August 1 , 2006
I'm so proud of my horses. They're such sweethearts.
Blue came home last night. I felt horribly guilty about taking him away from Leslie, and I'm terribly nervous about riding him myself, but I was still awfully excited for him to come home.
He trailered like a champ, if course. When he got home I put him in our little arena in front to let him decompress a bit. He looked gorgeous -- all alert, impeccably groomed. He saw Princess first, and he was interested, but not unduly so. When he caught sight of Guin, though, he called out immediately, something Leslie said he didn't do the entire time he was at her place.
I decided to put him in pasture number one by himself for the first night. The other horses could then meet him over the fence. My three ladies were thrilled to have a new horse there. They stood at his gate and shamelessly flirted. He arched his neck and showed off for a minute, but from then on, he was very calm and nonchalant about them.
I was out most of the day today, but when I got home, I was ready to introduce Blue to the girls, face to face. I wanted to watch, so I first let my girls out front where there's grass to graze. Then I let Blue out of his paddock. I really expected some fireworks -- some squealing and kicking -- but nope. Not a thing. He walked over and started grazing with them, just a member of the family.
The four of them are just thick as thieves. They're even hanging out in the barn together without sniping at each other. The only "conflict" I've seen is that Princess is in heat, and Blue has absolutely no interest. Poor girl She must be terribly disappointed.
Blue is so much more calmer and mature than he was when he left. He used to really act like a little boy around other horses. But now he's just as calm and sweet and grown up as can be. I'm so proud of him.
I worked with him a little bit in the evening. One of the things I've noticed since he came home is that he's super attentive -- very anxious to interact whenever I come out. I love that!! We worked at liberty, in the front yard. He kind of wavered in his focus, and at times got frustrated and grabby. I'm really going to have to work with him regularly to maintain his training -- and to keep him in this calm, willing mood.
I need to ride him too... And I'm bloody terrified to do it.
August 10 , 2006
Blue came home about ten days ago. My mom got here the morning after he arrived. I played with him about ten minutes the day she arrived but not again until today. I used her visit as an excuse, but it was just that -- an excuse. I didn't want to work with him, because that meant I should ride him, and I was afraid to do that. From the moment he got home, all I could see was us having that wreck in the arena. So I've avoided him, and he has gotten progressively more cranky.
My friends and I have a trail ride scheduled for this coming Sunday. Brandy is planning to borrow my Guin girl, and I'm supposed to ride Blue. Oddly enough, that's not as scary as the idea of riding him at home. My concern there is how well he will carry my weight, and if it's not working, Tanya and I can switch horses. My experience with him on the trail is that he's calm and remarkably sensible -- plus, I won't be riding alone. At home, I'll be alone nearly always, and since the only time I've ridden him there I got "broken," my emotional association with that particular endeavor is dismal.
But since we have the trail ride coming up, I knew Sunday couldn't be the first time I worked with Blue. Brandy offered to come over every day until the trail ride to help me prepare, so I invited her over and went out for some serious horse work.
Her plan was for me to first have a lesson -- Brandy is a Centered Riding instructor -- on Guin to get me relaxed and then to switch to Blue. Good plan! Guin, though she just doesn't have much training at all, is a trooper. We probably spent the better part of an hour walking in circles around my little arena. Brandy had me doing stretches and such to relax. Guin isn't easy to ride like that -- she doesn't seem to see the point in riding in little circles, and so stops frequently. It's labor intensive to keep her moving in the arena. (No problem on the trail though. She LOVES going out on a trail.)
I had a good ride on Guin, and so Brandy decided that we should end the riding on a good note and ride Blue tomorrow. I agreed, but wanted to work with him for a while today. I haltered him, and we took him into the barn to groom. The first thing I did was work on head down. After a minute or two, he was chewing a bit and gave a big sigh. Good boy! That signaled a mental switch into relaxed, focused worker. (So nice to see cranky horse disappear.)
Brandy wanted to see what he'd learned, so we went out in the little arena and showed off for a while. We did some at-liberty "heeling" and some fun recalls. When I got tired of running around the arena, I snapped on a longe line, and we did some longeing. Oh, his trot was gorgeous today!! His head position was divine, and even I could see some true collection. He offered a beautiful round position more often than not -- I was so proud of him. Brandy doesn't realize, of course, that his beautiful body position was shaped and not forced with side reins.
I had him canter some too, but I had trouble getting him to canter at first. When he did canter, it was lovely, but he would quit after about four strides. I'm going to work on duration tomorrow.
He was absolutely lovely to work with. I showed off his hugs, of course, and the more we worked, the more cuddly and sweet he became. Tomorrow I'll bite the bullet and ride him. Brandy said she wanted to be sure we longed him well tomorrow so all the fidgets would be out of him. I told her that I'd truly never seen him be fidgety under saddle.
