Friday, April 30, 2010


2nd Principle:
Don't make or teach assumptions.
- Pat Parelli

Horses are one-experience learners. They'd have to be, or they wouldn't be able to survive in the wild.

Consequently, they learn to make assumptions or to acquire phobias very easily. It is our never-ending task to prevent them from making negative associations and to encourage the positive responses.

However, if repeated too often in the same way, even those positive associations can turn into annoying or even dangerous assumptions.

Some examples, from the horse's perspective, would be:
  • Since you are mounted, I'll go ahead and move forward
  • You are touching the gate, so I'll help you by shoving it with my nose
  • You are taking the bit from my mouth, so I'll throw my head up to hasten it
  • You've opened the trailer doors, so I'll back out now (regardless of the butt rope)
  • And many more..
The "patterns" that we teach a horse can be very helpful in initiating a sequence of events, but we have to be sure that we mix it up enough that they don't turn into assumptions too!

Today, I was feeling resistant to going to the indoor arena. If I'm feeling this way, I'd bet that Guinness is too. So instead, I decided to position the trailer as if we were going to go and initiate the loading sequence, but not leave. It has been an interesting morning.

Right now, I'm sitting here blogging as Guinness eats hay on the trailer. (I'm sitting near him just in case he has any issues.) Before loading on the trailer, we played circling game near it, and then we played yo-yo on and off of it. Surprisingly, instead of desensitizing him to it, he started to worry. So, I switched tacks and closed him up in it loose, so that he could sort out that he'd rather put his head toward the front by the hay, then to stand backward hoping to unload.

Next, I tied him in the forward position, with the rear doors (and other doors & windows) open. Over time, I've gradually given him more rope, so that a little while ago, he decided to unload himself. I'd only given him enough rope to get his hind feet off, so I allowed him to decide that was an uncomfortable position to be in and to load back up to continue to eat his hay! He is doing really well, and I'm running out of time to be outside, so we will quit soon. (I wish that he would just take a snooze on there..)

Our next task will be desensitizing to fly spray, since all of the gnats hatched out this morning. I've already done this at liberty with Smokey & Cody, using clicker techniques. Works unbelievably well!!

The upshot of all of this is that horses are natural pessimists (according to Pat P.). With them, an ounce of prevention is worth a TON of cure. It is way easier to preserve and protect confidence & trust, then to lose it and have to develop it again. (Just ask anyone who has been cheated on..)

Another reminder from Pat is that "punishment doesn't work for prey animals" - it only makes them try to protect themselves.

A great resource for this is the new Level 3 On-line DVD!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Trail Ride #3

This afternoon, Sierra and I went on a trail ride to the local National Forest recreation area. This was Guinness' 3rd official trail ride.

I started out by playing the catching game with Guinness, but unfortunately, he wasn't interested in playing! I had let them out on the big pasture a few hours before and he decided that he'd rather graze than come to see me (holding his halter). So, I laid down in the pasture and shut my eyes to see if he'd get curious. Sure enough, he came over to check out my shoe, but then retreated to eat more grass.. (I took this photo of him then.)

I was already running late (of course!) so I opted to approach Smokey, give him scratches and walk part way back to the barn with him. Cody overtook us, so I scratched him and kept walking. When we all arrived at the barn, I shut the gate to the pasture and everyone had a drink. Then I scratched Cody until Guinness couldn't stand it anymore and came to see me. I haltered him and invited him out of the gate to eat in the yard, where I put his boots on. Then I suggested that he check out the trailer, which he did, and off we went - about 20 minutes late. :-)

Sierra & Parlay were there when he arrived, but other then them the parking area was empty. We unloaded and tacked up, then hit the trail with me leading Guinness on the 22' line. He was a bit jumpy and hid behind be for about 1/2 mile down the trail. With confidence came increased speed and soon he was out in front with me in Zone 5. We walked this way with him in the lead for about another 1/2 mile. During this stretch we stopped to play in the creek.

We decided to turn around, so I mounted up using a rock by the trail & the stirrup - no problem. During the 1 mile ride back, Guinness and Parlay took turns leading. I pretty much accepted whatever gait that he offered, but figured out that by "gaiting in my body" and lifting the reins with a smootch, he understood that I wanted him to go faster. In contrast, when I squeeze with my legs, he seems to lift his body but not go faster (which could come in handy someday!).

Once we arrived at the parking lot, we decided to head out the other direction a little ways, then decided to call it a day.

Back in the parking lot, I played with loading Guinness onto Sierra's trailer (with a ramp) from 22' and also backing in. Once the horses were loaded in their respective trailers, we stood and chatted for a while while the horses practiced patience.

After we arrived home, I took some time to groom G. while still on the trailer munching hay, and then asked him to back out. I released him to graze in the front yard and remembered that I wanted to practice with the hobbles. This seemed to be an ideal time! So, he mosied around the yard eating with the hobbles on his front feet. Note the section of rubber tubing connecting the hobbles to provide some "give."

It was a very good day. I hope to head back to the barn tomorrow for more carrot stick riding practice!

PS - I made sure to give him extra time to lick & chew today.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Safety Dance

After writing my last post, I went to take a bath and this stupid song from the 80's kept running through my mind until I finally paid attention to it, "Do the Safety Dance, Safety Dance.."

I think that it must be a big hint about how to find relaxation. It also occurred to me that I have an incredibly difficult time finding relaxation in my own life! How interesting. Also, relaxation is connected with finding a "good neutral."

Anyway, I just got a call from my friend, Tenley. She has had some big insights in the last few days into how she may have been blowing through some thresholds with her young guy, Augie, without noticing, and perhaps misinterpreting his behavior. Hmm.

Step one seems to be identifying the subtle signs of Guinness' mental state shifting to RBI. Next, I'll need to figure out how specifically to coax him back to left brain..

More on this soon! (Boy is this a DUMB video!)

Seeking Relaxation

This morning, we made it back to the indoor arena. However, I woke up late and my stomach is still bothering me, so we took it easy.

I sent Guinness onto the trailer from about 35 feet away, no rope at all. :-)

More and more, I've come to realize that Guinness isn't relaxing much in the indoor arena. (A couple of weeks ago, I had the revelation about him not relaxing on the trailer. I came to the conclusion that he wasn't getting enough TIME on the trailer with all of our short trips to find relaxation..)

