Tuesday, March 31, 2015


I do believe that Dawn and Missy are each jealous of the attention I give to the other one.

I'd have said that perhaps this is a mare thing - to be possessive, protective and jealous - but the only other time I've experienced it was with my gelding Noble (who passed away at age 30 in 2010).  When I got my mare Promise (passed away in 2001), if I groomed her in front of Noble's stall, he would pin his ears and actually buck in his stall in frustration and anger.

Dawn and Missy have adjacent stalls (with gaps between the boards of the partition), and are not particularly friendly, although they will nicker to each other if one returns from being out.  In the pasture, they pretty much ignore each other - Dawn is much higher ranking in the herd than Missy, partly because Dawn's been there for three years already, and Missy and Dawn don't hang around with the same horses as a rule.

But if I'm around - either in one of their stalls, or grooming one of them in front of their stalls, they both get quite aggressive, attacking the wall between their stalls, or if I'm in the aisle, the front bars and door of the stall.  Missy even does a little charge at the door if Dawn's in front - she'd never dare to do that to Dawn in the pasture.  I've actually taken to grooming them in front of Red's and Pie's stalls - they're both much calmer there and it eliminates the anger of the one left in the stall.

Jealous mares . . . guess that means they both think I'm worth having.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Missy Teaches Me: Feel Down to the Feet

We tend to fall into habits and routines when we ride our horses.  This is a good thing to the extent we are learning and reinforcing behaviors in ourselves and with our horses that are helpful to us and the horse.  But sometimes it takes riding a new horse to shake things up in a productive way - it can help you see where you can improve or do things a bit differently to be more effective.

Missy and I have been working a lot on two things - forward at trot without my nagging her, and prompt walk/trot/walk transitions, with walk/halt/walk thrown in, while carrying the appropriate energy through the transitions so there's none of that trot/fall on forehand almost stop/walk, and no sluggish changes of gait.  This all has to come from me - Missy's perfectly capable of doing all this beautifully on her own in the pasture - it's all about how I ask and what I ask for and whether what I'm doing makes sense to her.

Missy's already taught me something, partly because I'm listening so hard to what she's telling me since she's new to me - sometimes with my other horses, we're so familiar that I don't always listen as deeply as I should, or I accept doing something that isn't optimal because we're used to it.  I'm pretty excited about what she's taught me/revealed to me, because now I can use the changes I'm making with my other three horses, and I think they'll appreciate it too.

What I've been doing to get transitions with my other three is to feel the rhythm of the new gait in my mind to "pre-cue" and give them time to get their feet organized and then exhale for the exact transition itself.  This is big progress for me, and much less mechanical and more feel-based than how I was riding before, but Missy has shown me that there's a better way.  (I'm certainly not saying here that a soft physical cue - like a leg aid - isn't just fine - I'm just trying to do things a little differently.)

I noticed at first that Missy was not quite getting what I wanted - I was having to use more secondary cues (tap with whip for upwards transitions, rein aids for downwards transitions) that interfered with the smoothness of the transition and carry forward of the energy.  To Missy, what I was doing was "muddy".  I initially attributed that to our being less connected than I am with my others - the others instantly know a transition is coming when I make the mental change of rhythm.

While it's true that Missy and I are still building our connection - it's already quite strong - the more I thought about it, the more I realized that she was showing me a better way - a way that's a little less mechanical and a little more feel-based.  She and I have been experimenting, and she says I've almost got it now - we had an excellent ride yesterday.  I call what she's teaching me "feel down to the feet".

This stuff is pretty hard to describe, but stick with us and see if any of it makes sense to you.  It's primarily a mental change in how I present the transition - up or down - to Missy.  Instead of changing the rhythm in my head and then exhaling - the exhale could be thought of as a physical cue - instead I'm doing what I can only describe as sending the thought of the rhythm to "our" feet - sending it deeper - getting it out of my head and into our two bodies together.  I thought of this at first as presenting a stronger feel to Missy, but in fact it's not more forceful, it's just more connected and effective.  And it really doesn't require timing the transmitted feel at the exact correct time in the horse's footfalls - the horse can sort that out - although if the timing is accurate, the transition will be instantaneous.