Lest you think that I ignored Princess and Rowan, I worked with them too. Princess is more comfortable now that she's shod, but I didn't want to ask her to do active behaviors. So I decided to teach her some basic discrimination tricks.
Rowan was interesting. This was the first time I'd worked her in nearly two months. Shameful, but true. She has gotten pushy and bitey and rude since then; she's not nearly as sweet as she was initially. (She'll also go right over the top of me without giving it a thought.)
I started with some at-liberty heeling. She loves clicker training and attention, and so she was immediately focused on me. After a few minutes, I haltered her, and switched to "on lead" leading. She accepted haltering fine (though her ears were cranky), and led without problem, but that wasn't really tested, since she was so focused on me.
I had to be very careful about treat delivery though, because she would grab at the treat -- and bite at me if I wasn't as fast as she wanted. Just extending my hand in front of her where I wanted her head wasn't working either -- she'd try to bite. So I would click, place one hand on her halter and guide her head away from me, and then offer the treat. When my other hand was on her face, even just resting on her cheek, she took treats very calmly.
Rowan isn't comfortable with me standing at her shoulder. She prefers to stand face to face. So I worked on that, walking with her as she backed, turned, and tried various maneuvers to change our positions. I rewarded her for standing quietly, her head facing forward.
Once she was a little calmer about my standing next to her, I worked on picking up her front feet. Man, horses have the best memories. She picked up her feet every single time I touched her chestnut. She lifted it and let me grab it. She didn't love having me hold it and would try to jerk it away. I tried to get clicks in before that started, but if I was late, I would hang on until she paused.
I had to watch her head here too. I didn't try to pick up her foot unless she was standing quiletly, with her head forward or somewhat away. She would turn it back to me when I picked up the hoof, but she never bit me. I'm hoping I get a good reinforcement history for calm pick-ups before she decides to try!
Overall it was a good day. Blue was sooo much happier once he got some work and some attention. Princess was thrilled to be included, even if she didn't know why I wanted her to touch that stupid rectangle. (I really love that mare.) Guin was the doll she always is. And Rowan improved as we worked. Regular handling will get her back to the sweet happy horse I started with.
August 11 , 2006
Well, a good day is always followed by a bad one, I suppose.
First, I'm not sure "cranky" fits Rowan's mood today. Rank is more accurate. Ugly. Pushy and threatening. It wasn't fun working with her. She reminded me of Baby Huey, a dangerously spoiled horse Leslie was training.
I was glad when Brandy got here, because it signaled the end of Rowan's session. I was grateful to get through it with all my body parts intact. Brandy suggested that she might be in heat. Maybe so. I miss the sweet horse I started with though.
Everything went fine with Blue. Groomed him, practiced head down, fly sprayed and saddled him. Took him out to the arena and lunged him a bit. He was in the mood to back up today and was offering backing repeatedly -- lots and lots of steps.
I rode him. He was fine; I was a wreck. I couldn't relax. I wasn't comfortable for a single moment. I rode around and around, and then Brandy put out some objects I could treat as "barrels" to ride patterns through. Even that didn't relax me. I rode maybe ten minutes before I quit and got off. As soon as I was on the ground, I was fine.
I love this horse. I love him so much it makes my heart ache. But that doesn't make us a good match for each other.
I'm so sad.
August 12 , 2006
I talked to Leslie today. She said not to ride Blue if it was such torture to do so, and I felt instant relief as soon as I got that "permission." I love him, but I don't want to get hurt. Leslie suggested that I teach him tricks, and the more I thought about it, the better idea I think that is. It would be good for all the horses.
Still, I broke into tears after talking to Leslie about her taking Blue when she's able. It just breaks my heart to think about giving him up.
Brandy and Tanja came over and rode Guin and Blue today. I didn't ride and was quite happy about that. They rode out into the pastures to get an "out of arena" experience. Both horses did well. Tanja liked Blue and said he was nicely light on the aids.
Afterwards we packed up everything we think we'll need to take with us on the trail ride tomorrow. I decided I don't want to ride Blue. So Tanja is going to ride him, and I'll ride either Watson or Smokey.
I'm terribly nervous about this trail ride. I would back out if I didn't think Brandy would also back out. Since the girls have reserved a hauler to get them to the trail head and back, it wouldn't be fair if the two of us backed out. I need to just look at this logically. Watson, Smokey, and Auggie get ridden on the trails at Bridle Trails every day. Blue is a FABULOUS trail horse -- incredibly sensible. And Guin has loved the trails every time she has been out. So what on earth am I worried about???
Melissa, get over yourself and calm down.
August 13 , 2006
What a day! The trail ride was an amazing success.