The most obvious place that this tension shows up is when I confine him in a stall in the indoor arena. He has improved and isn't pawing or rearing, but keeps his head up and looks around a lot. We spent time today just hanging out in the stall with me encouraging him to put his head down and to calmly eat.

After playing with the stall, we went out into the arena. Once again, Guinness was really looking around and not lowering his head. Nothing weird was going on outside.. We fooled at liberty with jumping some small jumps and stick-to-me. All went great.

We played with circling on the 22' at a walk & trot, and with change of gait and direction. He was very obedient and willing, but had a very hard time maintaining gait all the way around one time. (Something to really focus on in future sessions.)

Next, I backed him out to the end of the 22' and waited for some signs of relaxation. I even sat down on the ground in order to really be neutral. It took him what felt like forever to lick his lips. Hmm. It took a bit longer for him to lower his head and sigh. When he did, I tossed a cookie his way. (Probably not necessary, but it felt good at the time.) We repeated this twice, and then walked over to try it in the stall.

On the way, he stopped at the mounting block, so I laid over him totally bareback and he gave a huge tail swish. I hung there for a minute then slid off and tried again. Another huge swish along with a head swing, so I jumped down and backed him up firmly. The next time was much better so I put my feet up behind me, and then eventually slid off over his rump.

Once back at the stall, I wound up sitting in there with him while he picked at hay for a few minutes. Then we loaded up and headed home.

Back at home, I noticed that the other two horses were acting very jumpy - probably due to the super cool air and breeze. This had probably been affecting Guinness too.

The upshot of this is that I think that when my boy is concerned, he switches from motivated LBI/LBE to - get this - RBI!

He is really obedient and compliant, and still pretty brave and low key about it. However, his head rises a little and his neck gets stiff, his breathing gets shallow and his eyebrows knit. (Looking like a worried Great Dane.) It is all pretty subtle, especially compared with Smokey who lives in RBI-land.

I need to look up the Needs hierarchy for horses again (Safety, Comfort, Play, Food - I think). I suspect that this lack of relaxation with me is the root of the small leadership issue that I have with him. He still seems to feel compelled to seek equine companionship at some level when anxious, or at least he doesn't really tend to relax with me until he gets home.

I'm not sure where to go with this yet, but it is a huge insight..

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Today's Highlights

This morning, Guinness and I headed back over to the indoor arena. Here are some highlights:
  • Just after I'd finished putting on his shipping boots, Guinness popped his head up and made a beeline for the trailer, where he loaded himself, apparently seeking his breakfast.
  • He hung out in the stall eating hay twice, without rearing or pawing, but he did anxiety poop (though he rarely does in the trailer). Big improvement.
  • We played point-to-point leading with the 12' line and carrot stick from Zone 3, over many ground poles and small jumps. Turned nose toward me with stick over back, and took first step sideways toward me.
  • Played Porcupine Game at the girth area: just in front with Zone 1 support to move forehand, at girth with me looking over his withers & supporting rein for sideways, and just behind the girth with lifted rein to move hindquarters
  • He spooked at the loony mare outside (behind him) while I was in front of him asking him to back up, so he took one step forward, one back, then one forward - looking just like a big pinball! It was basically a spook-in-place.
  • Rode the rail with halter, one rein, & bareback pad. He finally seems to be getting the idea and kept offering to walk forward before I asked him to. Eventually, we picked up the carrot stick and rode with it - no problems.
  • Practiced holding lateral flexion a bit longer while mounted, and dismounted over rump.
Unfortunately, after we returned home I developed a killer stomach ache. I have no idea what from.. Hopefully it will be gone by morning so that we can return to the indoor arena. I looked at my calendar again and we may only have 4 more sessions available over there. I need to remember to play with hobbling him, mounted gate work, and with the 45' rope while we have the chance!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Happy Birthday: Guinness Turns Three

Today is Guinness' real birthday. At long last he is a proper "three year old." Makes me feel a bit less concerned about riding him too early.

This morning, we resumed our routine of traveling over to the local indoor arena to play. It has been 11 days since our last visit there. Our last two sessions were a bit spooky for him (first the sprinkler, then the loony mare) so I shouldn't have been surprised that he was on high alert..

The arena was set up with many small jumps and cavalettis, so I put him in a stall to rearrange a few things - playing approach and retreat with him all the while. When I was at the far end of the arena, he reared and put his feet on the side of the stall. I retreated and signaled him to back up. He got down and when he offered to rear again, I backed up again. He seemed to get the idea and stood staring at me until I was nearby. I waited until he was standing still before going to get him, and then left the stall door open and sat down in there with him. He was pretty agitated (head up and pawing periodically). I allowed him to go in and out of the stall while I stayed seated. When he joined me and stood still a bit, I called it a success and we exited together.

We played with the obstacles all different ways on the 22' line. He was really obsessed with the side doors to the arena and was having a hard time focusing on me. We switched to the 12' rope and played corner-to-corner, follow-the-rail with me in Zone 3 using my carrot stick to guide him back to the fence. We also did a bit of sideways along the rail and along a free-standing jump, and also some gate work. I was pretty particular about things and it seemed to help him to get his focus on me.

Finally, I sent him back into the stall while I gathered my stuff and sang to him (so that he'd know that I was still close even though out of sight). He visibly relaxed and began to pick at some hay. While he was calm, I returned with his boots and some fresh grass. We hung out in the stall together for a couple of minutes more, then I sent him onto the trailer where he discovered his usual carrots. It was a good session. (It is hard for me to believe that he is so unconcerned about being on the trailer, but worried about being in a stall! You just never know..)

We have 2 more weeks of indoor arena use, and 3 weeks until the Carol clinic. My general plan is to do some more driving from Zone 3 on the ground tomorrow, then shift to Carrot Stick riding for the first time (along the rail). I've also scheduled a short trail walk/ride for Thursday, and a possible play date for Saturday.

Happy Birthday, Pig-pie!

Monday, April 19, 2010


The other day, Linda Parelli posted a blog entitled, "It's not about the..". My sense of what she has written is that in any given situation, no matter what the human has identified as a "goal" for the session, any need that arises in the horse takes precedence and must be addressed before moving on. This is the essence of good leadership with a horse.

