Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Playtime!

Since auditing 2 days of Carol Coppinger's 3 day "L2/L3" camp last week at McPherson QH Arena in Bristol, I've been feeling especially empowered to progress with the horses. It is amazing how watching L3-4 students (as rated under the new system) for a few days creates a "new normal" for achievement. I kept thinking to myself, "I can do that.." Then I realized that although I have a good mental picture of what to do and how to do it, over the years I haven't really 'taken the time that it takes' actually playing with the horses to get competent (versus reading & watching PNH materials). That must be why I'm still lingering in L2 - but not for much longer!!

At Carol's clinic, I finally realized that we only need to submit audition videos in Online & Freestyle savvies to complete the new Level 2. I'd been telling myself that I'd never get through L2 with the horse that I had (Smokey) due to his issues with being ridden. However, during the clinic Carol asked me "don't you have a horse to ride?" and it got me thinking.. I went home and reviewed the L2 audition criteria and realized that I really could continue through L2 with Smokey. [Light bulb moment.]

Fortunately, I was able to reserve a spot in a group lesson coming up in early June at Broadview Ranch with clinician Kelly Sigler. I'm hoping to review L2 riding skills, and then to record my audition soon after. Sometime in mid-June, Darlene McPherson will be hosting a playdate in her indoor arena to try to record audition videos. I'm planning to take Smokey back down to Bristol for a visit. :-)

Lots of other things have been happening. Here is a synopsis:
- Guinness has accepted 4 different saddles without batting an eyelash.
- Guinness now has 3 tricks: retrieve something (see video of hat), smile (flehming response), and bow on one knee!
- Guinness, Cody & Smokey all stood at liberty for applications of fly spray and hoof goop, and also to be hosed off with water. This is a major improvement for C & S. I attribute it all to the click/reward method of reinforcing a passive (neutral) behavior!!
- About 6 weeks ago, Cody was outfitted with EDSS shoes/pads in an effort to correct his contracted heels in front and to ease his high ringbone (arthritis). Check out the video of how he is moving now!
- I took Cody for a training trail ride/walk yesterday at Pandapas Pond. He was pretty unflappable, despite the incredible number of cars & people in the parking lot. He spent a lot of time sniffing the trail and obviously enjoyed the trip in our "new" trailer (2 horse straight load bumper pull w. dressing room).

Having a plan is very important. This morning, I planned to clean house - so instead I went outside to play with the horses. Once outside, I planned to ride both Cody & Smokey bareback, and to lean over Guinness. Instead, Guinness said "pick me first" and we had a wonderful session in the roundpen. We started out online playing Porcupine Game (moving away from actual pressure) including backing in a circle. Then we transitioned to his first *real* Liberty session! Here are a couple of videos:

And finally, here is a video of Guinness pretending to be a cross country horse (notice how he intentionally jumps the logs multiple times). Nobody has informed him that gaited horses don't jump.

A couple more thoughts: At the clinic Carol said of playing with her new 4 year old QH, Legend, "nothing good comes from spending a lot of time in Zone 1 with a young one." Instead, she advocates spending lots of time in Zone 3 (rib area) where we hope to be when riding. She also pointed out that horses find comfort in your calm presence and don't need or sometimes even appreciate the touch of your hands. (After all, horses don't approach each other with their hands.) I'll try to keep this in mind more with Guinness. He has already learning to calmly stand a short distance away from me.

Also, I've signed up for Carol's L2/L3 clinic in Bristol next year and intend to take Guinness. I guess I'll have to be riding him Freestyle by next spring. :-)

Friday, May 22, 2009


A couple of weeks ago, we offered to pet-sit our friend's 4-H goats for a few days. Although they came with their own goat "habitat" (a large stock trailer), we decided to stick them out in our unused chicken pen where there were lots of weeds. I've never seen the horses so interested in anything before. It was like Horse TV - they were fascinated! I think that the horses were bummed when the goats returned home a couple of days later.. ;-)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Some of Guinness' Kinfolk

I just got word today that the Doug & Alicia Coop, the breeders of Coop's Midnight Rain (a.k.a. "Guinness"), are proud to announce this year's babies!

