Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Barrels of fun and a birthday ride

My birthday was yesterday.  Panama was anxious, impatient, and jumpy on my birthday, so I didn't ride — I'm not going to tempt fate in that manner!  But we did flank my birthday with a great ride on either end — a wonderful ride indoors on Monday, and a lovely trail ride this morning.

For Monday's ride I met Spaghetti's owner at the barn, and after turning the horses out to play, we tacked up and took them indoors.  It was evening, and we were literally the only ones at the barn, so we had the indoor arena to ourselves.  I took a couple of barrels down and set them up at one end of the arena, leaving the other as a "safe zone" for cantering.

Both horses did great!  Panama had had a head start on barrel work, so he wasn't as concerned about them as Spaghetti was at first — Spaghetti had to be hand walked around them and the top of each barrel.  He had a couple of spooks as we were riding, too.

Panama, on the other hand, was very good, with no spooks and very little nervousness.  His big accomplishment was allowing me to ride him to where my sweatshirt was hanging on the rail so that I could pick up the sweatshirt (something he has freaked out about in the past) and drape it across my lap.  Then I rode him up to one of the barrels and dropped the sweatshirt on it.  He jumped a little when I first picked it up, and was unwilling at first to leg yield over to the barrel so I could drop the sweatshirt on it, but he was much better about the whole thing than I expected.

But then he was afraid of the barrel with the sweatshirt on it.  Two steps forward and one step back, right?

We also worked a bit on cantering — Panama has been throwing his inside shoulder in a lot lately, so I'm trying to get him to pick it up.  Spaghetti's owner had him follow us in the hopes that he would canter, too, and it seemed like he came really close, but he wouldn't quite do it.  She thinks Spaghetti isn't sure about cantering with someone on his back, because the only way she's been able to get him to do it was early on, when she had someone lunge him while she rode.  It feels like she is close to a breakthrough with it, though, so maybe next time!

Today's ride was equally as satisfying.  I wasn't expecting him to be so good, because both Savvy's and Zans's owners had tacked up at the same time, and usually that gets him all fired up.  But we all rode in the outdoor arena, and he was really good — Panama was able to walk, trot, and canter with virtually no issues with rushing or acting buddy bound — so we all decided to do our "short loop" in the park.

Panama led almost the entire time, and didn't even throw a tantrum over not being able to graze (Savvy, who foundered earlier this spring, can't have any of the super-rich spring grass that the park is full of right now).  He startled a couple of times, but hardly moved his feet (if at all) each time.  He was calm, relaxed, and happy the entire time.  Wow!  What a wonderful birthday present, even if it was a day late!

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter ride!

Happy Easter everyone!  We've had a nice relaxing day, since we don't really do much with this holiday.  We took the dogs to the dog park in the morning, went to the barn in the early afternoon so that I could groom Panama and ride, and then went to the bookstore (yes, it was open!) to read and drink coffee (chai for me).  In a little bit we're going to have a totally non-Easter type of meal — vegan sloppy joes — and settle in to watch a movie or play a board game after dinner.

Today's ride was... interesting.  It was one of those days when neither Panama nor I were really feeling like riding.  It meant he was really good, but it also meant that he (uncharacteristically) didn't have a lot of go.  Not like he wasn't feeling well or anything — just like he was feeling a bit lazy.  I was feeling the same way, so maybe my mood was rubbing off on him.

I used Kate's 15-minute rule — I rode for about 15 minutes, with a nice walk, trot, and canter in each direction.  We worked a bit on not diving inward when we cantered to the right — he was more responsive to my leg and rein to keep him from cutting the corners, though I was still having a problem keeping him from throwing his shoulder in.  It's so funny to me that this is almost exclusively a clockwise problem — he doesn't have the same issues going the other way.  I don't know if he's left-sided, or if I am.

When 15 minutes were up and I still wasn't feeling it, I called it a day.  I opened the gate with Panama's help, and we had a 2-second discussion as to whether we were going to turn right (toward the field and the trails) or left (toward the cross ties and his corral) — he wanted to go do something more interesting, so his lack of energy might have been more indicative of boredom, not laziness.  But I still wasn't feeling it, and he didn't insist, so I "won" the discussion and he gave me a lift back to the tie stalls.