Here is a direct quote from her blog,

"So here’s my advice: Put your horse’s needs FIRST. You put them before what YOU want to do or accomplish, but you start by asking your horse to do something because that is what leads to the conversation or recognizing that you have to attend to your horse’s need. Know also that those needs are usually of an emotional nature – fear, trust issues, boredom, etc."

Here is another important quote,

"So that’s how it comes back to you. It is YOU that will need to overcome your judgement about your horse’s action, your impatience, your direct line thinking and making your agenda more important than your horse’s needs. When you learn to do that consistently and without having to fight your own emotions, the changes in you will be felt by your horse… and you’ll make it up the next rung on the ladder of becoming the kind of leader your horse deserves. It will also increase your confidence because the more a horse trusts you, the more trustworthy he becomes too."

I agree with her 100%.

However.. What happens when the horse's needs continually derail the needs of the human partner?

I could tell you from my experiences with Smokey and Parlay, however Pat Parelli says it best!:

"I think there are two major reasons why most people quit riding and many get out of it altogether within 5 years.

1. The 6 F's: fear, frustration, feeling like a failure, lack of fun therefore lack of funds.

Running out of purpose and reason."

I like to propose that when a human is seeking partnership with a horse in order to meet some of their own needs (for fun, success, confidence, progress, etc.) and yet these needs are continually being overridden by the horses various needs -sometimes for years - then it is imperative for the human to seek an alternative way of having their own needs met!

If our needs as humans are not being met, in the long run, the human will be unable to continue to provide for the needs of the horse due to "The 6 F's." This puts the humans future as a horseman at risk.

Fortunately, we humans have options for meeting our needs. The first step is to identify what they are. For many of us, but certainly not all, riding is at the top of the list. Other needs could include "safety", "interaction", "affection", etc.

Once the humans needs have been identified, action can be taken to meet these needs such as:
  • acquiring an additional horse (buying, leasing, borrowing) either temporarily or permanently
  • finding a better-suited home for a horse that you already own
  • swapping a horse with someone more advanced than you
By finding alternate ways to honor and address our own human needs, we can ensure that we continue to be available to provide for future horses, and can often progress our existing horse-human relationships by being able to become less direct line in our thinking.

Our needs are important too! :-)

PS - I posted a comment on Linda Parelli's blog about this topic, and she responded. Click here to read it!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rails to Trails

Yesterday, Guinness and I rode the New River Trail, a "rails to trails" park about an hour and a quarter from us.

We drove about a half-hour over to Sierra's house, and then transferred from our trailer to her 3 horse slant stock trailer. Then we took our two horses, Guinness & Gandalf, to meet up with another friend the park.

Sierra & I arrived first, so we went ahead and walked the horses about a half mile down the trail and then back to the parking lot. My son joined us on his bike.

Guinness was on heightened alert in this new environment! The trail runs along the New River and in some places, there are steep cliffs on one side and a steep drop down to the river on the other. It can be quite a psychological squeeze game for ME, but he handled it really well. Nothing really spooked him, but he really looked around and his head was pretty high. On our way back to the parking lot, he finally dropped his head and blew out a bunch of times.

We get together and all tacked up to ride: Guinness in my Wintec with a wide gullet & halter, Gandalf naked but for his halter, and Vanna decked out in a new western-style bosal and Parelli western saddle.

The horses did surprisingly well together. Guinness and Gandalf have met before, and Gandalf has lots of trail miles for a 4 year old. On the other hand, although Vanna is mature (10?) this was only her second trail ride. She was so mellow that you would never have guessed it!

During the ride, I mounted several times from park benches, putting some pressure in the stirrup, which he seems to be getting used to.

Guinness was surprisingly attracted to my son on his bike, riding out in front of us, and would match his speed to keep up with him, without any concern at all about leaving the other horses behind. He offered to both trot and gait while mounted!! I've never ridden a horse that did both under saddle, and was surprised to easily feel the differences between the gaits. He startled me when he offered the trot and it took a minute for me to gather my wits and start to post (an interesting proposition laden with a large fanny pack full of alfalfa cube treats). Fortunately, he seemed totally unflustered about what was going on up there on his back.

When we got back to the parking lot, the sweat marks on his back were even, with no sign of the saddle pinching him.

Highlights of the ride:
  • He stepped into and drank from river
  • He was totally willing to cross a long wooden trestle bridge twice
  • He *walked* under the I-77 overpass on high alert (very loud due to vehicles overhead, with air pressure changes) twice
  • He backed up the ramp (porcupine) onto Sierra's trailer to go home
  • He hung out on Sierra's trailer for about a half hour before we got on the road
In all, we traveled a little over four miles. I estimate that I rode Guinness for a little over a mile. This was a wonderful learning experience, and we all agreed to return very soon!

PS - I won't be posting for a week or so.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Playdate for Babies

Yesterday, several friends from our local Parelli play group with young horses converged at a friend's arena to practice together.

Tenley brought her 4 year old draft cross, Augie. Shannon brought her 6 year old Arab cross mare, Una. Diane played with Ivan, a 4 year old Arab gelding. And I brought Guinness. (Cody's mom and I decided not to bring Cody, since he and Guinness need some practice hauling shorter distances together, since G. has only been on a two-horse straight load with another horse once for a very short trip.)

It was a lovely clear, but somewhat breezy day. Once I arrived, a bit late as usual, we released the 3 non-resident horses together and ate lunch together while the horses grazed. The downside of this was that when we went to retrieve the horses, they had formed a new herd structure (Una & Guinness in the "in group" and Augie in the "out group") and didn't want to be caught!

We spent a couple of minutes changing their minds and then moved into the arena, where we played the join-up game that Carol Coppinger's L3 students play at clinics. Guinness & I went last, and I'm pleased to say that he stuck with me very nicely.

We then tacked up and played follow the rail/point to point in the arena with each of us trying to give the others space. This was Tenley and Augie's 3rd real ride together and they did great!!

After we got too hot to continue, we mosied down to the creek for water practice. Guinness seems to really enjoy playing in water and I'm looking forward to enticing him into Dave's pond at the Trail Competition this summer. :-)

The ride home was uneventful.

Today, we will be going on our first ride on the New River Trail!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Controlled Catastrophe

This morning was a little more interesting at the barn. I need to be more careful what I wish for!