What I'm essentially doing is moving the feet from one gait to another as if the feet were my own - and in fact they are since we're connected and in communication.  Missy and I did some wonderful work yesterday and she really helped me improve what I was doing - she says I'm getting it.  I think this change will help eliminate the gap in time between thinking the rhythm and exhale and will make the change of rhythm more internal to my horses rather than something they have to connect with in my head.  It will also help, I think, with Pie and Red's tendency to start to anticipate the transition as soon as I think the rhythm, before the exhale - there's that gap again - it should be one seamless thing now.

I can't wait to try it out with my other three horses and see what they think.

Missy also says that chiro is a good thing - she's no longer touchy about having her mane and the left side of neck groomed and was more relaxed and soft under saddle with a better way of going.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Busy (and Expensive) Week

Lots happening this week.  Monday and Tuesday I coordinated two days of dental visits.  There were 14 horses seen in all, and I was directly responsible for my 4, and 4 others with two owners who couldn't be at the barn.  Then there were the 6 other horses and their 6 owners to keep informed of the schedule and when they had to have their horses available.

Pie, Red and Missy all needed some work, although there was nothing seriously wrong.  Dawn didn't need anything at this point, since she'd had some floating done at the time of her last visit from the dental surgeons - my dentist will recheck her in the fall.

Two tiring but productive days.

Today we had hoof trims, and then Pie and Missy had a visit from our vet/chiropractor, which both of them enjoyed very much.  Much traipsing in and out from turnout and washing of muddy feet - our pastures are an unpleasant mix of frozen, chunky ground and mud.

Oh, and an interesting thing - both my dentist and vet/chiro say that Missy is somewhat older than Mary was told - their best estimate (and aging a horse from teeth is always an estimate) is that she's 16/17 years old rather than the 10 we had thought.  I had estimated 15 when she arrived. As I told Mary, that doesn't matter to me in the slightest, as she's a wonderful mare and I'm delighted to have her.  We've had a few more than 30 rides together at this point, and she and I are really having a good time together.

And next week, we have our first round of spring shots, Missy is getting microchipped, all will have blood drawn for Coggins, and the boys will have things cleaned up.

Now if spring would just spring, that would be great - today the high barely reached 30F and the wind chill was pretty serious.  I see some 50s in the forecast - can't wait for that!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Working From the Outside In, or From the Inside Out?

OK, here's where we start.  Think of this circle in the following way: layer one is the technique you use when working with your horse - the rein, seat and leg aids - the how.  Layer two is what you're trying to accomplish with your horse - the task, the job - riding a hunter course, doing a pattern, working with a cow, going on a trail ride - the what.  Layer three is who you and your horse are, separately but also together.

I think the question for many of us is whether we ever work at level 3, or whether we spend all our time at levels 1 and 2, learning and then fine tuning our aids with a focus on some specific thing we want to accomplish with our horses, working on the outside of the horse.  Now, there's nothing wrong with any of that, provided the horse's interests and well-being are taken into account.

But there's more, so, so much more - that's what level 3 is about.  Level three is about energy, and feel, and what the horse is thinking and feeling, and ultimately, about trust.  It's about who you are with your horse, and who your horse is with you.  And it's about what you bring to the horse, and your attitude to the horse.

I've worked for a number of years with Mark Rashid - many of you know this.  Every time he's in my area, I try to ride with him, and I've been to Colorado twice to learn from him.  The reason I continue to work with Mark is that he's firmly focused on level 3, and this involves getting to this level right away with a horse where you could fuss around forever at levels 1 and 2 and never fix the problem.  And he's focussed on getting people to level 3 themselves - softness is something we offer to our horses for them to join with us together in doing.  There's plenty of useful technique to learn, but getting to the center, that's the real prize, and it requires dedication and attention and wanting to make things better for the horse.  One of the things I prize about Mark is that he often asks: "How is the horse feeling about that?"  It's all about having the horse feel better on the inside about what you're doing together - this guides all my work with horses now.

