Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Calm and not so calm

Last Thursday, I had a double session with my trainer: a lunging session with Rondo (which went over time), and a lesson on Panama (somewhat shortened).

Rondo did pretty well.  He was being a bit lazy and not as interested in moving forward as he was the previous Sunday when I lunged him.  He also seems to have a hard time translating the difference in body language between me and my trainer.  It makes sense, since I'd started lunging him a little over the summer on my own, and she's only lunged him four times now, but he seems to respond better to my body language, especially when I'm asking for a whoa.  Not when she's present, unfortunately, which is exactly what used to happen when Panama was at this stage of his training.  I must be nervous when I lunge my horses in front of my trainer, or maybe they are plotting to make me look bad, because it never fails: I tell my trainer how well so-and-so did with something during the week, and with her there they act like they have no clue, and I end up looking like I don't know what I'm talking about.

Panama was a bit lazy too, but with him it's a good thing.  We walked, trotted, and cantered in the outdoor arena (where he is usually quite fast and distracted), and he never so much as quickened his pace.  He was practically half asleep, and I didn't dare ask him for more trot, in case it woke him up!  It was a perfect, if somewhat abbreviated, ride, and I joked that he was kissing my ass to make me rethink the second horse.

Then Sunday evening I rode Panama again, and it was anything but relaxed.  We walked, trotted, and cantered then, too, and in the indoor arena, where he is usually a little less prone to rushing.  Not Sunday night!  At first he wouldn't transition into a canter with me sitting, and then once he did (perhaps because I had to use a kissing sound to get him to do it, a sound I normally only use for turnout), he was fast and spastic, at the trot too.  He shied away from a stool that had been in the corner of the arena the entire time, rushed, cut the corners, and let his inside shoulder fall into all of the turns.  We worked for a little bit until he stopped acting quite so much like a wing nut, but it was a very different ride than the one I'd gotten from him on Thursday.

Michael took some video of me riding Sunday evening, and when I watched it I was horrified by how bad my sitting canter was.  I've been riding bareback a lot on my own (I'm still not cantering bareback yet), and my trainer has been having me canter in two-point a lot, so my sitting canter hasn't had much work lately.  So I've decided that two things Panama and I need to work on are our upward transitions into the canter (him on being quicker to pick up the canter, me on getting my cues a little better), and my sitting canter.  I feel pretty confident in my two-point canter, but I really want to improve that sitting canter.  I also need to get him to stop trotting faster for half a dozen strides before he picks up his canter, because that is not going to go over well if I am bareback!

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pressure washers, angry bulls, and big blue brushes, oh my!

Yesterday I made it out to the barn to ride Panama, since I hadn't had a chance on Sunday and since today's weather was supposed to be a little nasty.  I had a limited amount of time, as usual, so I decided to just hop on bareback.

There was a lot going on at the barn, though.  When I arrived one of the owners was washing out their stock trailer with some kind of pressure washer, which was quite noisy, like an air compressor.  Initially when I put Panama in the cross ties, he was fine, because he had a buddy in there who wasn't at all fazed by the noise — but as soon as the other horse left, Panama started having a mini-meltdown.  He was actually threatening to kick and rear!  He got more than a few swats for that, and settled down enough that I could pick his feet without worrying about being kicked.  We finished grooming and headed inside about the same time the guy finished washing out the trailer — how's that for timing?  But I don't mind, because it's good for Panama to be expected to stand through something scary like that every once in a while.

We rode inside even though the weather was nice, because I figured Panama had gotten amped up enough that I wanted a minimum of distractions, especially since I was bareback.  You know what they say about best laid plans!  The property owners keep cows, and since it is apparently calving time, they had put the bull in one of the turnout pens just outside the indoor arena.  While Panama and I were riding, therefore, we could hear him bellowing for his ladies and either kicking or running around.  There was a lot of noise, and Panama was quite anxious about it.  Once he started to bolt, but luckily for me he responded to the rein when I pulled him up short.  I suspect he also remembered that I was bareback — he seems to know I'm not as secure that way — because he responded to the rein much faster than he usually would.  Not the best day to decide to ride without the saddle, I suppose!

We finished our 30-minute bareback ride without incident, partly because I kept him on the other end of the arena from the bull.  (I know, I probably should have made him just get used to the noise, but hey, I was bareback, and I didn't think me falling off in a spooky moment would teach him anything except to reinforce his fears.)  We worked a bit on leg yielding, and then I worked with him a bit on stopping more on a verbal whoa instead of requiring so much rein.  He did well, as distracted as he was by the bull noises, but I think we'll have to work on it a few more times before he understands what I'm asking of him.  He stops on a verbal whoa when I lunge him, so I know he knows how, he just tends to rely too much on the bit when we ride (as do I — a habit I need to break in both of us).