The haul over was uneventful - Guinness loaded with me pointing at the trailer from about 12' away with the rope looped over his neck. (Though he did give a second thought to exploring the grass by the trailer instead.)

When we arrived, I released him to explore the arena. Then he caught me and I sent him into a stall from about 12' away. The way that this is set up is a serious squeeze game. He continues to hesitate a little when his Zone 3 reaches the doorway to the stall, but proceeds in. We did this a couple of times, and then I released him and shut the stall door.

I walked a little ways away, and when he stayed calm, I clicked and then walked back to treat. We did this a few times. Then I went to get the barrels, but kept talking to him - all ok. But when I carried the barrels to the far end of the arena, he tried to climb the stall! No kidding, both front feet up on the half-wall. I'm very glad that his hooves didn't slide through the bars. Now, he wasn't calling or otherwise worried, but I guess that he must be a little RB about being locked up and left..

When I saw him with his feet up, I stopped and gave him the back up hand signal - from about 80' (?) feet away. It worked! He stood calmly but alertly as I walked slowly back. I clicked him from a ways away (while he was standing quietly) and treated. What a nut.

I set up an "L" with poles, plus a ground pole parallel to the fence, and the 1/2 barrels in corners. We played on the 22' for about 1/2 hour:
  • backing the L from pressure on his nose, and then with driving game
  • sideways along the fence at a trot at 15'-20' away, both directions, and over pole (not gracefully)
  • canter stick-to-me with sliding stop at "whoa"
  • a couple of circles at the walk
We stopped at the front gate and he picked up all 4 hooves for me from one side, and then the other, no resistance at all. :-)

I went to stand on the mounting block and stood still while I mounted from both sides and slid off - not difficult since he was totally bareback. (I had to be careful not to throw myself completely over him, and kept accidentally kicking him in the top of the rear.) I slid off once over his rump for the first time.

We walked from barrel to barrel around the arena for about 1 1/2 times without incident. However, the second time that we approached the left side entrance, a spastic 3 year old mare in the paddock adjacent to the arena rammed into the metal gate next to us and then galloped away! (There were DOT workers making beeping truck noises on the nearby highway.) Guinness threw his head up and jumped. I stayed seated, but off kilter. Then he started to leave and I swung down to my feet, while he snorted. Whew!

We didn't leave that gate until his eyes got smaller and my legs stopped shaking, but he didn't blow or drop his head. We walked back in forth by that gate with me shaking it periodically, and he didn't seem bothered.

We walked down further to the lighted enclosed end of the arena and he picked me up from the fence. Then we walked from between the two barrels at that end a couple of times, with him keeping an eye on the side entrance. I decided to quit while we were still confident.

I tied him to the rail a couple of times during this session and he remained calm. I even sent him back into the stall without hesitation. We also worked the gate both directions from the ground. (He is doing great with this.)

In hindsight, I wish that I'd warmed myself up better this morning and stretched out. I seem to have given myself a small back spasm during the spook. The best thing that I did this morning was to repeatedly mount and dismount all different ways bareback. That probably helped him to not worry more as I ungracefully slid off of him during the spook.

In the future, I need to pay more attention to his releases of tension (head lowering, blowing, lip licking) since with him they tend to be very subtle. After the spook, he seemed pretty calm and compliant, but yet still a bit tense. When we arrived back home, his head went down and he rolled and looked noticeably more relaxed.

This was our last session at the stable for over a week. I think that we can use the head break. Tomorrow, we will be attending a playdate at a friend's arena, and will probably take Cody along with us. My goals for tomorrow are to:
  1. Have fun and socialize
  2. Relax and have some undemanding time
  3. Ride the rail until he goes on autopilot!
  4. Figure 8s in a different location
  5. Apply the hobbles again (it has been months) while he grazes
  6. Play in the creek
The forecast for tomorrow is 76 degrees and clear. :-)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sticking Places?

I think that I need an attitude adjustment.

I'm feeling a tiny bit disappointed in our session this morning at the indoor arena, and I think that it is because we didn't meet all of my "goals." How ridiculous.

Here is a review of the progress that Guinness and I have made in the past two weeks:

3/31 - Rode Guinness for 5 minutes at home. The big task was spanking him to "go" from a halt to a walk, and I was nervous!
4/1 - Rode at home in back field from treat-laden barrel to barrel, with my husband nearby, spanking to go. This was a big deal. :-)
4/3 - Online tune-up with Alyssa at home in front field. Permission to get more particular! Huge progress with respectful backing, and sending.
4/4 - Played in new environments: on the trail and in the outdoor arena at the stable.
4/5 - Played in the indoor arena alone for the first time. Sideways, squeeze and yo-yo on 22'. Rode casually wondering around the arena with two reins.
4/7 - Played in the indoor arena. First "no grouchy face during mounting." Point to point mounted with 2 reins, circles & figure 8 on 22' line.
4/9 - Played in the indoor arena. First one-rein ride! Point to point.
4/10 - Trail walk/ride at park. Rode about a mile. First real ride outside arena.
4/12 - Played in the indoor arena. Steady progress. Rode the rail about 2 times each direction with one-rein. Figure 8, sideways, circles and backing on 22'.
4/13 - Played in indoor arena. Steady progress. (See below for details.)


Expectation leads to disappointment. I've also heard expectation referred to as "premeditated resentment." These feelings are a big red flag to myself that I'm getting too direct-line and goal-oriented (predatory!) in my thinking. This means that I am at risk of allowing my immediate thoughts to supercede the development of my relationship with Guinness. The last thing that I want to do is to loose sight of the ultimate and absolute goal of lifetime partnership with my horse!