I could go on about how I'm trying to work on this together with my horses, and I probably will, but right now, I'd like to present (with her permission) a series of posts done by Annette at News from Oak Creek Ranch about the experience her husband Brett and his horse Mufasa had at one of Mark's clinics recently - these posts are on my sidebar for a reason.  Mufasa was a horse with some serious trust issues.  Mark didn't mess around with technique on the outside, he worked to get to the core, the heart - the place where the horse - a good horse who tried so, so hard - was worried, hurting and uncertain.  I think you'll find the whole series pretty illuminating.  I found it pretty darn inspiring.

Mark Rashid: Day One
Another Amazing Session With Mark Rashid
Mark Rashid Clinic: Day Three
What I Learned From Mark Rashid

Mark is an expert - there are no two ways about it.  I might add that with Mark, there's no "moving the feet", round penning for "join up", or talk about "making the wrong thing hard" or "respect".  Mark doesn't work with horses in a traditional manner, but he isn't a NH trainer either and refuses to use the term.  I'm sure there are also very good traditional and NH horsemen who respect the horse and get to good results using a different approach, but I've found that Mark's approach really resonates with me, both in terms of ethics and effectiveness. He just works with the inside of horses, and the inside of people, so they can feel better about working together, and therefore work together much more effectively.

But each and every one of us can take steps to get on this road together with our horses - you don't have to be an expert - you can start where you and your horse are today.  Transformations can occur - primarily in us and in how we build our horsemanship into our lives, and how we interact with our horses - trust me, I know.

And the exciting thing is that, although I've come a long way already, I've got a long way to go and I'm excited to be on the road together with my four fine horses.  If you want to know more, there are a whole series of posts on my sidebar about a number of Mark's clinics, both ones where I've been an auditor and ones where I've ridden.

Friday, March 20, 2015

New Mare Introduction and Five Rides

There's a new mare in our herd, and she went out for the first time Monday, after spending several weeks in a pen next to the mare pasture. The new mare - her name is Misty (our mare herd now has a Misty, a Missy, a Maddie and a Maggie - M must be for mare) - is the buckskin on the right.  She's Impressive bred and a HYPP carrier, although she's never had any symptoms, and had two foals (before her current owner) - the QH industry bears a lot of blame for perpetuating this genetic problem to the detriment of horses.  But she's a very sweet mare.

The small sorrel mare approaching from the rear is a mustang mare who makes a practice of very aggressively chasing new horses and biting them and then whirling and trying to kick them - she's sneaking up and Misty seems unaware (photos by Misty's owner):

The new mare is pretty much attached to Dawn at the hip - she knows Dawn from a long history together at our old barn - Dawn moved from there three years ago.  Dawn and this mare were never special friends, but Dawn tolerates her, within limits - she'll snap at her for clinging too closely, but will also get between her and other mares who are trying to be aggressive.

The first couple of days, there was lots of running and chasing, and a lot of chaos - the new mare and Dawn (in rain sheet) are at the back of the melee in this photo - the buckskin mare at the front can also be quite aggressive:

At one point Dawn actually slipped and fell on her right shoulder during a chasing episode, but thankfully she seems to be OK.  The new mare has several big bite marks and also got kicked at least once in the butt that I saw - no serious injury from that.  Herd introductions are sometimes stressful, but horses benefit so much from turnout with other horses.

Things seem to have settled down a bit by today - there's less chasing and running, but Dawn and the new mare aren't getting much to eat at the bales, and I've been giving Dawn some hay after our rides to compensate.  The new mare is now tolerated by a couple of the other mares, and I think things will be OK within a few days.

Today was actually a five-ride day - it's been a number of years since I rode that much.  I rode Dawn and Pie in the morning - Pie's been coping very well with the distractions and the unusual ride time all week.