All in all, a nice holiday ride!

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Barrels, the outdoor arena, and saving things for next time

I missed a couple of days' worth of blogging, so I'll try to recap.  I rode two days: Thursday (my lesson) and Friday.  On Thursday we rode inside, and my trainer pulled the barrels down and set a couple on their ends in the arena for us to ride around.  After last week's jumping session, he was pretty alarmed by those barrels, but my trainer had me walk and then trot him by the barrels until he stopped freaking out.  Then she moved them around, which at first shook him up all over again, but then he stopped reacting to that too.

There was no jumping or anything this lesson, but it was a good lesson nonetheless because it taught Panama to get over scary stuff — and taught me to ride him like there's nothing to be scared of.  Well, I should say it started to teach us that — my trainer wants me to work on it some more on my own.  It's my "homework."  I'll be enlisting Michael's help, so that I have someone to move the barrels around or put stuff on top (my trainer suggested a jacket, a cone, etc.) without me having to get down.

On Friday I was planning to meet Spaghetti's owner for a playdate and a ride, but she wasn't able to get out to the barn so I went out there on my own in the afternoon.  It was really windy (as per usual lately), but it was sunny and warm, so we rode in the outdoor arena.  I don't know if anyone remembers from last year, but Panama was really having problems in the outdoor arena: He was easily distracted and easily spooked by everything he could see from the arena.  We've only rode outside a few times so far this year, and so far I've been pleased — he's been distracted, of course, and I wouldn't expect him not to be, but each time he's started focusing better once we've been riding for a bit.

Friday was no different.  In fact, it was probably even more of a test than usual, between the wind and the fact that two of his favorite mares from the indoor barn (meaning he doesn't see these horses often) were also in the arena with us.  At first he was having his old problem of speeding up at the trot down the long sides of the arena, but I circled him every time we had a problem with that, and eventually he got a little bit better at pacing himself.  I also circled him whenever he started wanting to act buddy-bound and go running after the mares.

After about 20 minutes of riding, he was being good enough that I felt comfortable cantering him in each direction.  He did great to the left, but he has a habit of letting his shoulder fall in to the right (to the bad side).  It seems to be more obvious in the outdoor arena (which is bigger) than the indoor arena.  I worked on it a little and got a slight improvement, but next time I ride him outside we'll definitely have to work on it a little more.

Which brings me to a question.  When you find something that needs work, do you work on it right then and there, or do you think it's okay to save it for another time?  Even though he was behaving relatively well (despite being a bit high) and I might have been able to fix the problem quickly, I was concerned that it could blow up on me, and I didn't want to pick a fight that I didn't have time to finish.  However, I'm not sure I necessarily made the best decision.  What would you do in that situation?  Make a note to work on something next time, or fix it then and there?

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Haltering, leading, and tying

As I mentioned yesterday, I am working again with Rondo, the colt I halter broke last summer.  He just turned two, and although my mother-in-law does some basic handling of him, feeding and petting, he hasn't had much other work.  She also started leaving his halter on all the time at some point over the winter, which meant that he no longer had any regular practice with haltering.  I had stopped working with him because the drive is so long, but now that the weather is getting nice again, and now that she wants to find a home for him, I am going to start working with him again.

My first order of business was to get a halter on him, since he didn't have one on (she had to cut his off recently — more on that later).  I was expecting this to be much harder than it was, because she'd said she'd had a hard time getting one on him recently.  It wasn't too bad, though.  I walked right up to him, gave him a treat, and draped the lead rope over his neck.  He started to back away, so I just moved with him and said, "Quit," and he did.  Initially he didn't mind the halter being slipped over his nose, but when I had some trouble with it he started backing away again.  Once again I just moved with him, keeping the halter over his nose as I did so.  Once he stopped I buckled the halter and gave him another treat, and that was it — a couple of minutes and a few half-hearted attempts to get out of having to be haltered, like he was testing me but didn't really have any intention of picking a fight over it.

Leading him in from the pasture was less successful.  He didn't like moving away from the other horses and kept trying to head me off and turn us around.  Either that or he was just trying to walk on top of me, but I rather think he was trying to herd me.  I used my elbow to put some distance between us and praised him whenever he gave me space and walked straight without fussing.  I also stopped him periodically to ask him to back up (to make him use his brain, pay attention to what I'm asking him, and focus on something other than trying to herd me) and reestablish some distance between us.