Unfortunately, Barb's Cocoa, Guinness' mom, didn't catch last year so no baby from her. (I believe that she is about 20 years old.) These fillies are Guinness' half neices - daughters of his half sisters out of Cocoa. (I think that I have that straight!)

The dark one is Coop's Liberty. Her dam is Coop's Haylee Sundown (in picture with her), and her Sire is Coop's Freedom.

The lighter color one is Coop's Natashsa. Her dam is Coop's Jasmine Rose, and her Sire is Choc Dock. Both were born in April.

The third and final filly was born just this morning. April, Alicia's silver buckskin mare, had a black filly. She has one white sock and a cute little star. Alicia discovered her this morning around 7 a.m. just as a storm was about to hit! She was just leaving for work and got thoroughly soaked before getting them into the barn. Both mom and foal are fine.

Another exciting event was the purchase of Guinness' full brother, Coop's Shadow, by a Parelli student named Ellen from Georgia. Apparently, this blog about Guinness' exploits helped to convince Ellen to travel all the way to Kentucky to check him out. Yippee! I hope to receive a photo of Ellen and Shadow someday soon. :-)

For more information on Guinness' family, including several yearlings for sale, please click here:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Happy Mothers Day to Me!

For Mothers Day, I received the perfect gift from my son (and husband) - a ring! A large, wooden ring. A Parelli-inspired, 60' single rail roundpen in my back field. How did they ever guess that was just what I wanted? :-)

My first "roundpen" was constructed a couple of years ago out of white electric tape and push-in electric fence posts. It was located in the center of my back field, which is basically an extension of my backyard. It worked really well for the horses that I had here at the time: a group of electric-fence-respecting-introverts. I used it frequently. When Cody (extrovert) arrived here just over a year ago, he managed to almost immediately walk through it (by then the electricity had grounded out) so I had to take it down and I've been missing it ever since..

My new roundpen is located on the site of the previous one. The site is more level than most parts of our farm and has a good base of gravel for drainage. Plus, it is in view of the house for safety. I decided that what I really wanted was a roundpen that could serve as both an enclosed training area and as a large, multipurpose play obstacle. I think that we have realized both goals!

The new Parelli-inspired roundpen is 60' in diameter with two openings for "gates." It is made of 4" round pressure-treated fence posts. To create it, my husband borrowed a tractor-powered fence post driver and put in 27 support posts. Next, he cut them off at 36" from the ground with a chain saw.

Next, we measured the distance from the center of each support post to the next, one at a time, and cut a rail to fit. He used guesswork to angle the ends just a bit to reduce the gap between each rail. He also cut away the bottom half of each rail to create notch to set on the post. We set the rails on the posts as we cut them to fit. Once we had them all in place, we screwed the ends each rail with two screws into its support post using 3" decking screws. We recessed each screw head a bit into the wood.

For the gates, I used two 10' lengths of green/white (highly visible to horses) yacht rope. I tied one end to a screw eye set into the support post on one side of the opening, and then fastened the other end to a stainless steel heavy duty snap. I didn't use a knot on the snap end, just threaded the rope though, but the fit is tight enough that it would slow a horse down, but give under pressure to prevent accidents. To close, I snap the rope to a second screw eye located on the opposite post.

The result is an amazingly useful training enclosure! The wooden rail is about 39" from the ground and is sturdy enough to mount from and to resist a horse running into it. It is low enough that a horse could jump it - if motivated enough. (And if they did, it would be a huge clue that I was pressuring the horse too much!!) The roundpen is located within a small field, so if a horse did decide to exit the roundpen, he would still be contained. It is ok that it is not perfectly level due to the prevalence of rock ridges beneath the site.