There's a lady at our barn whose horse has permanent unsoundness due to fetlock issues, and our barn owner kindly is allowing her to ride one of her paint horses - a nice gelding named Blue.  The lady was having some issues with him in her ride - he's different from her old horse - and really didn't know what to do.  She asked if I would get on him, to see how he's be for me, and I said sure - we let the barn owner know and she was fine with it.  I did a few minutes of leading work to be sure he understood my personal space, and asked him to stand still on a loose rein for mounting - he did although she'd had trouble. He turned out to be a lovely horse, very sensitive, well-trained and responsive, and he rode very well for me.  The lady was worried that she didn't know how to ride him  - her old horse was much heavier in the bridle and she was used to using a lot of leg - she was very nervous and that made him worried - but I told her she just needed to have a plan of what to do if he did things she didn't expect.  She'll ride him again on Monday, and I told her I'd be there to help her out if need be.  I think she'll be fine with him - he's very willing and responsive - but she needs to relax and sit up and breathe and not haul on the reins when she's worried - just softly turn him - if she can do that, he'll be fine for her.

And then later, I rode Missy and Red.  All horses were excellent - it was a very good horse day.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Red Photos Before a Ride

Another boarder took some good photos of Red and I before a ride last week - they really capture his sweet, intense personality:

Friday, March 13, 2015

On the Importance of Practice: a Riding Fool, with Delightful Dawn, Magnificent Missy, Premier Pie and Radiant Red

I'm going to run out of alliterations someday soon . . .

I'm a riding fool, I admit it.  Some people at my barn say I'm crazy, and some of my friends who don't  do horses ask, with a look of concern on their faces, "you spend how many hours a day at the barn?"  Sometimes I explain, and sometimes I don't.

I don't just ride - for me riding, and spending a lot of time with my four wonderful horses, is a delight and also a spiritual practice - I'm present with my horses in a way that I'm rarely present anywhere else.  And riding is also the practice of an art form - my goal is to get better - more connected with my horses and less in their way - slowly, every day, and that doesn't happen without practice, trying things, failing and succeeding, and without the guidance and input of my teachers - my horses.

Today was a four-horse riding day, and it was splendid.  It was a lovely, sunny day, with little wind and open arena doors - we made it to 60F!  I changed coat/fleece/windbreaker combinations at least three times during the day.  The horses are still carrying most of their heavy winter coats, so we didn't work that long.  The pastures are a half muddy/half icy mess, so no riding outside yet.

Dawn was up first, early in the morning.  We had a lovely ride, working on some more sustained trot work, and also shortening/lengthening at the trot.

Missy was next.  I just got and rode, after only a little bit of leading work.  Dawn didn't call for her today, and Missy only called once.  Her forward at trot was pretty much automatic, and we worked on her stretching down and bending.  Bend to the right is still a bit harder for her, and I suspect that she's tight in her left shoulder and left neck.  We'll have a chiro appointment after her teeth are done in a couple of weeks.

In the afternoon, I came back to the barn and rode Pie and Red.  Pie and I had an excellent session with lovely, forward, soft trot work and some very nice relaxed canter work.

Red, despite the warm weather, was raring to go.  We did a bunch of very nice stretching down trot work, and his canter was delightful on both leads.  Then we did some more trot work and some trot/walk/trot transitions, working on carrying the energy forward into walk and taking up trot again on my exhale.

Couldn't ask for a better day with horses.  And I have another post in the works - outside in? or inside out?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Marvelous Mares, Gorgeous Geldings and Mixing Things Up

It was a really good day with horses - helped by the best weather yet this year - it was in the 30sF this morning and made it to 50 in the afternoon.

The mares had the morning, and the geldings had the afternoon.  The mares were also gorgeous, and the geldings also marvelous . . .

Dawn was up first.  I put her on the lunge to start, and my objective was to have her do walk/trot/canter transitions, with halts thrown in, with no drama (that is, grunting, squealing or airs above the ground).  Adding canter upped the ante - if she's at all on edge, that'll bring out her emotions.  She couldn't have been more perfect, right from the outset - as often happens, since she'd ended in a good place yesterday despite all the shenanigans before, I suspected she'd start today in the same good place, and it proved to be so.

