Sunday, November 30, 2014

Everything's Good

I give thanks every day for my wonderful horses, and the opportunity to spend time with them.  Everyone is doing well.

Dawn and I continue our early morning rides when it's not too cold.  I used to ride when it was above 10F, but my limit has changed to 20F.  At that temperature, Dawn also gets her rump rug, which she tolerates but objects to my putting on.  She's fat and sassy, and I think it makes her a bit more "emotive" to be so "well-rounded".  Yesterday was a good example.  We trotted around for a while - she was extremely forward but quite well-behaved, and then a horse in a paddock outside the arena made a loud noise and she spooked, fairly large.  She was over-alert and reactive afterwards, so I hopped off and put her on the lunge.  If she wants to move out, I let her, but I only want walk/trot/canter/trot/walk/transitions and I ask her to keep moving until her brain's back in her body.  Dawn's a horse who, when she's upset or agitated, takes a while to calm down.  We got there, but there were some interesting, and fairly spectacular, acrobatics, in the mean time.

About a week ago, she had some discharge from her left nostril (only) - whitish/yellowish/yoghurt-like - and more when she snorted while I was riding.  But no coughing, and no fever, and no odor or sign of tooth problems, and she was certainly bright-eyed and eating well.  I waited a few days to see if things would resolve, but the discharge kept coming.  I called my vet and she recommended what I expected - 10 days of SMZs.  After day three, no more yoghurt discharge, but we're still finishing our course of medication.

Red is up to 10 minutes of trot work and we're on course to do that for a full week.  Once we're there, he should be able to go back to regular work.  I continue to use his Sports Medicine boots on the hind legs (unless his legs are too muddy), and to use Sore-No-More after our work sessions.  He's quite happy to work, and once he warms up at trot after a few laps, his trot is engaged, and forward and quite elevated - and if there's a mare in the ring, he'll have a special spring in his step!

Pie is also doing very well.  His canter work continues to improve - we're working on our trot/canter and walk/canter transitions.  My connection with him also is improving - I can be sitting still in the center of the ring on a loose rein and all it takes (for Dawn and Red too) for him to back is for me to slightly touch the (still loose) reins and think back, ending at the exact number of steps I want.  His lateral work (both turn on forehand, turn on haunches and side pass, as well as moving lateral work) is also doing great - so long as I'm precise with my asks and keep my eyes up and posture open - Pie's a great teacher on this. All three of my horses also come to a beautiful halt instantly, using their hindquarters, from any gait without any rein or other aids, other than my breathing out and "relaxing" them into stopped feet.

Today we're all taking a day off from riding, other than grooming - and I expect they're be a lot of mud to deal with since things have warmed up the past two days - but back into the freezer tomorrow.

And my friend, the horse I'm taking care of for two weeks, is really getting the idea of turning to face me in the stall, and he's also making great strides with his head-down give to pressure exercise.

Every day, with each of my horses, is a good day - we should all have such good days.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Simple Things

I'm always surprised by what I find when I handle horses new to me - perhaps because I'm so used to how my horses handle.  I've been watching over two geldings who are stalled near mine, while their owners (a couple) are away on a two-week vacation.  I'm just swapping out blankets as needed, picking feet and checking to be sure there aren't lost shoes or scrapes or other wounds.  The couple are well-intentioned horse owners, but not very experienced.

But just with that minimal work, I'm interacting with both horses every day.  They're both good boys, although both are very stiff behind when I pick their feet.  One of the horses is a nervous sort, and may have had some rough handling in his past.  He's usually fine for me, but sometimes when I enter his stall to put on his halter, if I don't announce myself first, or move slightly too fast, he has a habit of turning away, putting his head in the corner and butt to me.  He's never given the slightest indication of kicking, but it's an unsafe habit.

So we've been working on him keeping his butt away from me, even when he's worried.  The first couple of times I asked him to do this by very gently swinging the lead rope - it didn't take much - he stayed as far as he could from me in the stall but kept his butt to the back.  For him, taking myself away is a big release, so I took a big step back and turned my shoulder to him.  He snorted and looked alarmed, but quickly settled.  After a couple of repetitions, I added stepping up to his shoulder and petting him with lots of verbal praise if he could stand still.  Within minutes, he was sighing and licking and chewing.  It was a new experience for him to be able to do what I asked even when he was worried, and to get a big release in the process.

Since he's a nervous horse I suspected he'd be carrying a lot of tension in his body, and if he could start to let go of some of that physical tension it might help him.  So I tried a simple test - I asked for a head down using downwards pressure on the lead.  Huge brace.  It took quite a few minutes to even get the suggestion of a give, which I rewarded by an exaggerated release and much verbal praise with stroking.  After a few more minutes, the gives were coming more frequently and he was beginning to get the idea.  He's still not consistent or immediately responsive, but he was trying hard.  There was more licking and chewing and he was clearly thinking things over.  It'll be interesting to see how he responds today when I handle him.  If he feels better inside from getting slightly softer, I expect he'll be increasingly responsive.

When his owners come back, I'll tell and show them what I've been doing.  I don't know if they'll follow up or not in their own handling.  These little things can be of great importance in building in softness for the horse, but the handler has to notice and know what to do in response.