Our next task was to work on tying.  I never tied him last summer, mostly because I didn't work with him that many times once he was halter broke.  But my mother-in-law tried to tie him for the first time recently, when he had a wound that she wanted to dress, and between being tied and having stuff sprayed on him (also not something he's been taught to tolerate), he pretty much lost his marbles.  She had to cut his halter off of him because he pulled everything so tight in his panic.

So on Monday I just worked with him a little on tying.  I chose a solid fence post, one of those huge thick kinds that was buried in the ground (although I had to move him to a different one after a few minutes when I realized there were a few nails sticking out of the fence there that I hadn't seen at first; I'm telling you, so many of these places in the country that my in-laws rent are full of booby traps for horses).  At first I only looped the rope around the fence post and held it tightly with my hand.  Rondo pulled back a few times, and each time I made an "uh-uh" sound and then praised and petted him when he quieted.  Once again, he was testing me rather half-heartedly to see if I'd give up — I think giving up has been the norm around there any time he puts up a fight.

Then I tied him to the fence post (with a knot that wouldn't tighten if he pulled, and that I could release quickly if I needed to) and showed him a dandy brush.  He sniffed the brush and pulled back, rearing up a little.  I'd kept my hand on the rope, so I just gave it an answering tug and told him in a low voice to quit.  He quieted and I showed him the brush again, with similar results.  After a few times he no longer tried to pull after sniffing the brush, so I held it toward his shoulder, still without taking my hand from the rope; once he quieted, I took it away and praised him.  Each time I held it a little closer, waited until he quieted, then took it away and praised him.  After a few times of this I was able to place the brush on his shoulder with virtually no reaction.

Now keep in mind that I did introduce him to a brush last summer (just not with him tied), and that he was suspicious of it at first then, but allowed me to brush him a little.  (I also discovered last summer that he did NOT like extremely stiff brushes, so the one I used on Monday had supple plastic bristles.)  He has just gotten away with acting wild all winter.  He doesn't really have a very reactive or dominant nature, but from a few things my mother-in-law said, I think he's been allowed far too much freedom to dictate what he will and will not tolerate.  He's just learned that if he says, "No!" she backs down right away.

Once we got over the brush-proximity reaction, I was able to stop holding the rope with my hand, and start brushing his back and sides.  I'd brush a few strokes, return to his head and praise him, and then brush for a little longer, until I was able to step away from his head for several moments without him freaking out.  If he pulled back, I asked him to move up a step.  If I stepped away and he tried to follow me, I put him back where I had him.

After about fifteen minutes I was seeing some definite progress — I was able to brush all the way back to his rump without him getting nervous or upset, and I was also able to step away a short distance in order to do something without him panicking.  I knew he hadn't been asked to do that much in months, so I decided that was enough and released him.

We had some of the other horses tied in the same general area, so then I had to teach Rondo to stay away from horses that are tied.  Another name for that lesson was, "I'm not always here to see you," because he was primarily interested in getting more attention and more treats from me.  But he figured it out and wandered off to graze a bit.  After a while I went out, put the halter on him again, and walked him around some more before releasing him — I want him to get used to the idea that I could halter him at any time.  He backed up a little bit the second time but not nearly as much.

One other thing I practiced was sticking my finger in the corner of his mouth to get him to open it, in preparation for deworming — he hasn't been dewormed since he was gelded last fall.  He didn't like that much, but learned that he couldn't toss his head and toss me off — he succeeded in that only once, and I came right back.  I got him to submit to that a handful of times, and each time he fussed a little less.  We're a long ways from being able to deworm without a fight, but it's progress nonetheless.

He's a smart horse and very willing, and I think he will learn quickly.  He doesn't seem to have trouble translating what he learns from one side to the other — for instance, when he was okay with the brush on one side and I went to the other side, expecting to have to do the same thing all over again, it turned out he was okay with it there too.  My goal is to teach him some ground manners and get him comfortable with all the basics — haltering (again), leading, tying, grooming, deworming, and picking up his feet — in the hopes that it will make it easier for my mother-in-law to find him a good home.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The last thing the world needs is another horse...

