Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Blanket Freedom Day and Taking Horses Out of Training

It's supposed to warm up today to the mid-30sF, and this weather is supposed to hold through at least early next week. It's pretty windy today, and wind chills won't get out of the 20s, but we're having a blanket freedom day for the first time in a long time. That is, except for the Fragile Few, who are still wearing theirs. Much joy in the horse world, with much rolling in the snow. Even the Fragile Few might be able to go coatless this afternoon.

I've decided to stop worrying about whether Maisie and Dawn get any training for now. They both are at a point where, without consistent work, we're not going to make much progress. Just doing an occasional day here and there as the weather and footing permit isn't going to get us anywhere. With Dawn, I need to be able to work her fully, and reliably, at least 4 or 5 days a week to continue her progress. She's actually a lot calmer and more responsive, even on the lead, as a result of the work we've already done. I think when we can get back into work in the spring, when I can consistently have the arena to work in, that she'll make good progress.

Maisie on the other hand is becoming more and more excitable and even spooky. I suspect that this is the result of all the chiropractic and dental work we've had done - it's an odd thing, but sometimes as the horse feels better and can move more comfortably, they feel so good that they become harder to ride and handle. My older daughter is also finding this to be the case with her mare Miranda, who used to be dead as a doornail to ride but is now very agile and spooky. Maisie is also . . . how can I say this without being insulting . . . not the brightest bulb. She's a very sweet mare, but is a slow learner and easily becomes frustrated. You have to insist on good manners with her and also teach her things in very small increments, or else she becomes frustrated because she doesn't understand and gets upset and quits listening. She's also big and very forward, and has been known to buck when she's frustrated or over-excited.

Dawn is so smart that it's almost scary - when you have her attention she learns very quickly - the trick with her is that she tends to worry about getting things right (although that's starting to go away the more I've worked with her) and she tends to anticipate, or even overdo things in an attempt to be correct. I'm probably more of a temperamental match with Dawn, and recently I've found her easier to work with than Maisie. Dawn is catlike in her agility and physical capabilities, and has the ability to do huge bucks, has a history of spooking and bolting on the trail, and in her past used to rear a lot when she was over-pressured, although thankfully the rearing seems to have almost entirely disappeared.

Sometimes I wonder about working with these horses - they're certainly not the horses I'd have chosen at this stage of my riding life, although Maisie used to be pretty good on the trail and I think that Dawn and I might end up being a good match. I'm not getting any younger - I'm in my late 50s - or more agile, and my reaction time is not what it used to be. I used to be able to ride my way through pretty much anything, but I doubt that's the case anymore, and even if I could, I'd rather not. I know pretty much what work needs to be done with each horse, although I'm certainly far from an expert - the issue is more my own will to get it done and perseverance in carrying the work forward in a systematic way.

For now I don't have to decide what I'm going to do with either horse. Every day I will be working with them a little bit with our leading and grooming, in any event. We'll probably also do some more clicker training for fun. I'm also going to be thinking hard about what other activities I enjoy now, or could enjoy in the future, with horses, that might or might not involve riding.

I expect when spring rolls around that I'll be pretty interested in continuing serious, systematic work with both horses. It'll be nice to have a period to think and reflect, without feeling guilty or worried that our work is not advancing. Sometimes I've found that a break like this can be energizing, or can result in changes of perspective.

Please enjoy your day, and may it include horses!

14 comments:

  1. Kate, I haven't been over in a while...your header looks really nice.

    About getting older & riding your way through anything: know your limits and then push them a little every day. My two cents.

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  2. Nothing wronfg with a little break. Its all good work , even just going out to groom or walk them

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  3. What are you looking for in a horse at this stage? I know you worry about your skills and age though both seem sufficient to me. Both of these horses seem like high maintenance rides though. You seem to be really interested in pursuing your horsemanship and trying new things so are either of these mares the partner you need for that? Clicker training is great for any horse though so have fun with it!

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  4. A break is always good, and even better when you have no choice due to the weather. By springtime I am sure you will be eagar to get back to it. Sometimes it is nice to just have horses in your life without the pressure (even if you just give it to yourself) of trying to achieve something. Enjoy the wonderful relationship you have with them, I am sure they do.

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  5. The older (and hopefully wiser) I get the more I realise that the riding part is quite a small part of what I enjoy about training horses. I would miss riding if I couldn't but you're right, there's so much more to working with horses.

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  6. Hopefully, the mental break will do them good without driving you nuts. Hang in there.

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  7. Kate...Winter is not the best time for anyone to ride when the temperatures are below freezing...it does not matter how old you are. I decided a long time ago that I am going to do what I can do with my horses and it is strictly for pleasure. NO GUILT FEELINGS. They are in a forever home and we are growing older together. The good news is, that even if I have not ridden in weeks, I am able to get on Berlin or Abbe and not be afraid. They have been very good to me and I have been very good to them. Living with them makes me very happy.
    I would not trade them for anything!

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  8. Love the new header photo!

    I think a break is also good for the horses' minds. Of course you'll still insist on good manners, and a bit of clicker training will keep them interested in you - but they're not going to go feral on you in a couple of months. Our human lives are often set up where we do the same thing every day year round, but it's very nice mentally for us (and the horses) to take a seasonal break. I hope you understand what I'm saying; this is one of my less eloquent comments! ;)

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  9. I too am growing older and challenging horses are not longer my choice. I understand your plight.

    As for the winter break, might as well "go with the flow." No point in trying to keep up a routine in this kind of fickle weather.

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  10. We have warmed up a bit too and I've pulled blankets.

    As for winter training. Even when I was a kid in 4-H I rarely rode my Arabian in the winter. Arab flight + Ice = deadly. Instead I used the winter to train and enforce ground manners. Got the point where I placed 1st in all my Halter classes as standing square and absolutely still while I did whatever I wanted to you was natural. I'd even have to shake my lead to wake her up in the ring. I still do ground work all winter. Grooming can be a very educational time.

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  11. I'm 57, and I agree with Lori, except that I only have two horses. Jaz is my teacher and my reliable ride. Poco is neither. I take him in short doses when my confidence is high and ya know what? No guilt. I'm doing the best I can with the time I've got. Life's too short for guilt.

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  12. Maybe a break will actually work in your favor. After Panama's two week break, he was much more willing to work. I've always found that with TOO much work, he gets fussy, because he likes to have a good share of playtime with me too.

    I really like your descriptions of Maisie and Dawn. You obviously know your horses very well. :o) I'd say Panama is very smart, like Dawn, but his problem is he is very stubborn too. He learns fast when you guide him and let him make the decision himself, but he'll rebel if you get frustrated and try to force it!

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  13. Lily is also like Dawn in that she "over tries" and gets irritable if she thinks you're not focused. But she's not spooky or silly.

    I love ground work. Love it more than riding, but there's a fear thing in the way, so I'm not completely sure.

    Then again, we pressure ourselves right out of Joy, sometimes. It's a type A thing.

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  14. Good for you - no blankets and no training worries. Putting both aside, if only temporarily, can be freeing! Enjoy!

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