little miss smarty pants

Another day, another ride on MBM that just blows me away.  This mare is seriously the Goldilocks of project rides for me.  She’s sensitive, but not so sensitive that I feel out-horsed or like I’m not sure what to do with her.  And she’s just so dang smart that things stick really well, and I can really feel the progress from week to week. It’s shocking that just a month (and less than 15 rides) ago I was cow-kicking her around in a circle smack in the center of the arena because we couldn’t work anywhere else without getting glued to the wall. She is a rare “baby” horse who makes me feel like I’m a pretty okay rider.

classic MBM — one ear always listening

MBM has continued to struggle with her left lead canter.  She seemed a bit mentally blocked about it under saddle, since she could pick it up pretty much every time on the lunge line.  But I’ve also been predominantly working her right side, and encouraging her to get her right shoulder under her, so maybe that had something to do with it. Her problem is also a bit two-fold: when you ask for the canter she wants to TROTROTROTROTROTROTROT instead, and then her inclination is to jump into the right lead.  So it’s not the easiest transition to manage.

On Tuesday I took her for a quick spin on the lunge line to get us both thinking about canter transitions before hopping on for a quick ride.  MBM got them every time on the line again, so I resolved to just keep kissing until she picked up the left lead.  Of course my first kiss attempt led MBM to leap into the right lead canter, so I transitioned back to trot and slowed us down to get organized for the transition.  Somehow in the process of getting us organized I sat for a beat and let my left hip swoop forward and BOOM — awesome left canter transition.

i mean, not every horse can be blessed with these magical canter transitions

I popped up in the stirrups and gave the mare lots of praise, then down transitioned and tried it again. Boom.  Another awesome canter transition.  I seriously didn’t even have to move my outside leg back, just the light sweeping of my seat into the motion of canter set her going.  Same thing to the right.  Sit for a beat, sweep the right hip forward and MAJIK.  To the right it was even more magical because it helped me and MBM keep her shoulder underneath her and the right canter was gorgeous and balanced.

On Wednesday I hopped on her again to do the same thing.  While the hip-swoop is an awesome, quiet canter transition cue, it’s not really a cue that most people are familiar with, so I want to get MBM used to the idea that someone might put their leg back (and not ask for her haunches to move over) as well.  She was a little more annoyed and swishy because we went into the arena with two other horses, and it is deeply offensive to see other horses nearby but not be allowed to talk to them or spend time with them.  But once again, the canter was right there.

There was a little more durm und strang in this ride, as I decided to work on transitions on a circle (canter 3/4 circle, trot 1/4, canter 3/4, &c.) and that was not appreciated very much.  It seems that MBM didn’t like the amount of direction she was getting from me — she can still be a bit broodmare-y sometimes and doesn’t think that little pipsqueaks such as myself get to have opinions.  And that’s okay.  I kept at it, and we did the things, even if the circles were ever-increasing in size and egg-shaped.  And sometimes you just have to push a little bit.

You know what we didn’t have to fight or discuss at all this week?  Keeping her right shoulder underneath her, or walking on the rail, or changing directions between circles.  Those things were a big deal last week, and now they’re just things MBM can do.


another mom-bod who is feeling much happier after unloading 9 sucking parasites

We’ll need to start thinking seriously about rhythm within gaits next.  MBM tends to speed up or slow down as her whims direct, especially around the transitions.  Pretty much every training challenge we’ve come across has been so different from Murray — he had two clear canter leads when I got to him, his canter was one of his stronger gaits, and he’s always been pretty rhythmic, if lazy — so it’s a learning experience for both of us!

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baby horse perspectives

Riding has been a bit off and on lately.  The smoke from the Napa fires sometimes gets pushed south into the Bay Area, and we have great air — so riding is on the table.  Sometimes it creeps over the hills and fills the valley, and to help preserve everyone’s lungs I cancel my rides.  I don’t think anyone minds the schedule.  Especially since there’s newborn puppies to stare at in my barn manager’s house!

Mug shots 🐾

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I also took Tuesday off and volunteered at Napa Valley Horsemen’s Arena.  It was one of the evacuation centers for livestock during the fires, and they are happily starting to empty stalls.  Stalls West must have hustled up and dropped stalls off really quickly, because I recognized stickers from Camelot on their temporary barns.  The operation ran really smoothly.  As one might expect, the morning was the very busiest, as we took temperatures on every horse (with some not-totally-reliable ten second thermometers) and mucked and fed.  There was a big lull around 1 when we were done with all the urgent stuff, and so the veterinarian directed us to turn a couple of big mares (who had been stuck for a few weeks in mare motels) out into a free arena.  The girls trotted around a bit, rolled about ten times, and were not unhappy to come back in.  We considered turning out other horses, but as some were very hard to catch even in a mare motel, and I had no idea about the soundness or restrictions on any of them, without direct vet supervision I was uncomfortable with that plan.

