Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Riding Session #2

Tonight was my second group riding session at our local stable. Happily, this photo is NOT of me!

It was about 30 degrees, but I was bundled up and got so warm that I had to take my coat off while riding. It was nice and bright in the indoor area with fluffy footing.

Again, I rode Doc, the 14 year old QH/Arab gelding. I called him to me from the muddy field with a gesture - remarkable for a school horse. I brushed him off and gave him scratches, then tacked him up with my bareback pad and halter w. rope reins. We played on the ground (mostly Porcupine game) and then mounted up.

This evening we started off with about 15 minutes of walking. I practiced "walking in my body" on a loose rein, and then yielding his ribs both toward and away from the arena fence. His backing was greatly improved this evening - all I had to do was raise the reins and take up the slack and lean slightly backward and back he'd go!

The group moved into trotting practice, so we worked on trotting into the corners and stopping (to prevent his anticipating and cutting the corners & also to encourage a slow trot on a loose rein). We also played with bending ribs both directions at the trot and going from halt to trot to walk, etc. He is an amazingly light horse, especially considering that he is regularly used for teaching beginning riders.

Cantering was fun and pretty relaxed for me this evening compared with last time. My friend, Julie, came up with a little dance that she does to rehearse canter departures a la Linda Parelli (from the blue L2 pack). I tried it today on the exercise ball at the gym and it was very effective! Rehearsing helped my muscles to obey when the time came to try and also kept me from getting very tense in anticipation. We cantered enough for me to relax and find my balance.

Next, we JUMPED. Little jumps - but jumps nonetheless! I felt very brave, although I'll admit that my balance was sometimes questionable. ;-)

I'm hoping to video tape our next session so that I can see how I look.. Our instructor said that I looked much more relaxed this evening. I know that I sure felt more confident.

Maybe I'll try this next time?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Freestyle Riding: Steps 1 -3

Lately, it has occurred to me that Guinness and I aren't even on the "chart" yet for Freestyle riding (the Parelli chart of the Patterns for each Savvy). To get started, we needed to first practice more of Step 1: Mounting.

To help us along, this afternoon Sierra came over to play with Guinness & me. She brought her new 9 month old Aussie Cattle Dog pound-puppy, "Bella" with her. Bella alternated pining for her mother and playing with Zippy in the yard, while the rest of us hung out in the roundpen.

After playing many games on the 22' line and at Liberty (sideways away, beginning sideways toward!, energetic departures & cantering draw, and circling with change of direction), Sierra took the first turn at mounting.

She started by using the mounting block and desensitizing Guinness to having her feet back over his rump - which he had some issues with. I then led G. around while Sierra had her belly across his back. When she swung all the way up, Guinness appeared to think, "wow, that's better."

We played with circling on the 22' with several steps of a gait. Then, Sierra dismounted and mounted repeatedly by merely swinging her leg up (a truly amazing sight). Finally, she dismounted repeatedly by sliding off of Guinness rear. He objected to this with some half-hearted bucks. To work through this, we used approach/retreat - plus cookies for not reacting! He quickly figured out that it was no big deal.

Next came my turn. Guinness positioned himself at the mounting block while I swung my leg over a few times and rubbed his rump with my foot. When I mounted all the way up, he didn't even appear to notice. Sierra started out leading us, but then switched to Circling Game.

Step 2: Walking Forward. Since Guinness had both the 22' and rope reins attached to his halter, whenever he turned in toward Sierra, I used the opportunity to change direction on the circle. We practiced the cues to walk forward, starting with lifting my energy and rein, then squeezing gently with my seat and legs, then a smooch, then spanking my shoulders with my Savvy String and/or patting his rump with my hand. We also practiced halting with me "stopping riding" and exhaling. (I need to remember to lift my rein to give him advance notice..)

We also practiced backing. All I needed to do was shorten my reins a little, lift my hand, and lean back slightly and he would drop his head and back up. Unbelievable. No resistance at all.

Step 3: Steering. Finally, Sierra unhooked the 22' so that Guinness and I could practice more elaborate steering. I really tried to use the power of focus and my legs only for specific cues. He even turned once when I pointed in a direction without pulling on the rein at all. We tried the hindquarter yield-into-forehand-lead-across pattern for the first time in both directions.

At last I dismounted, and we removed his ropes and opened the roundpen up. I sent Guinness out and he ran off to join his buddies, still wearing his halter and bareback pad. After a minute, he came back to hang out with Sierra & frisk her for treats. As I walked back to the barn, I called him over and he joined up to walk to the gate where I untacked him.

His "bow" has gotten sticky from lack of practice, so we tried that a few times in the run-in until the other horses barged in.

We spent about an hour and a half playing with Guinness today and made loads of progress. He has lots to reflect on. I believe that the last time I was on him was the very end of November..

Next time, we are planning to exit the roundpen and practice "Follow the Rail" pattern. :-)

Thank you so much for your help, Sierra!!!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Regaining My Confidence

As many of you know, a couple of years ago I was involved in a "wreck" on an ever-green, mare that I owned at the time, Parlay.

We had just finished a large group playdate and were resting with a slack rope rein. I was riding in an English saddle. Parlay swung her head at a bug and the rope rein wrapped around my left ankle - tying it to the stirrup. You wouldn't have thought that this would be a big issue since we had practiced lateral flexion, but she freaked out (or had a tantrum?) and bucked until I came off and got dragged. The ambulance came and, luckily, I only had 3 broken ribs.

This was the first time that I'd come off of a horse in 20 years. I'm pretty safety conscious and sensitive my mount's mood, so this really shook me up. My fear manifested as a fear of being bucked off. Since then, using the "blue Level 2" pack and Stephanie Burns' book, Move Closer, Stay Longer, I've gotten much more confident. However, I still find myself reluctant to casually ride around my fields. (Weirdly, I'm fine on the trail).

