Tuesday, June 28, 2011

More trail riding!

I was running late Monday, and it was soooo hot I decided not to do serious training with Amber again. Besides, trail rides are a gentle, fun way to condition an out of shape horse anyway. She still gets her work. She tracks up on trail rides anyway - she gets so excited about it. She really loves it.

I took my non-horsey friend along. I gave her a pony ride on Amber, and then she waited patiently for me while I took Amber on a trail ride. Almost everyone at the barn went! Amber was the lead horse, but Emma's pony (ridden by older Hannah), this 12hh little Welsh, was competing with her for top spot. Amber didn't mind him, even when he bit her on the butt! Hannah was like, "I'm glad she's being so tolerant of him, or I'd probably get kicked!"

It was a fun ride. A little trotting, lots of adventuring. There were 7 horses in all.

I mounted up a couple of minutes before everyone else and trotted and cantered Amber in the big area behind the barn. Avoiding contact, but no bucking and not quite as rushed as she has been in the open. Just practice is all we need I think.

Found her flymask...requested that it be taken off before she's turned out. It was only $10, it's not the best mask, but it keeps the flies off her face in her stall, and it's not like they are abundant at night. I'd just rather it not be lost in the field again...

On another topic, I've been doing a lot of thinking about Amber's training lately. Bob...he's good. He knows what he's talking about, and I respect his opinion but he takes a pretty aggressive approach with the horses. While his "popping" method works, I'm not sure I want to use it as rough as he has suggested. I just feel like it's doing the opposite of what needs to be done for Amber. I need to offer her an inviting contact. Yeah, I do need to be tougher on her, and I do need to get after her when she's avoiding contact, but I have to remember WHY she avoids contact. She's had mouth snatchers in her face before. I think the method might have worked on Jack, because he was always just being stubborn, he wasn't skeptical of contact because of an unpleasant experience. But with Amber, I want her to LEARN that my contact is a welcoming thing.

I feel like horses don't learn as well if they are stressed and POed. Getting in their face when they are just being lazy/stubborn is one thing. A little moment of pissed and then an "Okay, fine". But going around constantly irritated and mad? No learning there.

I can't keep letting up on her and making excuses why she shouldn't have to do this, or shouldn't have to do that, "because she doesn't want to". What the hell is that anyway? I never even considered that with Jack. He didn't want to, I got in his face about it (not literally of course! Leg and seat!). But perhaps just using the same action with my hands, without as much "snap" to it. And watch my position more. And use more seat and leg. When she's just being lazy, running out through her shoulder and wanting to pull all over the place...DRIVE her forward and block the shoulder, block her head from trying to pull us where ever she's trying to go that I didn't ask for. Keep her BUSY in our work.

Bob also thinks that we need to work on bending to the left. She's only dragging one of the hinds now, and he believes it's due to the fact that she's much more built up on the right side. Thus, we shall be working on evening things out.

Hoping to get in a really early ride tomorrow. I really want to put in some arena work, but the heat is sickening...and it's worse in the evenings than early morning!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The lovely lady in purple!

Didn't ride today. I'm not riding on work days now, as it's so hot in the middle of the day, and I get off so late I feel super tired when I get up before it gets super hot.

But I did run out to try on her new clothes!

I ordered her a 75, since the 72 I borrowed for her while at Avalon was too small. It fits a wee bit too big, but I'd rather it be that than too tight. It's not like it's so baggy that it's in danger of getting tangled up on her.

I also was reminded of how patient and calm she is about blanketing. I've met quite a few horses who are either scared of the blanket and freak out, or don't want to stand still while you fumble with straps and latches. Not Amber. She took herself a nap while I adjusted and readjusted and looked the sheet over. The sheet and the blanket are the same size and brand, so I only tried out the sheet. I'll probably use the sheet for 40-50 weather, and the blanket for 40 and below. Both for under 20. And the sheet I can use to keep her clean for shows.

I'm hoping the blanket stays intact over the winter...probably will let her winter coat grow out in full so she can be naked during the day and just wear her blanket in her stall. I want her skin and coat to have breathing time anyway.