We also helped load up a bunch of horses and a couple of pet steers to go back home, which was awesome for them.  Lots of people have been released to go home, and while a shocking number of structures were lost, because of the shape and size of the fires, many who were evacuated were spared.  The facility is switching over now to keep their sights on long-term care of the animals who won’t be able to go home — for perhaps months or years, as the infrastructure (wooden bridges or electrical/gas conduit) is rebuilt.  It’s going to be a long haul for some people, and I’m so glad that the community stepped up to help.  I’m really glad that we’re seeing the end of these fires too.

Lip shimmer game on point

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On Wednesday I got back at it, and had a lesson on the mom-bod mare (now MBM) with B, as I’ve not been able to get her to canter left for… a week or so.  Oddly enough, B told me that she had never gotten MBM to canter left, only right.  So I’d somehow unlocked something in there in previous rides, only to lose it.

MBM was a little up and not listening to my seat as much as she usually does, but it was fine.  B had me slow my post way down and I half  halted through my thighs, and we got back in tune.  She is definitely one of those horses who gets tense, braces, and rushes when she’s confused or off-balance.  Thinking about tempo and getting her comfortable with moving her body in different ways is going to be key here.  But I was very pleased to feel that her steering was vastly improved from my last ride, where we fought about turning left at the wall for a solid ten minutes.

throwback to when Murray couldn’t turn left either

We tried a couple of canter transitions and I only managed to get the right lead, so B suggested pushing MBM’s haunches in a little.  That was the trick, and we got the left lead on the first try.  The super neat thing here is that I’m now experienced and subtle enough that I could push her haunches over just a little, even with the mare feeling a little bracey and rushed, and not over-do it or get weird about it.  MBM immediately locked herself into “race mode canter” and whizzed around the arena while I tried to get her back underneath me and listening.  I could feel myself bracing in my heels and letting them get ahead of me while I tried to half halt with my hands and actively fought that position, but it’s hard when letting the reins loosen and getting your leg back under you just results in feeling like you’re going too fast and have no hands on the wheel.

The trick was turning MBM into a 20 meter circle so she didn’t have the long sides to use as an excuse.  B had me half halt hard with the outside rein and keep my legs on, then soften with both reins.  We actually managed a full circle in a pretty quality canter, which was awesome.  So the next step here is going to be transitioning from this freight-train canter into a controlled canter more quickly.  This is the place where sometimes her former brood-mare-y-ness bugs me: I feel like MBM is bossing me around, like “I’m the mom, I tell you what to do.”  And I’m like “no, I’M THE MO– I mean, I’m the leader, I tell you what to do!”


murray antics for everyone’s appreciation

Right canter was a similar struggled, but I was once again really happy to feel that MBM had taken some of our previous fights to heart and was getting off my inside leg much more promptly.  B cautioned me not to let her bait me into pulling the right rein.  She pops her head and neck to the left in a counter-flex, so in response I flex her back right.  But once we flex to the right, she falls in to the right, and does so hard (like, in a few of our previous rides I thought we were going to crash into a jump standard).  So I had to slow the tempo down, flex right, then keep her off my right leg, and weight my left stirrup a little so she didn’t feel quite so inclined to just motorcycle to the inside.

It was a great lesson to confirm my instincts and feel the progress we are making.  Along with MBM’s slimming down and muscling up, B said she can see her gaits improving and extending, and that the mare’s canter has gone from pace-y to more three-beat.  Which is fantastic!

After my lesson, I tried to hand walk Murray for an hour and gave up around 40 minutes. HAND WALKING IS SO BORING OMG.  But I’m trying to get him out a bit more to help push some of the interstitial fluid out from around the leg hole.  He’s becoming more and more of a pill about bandage changes, so my goal is to tire him out a bit with hand walking (which he finds both tiring and boring) before I change it today, and see if he can’t be more reasonable for it.  The hole is healing it’s just doing so at it’s own absurdly slow pace.

But my vet and all my vet and tech friends assure me that it will heal. As they always seem to do.  Even if it does take forever.

want to get back to this please

 

new baby horses, new lessons

Murray has been on post-injection stall rest for a few days, so I’ve been riding some of trainer B’s sales/training/baby horses for fun.  I mean, it was also one of my summer “plans“.  So ya know.