The roundpen can also be used as an obstacle for practicing Follow the Rail and other riding exercises. I can leave the gates open and be able to alternate between riding on the inside and the outside of the roundpen. I also have the freedom to alternate which gate we use, to prevent a horse having too much of a preference for a particular gate.

For footing, I intend to mix a load of sand with a load of free wood chip "mulch." I'm also planning to create a path around the outside of the roundpen with small gravels for better footing when muddy.

I just want to mention that my friend Michelle discovered an easy way to maintain an arena or ring: hook a "de-thatching rake" ($50 from Tractor Supply) to a 4-wheeler or riding mower and drag it around! (Kids will love to do this for you.)

Even the horses are enjoying our new playpen. I sure am thankful for my Mothers Day ring!

PS - Plastic barrels are available from some car washes. I got mine for $5 each for the large and $3 for the small. Plastic yellow trailer wheel chocks (Walmart $3 each, I think) help to keep the barrels in place!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Baby's First Bath

About two weeks ago, during a heat wave of about 80 degrees in April, I decided to give Guinness his first bath.

I tied up Smokey & Cody and then allowed Guinness to watch me hose them off.

Next, I turned on the hose and allowed him to explore it. Then I walked backward and encouraged him to follow me. When he did, I clicked and rewarded him.

Once he was feeling comfortable with "driving the water away" then he started to get closer to it and putting his mouth in it.

Then I began to wet his legs with the water and clicked him for standing still. (The ability to reward for "doing nothing/standing still" is one BIG advantage with the positive reinforcement of clicking. Otherwise, the horse tends to step away from the pressure.)

Eventually, Guinness allowed me to spray his body with the water while he explored it and earns treats.

After wetting him down, I decided to be happy with what we'd accomplished and NOT to soap him up! I tied him to the fence and allowed him to watch me lather up Smokey & Cody instead. (The photo is of Guinness dumping the bucket over while Smokey watches..)

Everyone felt much less itchy after getting rid of some of that winter grime and furry coat. :-)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Getting Cody OK With Being Mounted and Saddled

This evening around 6:00, I went out after dinner to play with Cody. I fed everyone first and then they mosied about halfway down to the front field (all except for Guinness who stayed to hang out with me). Then Guinness accompanied me out to be with them. I spent some time scratching everyone and then casually put the halter on Cody and he willingly followed me back with a slack lead rope.

I locked Smokey & Guinness out of the back field and I put the 22' rope on Cody. I spent some more time scratching him (and found some really hard to get at itchy places). Then we practiced some of the techniques for Left-brain Introverts described in this month's Savvy Club DVD. (An excellent resource!!)

First, I very gently held the side of his halter and waited for him to relax and turn his head. It felt like it took forever, but he finally did and then licked his lips. We did a couple of those, and then I tried holding his halter gently and lightly touching his flank to get him to yield his hindquarters. Once he did this pretty well, I scratched him so more and he dropped his head down low to the ground.

Next, we walked to a flat area and I suggested that he circle which he did with lots of enthusiasm. His bring back kinda sucked - not that he didn't willingly come back but that he didn't really yield his hindquarters well. Plus, he kept looking past the gate to where baby & Smokey were watching us.

Several times he came in too boldly and I had to put a lot of energy into stopping him and backing him up. There was lots of lip licking and even several animated squeals as he leaped about as he circled! This was pretty funny considering I didn't even bring a stick out and barely swung the end of the rope.

Next, I walked in Zone 3 as we proceeded back to the barn, with a long pause to stare at the other horses. After a moment, Cody decided to continue back to the barn yard. Next I put on my helmet, loaded up on treats, and pulled out the bareback pad and carrot stick.

I set everything but the stick down in the middle of the paddock and went to sit on the fence. Cody knew that I had treats and was mugging me, so I asked him to sidle up to me in mounting position. When he was swung his hindquarters over, I clicked and then treated him. Soon he was getting into position and allowing me to lean over him to give him treats. (He did insist on biting my stick which was on the off side - he clearly has negative emotions associated with being mounted.)

