visiting and following along!

    Veronica - it was interesting to see the pictures, especially her facial expressions - it confirmed what I was feeling from her in the saddle and through the reins.

  9. Kate...I just caught up with your past several posts. There's nothing like looking at the photographs along with the descriptions...a real learning tool. I know what you mean about rolling, our horses looked like they were wearing armor.

    Very sad to read about Promise. Jumping careers can be very stressful. When I read about you and horses, I see a person who is very thoughtful and caring. Your horses are beautiful and you are patient. Don't feel guilty.

    And thanks for visiting my Journal. May you have another great day with YOUR horses!

  10. Kate, good to see pics thanks! I love her attentive ears, always a great sign. How do you ask for the mounted back? Is it the same cue that you use from the ground? Just interested because Moo is so similar with the curling back but now that I don't use a cue on his head (ie bit or hackamore) he stays up and open without thinking of the curling.
    Look forward to more.

  11. The photos were all wonderful. You and Maisie look to be communicating well together. It appeared to be a foggy day, too. The colors are so soft and calming in your photos.


  12. Great series of pictures of you and Dawn. A picture is truly worth a thousand words!

  13. Thanks for the photos, really good to see them along with your write-up of today. Am feeling inspired now, haven't worked the boys in a couple of days :o

  14. Loved the detail your husband got..the expressions! Very nice work and loved the descriptions of the Maisie-moments-movements for the next ride too. Such different personalities!

  15. Trying again...I did post a response. Where did it go????

    I was saying I was impressed with the soft look in Dawn's eyes that appears once she decides to give in.

    Also, for reinback, I always think of it as still remaining a forward motion. In the dressage tests, reinback is almost always followed by a forward movement...often a trot off. If reining back loses the feeling that it can go forward almost immediately, then I question the correctness of the movement.

    So, I would always ask for forward out of reinback. That will also help keep th horse from dropping behind the bit and going on its forehand.

    Hope this publishes!!

  16. It is so hard to get these horses, who have learned to go behind the bit, to go forward and relax!

    I've been using hubby on the ground, walking beside us and when I feel Tristan relax, click and he treats him - or he leads him with the leadrope (attached to halter) while I drop the reins and Tristan will then relax, and we C-T.

    Takes a lot of focused work - great stuff!


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