As you can see, she isn't bothered by blankets and sheets in the least...I'm almost positive in this picture she was thinking... "I'm not sure why mom thinks I need a blanket in 95 degree weather, but I sure look pretty...maybe she'll give me yummy snacks for this..."

Also, check out the beeeauuuutiful halter and lead. I got new fleece for the leather halter, which I've got put up now as just her shipping halter. Added cheek pieces too. The old fleece I put on this every day halter. Loving it! Also, you can't really see up close, but her feet are looking great. Her hind hooves are getting toe back great, and she's dragging less. Bob does wonderful trims. The correct angles are starting to make a difference. I put some of her new hoof oil on, which she thoroughly enjoyed having pretty, clean, moisturized feet.

Spoiled? Amber? No way...

Friday, June 24, 2011

The lead mare.

Fannnn-freakin'-tastic day.

Amber all pretty in purple after our trail ride.

(Wanted to add I only used the polos because I knew we wouldn't run into any water on the trail or really thick brush. I wouldn't use wraps if I thought they might get soaked or ripped off! ;))

I got out to the barn at like, 10. Watched a lesson with an advanced student, then watched one of Emma's advanced kids ride. Then then we all went on a trail ride. Emma on Star, a paint gelding she's training to be a trail horse for someone, and the little girl on a super fat large pony gelding named Grasshopper.

I have decided to really incorporate trail riding into Amber's training. Not only do I want her to be a reliable trail horse when I just want to go out and have fun, but I think it will help her be confident through XC courses in a couple of years when we go on to eventing. Not to mention I think it would be super fun to do some light endurance competitions maybe. I've been looking into it lately...seems like fun!

This works out well since Emma is trying to train Star to be a steady trail mount. His owner is an older woman who is a dead beginner. Star is really too much horse for her. He's improved so much over the past couple of months with Emma's training, but he's a very nervous horse and it's going to take a while before Emma can get him to have confidence being ridden all around. So Amber and I can go with her on her training rides and have some company.

Today, I decided that Amber would lead, no matter what. I decided to not let myself get nervous and getting timid when she does. She hesitated a little going into the woods, but went without fuss. Then a few yards down the trail, she stopped and stood like a rock. I sat and pushed, she just sat still, ogling at something. I gave her a good boot with my leg and gave her her head and she didn't balk at anything the rest of the ride.

Then I realized, Amber's been getting scared of being on trails because I was scared. I knew it in the back of my mind all along. She felt me feeling afraid, hanging on her mouth, and she thought "Oh, she's scared, I should be on alert because it must be danger!". I kept 0 contact with her the entire ride. I let her have her head and she had a blast! You could tell she was so proud and full of herself for being the leader. We came back from the trail and rode all around the farm. Around the pastures, down by the house and the old tobacco barns. She didn't bat an eye, even when Star was shying by the house and barns. We rode around the pastures by the road, and some ladies were getting out of their car at a house right in front. They were tickled to see our little group of riders and we all waved.

We went across ditches and back around by the field. Back around the arena and our ride finally ended. We trotted a couple of times but it was really laid back, but it was great fun.

I think we're doing it again on Monday. Might do some work in the arena too, she does need some practice in there, but I think it's really beneficial for us to do these loose rein, laid back trail rides. It's mentally cleansing to get away from the stress and focus arena work takes. I don't want to get burnt out in the arena, nor do I want Amber too.

Finally, I leave you with a picture of the princess drinking iced tea. Spoiled? Noooo, what makes you think that. She actually loves tea, and she likes to lick the ice out and eat it. But I don't really like her to do that...not good for her teeth.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Trail ride success, arena success!

I met Jamie at the barn tonight for a trail ride with she and Tommy. It was a little smokey from the forest fires we've had (not close to us, thankfully), but it cleared out by the time we got tacked up. It was windy and stormy though. Amber was brave and took the lead part of the ride. When she started to lose her confidence, Tommy would lead and she'd relax more.