We took a break and went over to the bareback pad. There we practiced saddling. I swung the pad toward his nose and when he touched it I clicked and treated him. Next I swung it up onto his back and then clicked and treated when he accepted it with a pleasant look on his face and no tail swishing. Then I moved him to the opposite side and clicked. Then I pulled the pad off and started the whole process over. After several cycles, he was pretty relaxed and pleasant. I abandoned the pad. Next session, I'll add cinching to our routine.

We returned to the fence (with the addition of a 12' rope for reins) and practiced getting into mounting position. This time, I swung my leg over and then removed it and clicked. Next I got all the way on his back taking care to be very polite, and I treated him when I flexed his neck sideways. I dismounted on the off side, and then repeated this process several times. He finally relaxed and we ended the session. I took his halter off and he walked beside me out to the front field.

I think that we made some very important (if not dramatic) progress this evening! It is certainly true that it is harder to overcome learned opposition reflexes and negative feelings than it is to start with a "clean slate." Cody really displays those when it comes to being saddled and mounted. I feel strongly that I don't want to ride any critter that has a sour look on its face as I get on. It just doesn't bode well and I'm getting too old to bounce!

I'm consciously using the clicker and treats to reprogram his feelings/expectations concerning being saddled and mounted. I did not use the clicker/treats at all when we were performing tasks that he already knows how to perform with a cheerful attitude, such as Circling Game and Touch-it.

I'm going to plan to do this again tomorrow evening in preparation for a Parelli Play Group playdate this weekend. I'm going to take Cody and then hopefully will also take him to the annual Trail Competition the following weekend to compete in the unmounted division. Wish us luck!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Children Can Be Useful..

I've discovered that kids can be really helpful when it comes to desensitizing horses! My son is pretty in tune with our animals, and when he does something weird my critters seem to say, "Oh, its only Brett" and get curious rather than afraid - even Smokey who tends to spook at everything else.

Here are a couple of recent silly photos and videos.

The video of Guinness and my son with his bike shows only the second time that Guinness had ever seen a bike. (The first time was a couple of minutes before when he chased Brett around the field - but unfortunately I didn't have the camera on!)

These videos capture Guinness' personality pretty well. ;-)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Where Did April Go??

Hi folks -

As I write this it is 10:00 pm and I've just finished catching up on reading the wonderful blogs that I follow. (Tenley, I'm sure glad that you are ok; Fran, it is too cool watching you play with Princess; Horsegirl, I totally admire your incremental progress and determination; and Michelle, I hope that you get well soon!)

I'm lying in bed trying to figure out where the month of April went, and what I did with the time! I can't believe that I haven't updated my blog since mid March.. Many, many things have happened in that time, but I'm having trouble remembering them. Old age, I guess.

Here is a list of things that come to mind:
- Guinness turned two years old on April 26th!
- got a new digital camera with video, including "YouTube" mode
- bought a new trailer and sold my old one
- attended the Parelli Celebration in Harrisburg, PA with 10 members of our local Parelli Play Group
- Guinness has two new half-sisters at Coop's Rockies, born in April
- My husband set all of the posts today for my new 60 ft wooden rail roundpen
- Cody got new "magic shoes" to correct his contracted heels and make him more comfortable
- Smokey & I went on a trail ride to Foster Falls (New River Trail) with some members of the PPG and had a great time!
- finished reading two more of Temple Grandin's books: Animals in Translation and Thinking in Pictures - LOTS to think about
- joined the new site, and then joined a clicker training sub-group (and posted a message)
- Guinness had his first real bath and encountered his first bicycle!

I'm sure that I'm forgetting tons. I'll have to review the photos/video from the past month to see if it jogs my memory. ;-)

I promise to post again very soon!

(The top photo is of Cody in my back yard. The middle photo is of Guinness drinking out of the wading pool. The bottom photo is of my lawn mowing crew - Cody & Smokey!)