Brandy came up to my house fairly early this morning. We packed the last minute stuff, and then loaded the horses. They're both excellent loaders, but neither especially likes Brandy's trailer, especially since it smelled not only moldy and unused but also like the bug spray we used to wipe out the myriad wasps who had taken up residence there. I promised them, however, that it would be just for a few minutes -- the trail head is only three miles away -- so they agreed to load.
We intentionally arranged to get to the trail head before the other girls. I wanted to give my horses a chance to calm down, and I wanted to be able to work with Blue as much as necessary to get him quiet and focused. My horses were exited when they got there, especially Guin, so the first thing I did was walk her around and let her check out the parking area and road.
Both of my horses settled pretty quickly -- I was so proud of them. When the other horses arrived, they did NOT settle quickly. They were way more excited that either of my horses. I kept my horses separate, hoping they wouldn't get nervous. They were fine. So fine, in fact, that I decided to ride Blue. I just didn't think I was up to riding one of the other horses when they were so hyped up. I figured if Blue needed a break from my weight, I could switch horses on the way back.
It took a while to get everyone tacked up, though, true to form, my horses stood quietly through the whole thing. Only difficult part was getting Guin's hoof boots on because she didn't want to pick up her left foot.
I mounted first, because I wanted to be sure someone would be on the ground to help me if I needed it and because I wanted to keep Blue out of the fray. Blue was fine when I mounted, but he went through a nervous bit right after. I *think* it was because he was startled by a white travel trailer in the woods. But he did some spins and some rapid backing up, and he scared me. I almost dismounted and sent the others on, but once I got him moving forward, he settled. My legs were shaking though.
We got started, me and Blue bringing up the rear, Guin right in front of us. Brandy and I liked this just fine. We were on the slower moving horses, and this way we were neither holding up the group nor worried about having a horse nose buried in our butts. The trail starts with a winding single-track through the woods that quickly dumps onto a hard-packed gravel logging road. There were many trails back into the woods, but we didn't know where they went, so this trip we stayed on the logging road. That kept us from getting lost, but it was hard on the horses' feet.
The trail had lots of hills. They weren't especially steep, but they were long. I, of course, was worried about Blue carrying me up and down them, but he did great. He even moved out with a freer, more relaxed walk than he has done with me prior to this. (I sang "Amazing Grace" the whole time to try to relax myself.) We stayed at a walk, even though that slowed down the girls in front. I didn't mind lagging behind though -- really. Blue was totally fine by himself, and we were comfortable at our slow walk.
Guin had a hard time. She's horribly out of shape, and she's heavy and black. She was *dripping* sweat and blowing hard when she got to the top of each hill. But she was a trooper, just the same. There came a point though, maybe 20-30 minutes out, where she just didn't want to go any further. Although we don't want to teach her that she can decide when to go back, we also don't want to push her past the point she's comfortable. She was booted, but she doesn't do well on gravel, and she really was hot. So Brandy and I decided to turn around and head back, leaving the other girls to continue their ride.
Brandy and I were completely happy with this decision. It turns out that she was as reluctant to go as I was. We decided that a short, successful trail ride was better than a long successful one. We walked back, missed the trail turn off, and took the logging road to the "real" road. No problem. We dismounted, loosened girths, and walked the two blocks to the parking area along the shoulder. (Funny moment -- I loosened Blue's girth too much, and his saddle slid to his belly. Sweet boy took a sideways step but didn't spook and stood quietly while I got him out of that predicament. What an angel.)
Guin was terribly sweaty when we got back, but not blowing. She cooled down rapidly, and was pretty much dry and cool by the time she was untacked and groomed and walked a bit. When I took off her boots, though, they were full of water -- from the sweat that ran down her legs! Blue was barely even sweaty! He didn't even look like he'd worked, which he may not have. I know I'm a lot to carry, but he's fit from his training.
We decided we'd leave the girls' stuff out for them, and then load up my horses and run them home. But the girls returned before we even got my horses loaded. They had not had as successful a trip as Brandy and I had. Their horses never settled. There was some bucking, lots of nonsense, and one horse fell to her knees and bloodied them on the rocks. (Ow.) No one came off though, and everyone got home in one piece.
I don't think the girls would want to do this trip again. Hard to blame them, since it cost a lot to hire a hauler to bring them there. But Brandy and I could do it anytime, since she can trailer my horses down herself. I'd like to do it, too, and explore some of those off-shoot trails. It would be really good for my horses.
I'm awfully proud of Blue and very glad I rode him and not one of Brandy's horses. Does that change my plan to let Leslie have him? Too early to say. One successful trail ride doesn't a match-in-heaven make. But I sure am happy with him. I've got the best horses ever!
August 20 , 2006
I've had some fun with the kids this week, though I haven't gone riding.
First, I decided that tricks would be fun, so I surfed the Web and found a site and mailing list devoted to tricks. Step one, according to this guy, is to teach the horse to step up onto a pedestal. The pedestals he builds are rectangular with sloped sides and beveled edges. The sloped sides and beveled edges are important because they keep the horse from flipping it.
