Sunday, November 22, 2009

Maisie Stands Out and I Learn Some Things From Dawn

Today I managed to get to the barn early enough to work with both horses, although I didn't have lots of time due to a class I had to leave for. I worked with Maisie first. This photo from Saturday predicts exactly how she was:

Although she was full of energy, she was soft, responsive, engaged and just downright wonderful. I actually derive a lot of information from watching my horses move at liberty in the pasture, and the photos are helpful, too. Maisie is really progressing in her posture and softness - using her hindquarters with more engagement, and making great strides towards true, soft self-carriage.

We took a brief, about 15-minute, walking trail ride to warm up - it was still a beautiful day, but the wind had shifted around to the East, off the Lake, so things were rapidly getting chilly. Then we worked in the arena. I used the square pattern of cones to do lots of patterns - cloverleaves, figure eights, etc., at the sitting trot, throwing in leg yields both when moving into circles and along the straight lines. It was marvelous - I wanted to scream, yell and pump my arms up and down in delight (but of course I didn't want to startle the mare)! Maisie was round, completely soft - I had contact but less than a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of the weight in my hands - it was like holding a feather! - and the feeling of the power and drive from behind and elevation was magical. She responded instantly to the slightest leg or seat aids. We also did work on our transitions halt/walk/trot and some backing, and some lengthening of stride, and it was all there. All the work we've been doing over the years is really coming together and paying off, and she seemed completely happy, too. A ride like that is the magic that keeps me coming back for more!

I put Maisie back in the dry lot and pulled Dawn out. She was somewhat fidgety and nervous - most of the horses were still out and Sugar, Scout and Charisma were leaving on a trail ride as I was working. This is about what I had - this is a picture from earlier this year - note the white around the eye:

There were lots of distractions - people and dogs walking by, the goat baaing for his dinner, horses in the dry lots and horses leaving to go on a trail ride. It was hard to keep her attention. We did some OK crazy-walking, then I bridled and mounted up. She was fidgety and nervous and had trouble focussing with this as well. We did a lot of very small circles - if there had been a starting gate and bell, we would have been off to the races - I could feel that as soon as I mounted and when we walked, hence the small circles. I had hoped to progress in her softening work, adding softening at the walk to the backing, but it was clear that wasn't a good idea. It was about like riding a coiled spring. I settled for getting several repetitions of good back steps with softness, not curling up, and some walking on a loose rein - still in fairly small patterns as I didn't want any momentum to build up.

One thing I noticed both Friday and Sunday was that, on several occasions after I gave her a release for backing correctly, she would briefly shake her head in short, hard motions from side to side, almost as though she was trying to release a cramp or pain of some sort. I think it may be time to have our chiropractor back to look specifically at her poll and the first two joints in her neck, which may be giving her some trouble.

Once we'd done the little bit of backing we could do, I dismounted and did some more leading work, some standing around and also did some clicker asking her to target one of the cones, holding it in different positions - that regained her full attention! Lessons Dawn taught me - don't try to do major work with Dawn if time is short. When I work with Dawn I have to be able to take whatever time the work requires, depending on her state of mind on that day. If she starts out nervous or excited, I have to be able to take the time to do more attention work, and also more groundwork in general on the days she needs it. I think we'll be doing more ground work at the trot and canter as well. If time is too short to take whatever time I need, I should work on something very small. We could have done a purely clicker session, I could have done more leading, or we could have done some ground driving. My choice of exercise needs to be appropriate and doable in the time we have.

My horses always have more to teach me!


  1. Horses hate that feeling of being rushed, don't they? Of course all of us do too...

  2. Both nice looking horses. Love that feeling of sitting on a firecracker huh?

  3. OMG I AM SO EXCITED WITH YOU!!!!!!!! I know exactly what you mean when everything seems to come together. Well done for the years of work - sounds like you are going to be rewarded with some lovely rides!!!!

  4. I finally managed to learn the time lesson myself. They just know when we are rushed and trying to fit to much into not enough time, and I've yet to meet a horse that responds well to that.

  5. Maisie is such a lovely mare and you are very smart to spend time watching your horses at liberty! It is not only a way to spot energy level and soundness, but balance and suppleness too.

  6. I envy the way you are able to work with your horses one right after the other. I would love to get in a groove and do that on a regular basis. My horses have it easy....BUT, they are sweethearts and are almost always quiet when I finally do something. I used to take lessons...for years and years. Now, I can't even remember when I had my last one...have been in that backyard, pleasure mode (must be getting old).

  7. I so need to figure out a way to adjust my work schedule so I can have some more riding time during the week. If I try to do it after work, it's rush, rush, rush to beat the oncoming darkness. Or I guess I could just invest in a couple of big lights for the arena!

    Sounds like the work you've been doing with Dawn is paying off. Sure, she was a spring-loaded looky-loo, but you got some positive work done and that's all that matters in the end.

    Enjoy these beautiful days! Before we know it it will be frigidly cold with plenty of ice and snow to go around. I'm LOVING this unusually warm weather.

  8. Always a great feeling to work multiple horses in the same day, am likewise aglow with virtue having worked our two!

    Maisie looks so soft and relaxed. I hope you can get to the root of whatever is niggling at Dawn, well done for spotting it. Sounds like a very positive and productive day :)

  9. What a great day with Maisie! Congrats. It's wonderful when you feel your training pay off like that.

    Dawn's eye does look distracted. Smart move to do some good in hand work with her at the end of the session so she finished up focused on you.

  10. Maisie looks great! Congrats on all your hard work paying off!


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