...But he's just so CUTE!

3-day-old colt

Don't get me wrong.  I wish my in-laws didn't have this little foal.  I wish they'd done the responsible thing and had the pregnancy aborted when they rescued his mom from their neighbor.  I wish I didn't have to worry about his future.  But for now, I'm kind of in love with him.

He was born Friday morning, and I took this picture yesterday afternoon, so he was just 3 days old at the time. When you go into the barn, he hops around like a little rabbit, trying to stay next to or behind his mom, because he's still scared of people.  But I was patient, and after a while I got him to sniff my fingers, and then let me pet him.  He was more comfortable if I started with his rump, and by the time I worked my way up to the back of his neck he realized that he actually liked scritches.  So cute!

He is the full brother to the colt I halter broke last summer, which you can read about here, here, and here.  Speaking of which, Rondo has grown since last summer, and as his winter coat sheds out it's clear that his summer coat is even more roan than it was last year.  He is going to be a beautiful horse.  I've started working with him again, as he'd gotten a little skittish over the winter, and my mother-in-law wants to find a home for him this year.  Maybe I'll get to spend some time with his little brother, too!

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Psycho pony!

Today I was supposed to have a lesson, but it turned into a training session with lots of groundwork instead of riding.

I think the fault may be partly mine.  I wasn't paying attention to the weather, and it rained and snowed last night.  Poor Panama was stuck without his blanket and not much of a winter coat left.  When I arrived at the barn this morning, he was in his shelter — I think he was probably cold all night long, since he doesn't usually hang out in the shelter unless he's trying to get out of the weather.

Being cold tends to make him tense and highly reactive.  While I was grooming him, I noticed pretty quickly that he was jumpy.  It also probably did not help that a horse was in the next set of cross ties, getting shod, and the farrier was making a whole lot of noise while he worked.

Anyway, when my trainer arrived, she watched as I had numerous problems with Panama, first getting him to stand still so I could finish tightening the girth, and then getting him to settle once I mounted.  Water was running off the roof of the indoor, so there was a constant dripping, which had him more concerned than he usually would be.  He humped his back when I asked him (ever so gently) to move forward, and then jigged nervously several times as we started our first lap around the arena.

"I'm getting a lunge line," my trainer said.  "We're doing groundwork today."

I don't know if she thought I couldn't handle it, or just didn't think it was worth the risk.  For the record he was starting to calm down by the time she came back with the lunge line, but I knew we probably wouldn't accomplish much along the lines of cantering and jumping, even if he did settle down a bit.  I hopped down while she pulled a couple of barrels off the rail and set them up on their sides, end to end, with about 3 feet of space between them.

First she lunged Panama so that he had to go between the barrels with every lap.  He had a really hard time with this at first, and invariably froze as he approached, then bolted through in a panic.  It took a while the first direction, but eventually he walked through calmly, so she praised him and changed directions.  The second direction didn't take quite as long to get a calm walk-through.

Then she pushed the barrels a little closer together, and a little closer, until he started jumping them on his own.  Once he did that, she pushed them all the way together.  He did pretty well jumping them, except for one time when he got one foot over the lunge line and then panicked.  My trainer had to drop the line, and he bolted around the arena for several minutes while the line "chased" him.  Finally he stopped next to me, so I grabbed the line and started to reel it in.  At the first slight pressure on the back of his fetlock, he calmly picked up his foot, and put it back down on the other (correct) side of the line.  Too bad it took him several minutes of panic before he remembered to check in with his brain!

After half an hour or so of lunging, my trainer decided to call it quits.  While we were standing there messing with him, though, as we finished up, he had a severe meltdown over the line getting caught on the saddle.  So my trainer did a little desensitization work by looping the line behind his butt while she lunged him.  At first he did nothing but buck in circles around her — huge bucks that actually flung sand up, he was digging in so hard.  Finally, either because he figured it out or just was too tired to keep fighting it, he stood still and let her rub the lunge line all over his hind end, albeit with a rather harassed look on his face.