Ok, so here is what we did today:
  • Loaded from bumper, no lead line.
  • Sent into a stall from 15' away (no driving)
  • Locked in stall for about 5 minutes - could see me at all times, from a distance.
  • Liberty over ground poles at a trot, multiple times
  • Liberty maneuvers over poles (backing, turning, straddling pole, etc.)
  • Sideways from 20' feet with me moving with him
  • Sideways from 12'-22' with my feet still (his left side)
  • Circles - at least 2 times around at a walk, each direction. (I got bored..)
  • Figure 8s around barrels from 22' away.
  • Flowing precision moves at 12-15', including canter to sliding stop on "whoa", million dollar move to canter forward, sideways, sending in small traveling circles, falling leaf pattern and more!
  • He came to pick me up from mounting block, at liberty, from halfway across the arena.
  • Mounted & slid off in all different ways (not quite over rump yet)
  • Ride the rail, corner to corner, at least 2x each way at a walk

Sticking Places?
  • Transition from walk to faster gait while mounted. I know, I know. We aren't even ready for this yet. He hops forward as though about to canter, then resumes a fast walk.
  • Transition from walk to steady trot/gait while circling. Honestly, I don't think that we've really even played with this yet. At this point, I've been trying to get him to understand his "maintain gate, maintain direction" responsibilities at the walk. Perhaps instead of trying to advance this game at a walk, we could move onto the trot/gait? This would undoubtedly help him to understand when I'm asking him to trot/gait steadily when mounted. Duh.
  • Riding bareback. Naked. No saddle. I'm a little nervous. Perhaps I should get through this while he is still disinclined to move fast when mounted?

Remaining "Holes" in Self-Assessments:

On-line L2
  • More practice picking up a 4 feet from one side
  • Walk/trot transitions on Circle, plus 2 laps without breaking gate at trot
  • More practice Sideways over pole and sideways w/o fence
Freestyle L1
  • More indirect rein to direct rein
  • More precise whoa (lift rein)
Freestyle L2
  • Carrot stick plus casual rein
  • Trotting/gaiting

I think that the upshot is that I'm pressuring myself to have a second gear available while riding prior to the Carol Coppinger clinic. I need to remind myself that I still have a whole month more to prepare, and two+ more weeks using the indoor arena (at least 10 more sessions).

I need to just chill.

It is good that after tomorrow, we will have two activities somewhere else, and then I'll be taking a week long break..

PS - This is my 100th blog post about Guinness. Am I being a trifle obsessive? ;-)

Monday, April 12, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

A few days ago, my eleven year old son, several of his friends, and I went to see the 3-D movie, "How to Train Your Dragon."

It was great. And I couldn't help but think that Pat Parelli would enjoy this movie! It is filled with themes common to Parelli Natural Horsemanship (not to mention the Black Stallion/Island Stallion books by Walter Farley).

I even had to wipe away a few tears without the boys seeing me. No worries, it has a happy ending. :-)

No Drama

This morning, Guinness and I headed back over to the indoor arena, after a day of rest on Sunday.

There were no majorly dramatic occurrences, and we met most of my goals for the day, plus a few other tasks:
  • Yo-Yo in and out of a stall at 20'
  • Backing out to the end of the 22' and then continuing to back (with him 22' away from me as I walked toward him) until he arrived at a 1/2 barrel and got a treat. We did this twice across the short length of the arena.
  • Half-circle to Sideways along a fence at 20' - most effective when I pointed the stick right at his middle and then shifted it to point whatever part of him got "stuck"
  • Circles at the walk with a great back & send, and slack in the line - at least 1.5 times around per send, both directions
  • Figure 8 around 1/2 barrels at 20' feet, with my leading foot only leaving the hula hoop at the moment of resending out and around each barrel
  • Point-to-point mounted, around the arena at a walk, 2x each direction, passing some barrels w/o treats (I had created a "path" for him between barrels by setting some jump rails parallel to the fence leaving a passage about 5 feet wide)
  • Picking hooves and tacking up practice
  • Dismounting by first placing both of my legs over his rump (preparing him for me to eventually dismount by sliding off his rump)
I cannot over emphasize how changing the way that I hold and coil the 22' has improved my rope handling and thus my enthusiasm for using the 22' line. Instead of bunching it up to avoid it wrapping around my hand, I now loop it correctly in medium sized loose coils and hold in my non-leading hand (per the new L3 On-line DVD). I spent about an hour the other day coiling and tossing the coils out, to better get the hang of it. This has really helped me to get a better feel for it, and will also prepare me to handle the 45' line.

The one-rein riding guidance in the new L2 Freestyle DVD is also really helping me. It is more complex than you'd think to allow the rein to be on the outside of the horses neck (on the rail side) while holding it with my inside hand, and using my outside hand merely for cues and to guide G. back to the rail. However, I can really see how all of this is establishing a foundation (and great habits) for both Guinness and ME to build on.

I'm increasingly thankful that I've never had the $ for riding lessons. I seem to have way fewer "traditional" riding habits to discard than other folks. And to think that I'd always felt so disadvantaged.. ;-)

Next time:
  • more precision with "go vs. whoa" while mounted
  • follow the rail 3x around in each direction at the walk, with intermittent treats at barrels (at corners) only when I ask him to stop
  • simple changes of direction along rail
  • desensitization with carrot stick while mounted
  • more Sideways at 22'
  • more Figure 8 at 22' with my feet within hula hoop
  • ride naked (no bareback pad)
  • ride with carrot stick and 1 rein
  • dismount over rump
  • change of gait during follow-the-rail
  • Sideways from 12' out to 22' without me moving my feet
The plan is for us to return to the indoor arena in the mornings on Tuesday & Wednesday. Then on Thursday, a playdate is in the works at a friend's arena with possibly 4 other horses. On Friday afternoon, I'm hoping to go on a "training trail ride" with a friend and her steady little 4 year old Haflinger gelding.

I love spring.

PS - Since Guinness is a Left Brained sort of guy, we tend to start out our sessions at Liberty by playing the Catching Game, after he has explored the arena. If he isn't in the mood to hang out with me yet, I tend to drive him from a distance (to encourage his thought) and utilize outside turns (to build respect).

Bear in mind that this in not a small space, so in no way does he feel forced or trapped. As soon as he looks at me and asks to come in, I accept it.

This just seems to be a more natural and polite way to build up to our play session then jumping straight into me moving him around online. I'll have to blog about it more someday.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Awesomeness - Thy Name is Guinness!

I know that I sound like a Jewish mother. My horse-boy can seemingly do no wrong. (But really, if I'd had a blog of the last 6 years, it would have been full of whining & self-pity.) Having the right partner can make a world of difference!

This gorgeous afternoon, I decided to take Guinness back to our local national forest recreational area for a four mile hike. We haven't been there since November 15th.