Once we finished riding, I decided it would be good for him to see what was making so much noise, so I dismounted and we headed out to visit the bull.  At first he danced around and acted nervous, but after a moment I realized it wasn't the bull he was afraid of — it was the giant blue brush that was tied to the rail in the bull's turnout pen, so he could scratch himself on it I guess.  (They have them in the cow pasture too.)  Panama was terrified of that brush!  I did get him to approach it and sniff it a few times, and then he sniffed noses with the bull (whose nose was bigger than Panama's, I might add).  Apparently bulls that are at least two times your weight are nothing more than potential friends — it's the giant blue brushes you have to be careful of!  Silly pony!

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Rondo lunges, tantrum-free

Last Thursday, instead of a riding lesson I asked my trainer to work with Rondo a little bit.  I'd been passing over him lately in favor of riding Panama — primarily because Panama is easier and faster, since I can just hop on bareback — and I was feeling bad for ignoring Rondo's training.

She lunged him in the round pen so that he couldn't try running away from her again, and despite some displays of anger at the beginning, he actually ended up doing rather well.  Initially he kept trying to spin around and/or kick out, and he was clearly not focusing much on her.  When she'd use the whip to drive him forward or keep him from turning around (not whipping him, mainly just using the motion of the whip), he would toss his head and rush forward, obviously very angry about this new development called "having to work."

And then he got it.  He stopped fighting her, did what she asked when she asked, and all in all just calmed down.  It was like he realized it was easier not to fight it.  He even demonstrated that he remembered stuff she taught him two weeks ago, like bending and disengaging his hind end.  We were both really pleased with how he did once he got over being angry and indignant over having to work.

Yesterday I went out to the barn and decided to lunge him again.  It was incredibly windy, and he was a bit amped up, so we went into the indoor arena — I figured lunging him in the wind would be more explosive than lunging him in an arena with the potential for him to decide to try to run away from me.  And my trainer would probably be horrified (I haven't told her yet), but I decided to lunge him without the rope halter or lunge whip.  Both belong to friends, and I hate borrowing other people's stuff (even though I have permission), and I also hate having the lunge line and the whip to manage.  I'd prefer for Rondo to be able to be lunged without a whip one day, like Panama.

The result was surprising.  Rondo showed absolutely no flares of temper, and next to no resistance to what I was asking.  We had to work a bit on turning to stay in the circle on the side where the rail wasn't there to make him, but usually a couple of quick tugs on the line reminded him to make the turn.  He responded pretty quickly to the verbal commands for walk/walk on, trot, and whoa — it's obvious he understands them all quite well.  I did have to throw the end of the line at his butt a couple of times when he tried ignoring the commands to trot (clearly testing me), but that was all it took to get him going again.

I suspect that his good behavior had a lot to do with his last session with my trainer.  I think it finally "clicked" with him last week, and he realized that 1) he's going to have to work, and it's better to just do it than to fight it, and 2) it's not really all that bad.  It did cross my mind that the lunge whip might have been pissing him off, so his good behavior might have been because I wasn't using one, but that doesn't quite make sense since he did throw a fit and try running away from me a week and a half ago, and I wasn't using the lunge whip then, either.

In any case, I only lunged him for 10 or 15 minutes yesterday, but as well as he behaved, I think he earned that short session.  If nothing else, it will reinforce the idea that working with me is easier and more enjoyable than working against me!

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Has anyone seen my tail flap?

Horse blanket missing its tail flap

Monday afternoon I blanketed Panama and Rondo before heading over to the stock show to see the Grand Prix jumping show.  It was supposed to snow a bit and it was going to be very cold overnight, and I didn't want to wait until after I got back from the show to blanket.

As it turned out, though, I decided to stop by and check on Panama after the show — his blanket had a rip in it that I hadn't fixed yet, and I wanted to make sure it hadn't gotten wet inside.

The blanket was dry and he was warm, but he had clearly been roughhousing, because he had torn open a large rip I'd just repaired, and had lost his tail flap (which Velcros on).  I walked the corral by the light of my headlights but wasn't able to find it, so he had to spend a cold night with a little more air circulation than normal.

I did find the tail flap Tuesday morning when I came out to ride.  It needed the Velcro to be reattached in one place, and had been stamped into the poop and mud a bit, but was otherwise none the worse for wear.

I've been quite busy lately — Emma, our dog with pneumonia, took a turn for the worse over the weekend, and I've had a lot else going on, too.  I have a few other updates to blog about, though, not to mention an awesome jumping show to write about, which I will do as soon as I find the time!

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Squeezing in horse time, and keeping records

I've been too busy to blog, but I have been squeezing in some horse time here and there.  On Tuesday I was able to hop on Panama bareback for about 30 minutes.  It was the first time in a week that I'd ridden, and he was fairly well behaved considering that fact — no silly behavior, and for the most part remembered to maintain a nice calm trot (after lots of tug-of-war, he has finally learned to trot more slowly when I'm bareback and sitting the trot).  We did have to work on not speeding up in one certain spot, and we worked a lot on not cutting the corners in our small indoor arena (something we also worked on, with my trainer's guidance, during our lesson last week).