He was pretty sweaty by this point, and it was still cold, so I toweled him off (which he enjoyed more than usual, half-closing his eyes and dropping his head to show how much he liked it) and put his cooler on, then took him for a walk around the property.  We walked some of the obstacles in the field behind the arena, working mainly on that puddle he refused to cross yesterday, and when he was cool enough I put his rain sheet on him and returned him to his corral.

It's been a while since I've seen the panicky, super-reactive side of Panama.  My trainer was pretty matter-of-fact about it ("oh well, that's just Panama"), but he's been so good for lessons the last few months that I was really surprised.  I really think being cold all night had to have had something to do with it — it seemed like too extreme a mood to be just a reaction to the change in weather.  Hopefully it won't have lasting repercussions — I'm worried that some of the behavior will spill over into the next time I ride him, which with any luck will be tomorrow morning!

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Closer, but no cigar

We didn't get out onto the trail today, either, though we did get a little closer to it.

Part of the issue today was, I think, the weather.  After a lot of nice, sunny days, today was overcast, chilly, and a bit damp — we were supposed to have some rain, but I think we just got mist instead.  I met Zans's owner out at the barn, intending for just the two of us to hit the trail, but it didn't work out that way.

Both Panama and Zans (unusual for Zans) were fired up.  Panama wasn't as bad as Monday, perhaps because it was only him and Zans, but I could still tell he was "up."  He was doing a better job of listening to me in the arena than yesterday, and I figured I couldn't begrudge him being excited as long as he listened, so we headed out of the arena into the field...

...And he immediately lost all semblance of control.

He was excited to get out there, of course, and tried to take off at a run as soon as we left the arena gates.  That earned him a one-rein stop and an itty-bitty circle until he settled a bit.  We rode the horses through the obstacles behind the arena, and I could tell things weren't looking good when Panama decided to act like a nutjob rather than walking through the practice puddle.  I worked with him for several minutes on that, until I finally got him to put a couple of feet on the edge of the concrete, and called it good.

There was a horse in the round pen in front of the house that sits back behind and to the side of our barn, apparently in quarantine, and Panama chose this moment to start getting excited about a potential new friend.  Plus the draft horses were out in the pasture behind the field, and they were pretty interested in what we were doing, so they were lining the fence.  Zans's owner and I decided to take a few laps around the field to decide whether or not they were settled enough to hit the trail.

It took half a lap to determine that they were too fired up for the trail, so we just rode in the field for a bit and worked on the basics: responding to whoa, waiting for us to give permission to get a bite to eat, etc.  I worked a lot on Panama paying attention to me.  If I could tell his attention was getting fixated on something, I twitched the rein on the opposite side from where he was looking; if a twitch or two didn't work, I pulled his head around and turned him in a tight circle before continuing on our way.

By the last lap, he was responding to the twitch (no one-rein stop needed) and halting when I asked.  But by this time we'd been riding for 45 minutes or so, counting our time in the arena, so we called it quits.  It was a somewhat disappointing ride, and I couldn't shake the feeling that I should have ridden him alone for a while in the arena, until he settled down a bit better.  However, my legs were tired and I was, quite frankly, mentally exhausted from our power struggles.  So instead of looking for perfection, I decided to accept the minor improvements I'd gotten from him, and called it a day.

It's always so disappointing to fall short of what I wanted out of a ride.  Do you ever have times like this, where you just have to take the best you can get and call it good?  How do you handle it when things like this happen?

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Monday, April 11, 2011

You can never have too much schooling

I had every intention of getting out on the trail this morning.  I went out to the barn about 10am, our usual trail riding time on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and sure enough, Zans's owner was out there getting ready to ride.  I asked if she was planning to go out in the park, and she said it depended on how he behaved in the arena.

As it turns out, it's a good thing she wanted to ride in the arena first, because Panama quickly lost his right to hit the trail.  I could tell he was fired up even before we got to the arena — Savvy's owner had saddled her up and was going to ride for the first time since she foundered, and Panama was so excited about this that he tried to run right out of the cross ties to follow her when she left.

When we got to the outdoor arena, it was Savvy and her owner, Zans and his owner, and another horse and rider, in addition to us.  Panama was pretty sure he smelled a trail ride, and was concerned about getting left behind, so he immediately started trying to run after Zans and Savvy every time he spotted them on the other side of the arena.  We had an extended discussion about that, primarily because he put so much effort into trying to ignore me, and it took a lot of walking, turning, circling, and even quite a few emergency stops before he was listening to me well enough to graduate to a trot.  And then we had to discuss it all over again at the trot.