So I got on - first ride in over a month - and she was great.  We didn't work for long, as she's out of shape, but she did some very nice trot work, despite the arena doors being open on both sides for the first time.

Then I brought Missy in for a little groundwork session.  I had two purposes for this - the day before she'd been slightly off at the trot when we started, although she'd worked out of it and been sound by the end of our ride - it seemed like she was a little bit stiff on the left front/right hind pair after five days off from work.  I wanted to see how she'd be today, and trotting in a circle would really test that out.  I also wanted to start bringing each of my horses other than Dawn in for morning work, so that they'd be ready and willing to work no matter the time of day.  I've always ridden Dawn in the early morning, when no one else is at the barn, and won't change that - she very strongly objects to other horses in the ring (bucking, kicking, etc.) and at almost age 18, I'm not interested in trying to change her opinion.  The boys have almost always been ridden in the afternoon after bring-in, so they get the most turnout possible, but they and Missy could both use some separation from the herd in the mornings so work then becomes ho hum.

Surprisingly, when I brought Missy in, Dawn left the hay, followed us and stayed at the pasture gate the whole time I was working with Missy.  Dawn also did a lot of calling to Missy, who could see her through the open arena doors.  This was interesting, because although Dawn and Missy have adjacent stalls, Dawn's never shown any particular fondness for Missy - Dawn often attacks the wall between them - and doesn't hang out with Missy in the pasture.  But apparently there is some form of attachment there.

Missy and I did a bit of leading work - she's reliably good with this - and this gave me a chance to redirect her attention from the pasture and its distractions.  Then we did some lungeing - she doesn't care too much for lungeing, and there were some minor ear pinning moments, but she did very well.  We worked on walk/trot/halt combinations.  She was completely sound in both directions, which was good to see.  After settling into our work, she was also focussed and relaxed.

When I turned her back out, she and Dawn went trotting off together, and then Dawn proceeded to herd several other mares away from Missy.  Perhaps a claim is being made?  Later, I saw them in their usual places - Missy with her three special friends and Dawn elsewhere - who knows what's going on?

Tomorrow I'm planning to do some work in the morning with ropes with Missy - so she's not worried about them being around her legs - outside turns with a rope around her hindquarters, and "leading by the legs" - and then do some ground driving and perhaps a ride as well.  We'll see where we get to.

The boys and I had rides in the afternoon - having two horses to ride in the afternoon, rather than three, makes things much more relaxed and pleasant.  Red and I had an excellent ride.  He was nicely relaxed and did some good stretching down at trot, as well as shortening/lengthening.  We haven't done much canter work this winter - I'm a big fan of trot for even development of the body, and our arena is very small for cantering, but he was reasonably relaxed and we did some cantering for a change.  He enjoyed it a lot, I could tell, and wanted to canter more.  His canter is very elevated and engaged, very forward and quite remarkably lovely, but a bit hard to sit due to its animation.  A little rougher on the right lead - less so than last year - but that'll improve with work and further even development of his body at the trot.

I have to always remember with Red to dial down my internal energy level - he and I are very plugged in to one another, and if I allow myself to get excited or let my energy level amp up, he reflects this very accurately - he tends to be excitable and high energy anyway and I have to stay serene to compensate for that and give him the lead for how we should be together.  I managed to do this pretty well today, and he was able to do some relaxed trot work after our cantering.

Pie and I also had an excellent ride.  He was forward and soft, and I tried to pay attention to opening my right hip when we were tracking right.  We did some substantial work on the canter, particularly on circling with us retaining softness and balance and not falling on the forehand and losing the hind end around the bend.  The final canter circles were really excellent.

I'd say that was a pretty fine day with horses . . .

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dawn and I Go Back to Work

Due to our extremely cold February, Dawn and I only managed two rides in February, and the last one was on February 9 - a month ago.  Now that our weather is finally back to something resembling normal - 40s and even 50 during the day - it was time for us to go back to work.  It was still cold this morning - upper 20s - but that was good enough.