After an uneventful haul over, we set out on the trail equipped with a halter, saddle pad, 22' line, reins looped to the handle on the pad, and my helmet also clipped to the handle. Our objective was to head down the main trail, cross a creek, take a windey side-trail around the pond, then get back on a main trail back into the parking area.

We started off with me in Zone 1 and/or 2. Guinness didn't pay any attention to the bikes or joggers as we left the parking lot, and seemed pretty calm, although he would startle a tiny bit and was content to follow me. He walked along sniffing the ground like a big dog, even discovering a fawn carcass. Once, when I stopped to answer a call from Michelle, he noticed my lack of focus and called to see if other horses were around - nope. When I hung up, he settled back down.

I sent him across the creek ahead of me twice, no issues. Then we started on the twisty, narrow, and steep path through the Mountain Laurel bushes. After I convinced him that I had a plan (he'd balked and stared at me as if to say, "I think that we should be heading back now"), he started to get more confident and frustrated at my slow pace. I sent him out ahead of me and I drove him from Zone 5 most of the rest of the hike.

It really inspired my confidence to watch how carefully he picked his footing and how boldly he approached the many wet gullies and small creeks. He clearly demonstrates his great-grandsire's (Tobe) talents on the trail! (Tobe was the foundation stallion of the Rocky Mountain Horse breed and was used as a trail horse in Natural Bridge State Park in KY until his death at age 37.)

After a long uphill climb, which he eagerly tackled, I was POOPED. In light of his enthusiasm, I decided to mount up. I secured the 22' to the saddle pad handle and switched to the clip-on rope reins. He willingly sidled up to a stump for me to mount.

As we headed down the trail (literally sloping downward toward the parking area), he seemed to be expressing the thought, "thank god I don't have her dragging behind me anymore"! He offered to gait and I took him up on it!! He slowed beautifully with me either lifting the rein, or "tromboning" it a little. We bent to a stop in both directions, just to prove that we could. After that, I pretty much let him have his head. I asked him to gait by holding the rein out in front of me and giving one smooch - success!

It was awesome. I didn't quit grinning until we reached the parking lot. At one point he was a little concerned about crossing over a huge culvert with water running through it, but I clicked him "yes" as he did it, and then we turned and faced it while I gave him a cookie. When we got within eyesight of the parking area, he began to get vigilant, so I dismounted and led him to our rig (a good habit anyway).

He hopped right aboard the trailer, despite the crew of ROTC guys gathered right next to the trailer armed with rakes & shovels (apparently there to work on the trails).

I rode him about a mile on the trail without any other horses around! It is so hard to believe that this little horse won't even be three years old until 16 days from now.

Friday, April 9, 2010

One Rein Riding

It was chilly this morning - around 40 degrees! It is amazing how fast I got used to it being warm outside.. Guinness started off the morning by racing around the back field as fast as he could go. It was muddy from the rain last night, and I had visions of him losing control. Fortunately, he settled back down when I came outside.

Our loading routine is getting really smooth. First I prep everyone's breakfast and put Guinness' into a little rubber bowl in the trailer manger. Then I halter G. and bring him out of the pasture to let him eat grass while I put his boots on. Next, I put on his web halter (w. breakaway strap for the trailer) on top of his rope halter. I loop the 12' rope over his neck and send him onto the trailer where he "discovers" his breakfast, and I tie through the access window using a Blocker Tie Ring. This morning, he about ran me over trying to get onto the trailer!

When we arrived at the stable, we found that there were now three jumps set up, plus some ground poles. After removing his boots, I let him explore at liberty while I retrieved our stuff. I set the 1/2 barrels up for figure-8 pattern practice, and lowered the jump rails.

We played for awhile at liberty, including Guinness jumping all three jumps in a row without knocking anything down!

He caught me and I tacked him up with a halter and bareback pad. Then we went onto the 22' line and played Circling Game with a slack line. (His back and send have dramatically improved. Next goal will be increasing the number of repetitions.) Figure 8s also went very well, and included some trotting/cantering! I stood about 17' away from the barrels. We also played again with the weave poles and with a small flag, and with sending into a stall and then backing out.

Next, I put the barrels in 2 corners of the arena. He'd already been very interested in them, demonstrating that he remembered the treats that he'd discovered in them last time. I stepped up on the mounting block and he came to get me. I mounted (not too gracefully) from the off side and he didn't make any faces! We walked to the first barrel and I realized that I hadn't arranged the other two barrels, so I dismounted on the off side and moved them. Then he picked me up again and this time I mounted from the near side.

I had reviewed the new L2 Freestyle DVD this morning before our session, so I bravely rode with the 12' rope as one rein - and I lived! As directed, I arranged the rope so that it was on the outside of his neck, but I held it in my inside hand and then could use my outside hand to guide him back to the rail. I lifted my inside hand straight forward at shoulder level and "smiled" to go. I exhaled and relaxed to stop. This went pretty well and he eagerly moved forward toward the barrels. I did try to skip ahead and ask for a faster gait, which involved spanking the air, and twice he did a little hop like he was going to canter, but then resumed a fast walk. After that, we ended the session, loaded back up, and returned home.

I realize now that I need to really get the "follow the rail" (or at least the point-to-point with the barrels) pattern better ingrained before we speed things up. If he offers, I'll take it, but I shouldn't rush him into it. Also, I suspect that in my eagerness to go faster, I leaned forward too much. I need to just relax and let it come more naturally. The best news was that the one-rein riding was a non-issue as soon as we got moving!!

Goals for next time:
  • Circles with good back, send, slack in line - 2 times around.
  • Figure 8 from 22' away (try to keep my feet inside a hula hoop)
  • Yo-yo in and out of the stall from 22' away without turning around inside stall
  • Keeping his feet really still while tacking up
  • Having him really relax into my hand when I pick up his hooves, while facing his rump
  • More Freestyle point-to-point with the 1/2 barrels (increase to three laps around the arena in both directions), riding with 1-rein, at a walk

On this new routine, we are progressing double-time!!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Back On Track

Both Guinness and Cody seem to be doing well following their grain eating adventure. I say "both" because sure enough there were whole wheat kernels in G.s poop this morning! The good thing about this is that means that one horse didn't consume the entire quantity all by himself..