We rode for about 45 minutes, I think, and the whole ride was marked by gradual progress.  Each lap got a little better, and a little better.  There was a hiccup when Zans's owner took him out into the field to ride, and Panama started worrying again that he was getting left behind, but eventually I convinced him that it didn't matter because he still needed to pay attention to me.  Then Savvy and her owner left (just a short ride since it was her first back).  I don't know if it was because we were down to only one other horse in the arena, because he saw Zans come back, or because he was finally focusing, but we were able to end the ride on an excellent note: a smooth, controlled celebratory canter!

As one of my riding buddies pointed out, you can never have too much schooling.  Going out on the trail is a reward, not a right.  Plus, we hadn't ridden in the outdoor arena since last fall, so it was good to work with him on focusing out there — he had such a problem with that last year.  I'm going to try to ride a little more tomorrow, and hopefully we'll get out on the trail on Wednesday, weather and behavior permitting of course.

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Catching up

I've found it difficult lately to find time to blog, even though I've still been riding about twice a week.  I believe I have two lessons, a trail ride, and today's ride to catch up on.

Let's see...  My lesson two Thursdays ago was a easier one, mentally at least.  I was on an older insulin for a week as part of an insulin study I was doing, and it was screwing with my sugars and sapping my energy (mentally as well as physically) so I asked my trainer to go easy on me.  We didn't do any jumping that day, as a result — just some flat work so that I could work on getting my heels down, cantering in two-point, and so on.

Last week's lesson didn't involve any jumping either.  My trainer had me working on cantering Panama over a pole.  I think she's working me up to being able to canter over a jump, for one thing, and perhaps also helping Panama learn how to time his strides up to a jump.  We also worked more on my two-point at the canter, which is getting a little better.  My biggest problem seems to be not rounding my back when I'm worried about something — as soon as I stop thinking about my equitation, I lose it.

I didn't go on a trail ride this past Friday, but the Friday before we went with Spaghetti, Zans, and a new horse, Sully.  Sully is a cute pinto with similar coloring to Panama, who put his owner through a lot of jigging and a couple of mini rodeos during our ride.  I was proud of Panama for keeping it together even when Sully started bucking and throwing a little tantrum, because Panama just stood there and watched.

What he wasn't tolerating that day, however, was Spaghetti going nose-to-tail with him.  Spaghetti does that all the time when we ride together, in the arena as well as on the trail, and usually Panama doesn't care, but for some reason this time he did.  He kept giving little low, one-footed warning kicks to tell Spaghetti to back off.  I wasn't thinking of it at the time, because I was a bit worried about their high (again) excitement and anxiety levels, but next time he does that I'm going to let him know that kicking isn't okay — even little ones.

One of the major things we worked on during that trail ride was going forward when I ask.  Panama loves to be in front, but if he's uncertain about whether something is safe (such as going through tall grasses when there is no trail) or if he is worried that the rest of the horses will keep grazing without him, he'll often move sideways instead of forward, or even refuse to move at all.  And inevitably, every time, when another horse passes him and gets in front, he gets upset that he's lost his lead spot.  Then he'll fuss until I find a way to maneuver him back in front again.

So during our trail ride we worked on moving forward when I asked, rather than waiting for another horse to do it.  There are a couple of spots where I know he has an especially hard time with this, but every time, I was able to get him moving forward by using leg pressure to block his first couple of attempts at moving sideways.  The only time it fell apart was at the end of the ride, when he wanted to graze and I wouldn't let him, since we were almost back and I was ready to call it quits for the day.  Then he tried something new — backing up — which I'll probably have to deal with next time we go out!

It was a better trail ride than the one the week before, but it was still a bit tense.  Between Spaghetti being fired up and Sully's antics, Panama was pretty excitable until we got about halfway through our regular loop.  I'm going to try to go out this week sometime just with Zans and his owner — Zans is quiet on the trail, and I think a ride with him once or twice a week would be a good counterbalance to all the excitement on our Friday rides.

This post has gotten longer than I expected, so I'll blog about today's ride later today!

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