Ponyboy was actually real cute this weekend when I took him out for a handwalk. We walked all over the arena and back and forth over the scary, terrifying, horse-eating tarp. I unhooked the leadrope to let him roll, but Murray continued to just follow me around, including back and forth over the tarp!  Totally at liberty.  Like, please, horse: tug on my heart strings some more.

And man.  It’s been a while since I’ve had really prolonged contact with really green/baby horses.  I forgot about all the baby horse things.  Like, walking literally on top of me when I ask them to step up toward the tacking up area.  Or walking at a snail’s pace and literally making me drag them in from the pasture.  (WHY baby horse, WHY? I give you carrots in the barn?!)

But they are good teachers — almost always.  You just have to listen.  Here are some of my recent lessons.

awwwwh look at da baby murray!

you catch more flies with honey

Baby horses don’t know things. Like, sometimes they don’t know any of the things. And there’s only so much beating dragging one can do of a horse who just doesn’t know what the hell is expected of him.  I have some pretty strict expectations when it comes to ground manners in the horses I’m working with.  I realized that this is SUPER LAUGHABLE, since my horse has something like the second worst ground manners on Earth.  But in all honesty, when he’s in a non-stressful situation he knows how to behave around a human — even if he doesn’t want to do it.  The really green horses I’ve worked with have conveniently forgotten all of their racetrack manners — and I know they had them.  I try my hardest not to let them get away with bad behavior (easy, because I seem to use up all of my patience and tolerance on my own horse), and frequently praise the good behavior verbally, as well as with pats and carrots.

auto-narration of my exploits

Because I’m nearly constantly praising or scolding the young horses, I find that I’m nearly constantly talking to them. I kinda like this auto-narration of my rides and ground work.  Not only does it make me feel super important (hah), but it also keeps me thinking about what we’re doing, instead of letting me mindlessly slip into bad habits.

this track pic is so murray
photog: murray/ricothefreako, look at the camera, these are your sale pics!
murray/recothefreako: there’s a thing over there!!

my expecations are way higher now

I used to get on baby horses or other peoples’ horses and let them flop around on a loose rein and be like “wow, they are so cute!”  And I still do that now… kinda.  But then I pick up the reins and ask them for a little bit more.  I don’t need alot, I just need them to put themselves together a little bit.  This seems to be the part where most of the baby horses are like WOAH WHAT.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a horse to learn to start stretching laterally and longitudinally, using their back, and not falling through their shoulders.  I mean, obviously not all at once.  And not for long periods of time.  But these are things that sport horses need to learn.  And we can chip away at them one step at a time.

These days it drives me nuts when a horse responds to what I consider a relatively simple aid by doing the exact opposite (yield to the inside rein =/= stick out your jaw and lean on my hand).  Or even not doing it at all.  DON’T YOU KNOW I’M TRYING TO HELP YOU, BABY HORSES?!

It’s no longer acceptable to me to take no for an answer to these requests.  I do my level best not to be mean about it, and to praise mightily (see above) when I get what I want.  I even back off if the question I’m asking is too hard or incomprehensible.  Every ride I’m putting on these horses is training them one way or the other, and I don’t want to train them that “no” is an okay response to a reasonable request.

the training scale

This thing is golden and was has lasted forever for a reason.  If we’ve got nothing, I know where I need to start: rhythm.  On the flip side, it makes me wonder how some of the older horses I’ve ridden have gotten away so long without this crucial skill…


baby horse goes jump jump

distance makes the heart grow fonder

Riding babies makes me think of nothing so much as how badly I just want my own horse back.  Murray know how to do all the things I want, just the way I want them, pretty much when I want them.  I love you and miss you Murray.  Feel 100% REAL QUICK plz.