On Friday I groomed Rondo, walked him a bit, and managed about 5 minutes of lunging (sadly, no time for more).  Since we didn't have much time, we only worked to the left, his worse side.  He kicked out once, spun around, and tried to run away, but I didn't let go of the line and he stopped after a moment.  After that he tried (or threatened) one more time, but I scolded him and he straightened out.  I thought our last few laps were pretty decent, but I was out of time so we had to stop.  Trying to cram some work in before my doctor's appointment was really more for me than for him, I think, so I wouldn't continue feeling so much like I'm ignoring him — but I'd like to think he still benefited from it.

I've also discovered a new way to keep track of my work with each horse — something that will always be with me.  When we started training Panama, I kept a little notebook in my car, but stopped using it after a while.  Now that Rondo is starting out, I wanted to start keeping records for both horses, but I wanted something a little more tech-savvy, so I started browsing iPhone apps.

The dedicated horse apps didn't seem to be what I really wanted, which was just a calendar-based journal so that I could make entries with information on what we worked on, my notes, etc.  Then I thought to search for diary apps, and discovered My Daily Journal, an iPhone app that is basically just what I needed.  I can view the calendar and see at a glance what days I did stuff with the horses, tap on a date to see a list of entries, and tap on an entry to read about what we worked on.  I can also search entries, use pictures as backgrounds for individual entries, export entries as PDFs, and back up in Dropbox

My Daily Journal app for keeping track of horseback rides and horse training

My Daily Journal app for keeping 
track of horseback rides and horse training

Typing on the little touch screen isn't as easy as on the computer, of course, but I like it better than keeping a notebook — I can back it up, and it's always with me, regardless of which car I'm driving or whether I'm actually at the barn.  Lots of awesome for only $1.99!

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Making time for horses

My life has been a little nuts lately.  On New Year's Eve Day, our dog Emma, who has been sick with pneumonia, had to go to the doggy ER.  Although she'd been doing seemingly better on Friday (which was why we didn't take her back in to see the vet), on Saturday she stopped eating and drinking entirely.  What else can you do with a dog who won't drink?  Not a lot of options there, so into the ER we went.

As you can imagine, with a dog in the hospital, New Year's Eve was pretty low-key.  I'm almost ashamed to say that both hubby and I were in bed by about 11:30.  He fell asleep shortly thereafter, and I stayed awake reading a biography of Lincoln until about 12:30.  We are such geeks.  (The biography was really good, though.  It was the photobiography by Russell Freedman, and I highly recommend it for any history buffs out there.)

After two nights in the hospital, Emma was released with two prescriptions for antibiotics (one of which cost almost $10 a pill!) — different ones than the kind that was making her stop eating — an anti-nausea medication, and a prescription for an appetite stimulant.  So many pills, but they seem to be doing the trick — she's eating, not quite so much as before she got sick, but a health amount, and she's drinking, too.  Her energy levels are up, her cough is sounding more productive (and less frequent), and she's feeling good enough to beg for treats and to go outside.

With Emma on the mend (though it'll be a long path — pneumonia takes some time to fully go away, from what I've been told), I finally got some horsey time in.  To make up for my missed lesson last week, I had two lessons this week, Tuesday and today.  On Tuesday I rode Panama, and he was surprisingly good for being largely ignored for the past two weeks.  (I'm sure it helped that he had a playdate with Spaghetti on Sunday.)  This morning I was quite sore, though, and I was feeling bad for having neglected Rondo so much lately — pretty much any time I was able to set aside some horsey time, Panama got the lion's share of my attention, being the rideable one.  So today we lunged Rondo.

Unfortunately, Rondo was feeling the effects of having been ignored (except for basic grooming and blanketing) for the past month, and was a bit of a pill.  He was more reactive and defensive than his usual, and seemed to have forgotten basic rules like "Don't step on humans."  My trainer lunged him, and he immediately showed a marked preference for moving clockwise (counter-clockwise is Panama's better direction, so it seems like in this, too, they are polar opposites).  He tried running away from my trainer several times while going to the left, and at one point virtually dragged her all the way across to the other side of the arena before giving up.

My trainer pointed out that, especially while moving to the left, Rondo was very stiff and kept his hip cocked in a little bit, in case he felt he needed to kick out and protect himself.  (And he did try a few times.)  As a result, she ended up working with him for a long time on bending and learning to disengage his butt and step away with his hind end.

My trainer working with my really big baby horse

I feel bad, because much of this behavior is resurfacing from over the summer.  It had more or less gone away as I'd spent more time with him, but obviously his "vacation" in December had him convinced his working days were over.  I have faith that we'll get back on track quickly, but I need to make a more concerted effort in January to get out there at least three or four times a week!

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