First time on the barn's trails, and they are nice I must say! Well groomed.

We did try some canter in the open area. She wanted to be lazy, until we tried it with Tommy cantering away, and she threw three fair sized bucks. I gave her a sharp reprimand and made her canter up and down the strip nicely.

Then we went in the arena. She acted like she was going to explode into a tantrum for a few minutes. She wanted to follow Tommy. Didn't take long for me to get her working though and she actually did very well. Started to get her head down and really use her hind end. We had some very nice, round canter, and great transitions. And even a short gallop down the long side (the ring is huge). I was super pleased with her work.

Obviously we need to work on her level of excitement and keeping her controlled in open areas, especially with other horses. Of course, if we event, it's not like we'll be running beside other horses on the XC course, but just because it's not something we have to do doesn't mean I don't want her to learn it's not okay.

She's young, we have plenty of time. But I am starting to rethink the route I want to go teaching her to soften. I don't want to be soft on her, but I'm not sure she will learn anything if I'm as harsh as Bob is recommending I be. I realized that the response I get from asking her to soften in the "normal" and "correct" way that I learned from Patricia is really great considering it's a new concept to her and she's still so green. It's way more than I ever even got with Jack. If I was getting that response from Jack, I would think he was on the right track and doing great. Why should I think differently for Amber? Her neck is set high, yes.

But really I'm just starting to question whether or not I think her conformation really DOES require her to carry herself lower than other horses to be sound. I think she needs to start doing so to help build her topline and learn to relax and stretch herself down. But to ride her differently than I would another horse? Like, way different? I just don't know. I feel like maybe the training fork will be a good *AID*, but I'm thinking ultimately I might just want to train her using what I have learned with Patricia. And I think I also need to revert back to what was working so well before: Lots of circles, serpentines, figure 8s, and ground poles. Just riding around and around asking and asking doesn't cut it. She gets bored and doesn't want to listen. If I keep her focused by changing things up and doing different things during our ride, she listens so much better. Working on transitions, lateral work and tempo.

Not that I think Bob is necessarily wrong or doesn't know what he's talking about...I just think it's a matter of method preference.

I also changed up bits today. I put the copper roller D back on. Definitely going back to the french link. She tends to tuck herself up behind the vertical when we are walking, but never in an irritated, chomping way. She was not happy about it. Perhaps it was what added to our good work in the arena though...I doubt it, I think I just finally started to put my seat and leg in high gear and APPLIED my body to the ride. I think it might have added to the bucking episode. I was in her mouth way too much because I felt her about to launch off after Tommy.

In the french link, she does tuck at the walk, but it's starting to be less of a bit avoidance than her trying to figure out where she needs to be. She chews but doesn't chomp like in the roller. I knew the first time I used that bit back at GEC she was too mouthy in it and didn't like it. Looks like it'll just go into storage. I'll ride her in whatever makes her happy. In general, she doesn't like too much movement. She likes simple, steady and straightforward. The rollers are annoying to her, just like the rings on that O ring annoyed her.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Progression, Regression

Today I left the fork off and on a whim, rode Amber out to the hay field trail. She was excited, but not nervous until we got beside the woods. She spooked at a fallen limb, not too violently...just a side jump. Then we went on at an eager, not terribly nervous pace.

We went all the way to the end without any incident. I was prrouuuud. Then we went in the dressage arena. I let her have a loose rein and she did explore a little, but she was very inconsistent. Then we went out into the open space behind the barn. I think she thought she was done, because she was running wayy out of her shoulder pulling to the barn when I asked for trot out there. Speeding up and ignoring me. I decided to let her canter a few strides and bring her back down because that in the past has been a working strategy for me to reestablish that I do NOT want canter, stopping her in between gaiting.

She started crow hopping towards the barn. Before that escalated into a full out tantrum, I got her stopped and headed her butt for the big arena. I didn't want to take the time to get the fork; because I needed to respond immediately to her behavior. I worked her good and hard for 5 minutes using Bob's "popping" technique. We cantered a little bit, just for me to make her do it after her little fit in canter, but mostly I made her trot a circle. After 5 minutes, she held herself on the bit with BIG steps and nice push from behind for a full circle. I let her be done.