I rarely do groundwork or lungeing, but this was an occasion where I did.  Dawn and I did leading work, two-line ground driving and one-line lungeing.  She was saddled for riding, but I didn't much care if we made it to riding today.  The purpose of the work we did was to allow her to express her feelings if she needed to, in a way that kept me safe, and also to get our connection back, where she and I were tuned in and she was following my lead and thought.  Running her around on the lunge to tire her out wasn't part of the plan - if she needed to move, that was fine, but my aim was calmness through connection, not fatigue.

Horses express their emotions in a variety of ways - eyes, ears, body posture - but they also express their feelings through the way they move and the moves they make.  Dawn is extremely expressive, in lots of ways, but she's particularly expressive at times in how she moves her whole body.  She is capable of very big moves, including spectacular bucking and airs above the ground, if she is excited or upset.  (Many people say "my horse bucked me off", but what is really happening is the horse bucked and you fell off - most of the time the horse's bucking wasn't about unloading you, it was about expressing how they were feeling at the time - stress, anxiety, excitement and/or pain.)

We've been working a bit on our leading all last month - leading that isn't where I want it to be is a sign of disconnection.  Dawn's been doing pretty well with this, but we reviewed it and made sure it was precisely right.  Then we went on to ground driving - I ground drive in a regular halter.  One reason I wanted to ground drive first rather than lungeing was that having the two lines allowed me to keep her behavior a bit more managed while she was still somewhat agitated - I wanted the beginnings of our connection back before moving on to lungeing. The arena doors were open, and it was clear at the beginning that Dawn's mind was in the pasture rather than with me.   There was some fast trotting, some unrequested cantering and a lot of bucking - scooting wasn't an option due to the two lines.  Once she settled a bit and we were getting some decent trotting and better walk/trot/walk transitions, we could move on to lungeing.  We took breaks to just walk around together, and to allow me to praise her.  I knew we were getting there when she stood more relaxed and sighed to release tension.

The one-rein lungeing part of our work went pretty quickly.  She was pretty much ready to work together with me at that point, and once we were able to do some nice combinations of walk/trot/halt off my voice commands, in both directions, we were done, with lots of praise for her.  I could have gotten on at that point, but she'd ended up in such a good place with the lungeing that I decided not to and to leave it there to build on in our next session.  Tomorrow is soon enough if our lungeing work goes well - after that I probably won't do groundwork or lungeing with her before I get on.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Vet Sees Pie's Hematoma, and Red and Pie Photo Spam

The vet came this morning to see Pie's hematoma.  For those interested, here are some photos of what it looks like:

Red insisted on coming in too, and closely supervised the proceedings - any time I looked, there was Red's eye at one of the gaps between the stall boards.

After palpating it - which didn't bother him much - she said it felt like there was torn muscle.  She wanted to do an ultrasound to confirm and also determine the character of the fluid to rule out an abscess.  And in fact there was a significant muscle tear - mostly along the fascia line between one muscle segment and the next, although there was also some minor tearing of the muscle itself.  That explains why it doesn't bother him much - the significant tear along the fascia doesn't hurt in the way that a tear of muscle fibers does.  The fluid looked good - no sign of infection - mostly clear serum with a few fibrin blood clots.  She recommended against draining it - it's clean in there right now and we don't want to risk introducing bacteria, and it is likely draining would provoke additional bleeding.   So cold packs for a few days, then cold/hot, and Traumeel ointment.  The swelling should subside over time, but he'll likely have a permanent bump.  That's all good news to me.

And, since I was taking pictures of Pie's lump, here is some Red and Pie photo spam - the theme seems to be ears.

Fuzzy Red ears with a sprinkling of hay:

Skeptical Pie ears:

And Pie ears against the horizon:

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pie's Hematoma Decides it Needs to See the Vet, and Miss Stands Alone

Pie has had a nasty hematoma on his neck since last Thursday - he came in from the pasture with it.  It looked like another horse had grabbed and held on, breaking some blood vessels under the skin, but didn't really break the skin - there were just some areas where the hair was gone.  It was about baseball size to start.  Over the weekend, it went down a little, wasn't hot to the touch and he wasn't concerned about it.  Today . . . uh oh . . .