This morning, I got up early enough to do an abbreviated workout at home (mini-tramp & balance ball) using my computer to play the DVDs. Thanks for the idea, Michelle!

Once outside, I practiced loaded Cody to see if he would poop - nope - but he did hope right up on the trailer when I sent him. I think that he has figured out that we aren't going anywhere. ;-)

Guinness and I headed to the stable at around 8:00 am. My plan for the morning included:
  • circles on the 22' rope
  • figure 8s on the 22' rope utilizing 1/2 barrels
  • point-to-point, Freestyle, with barrels in the corners of the arena w. treats
We mostly stuck to the plan, but with a few additions:

When we arrived at the indoor arena, we discovered that they had set up two small jumps (one X and one straight) with ground poles before the X. As soon as I released him into the arena, he made a bee-line for the X, crossing the ground poles! I joined up with him and we played with jumping at liberty and eventually, he took the series at a canter (for cookies)! He is definitely getting better with his hind feet.

They also had a line of weave poles set up. We played with these both online and at liberty.

Another bit of excitement was later in the session, again at liberty, when a large sprinkler started shooting out water near one of the doorways. He stopped, stared and then high-tailed it for the exit. He waited a minute and then reapproached it, and continued to use approach & retreat on his own until he could get as close as possible to it and stood staring at it. At first I was sad that he hadn't run to me, but I realized that I was standing in the closed-off (darker) area of the arena and he was looking to exit the building!

The point-to-point part of the session worked really well. I started with him at liberty, walking with me as I put the 1/2 barrels in the corners. When he located a barrel, I deposited a cookie into it (the barrel was open side up). After this, I jogged around the arena and he followed, finding a cookie in each barrel. Then I mounted up (bareback pad, halter & rope reins) and we rode once from barrel to barrel around the arena, and ended it on a successful note. Oh, and no "grouchy face" as I mounted - I think that is a first!

Some notes:

My cues to back up have really improved Thanks for the tips, Alyssa!
  • Phase 1: Hold both hands up at chest level, palms toward Guinness, and stare intently
  • Phase 2: I make a pressing motion toward him with my hands
  • Phase 3: I slowly move my hands up & down (as one hand goes up, the other goes down), holding the rope in one hand and the stick in the other.
  • Phase 4: flick my carrot stick w. string at his chest
  • One he is moving, I toss the slack of the rope out toward him to encourage him to keep moving backward.
Once his backup was fixed, it greatly improved his send. He cantered his first circle online at 22'.

I also clarified my cues for the weave from Zone 2, at about 3 feet from him:
  • I held my stick in my outside hand, dragging the ground. When I wanted him to yield sideways diagonally away from me, I lifted the handle end of the stick to his eye level but at a 45 degree angle from him to give him warning. Then I rotated my body and brought the handle closer to his head. If he didn't move away, he ran into the stick (this only happened once).
  • Once past the pole, I lowered the stick to the ground and then he moved sideways diagonally toward me as I moved away from him.
  • To go around the final pole, I rotated my body around the pole so that the string behind me threatened to catch up with his rear. Worked great! In general, he is responding to my wiggling the string behind me with speeding up. He is finally figuring this out. He used to balk and try to go backward whenever it wiggled.
He loaded onto the trailer both times this morning with me sending him while I stood near the bumper.

I can't get out to the stable tomorrow, but will aim for Friday morning.

PS - Per the new L3 Online DVD, I'm trying to pay better attention to how I coil the 22' rope and to carrying it as Pat instructs. It sure makes it easier to deal with.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Not Good Morning..

Yesterday, while I was at the movies, Cody, and possibly Guinness, managed to get into some of the chicken's scratch grain (cracked corn, milo, whole wheat, non-medicated).

My best guess is that Guinness, with his long skinny neck, was able to reach around and grab a corner of the plastic-coated burlap bag and drag it out of the hen house without tearing it, where Cody probably chased him off of the grain and consumed most of it himself. I estimate that the bag was about 1/3 full = 17 lbs.

This is not good.

As soon as I discovered the crime, I called the vet and she came out and administered mineral oil, water, & charcoal via a nasal tube. We lightly sedated both horses (I'm sure that Smokey had no part of it) and I applied a rope twitch while the vet intubated them. It went pretty well - better for Guinness, which I attribute to my sticking my fingers up his nose on a routine basis. The vet gave them IV Banamine, with instructions to administer 3 follow-up doses of Banamine paste over the next 36 hours. They are permitted to have a little loose hay scattered about.

I slept in the barn last night to keep an ear out for colic sounds. Guinness has pooped at least 4 times and I'm sure that he is fine.

I was up at 3:00 am trailer loading Cody to try to get him to poop. We also walked up and down my long driveway with no luck. Thankfully, he had his first poop at 6:00 am this morning. He still has loud gut sounds.

The vet said that it could take up to 24 hours for the lubricant to work its way through his digestive tract. Cody may need another dose this evening. She thinks that the loud noises are good since his gut is trying to move the mass of grain.

The danger is that the grain will sit and ferment and possibly kill off a section of intestines. Another risk is that of founder - and since Cody already has seriously clubbed feet and high ringbone, this is the last thing that he needs..

Update: Cody pooped at 6:00 am, 8:30, 10:30, 1:15, and a double at 5:15 pm (prompted by some trailer loading practice!). The last one was pretty soft & wet, so the oil is finally passing through, plus I could see some some grain in it. He is still hungry and eager to eat his hay, and has been drinking & licking salt. The vet says that the first 24 hours are the most critical, and that he is coming through it with flying colors. Whew. Guess that I'll sleep in the house tonight. :-)

Monday, April 5, 2010

New Routine

This morning, I got up at 6:00 am and loaded Guinness onto the trailer as the sun came up at 7:00. It was totally exciting to arrive at the barn and have the place to myself!

We started by allowing Guinness to explore the indoor arena at liberty, then I enticed him to play a few games with me. Once, when he wasn't paying attention to me, I ran away as fast as I could, only to hear him following me and sliding to a halt behind me when I stopped. ;-)

After that we went on to the 22' line and played with the weave poles, Sideways using a fence, Squeeze, and Yo-Yo.

When Guinness went to meet some horses in a paddock adjacent to the indoor arena, I did just what herd leader Smokey would do - I forced him behind me while I checked them out.