 

in the green

A couple of weeks ago Karen posted about the behaviors Eli has adapted and developed while under her care. So while I’ve been sulking about the fact that I don’t have a job, don’t have a house, and don’t own anything of value except Murray, I started doing the same and comforted myself quite a bit.  Murray has made a ton of progress in our time together, and it is nothing to sneeze about.

wp-1464679577850.jpgCamelot Horse Trials -- but mostly tribulations!
The resemblance really is striking…

So I made my own chart.  Murray’s previous behaviors are listed on the left, and comments on the right.  I color-coded the comments as red (no change/still bad), yellow (some progress), and green (legit progress!) and gave a little description about them.  I also realised that Murray is waaaay weirder on the ground than he is under saddle.  Like… a lot.

ground behaviors

under saddle

There’s a lot of green in these charts.  That is a lot to be proud of, even if I don’t own a house.

lessons from baby horses

It seems like at least half the teachers in my horse education are baby horses themselves.  They are wise and clever and sneaky in their baby horse ways.  Murray has taught me a lot, but he was just one horse, and it turns out there’s still a lot to learn.  Trainer took students to Fresno County Horse Park this weekend, so and I was in town for once, so of course I offered to work the baby horses (all two of them…  but I also worked two friends’ babies so that kinda counts).  And I had a pretty neat little a-ha moment while doing so.

First up was zennMr. Zen, who is very cute but pretty lazy.  He thinks he’s too cute to lunge.  He wasn’t directly disobedient, but any time I asked him to slow down he used it as an excuse to turn to the inside to avoid more work.  He was quite clever, too, and knew that if he just kept himself pointed slightly away from me he could most effectively spin his hind end away from me.  But I buckled down and engaged ninja mode, and focused on just the most basic of lunging manners.  Zen was somewhat shocked by these rules, but I let up and praised him mightily after just 3 good circles with polite walk-halt transitions. Result?  Today we only had one disagreement about it.  I still had to be quick and I obviously couldn’t text and lunge the same way I can when I’m working Murray (pinnacle of safety over here), but massive improvement.  This is standard baby horse training, though, and not the massive a-ha moment.

The a-ha moment came when I was working little Marshawn Lynch.  Marshawn’s only tasks in life right now are to relax and learn to go and woah when asked, both on the lunge line and under saddle.  Marshawn was a little tense on the lunge though, so it was a bit tough for him to get the “woahhhs” through his ears.  But even baby horses relax eventually, and so when I saw Marshawn slow his step and stretch out his topline a bit I took advantage of that moment to say “woahhh,” and Marshawn came to a walk.  Super.  Back up to a trot, and this time Marshawn was quicker to relax, so we came back to a walk easily.  I repeated this a few times in each direction, and I could really see the wheels turning in little Marshawn’s head as I said “woah” and then put a little pressure on the lunge line.  It was very cool, and a good example of antecedent-behavior-consequence training.

Antecedent: I say “woah”
Behavior: Marshawn slows
Consequence: praise, less pressure

The neat part to me was connecting all the piece of the training.  First, rewarding Marshawn for relaxing on the lunge line, which is a huge thing to me.  I’m not interested in contributing to tension, or making a horse who just wants to run around on the lunge like a maniac.  I don’t mind getting your yayas out, but lunging is also for work, yo!  Marshawn visibly relaxed in the first lunging session and was much more relaxed coming into the second session.  Second, putting together the voice aids (woah, clucking/kissing) with the behavior Marshawn was already demonstrating — relaxation or slowing.  And finally, adding in the lunge aids (which will contribute to rein aids, as the lunge goes to the bit) with the voice aids.  All just one piece of the puzzle of creating a well-trained horse.

I love learning from baby horses!!  They are so fun.

When your trainer goes out of town and you get to play with all the baby #ottb's #ridealltheponies

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we interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for this important announcement

FEIST IS HERE!!

IMG_20160421_090725

Last year Murray’s trainer bred a mare that she adores (Breaking Daylight) but who couldn’t cut it on the track to her winning stallion, Coach Bob.  She wanted Scarlett to have somewhere quiet and peaceful for her pregnancy, to foal out, and raise the foal; enter my trainer’s house.

Since Scarlett arrived last year I’ve been grooming her to be my bestie so she would let me play with her baby once it arrived. It wasn’t exactly hard, as she’s a very sweet mare, but I put in some time rubbing her ears kissing her nose.  Scarlett’s pregnancy dragged on and on and on and on…. until 1 AM this morning.

IMG_20160421_093315

Trainer found a healthy filly in Scarlett’s stall at 1 AM.  I headed out this morning to help with a few antenatal chores and — DUH — to see baby!!!  Baby was brave and feisty when I got in there, so I promptly christened her Feist. B agreed with my naming when we tried to put a halter on her — this overcooked little nugget was rearing and kicking out and an absolute firecracker!

IMG_20160421_092535Horse placentas are enormous!

I spent some time investigating the placenta and exploring its stupendous neatness.  So cool!  For one, enormous.  For two, the ceins and cords are all ropy and magnificent.  The bit fat horn (I think it’s called the pregnant horn?) feels like velvet.  Insane coolness in there.