The hematoma is larger, more extensive in area and quite warm to the touch.  After giving me a break in January and February - no vet visits and not even a call to the vet - the gods of veterinary medicine, and the hematoma, have conspired to decide that a vet visit was necessary.  Clearly we (and my pocketbook) weren't receiving enough veterinary attention.

So the vet is coming tomorrow morning.  I'm expecting we'll have a course of antibiotics, and perhaps she'll want to drain it - I suspect we've go an abscess going.

The good news is Pie is happy and feeling good otherwise - we even rode a bit today and although I had intended to only walk, he said that trotting and cantering were good too, so we did some of that.

Today, Miss and I just walked since she'd been slightly footsore yesterday.  She walked out very nicely, and we worked on our bending and our halt/walk/halt transitions with some backing added in from time to time.

Miss is happiest when there's another horse in the ring, but she got to stand alone today - we were riding with another horse, and then that horse left the ring - she was all alone!  She was slightly anxious at first, but quickly settled and we finished our work very nicely.  Then she followed me all around the ring as I picked up several piles of manure - good Miss!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Pie Teaches Me Something and Missy Owns Forward

We've been taking advantage of the (relatively) nice weather - at this point, anything above 20F qualifies as "nice" - to do lots of riding.  Three horses, three days, three rides a day - can't ask for more than that.  Dawn is still being neglected, since it's just too cold to ride in the early mornings.  But she gets a good grooming and some attention, and this morning we did some easy leading work together.

Today, Pie taught me something.  I've always had some issues with all my horses tending to fall in when tracking right.  Mark helped me fix one thing by determining that I was applying a very slight amount of pressure with my outside (left) leg without realizing it - and this made a huge difference.  Pie had been falling in to the right because that was exactly what I was asking him to do.

There was just the smallest residual amount of this happening, and Pie told me today what it was all about.  As we entered a right turn, I was moving my right leg back slightly and applying a slight amount of pressure - but in the process I was slightly rotating my right hip inwards, effectively blocking the motion of the inside right hind stepping under - the falling in wasn't just in the shoulder, it was in the inside hind as well.  By consciously opening my right hip around corners as we tracked right, Pie's motion was really freed up and the (only very slight) remaining tendency to fall in was completely eliminated.  I don't have this issue tracking left (and so neither do my horses) - it's an asymmetry Pie says I have to watch out for.  Good Pie!

Missy and I had an excellent ride.  Today's goal was to have her "own" forward - no pushing or nagging with the leg by me.  If I asked for forward, it was her job to continuously provide forward without my doing anything else.  If I didn't get the forward I wanted, it was my job to tell her with a secondary cue of my dressage whip.  (If I'd nagged her with my leg, that just would have taught her that that's the way I wanted her to go.)  We also did some walk/trot/walk transitions as well as halts - her transitions down are quick - in fact I have to help her carry the energy forwards so she doesn't collapse into walk or halt - but we needed to improve the walk/trot transition so it was immediate and without any significant leg aid - just internal rhythm and an exhale.  Again, I used the secondary aid of the dressage whip to instantly ask for the transition, and within minutes she was doing the walk/trot transition instantly off my thought and breath.  As usual, she was a very quick learner.  She was also doing some nice stretching down at the trot.

Miss was just very slightly off at the trot (left front?), although she has no heat in her feet or digital pulses, so we didn't work very long at trot at all.  Her feet are going through big changes, and we've worked three days in a row.  She's sound on the concrete and outside on the hard frozen ground, but the soft arena surface puts more pressure on her relatively weak frogs and heels in front.  I did another thrush treatment, and if we ride tomorrow we'll only walk.  This has happened before as her feet flex and change - she'll be sound for a while and then just slightly sore for a few days, then sound again.  That's one reason we're taking it so slow in our work - it's important that she be comfortable while giving her feet the exercise they need to grow well.