I talked to Jay about building one, and he doesn't have a way to do the angled cuts, so I had to get creative. I remembered seeing a picture on the Web of someone using a tractor tire as a pedestal. A neighbor had some old tires, so I tried them out. They seemed squishy, but I thought if I chose one with a rim and put a top on it to disperse the weight, it might work all right.
Well, it didn't -- it squashed. But I got one fun session with Blue from it. I put it on YouTube. Gotta say I love YouTube. So much better than putting the videos on this site. Not only does it save space, but they use streaming technology I don't have. Love it, love it!
I decided I'd better not use the tire pedestal again, but I still wanted to try some pedestal training. It occurred to me that the stumps in the dry lot might be useable as pedestals. Well, I got lots of foot action from Blue and he was really into the game, but he wouldn't step up -- and considering how much his hooves were sliding on the top, I don't blame him. If I can figure out how to make the top non-stick, the stumps might be perfect.
One day during the week, I decided to work with Rowan on backing. She has absolutely no training in backing up. If you try to use pressure to back her, she just stands firm, unconcerned. I thought I'd start teaching her to back by free-shaping the behavior. I put her in a stall in the barn and stood in the aisle, capturing any shift backwards. It actually went quite well, except that at one point she decided the behavior I wanted was for her to back into the wall and rub her butt on it. That was fun to fix. Hee! I really would like to make backing Rowan's favorite behavior.
I had another fun session with Rowan today. I wanted to work on leading and giving me her front feet. She actually leads pretty well considering we've had only a couple of sessions doing it. Problem is, she crowds me. So I thought I'd extend a target to the side to put her in the position I want. Unfortunately, she got really emotional about that, as if I were teasing her by walking away with the target. That's going to take some more experimentation.
She did really well with her front feet. She responds incredibly well to any touch on her chestnut, and she only tried to pull her foot away once or twice. She wants to turn her head around to me, and I don't like that, because I don't want her to get annoyed and bite. I also think it throws her balance off. So today I kept one hand on her halter and asked for the foot with the other hand. I also went really, really slowly and gave her lots of time to think between reps. It was absolutely the best session we've had on that behavior.
August 31 , 2006
Just wanted to wrap up the month with a few random experiences.
I am not a fan of spiders. I'm not phobic really, but I don't react very intellectually if one of the buggers gets on me. The other day I was doing something or other, and somehow managed to get in the middle of a web with no clue where the resident arachnid was. I squawked and brushed frantically at my clothes. Blue was twenty or thirty feet away, and when I squawked he BOLTED -- right at me. He came so fast I put up my hand, afraid he was going to run me over. He stopped though and examined me up and down. "Are you okay? What's wrong?" I was surprised and touched, but I thought it a fluke.
A couple of days later he did it again! I was trimming the blackberries from the fenceline, and one of the vines jumped out and grabbed my hand. (They're sneaky that way.) (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.) I yelped, and again Blue rushed to me and examined me closely.
I have to admit, I like this protective side.
When the weather is nice, the horses are left free to graze, and so when evening comes they're usually out in the pasture. Most of the summer it's easy to get out to tell them goodnight before it gets truly dark, but occasionally I don't get out until fairly late.
As a general rule I feel safe here, but occasionally I'll hear or see something that puts me on edge. Last night I went out and Aslan alerted on something out toward the dry lot. It was well after ten and very dark; I saw nothing. He stopped after one bark, but he remained vigilant. I figured he'd bark if there were anything truly amiss, so I went ahead and made my way to the back pastures, where the horses were.
For some reason, the night just creeped me out. I saw weird shapes in the pastures and heard noises. When I passed a wooded area I very definitely heard an animal of some kind moving through. The horses were calm, though, so I relaxed a little and gave them the carrots I'd brought them. I didnt' want to walk back to the house alone though, so I asked Blue, my protector to come with me. I grabbed hold of his mane, and he walked me all the way back to the gate to the house. What an angel!
Tonight was an inky black night. When I went out, I couldn't even see the gate when I was opening it. In fact, I walked to the wrong place and tried to find a gate where there wasn't one. We have white electrical tape for fence, and I walked a fenceline to make my way back to the horses. The white tape was visible beside me, and then would vanish into the blackness about four feet ahead of me.
Blue was nice enough to whinny to me to let me know which pasture they were in. I brought them slices of nectarine, and they all loved it -- even Rowan. They had a feast and were quite happy, and then I made my way back to the house. My eyes were more used to the darkness by then but it was still a dark, dark night. I stopped for a moment and looked up at the stars. I still find it cool to be able to see the Milky Way.
List and Site Owner: Melissa Alexander, mca @ clickersolutions.com