IMG_20160421_095729Mama Scarlett keeps a watchful eye.

Prepare yourself for many gratuitous baby pics, since I will be out at B’s place pretty often this Summer.  For now, enjoy a ten-hour-old filly’s first day in the world!

IMG_20160421_095557I love dis wall.

IMG_20160421_090908Give me the noms!  Don’t you think she’s tall compared to her mama?

time heals most things

Adult Camp 2016 was interesting for many reasons.

DSC_0256-2I don’t know why I anticipate this image showing up on the blog a lot.

This was Murray’s third adult camp.  I took him to his first one as a measly five year old, only six months into our relationship, and we haven’t missed one since.

At five, I didn’t have high expectations of Murray at camp.  I don’t remember my exact plans, though I do remember that I conceived of this blog during that time when I was watching my friends deal with delightful baby horse antics that required plenty of zen.  Back to the horsey side of things, I know that Murray was as good as I could have expected him to be at that camp, impressing me with some adorable baby horse jumps and even letting me relax enough to goof off a bit on the XC course.

Murray 2Ever-loving dork.

But Murray also absolutely melted. down.  During our cross country school, which was in a group of friend horses and friend people and was a mix of elementary and BN fences, Murray quit about 15 minutes before the end of our lesson.  He wouldn’t walk forward, only backward, and when I tried to employ a technique that I learned reading a Chrono of the Horse article about backing Murray all the way to our next fence he practically sat down.  So that was a no-go.  So for a quarter hour I dealt with a horse tossing his head and spinning and deciding he could only do things in one direction — ass first — unless pointed directly at a fence and about three strides away from said fence.  B had to walk us right up to several fences and Murray jumped them from practically on top of her.

Murray 1Sometimes we try so hard and are so goddamn cute.

Adult camp 2015 was also an epic success.  We did many things.  We jumped many things.  We didn’t even totally suck at dressage.  Murray had come full circle by camp 2015 — after camp 2014 he had lost the ability to school cross country in groups at all, and sometimes even just melted down and went backwards for no reason in the arena at home.  One day a fifteen year old had to walk us back and forth through the middle of the arena so Murray could get back to the gate.  Fun times.

IMG_9513Using a newer, bigger neck!

This year, I watched several of my friends struggle with their horses — not necessarily SERIOUS struggles, but there were horses that were fresh and leaping and throwing out all kinds of antics — one poor guy totally melted down on XC for no reason and ended up nearly kicking his own hind boots off, and walked back to the stables in a froth with one boot off and one boot partially on.

In response to this, some of my friends were understandably perturbed.  Their normally sensible, reasonable, rational, and in some cases campaigner horses, were going completely off the rails for apparently no reason — especially since almost everyone had visited Camelot and schooled there before.  And the whole time I was like “don’t worry, it will get better.”

I know, I know.  Rich coming from me.

But I do know it gets better.  I do know that horses get more sensible and dressage court shenanigans get more grounded, and cross country celebrations get more rideable.  It’s not necessarily easy or quick or fun, but if your horse doesn’t hate cross country (and isn’t in legitimate pain and and and possibly a whole host of other things), every calm, stress-limited outing translates into more sensible future outings.

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I was lucky, because Murray frontloaded all the bullshit.  Pretty much anything he felt like throwing at me, he threw at me at home.  He didn’t save it for special occasions, saving up his bucks and kicks and freakouts for trips away from home or presentations in front of a clinician.  He let me know any and all of his feelings any and all of the times that he felt them.  There was no quiet, reasonable horse at home, replaced by a wild, spooky, exuberant demon away from home.  The spooky, exuberant demon let himself be seen whenever so much as an errant jump standard was in the wrong place in the arena.  So I really do have a very solid foundation suggesting that the bullshit that comes during outings really does go away.  It went away at home, so that seems to suggest it will go away from home, right??  I mean, it’s the only a priori evidence I’ve got, so I gotta run with it.

If my horse, my completely insensible, ridiculous, idiotic, sometimes total moron of a horse can learn to be quiet and reasonable on cross country?  Well, there’s hope for all of them then.

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(Honestly, Murray wasn’t even that unreasonable.  He wasn’t dangerous, didn’t rear, didn’t actually, legitimately threaten my life.  He just let everybody know, in no uncertain terms, that he was having feelings.  But on the other hand, I don’t think any of the horses I know are so far from “average” that they really fall into a different learning curve than he did.)

So don’t worry.  It gets better.  Most things do!