We cooled out by taking a hack around the pastures. There's a strip between the corn field and the two smaller back pastures. She enjoyed it I could tell. I let her have a loose rein and she was just an angel. No dancing or drifting around.

When we turned on the path parallel to the barn, I turned her around and trotted and cantered her a few strides *away* from the barn and she was in control and not getting strong with me at all. I praised her and we headed back. I think her tantrum was simply because of the temptation of the barn being *right* there, and she thought she was done because we usually ride back to the barn when we finish. It's a bit of a walk back so I usually just open the gate from her back and ride up there. I definitely need to establish with her that she is only done when I say she's done, and she needn't take anything as a sign she no longer has to obey.

So some progress in the area of riding out away from the barn alone. Definite progress in that 5 minute work out. Regression really in the fact that she's super wiggly wobbly and running out through her shoulder everywhere and not really responding to my leg and hand. She's responding, but totally separate. Her neck/head is all that responds to my hand, even though I push with my seat and leg. She listens to them totally separate. I think I need to start posting bigger to allow her a longer stride and also to slow her gait. I think I'm pushing too much and too fast with my seat that's making her get quick.

But progress is progress, and I'm very happy that trail rides are a possibility. I won't be going into the woods alone on principal - that's never safe, even on the most deadbroke horse. But in plain sight of the barn - yes!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Brief recap of Thursday

I've been running around and didn't have time to post my blog about it. I scheduled a last minute lesson with Emma Wednesday night.

Bob was there too, and he watched her without the fork. And of course he told me what I already know, she avoids contact like nobody's business. But he also said that she tucks herself too much when she DOES respond to the bit. Too high, too crunched. He said even carrying herself in a dressage-y form isn't going to be good with her specific conformation. He said it's not that she has bad conformation, he said it's just that she's simply built like a QH and she has a stocky, short neck and she needs to carry herself low and deep. Not like, nose dragging in the dirt. He said he doesn't think she needs to be ridden to make her carry herself like a sport pony or a warmblood. Well, that's me as a rider. What was I riding for 2 years? A WB and a sport pony. Lol.

I get what he is saying. She really *is* built in a way that even a normal head carriage crunches her back because her neck is set up high. Only when she reallllly stretches down does she start to really push in the hind and carry herself.

I let out the training fork, I should note.

Well, we put that on and Bob got on her to demonstrate what he wants me to be doing. I felt bad - she was all over the place, no consistency at all. No doubt due to her time off. But Bob understood that I'm sure.

So here's what he told me: When she raises her head above the withers, I have to respond instantly by "popping" her in the mouth. I was obviously skeptical. Now when I say popping, he wasn't snatching on her. And he wasn't really see-sawing the bit either. Just a quick and to the point alternating give-release, and soon as the head goes down, pressure is off. Whenever I "pop", obviously, push push push with my seat. He also said that I need to ride with a lot less contact. At least for a while. I've been trained to never let my reins have "slack", so I always keep my consistent 1/2 pound of pressure in my hands. What he said was basically Amber doesn't want that, and it's not going to do us any favors right now either. This is a very, very different and new method of doing things for me. Obviously having trained under Patricia, I'm a little unsure of training a horse self-carriage like this.

My skepticism lessened when I actually *saw* him use it and have it work. She was actually tracking up, and occasionally *over tracking*. Her back was round, and while her head did pop up sometimes, she started to keep it down longer and longer the more he worked with her. By the end of the lesson, we took the fork off, and she responded to the same method without it, even if not quite as well.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

That settles it.

Amber definitely needs to work in the fork, or at least a martingale for a few months.

I decided to test the waters without it today, just to see if I could get softness from her. She's very responsive at the walk, but the head just gets higher and more firmly set the faster we go. She avoids contact like the plague. And it does us no good for me to keep tugging on a mouth that couldn't care less about the signals I'm trying to send.