Tomorrow we may get some rides in although the weather's going to be nasty - snow/sleet/freezing rain/rain - but in the 30s!  I can't imagine how warm that's going to feel . . .

Then several days off as I have some other commitments, but at least we're getting some consistent rides in again.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Heat Wave! and We Need More Than Technique

Today we had a heat wave - it made it to almost 20F!  Early this morning it was about -8F when I went to the barn.  When I went out to visit with my horses in the pastures, all the horses had frost on their eyelashes and muzzle hairs, and several unblanketed horses had frosty hair all over their bodies. I wish I'd had a cameral - it looked amazing.

I've been thinking/feeling/musing . . . and you know where that leads . . .

A lot of what we've learned about riding and working with horses - or at least what I've learned - is about technique - this method, practice, aid or cue to use to produce this desired result.  It seems to me that this is a very mechanical way of thinking about things - this input to produce this output.  Even if you attempt to do it with softness, it has a flavor of doing something "to" the horse - there's a separation, a disconnect, between you and the horse.  But of course there's technique that respects the horse and technique that doesn't.

Now, I'm not saying that technique isn't important, and learning to use technique with softness is very beneficial - I'd say that describes many of the years I worked with Mark - I've been riding with and learning from him for over 13 years now.  I learned a lot about my body position (particularly posture) and how to read/improve it, relaxation, not bracing, breathing, use of energy and timing - this is all valuable technique and benefits my work with my horses.  And I think this is an important stage to go through - it greatly improves awareness of yourself and your horse and your horse's responses.  And there are always refinements - last year, for example, Mark had me make a very, very tiny correction to what I was doing with my left leg to solve Pie's issue of falling in to the right.  And I can always continue to be aware of and refine how I am addressing the horse with my body and breathing - awareness - really paying attention - is critical.  Hours in the saddle - many, many hours - really have helped me with this - it's one of the reasons I ride so much (I also love it) - to become more aware, skilled and effective.  Many of these things are becoming automatic for me, and I work every day to make them more built-in.

But there's more . . .

You might have noticed some small changes in how I write my posts about my rides with my horses - our rides.  I've started consciously writing - and thinking/feeling as we ride - about "we" and "us".  It isn't any longer about something I do with the horse - it's about something the horse and I do together as one.  Not: I rode the horse; but: we had a ride.  Not: the horse did this and then I did that; but: we did this.  Not: my horse had a problem with this; but: we are having an issue with this.  Anything that happens, we're in it together and doing it together as one.

The real deal for me and my horses now is to improve our mutual confidence and connection.  And that has to start with me.  I have to be confident, in myself (calmly and softly, not demanding), and provide leadership to the horse - to us - from that base.  And I have to offer the horse connection - an intense awareness and openness - as continuously as possible - there's nothing a horse hates more than a dropped connection.  If the horse knows the connection is available, they take it up - it feels like locking on - and then you're really there together - there's nothing in the world that feels better.

My three rides yesterday were very good examples.  I couldn't let our "heat" wave go to waste - I rode Red, Missy and Pie in the afternoon.  Red had had a day off and Missy and Pie had had three days off, all due to our extremely low temperatures - Pie and I and Missy and I managed only 8 rides in February and Red and I only had 10 - this is about half or less of our normal.  (Dawn and I had only two rides in early February since it's been way too cold in the morning.) I just got and rode all three and we had three wonderful rides.  All three horses were intensely connected to me and I to them.  Missy's still dialing in to this, but every ride she and I have it just gets better and better.  If we - Red and I together, Pie and I together, Missy and I together - were distracted or startled by something, we came right back to the connection and went on with what we were doing.

This is where our horsemanship needs to go next . . . the horses are ready and waiting, and I think happy about it.  Pie, who has a tendency to be a bit of a grump, has actually been looking out of his stall expectantly at me - I think he's actually asking to come out for our ride - this is a new attitude on his part and very exciting.  Missy, who really loves her food, leaves it and comes right to me when I go to get her, and Red usually waits at his stall door and won't eat until we've ridden.  Maybe they feel that I'm finally starting to get it . . .