It always makes me happy to go back and handle my own soft, responsive horses.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Creating the Soft Spot, Part IV: a Definition

Carrying energy, through space, in time, together.

* * * * * *
A lot packed in there . . . more later . . .

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hug Your Horses

A friend of mine lost her beloved gelding today.  He was 24, sound and apparently in very good health - she rode him last night.  Sometime in the night, he coliced badly.  This morning, he was in distress and she had him trailered to the vet clinic, and the vets told her there was nothing they could do - surgery in his case had less than a 5% chance of working - he apparently ruptured his intestine.  So all of us need to hug our horses - every day we have them - you never know how long you have.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Creating the Soft Spot, Part III - Responsibility: Consistency, Reliability and Stability

(Part I is here, Part II is here.)

Before the horse can find a soft spot, we have to create it first, and offer it to the horse.

So much of what I had been trained to do with/to horses was about the horse's responsibility.  But wait a minute - what about my responsibility? - any relationship has (at least) two parts . . .

Softness isn't just a physical thing - although it's very much that - it's also an attitude, an emotion, a connection - a deep connection.  It's a form of communion with the horse - and I use that term deliberately, in the spiritual sense.

We are responsible to lead the way - that's our role as leaders in the human/horse relationship - it isn't about obedience, or that misused term "respect" - how insulting/demeaning to the horse is that?  It's about reliability, consistency and providing stability to the relationship with the horse.

Mark Rashid said something pretty profound at one of our recent clinics - you can't make connection, but you can offer it - horses are good at taking up connection if we make it available.

Connection/softness is an attitude, and also a task.  You have to check your ego at the door - that is why "lungeing for respect" is so misguided.   The task is to be the best rider/communicator that you can.  Trust me, this is a huge responsibility - you have to really learn how to ride, how to be responsible for your body position and what you do with your seat, hands, legs, balance and timing - there's nothing remotely mechanical about it and it takes huge discipline and practice - you have to really want it to get it - there are no shortcuts.  It requires dedication, and practice - for me on a daily basis - to really do this.  And if you're a beginner rider, that doesn't mean you can't get there - in fact if you're a beginner but don't have the baggage of bad training to unlearn, you may get there faster.

To offer softness, you have to be soft yourself - this takes concentration, practice and self-examination.  Think of every point at which you contact the horse - your mind, seat, hands, legs and even your soul - as holding the connection with the horse as if it were an egg, or a baby bird - the slightest touch, breath or thought is enough to communicate.  We humans tend to be crude, and horses are oh so sensitive and responsive if we just care enough to listen and ask in a way that is not coercive, demanding or degrading.

The objective is to, with your intention and body, consistently and reliably create the soft spot - offer softness - when the horse can always find the release.  Developing a soft, following seat, hand and leg being able to consistently maintain your position without bracing is an important part of this - this takes time and miles. When you're learning to do this, the physical motions required may be big, and that's OK, that's how we learn.  But as we practice, the physical element become smaller and smaller until it's vanishingly small and the horse can come into the soft spot together with you and the two of you just stay in that spot together, whatever gaits/actions/movements are occurring.  And we have to wait sometimes for the horse to find, trust and take up the connection - if we offer softness, in a consistent place, the horse will find it, and the more often we do it, consistently, the quicker the horse will find it, every time.  I call it "locking on" - things just click into place and everything gets right.

The goal to stay in the soft spot together with the horse, to have a following feel that flows back and forth between the horse and rider.  Allowing horse and/or rider to make mistakes and find the path without being coerced, and while remaining calm and clear on what you want, is part of the equation.  Mark has a concept he calls "softening at the point of resistance" - more on that later.

You can't make the horse be soft, but you can create softness in yourself and offer it as a place for your and the horse to be soft together.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Soft Spot - Not Mechanics, Not Verbal (Part II)

(Part I is here.)

I've got a lot of bits written, but it's hard to write about the soft spot and what it means.  Part of the problem is that the soft spot isn't really about mechanics.

We're taught and learn lots of mechanics, as if riding a horse were like driving a car.  Almost none of the really good stuff is about mechanics, which is about operating on the outside of the horse.  Now, this is not to say that our own mechanics - how we sit, what we do with our bodies, our tension/relaxation, and how we time our aids - aren't important - they are.  Part of what I'm trying to write about is responsibility - our responsibility to the horse to be the best rider we can.  But softness isn't something you do to the horse, it's something you and the horse are, together.  There are mechanical things that can get you part of the way there, but in the end it's not about mechanics.

The soft spot also isn't a verbal thing - using words to describe it is hard.  The soft spot is physical, and mental, and let's be clear, it's also spiritual and about relationship, deep relationship.

So these posts are going to come slowly.

More coming . . .

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Soft Spot . . . the Beginning (Part I)

We fiddle, we adjust, we bump, we pull, we drive, we brace, we push, we jiggle, we mess with, we throw away contact.  We do stuff to the outside of the horse thinking that somehow it will change the inside of the horse - but we don't change the inside of ourselves first.

More to come . . .