I posted on a forum asking a question about whether or not a running martingale breastplate attachment could be used as a training fork (it looked to be the same size as the fork we've been using). And of course, I got a chorus of "that's not necessary", and "her pain issues aren't being caused by improper carriage". Got me thinking which is mainly why I decided to give riding "naked" today a shot. Frankly, she's just building the wrong muscles, learning bad habits, and in her case with her conformation, possibly over-stressing tendons and muscles. She didn't get nearly as sweaty despite her working longer today, as she does with the training fork. Which suggests to me that she isn't really applying herself without it.

I'm not looking for a headset here. What I'm looking for is her to stretch down and just use the right muscles.

I've been considering sending her to Patricia for 60 days of training. If anyone could teach her to accept contact; it would be Trish. I'm still hesitant with the fork a bit, because I don't want to become reliant on it to get her on the bit, and I don't want her to learn that when she's wearing the fork is the only time she has to keep her head down.

I guess we will see. She wasn't "bad" today. She just at a point stiffened right up and refused to listen to my hands. It's more evident when she starts to get tired. She wants to be silly and try to run off out of the circle through her should and go around the place crooked and choppy with her nose in the air.

I know exactly how Bob thinks is the ideal way she should carry herself. In the typical HUS style. Sometimes I can get that if I *drop* my contact with her, but if she gets distracted, the head goes back up, and she's not really trying to get on the bit and apply herself, just trying to stick her nose in the dirt and be silly.

Either way, we'll make it through. If we could just get her to accept and listen to contact, everything else would be no sweat. But it's a road block. She can't understand when I ask for more advanced things if she doesn't understand what I'm conveying to her through my hands. She's only getting part of the picture from my legs and seat. They are of course important, but communication with the hands is important, even if lesser so than seat and leg.

*Sigh* We will see...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Shopping time is upon us again...

I was going to ride today, but I decided I will go on Tuesday when I am off. I think for the rest of June we will do only 2 days a week. She's learning to carry herself with muscles that have been largely out of use, and just coming out of lameness, I think that light exercise is key right now. Her stamina is almost non-existent, so we will up the exercise perhaps in 2-3 weeks.

So instead, I'm going on a shopping spree. I realized with joy that July is a 5-week month, meaning extra $$ for me! Time to get everything I've been needing.

I'm getting my pink polo wraps to complete our "alternating" polo wrap theme. My mom gave me some purple ones for Easter already. I decided to hold off on heavy duty boots. Obviously we are going back to basics for a while. But I will be wrapping her all around every ride. Just for the bit of extra support on those legs!

Also I'm getting her a pink halter and purple lead, to add to our color scheme.

I did decide to get the slightly longer training fork. I noticed she responds to my hands much more than the leverage, but the leverage helps to encourage her to keep herself round. I think just a tad more "give" will keep her from focusing so much on the fork, but still do it's job. The one we are using really is very restrictive, and I honestly want her to have somewhat of a choice, without making it so that there are no consequences for having her head in the air.

As usual, I've got plenty of grooming items to grab. I've decided not to pull her mane. It stresses her out, it stresses me out, and I intend to braid for our future shows anyway. As long as I can braid it, who cares if it's pulled or thinned? Thus, I'm getting a razor thinning knife. Should do the trick better than the shears.

She's out of hoof oil, so that too. She's still got shampoo, but I'm going tohttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif stock up on that anyhow because it's summer time and I like to give her a scrubbing every week or so after a ride.

Blankets are on sale right now, so I've decided to get her a blanket and a sheet. Blanket is pink, sheet is purple. That way they can be used together when it gets really cold, or alone. The sheet I can still use to keep her clean for shows next year. Also getting her a purple tail bag. Have I mentioned how *beautiful* her tail is now? It's grown out wonderfully. Seems good nutrition and my oiling it/detangling it has had a great natural effect.