Now that Guinness is a three-year-old, it is increasingly important that I let go of the tension in my body as I ride. I don't want to give him "Go/Stop" conflicting aids because of my apprehension. Another issue is that the horse that I owned in high school would occasionally run away with me, and so I've been historically reluctant to canter. I get tense and pop myself out of the saddle which makes me feel insecure. Plus, the gaited horses that I've had frankly suck at cantering since they are so heavy on the forehand and awkward in the transition into it, that I haven't practiced much. Guinness, however, has demonstrated a floating, slow-motion canter in the field..

Happily, I've found the antidote!

Tonight, I enrolled in 6 practice riding sessions (aka, group lessons) with an open-minded, but non-natural, trainer at a local stable with a lighted indoor arena. There are two other ladies in my class, and one of them also has her own horses in her backyard. She is interested in PNH and may come with me to the Parelli Play Group meeting tomorrow night. :-)

When I arrived at the barn, a teeny little (5 year old?) girl named Clare was riding an Arab/QH gelding using a side-pull. When her lesson was up, the horse, Doc, was assigned to me. Even I had to admit that if that little girl could ride him safely, so could I.

I tacked him up with my bareback pad and off we went. After a few minutes of rewarding the slightest try, he would stop from a halt (or at least think about it), drop his nose, back, trot and even attempt sideways. What a champ! And the biggest blessing was that I didn't have to nag him at all. I just smiled with my "cheeks" and then smooched. The few times that he didn't respond, I spanked myself with my handy-dandy savvy string. He got the idea quickly.

I trotted and cantered (!) for the entire hour. It was a BLAST. I can't wait for next week to try for a more relaxed, rhythmic canter. My trainer is being very helpful about giving me tips on how to open my hips, and to relax and bring my legs back a bit (when cantering, I appear to be bracing in my stirrups even w/o using stirrups). We are going to add patterns, obstacles and jumps in the next few sessions.

After my 6 sessions at the stable, I'm planning to practice ride my L4 friend's levels horse under her tutelage. Horses teach people and I'm extremely grateful for her generous offer. After that, I'll begin to prepare Guinness in earnest for our clinics this spring!

I can't wait to canter again!! :-))

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Horse Boy

I'm currently listening to a book on tape called, "The Horse Boy." It is excellent. Turns out that a movie was made as the story was unfolding. Here is the trailer for the movie:

I can't wait to see it!

For more information click here: The Horse Boy

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Fun! Even in the Cold.

It can be FUN to play horsey - even in the snow/ice, at 19 degrees with 16 mph wind gusts and an overcast sky..

This is a new idea for me, as I tend to resist even thinking about feeling cold. (This is probably not a revelation to skiers, however I've never really given winter sports a chance. Perhaps this would be an opportunity for personal growth?)

Anyway, since it snowed last week, the horses have been avoiding walking down to the front field. The other day, I noticed that the field had mostly thawed-out since it gets more sun than the area by the barn. A few days ago, I decided on impulse, to halter Guinness and lead him down to that field figuring that the others would follow, and that once he saw the opportunities (sunny, the hope of grass, no ice) that he would linger.

So, off we trudged. I had him on a 12' line and he was blanketed. He followed along pretty well until we passed the house then he got spooky. Of course, the others did the same thing and hung back at the entrance to the chute. We proceeded slowly onward, eventually making it to the field where he exuberantly snorted & bucked. I started feeling as though the 12' wasn't nearly long enough! When he mellowed out a bit, I released him thinking that he would canter around the field. No way. He galloped a bee-line straight back to his buddies even though he hadn't called for them at all. Go figure. The upside was that I noticed that I was feeling quite warm walking back to the house. :-)

The next day, we tried the same thing except on a 22' rope with a carrot stick. We made it to the field where he acted pretty much the same way. The difference was that after a few minutes, the other horses showed up. They all circled - cantering and bucking - while I had Guinness on the rope. I decided pretty quickly that between the extra rope (sticking to the velcro on my boot) and the stick being ineffective due to the string catching on his blanket, that I'd be safer releasing him. I also hoped that they would stay around since they were together. Wrong again! Off they galloped up the hill back to the barn.. On the walk back, I decided that it was still a good experience anyway and a great opportunity to develop my leadership.

So this morning, when I had the urge take a walk with Guinness, I grabbed the halter and 22' line without hesitation! This time, I removed the string from the stick to prevent it getting hung on his blanket. We did approach & retreat thru the chute and down to the field. He hung back a bit and but stepped forward with pressure (either from the rope or stick). I kept him about 10' from me and to the side where I could watch him, to prevent him from crowding or jumping on me.

We made it to the big field with Cody following until about 1/2 down the chute, where he stood watching Guinness. Again, Guinness was really excited in the field and I sent him out on a circle to leap and buck. I noticed that I had much better control with the stringless-stick. When he calmed down and turned and faced pretty sanely, I decided to quit while we were ahead and to mosey back toward the house. When we got through the field gate and into the bottom of the chute, he started getting antsy again, even though Cody was within 50' of us.

We played squeeze game using the fence until he was willing to walk both directions and then to turn and face when asked. (I turned the stick around and used the handle- end to increase its effectiveness with his blanket.) I mixed things up by asking him to circle and to halt with the stick in front of him. About this time his head came down and he was thinking and more obedient, but I never really heard him blow.

We mosied back up the hill where I released him in view of the barn. This time, he stuck around for scratches instead of galloping away - much better for both of us!

This session, I never even noticed the cold. I vow from now on that if I have the urge to play horsey, even in the cold, that I will tell myself to go out and give it a try before deciding that it isn't worth it. It will make for a much more interesting "very early spring" (never say winter).