Eventually, we got a little bored, so I decided to ride. I tacked him up in his bareback pad & halter w. rope reins, and I had a string around my wrist. I asked him to come to pick me up at the mounting block, and then to park out a bit (to stay put). I mounted and put my legs out straight behind me (a first), then dismounted on the off side, then remounted. We practiced "go" as we wandered around the arena. He was peaceful and happy, so I called it a day at around 8:15.

I tied him to the trailer to put his shipping boots on, then sent him onto the trailer (another first) where he stood munching cubes & carrots. Then I closed him in.

When we got home, I backed him off the trailer and then he mowed clover in the front yard while I took off his boots.

The most awesome thing about this situation (using the indoor arena) is the positive patterns that we are establishing. Just to be able to feed him breakfast on the trailer, haul him a short way, unload into somewhat familiar surroundings w/o other horses to hang with, play in the indoor or other arena, reload, and come home without any pressure is helping BOTH of us to develop confidence! And the fact that we will be doing this almost daily with help to ingrain these lessons for his lifetime.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Excursion

Yesterday was a very inspirational day! So it was with great enthusiasm that I embarked with Guinness today over to the local riding stable to fool around. Even though it is Easter, there were several riders utilizing the indoor arena. Instead of venturing in there, we opted to explore the horse trails.

The stable is experiencing a land-crunch, so they are logging some of their woods in order to open up more pasture land. Knowing that the workers were unlikely to be there on Easter Sunday, I felt pretty confident checking things out. Guinness was much more alert then he customarily is at the local wooded recreation area, but was still totally Left Brain.

While out in the woods, we came upon a large log jump. I asked G. to hop over it, which he willingly did, however his hind feet didn't clear the log and he landed on the fetlock joint of one of his hind feet. Ouch. He backed up a bit and tried again successfully. After a minutes rest, I sent him again with more energy and he cleared it with room to spare. (Fortunately, no sign of lameness during the rest of our walk.)

We meandered around and up a steep hill and eventually arrived at the outdoor area. No one was using it, so I released Guinness to explore. We played Circling Game and Yo-Yo at liberty, and then I encouraged him to roll and he did (it helped that the footing was dry, coarse sand). The gate into the arena will be *perfect* for practice opening gates while mounted.

While at the upper arena we ran into a horse that used to board at my place several years ago, "Blink," and his new owner, Mike. Mike seems to be a really nice guy. As we chatted, I filled him in on some of Blink's past. Turns out that Blink still bucks under saddle sometimes, but that Mike kinda likes it. ;-)

Guinness and I then mosied back down the steep driveway, utilizing the Sideways game on both sides. I was being very particular about him staying at the end of the 22' rope and moving correctly - but in exchange I sent him to some luscious patches of clover. He was very willing and motivated.

When we arrived back down at the indoor arena, I sent G. into a box stall from about 15' away. He went confidently in until about Zone 3 and then hesitated. Once he went in, he turned and faced and waited, then I drew him back out. The next time, I followed him in and then turned him and backed with him out. (The coolest thing was that I used the stick on the opposite side of him to guide his rear through the door.)

Then we headed back to the trailer, where he waited patiently as I put his leg wraps back on. He loaded right away and I closed everything up except his window. He quietly munched from about 15 minutes while I chatted with a friend and then we headed home.

It is SOOOO exciting to be permitted to use this facility over the next 4 weeks. I realized that I've never kept a horse anywhere that had multiple arenas with jumps and other obstacles! I feel as though I've come up in the world. :-) This will be an ideal place for us to develop our mounted skills and I already feel things coming together!! I'm going to leave the trailer hooked to the truck so that I can load up to return around 7:00 am tomorrow.

I can't recommend enough taking a young horse to explore new places while online and putting the games to purpose. There is nothing better for improving our leadership in their eyes.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Online Tune Up

Here are a few notes from this morning's session with my L4S friend coaching:

- A snappier back-up helped the rest of the session. Tiny phase 1, progressing RAPIDLY to a flick at his chest with lots of intention.

- Playing in the big field away from the other horses gave G. lots of exuberance, which was easier to shape than lethargy!

- When he is being silly and having fun, allow it. When he starts to ask questions, shape it.

- Use grass as the incentive for effort. He doesn't have to pay attention to me at all times.

- When he comes in or stops without being asked, allow for about 1 SECOND and then calmly ask for something else.

- Need to play with sharpening up "hind your hiney" on 22' line.

- Need to play with moving FH (esp. shoulder) by *lifting lead* (to rock weight back), looking over withers, and asking shoulder to yield rather than so much nose.

- He is less willing to switch from giving me his left eye to his right (versus the other way).

- On send, lift leading rope, direct energy at his shoulder, & swirl him faster with my hips (my terminology)! Try to get his shoulder to move away.

All in all, this was a very informative session. Now I'm off to watch a demo of L3/4 skills in the four finesses. :-)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Out of the Roundpen

This evening, I rearranged the toys in the back paddock/pasture while the boys were eating dinner. Once they finished, I locked Cody & Smokey in with some hay, and invited Guinness out with me. After a bit, he got curious about what I was doing and joined up with me.

We stepped into the roundpen where I scratched his new bug bites (the downside of warming weather) for a minute. Then I haltered him and we played "keep a stick's length away from me" on the 22' line as we played point to point. He was happy and engaged, so I took him out into the paddock where we played touch-it, weave & circling with some new 1/2 barrels (garnished with cookies). He also got all 4 feet up on the tractor tire pedestal and then backed off when asked, all at 22' away.

Next, we went back into the roundpen where I mounted and we played pushing passenger lesson at the walk using a bareback pad and halter with rope reins. Even though I had to go all the way to phase 4 - "spank the hair" - with my savvy string, Guinness remained level-headed, if a little "what's in it for me?" about it. Once things were going well, we exited the roundpen and played point to point with cookies on barrels located at each corner of the pasture. He argued a bit about following my focus, but soon discovered that I have a knack for finding cookies. We both ended the session happy & confident!

I'd bet that the next time we play, Guinness makes a bee line for the corners of the pasture. This is already totally different than Smokey, who freaks when ridden anywhere beyond the hen house in his own pasture!!

Speaking of which, we finished off the evening by giving my husband a pony ride on Smokey.