Finally, in support of our pink and purple theme, I'm getting a pink saddle pad (to alternate with my purple if I like) and these:

Barrel Reins

Yeah, I know. Only for schooling of course. I had some when I was a kid for Belle, and they're super comfy. And besides, they come in PINK AND PURPLE! Finally, I have my eye on a pink and purple helmet cover. My helmet is already purple, but it's a little scratched up (not from any real falls, just from me being a dork and bumping my head in it on doors and such).

Verrry excited about all the new "toys".

Also excited about the future with Amber. She's so young, and there are so many possibilities. She's still trying to figure out how much she can test me, but she isn't a stupid horse and she has the desire to please. I think we will ultimately be a great pair!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fat mare is fat.

Amber looks like a stuffed pig. Even being back in work she definitely needs her grain cut back.

Very out of shape...some very light work today and she was super sweaty, super huffy puffy.

She's definitely not 100% happy about the fork. Very now and then she likes to threaten a temper tantrum. I feel that the fork we're using may be putting a little too much leverage though. It's very small, and it's adjusted as far as it will go.

She can definitely still fling her head up if she wants to, but I think maybe the particular fork we are using might be a little much. I'm looking at some slightly longer ones right now that I might buy. They aren't exactly expensive, so it's worth a shot.

I just feel like my hands are a little awkward. I'm not ever sure how much to give and take. I feel like she gets a little irritated when I feel like I have good contact, but she gets sloppy and starts to dive off the rail or runs out through her shoulder with too little. Probably her way of tricking me into giving her enough that she can avoid the fork AND my contact.

But I think I'd have more control and still have the same results if the leverage was higher up. We will see.

I'm impressed with her attitude though after being off so long. She's just so out of shape she doesn't have the stamina to do much right now, and it's hot as blazes.

Right now I'm just going on when she starts to feel genuinely out of energy for when to call it quits. She's overweight and out of shape. No muscle at all now. I definitely don't want to push her too hard.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

We are alive, and we are sound!

Well where do I begin here?

I believe we left off at 2 weeks, still unsound. Or rather, "off". I think my last post included Bob's finding that when she carried herself correctly, she appeared to move much more freely and without discomfort. His suggestion was to lunge her with reins between her front legs and tied over her back, and to use a training fork in riding(basically a very small running martingale - much more leverage though).

That was, when she was sound. Actually, she came up sound just a few days after my last blog - I just haven't had to time, nor motivation to write. I've been stressed out about a loooot of things, plus I didn't even have my laptop for a couple of weeks.

I've held off riding however because whatever she did strain, I wanted to make sure it was 100%. A couple of weeks ago I sat on her bareback, she walked fine. Then I rode her around at a walk bareback the next week, still fine. Last week I walked and trotted bareback, just fine.

And yesterday I rode her, walk/trot/canter, and she was great. She got a little nasty about the training fork in the canter, because she wanted to speed around and avoid my contact, and the training fork wouldn't allow her to avoid my contact. No bucks thrown or anything, just a moment of tenseness. But she was excellent for having been out of work for a month! She is very out of shape. I only rode 15 minutes. I'm going to bring her back into shape verrrrry, verrrry carefully. I hope the use of the fork will build the topline muscles, thus making it easier for her to carry herself using those muscles, and harder when she throws the nose in the air and tenses them after they develop. And too, teaching her what being on the bit is all about.

The whole experience for her is, pressure is off immediately when she lowers her head, and back on when she lifts it. More effective than me alone doing it with my hands, because of the amount of leverage, and also because it happens every time, and the perfect amount of give and take based on her give/resistance. I can't forget to give/take, nor give/take inconsistent amounts.

I was skeptical, but I think this is the right direction.

Also, I was super proud of her because we walked allllllll the way to the far side of the dressage arena, behind one of the pastures, all by ourselves...and no spooking. I didn't push it, because she was hot, tired and it was almost dinner time. But her attitude is very, very good. I was expecting to deal with a real brat after all that time off, but its almost like we never stopped. Obviously the quality of her gaits isn't as good, but once she starts getting her balance back and "remembers" things, I think it'll be good.

I thought you guys would like to know that my absence has not been due to anything bad! ;)