Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Something is Starting to Take Flight

"The moment trust and confidence overcome fear and instinct, 
is the moment your relationship takes flight."

I thought I was having company last night, but they ended up running late, which allowed me to grab Bee and walk her to the evening ground clinic next door.  There were seven horses in the clinic, all new to Bee and, trapped inside the indoor arena, she had never, in the ten years I've had her, been in a situation so seemingly vulnerable.

Her entire body shook at my side: the muscles in her hind end, her shoulder, her legs--she was quivering from tail to nose, and my heart broke for her.  I wanted to assure her that it was okay and to take away her fear.  But I couldn't.  Instead, I was as tender as I could be, as strong as I could be, as reassuring as I could be. 

Though she was so truly terrified, she still stood her ground by my side.  She did not push into me. She did not try to pull away. She did not whinny for help.

As we began to lead them around the arena, I tried to hide my own fear that she would do something dangerous--overreact to an obstacle, another horse, a sound, a shadow.  

But she didn't.

When the ground work started--which she did entirely flawlessly--moving out both directions, turning, whoaing, taking up different leads--she was as sensitive as a whisper, and she had started to calm.

One horse drew back in his circle--trying to flee our direction--and she stopped on her circle and looked at me.  I reassured her and asked to move back out--she did.

It is moments like that which make me feel like my heart is growing for her--just swelling out of my chest with love for her. You know--that aching, happy, longing feeling you get.

Something is definitely starting to take flight.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The More You're Willing to Take Chances On a Horse

Live like you're going to die.
Because we are.

Day 107

There's a natural progression occurring inside me, and it's this: I work with my horse, I grow closer to my horse, I am willing to take chances with my horse.

On Day 107, I worked on loading Bee into the trailer and having her stand tied as I rode Leah in the arena.  She refused to self-load, but she loaded and unloaded with me very well.

Day 108

On day 108, I ponied B behind Cowboy around our property.  Cowboy wasn't the best participant.  He kept sending her signals to stay way behind, so I had to bring her up and pet them both until he was okay with her being next to us.  He never got as okay as I'd want him.

When we finished, I put Cowboy away and walked Bee to the barn next door to watch jumping practice.  It was good for Bee to see the continuity between the barn and our house.  Afterall, she's going to be there a lot this winter.

 Day 109

On day 109, I walked to the barn next door to help my friend with her horse and ride Leah.  Most of the time ended up being spent teaching her horse to stand at the mounting block.  I did ride Leah bareback for a while, too.

That night, I walked her and Cowboy over to the barn again for a chiropractor appointment.

I need to work with her on bending every day.  Her neck is tight.

Day 110

On Day 110, I worked with Beautiful, oiled my saddle and bridles, and waited for 5 tons of hay to be delivered.

The cats love their hay castle!

Day 111

Day 111 was the last trail ride for the summer clinic series.  It was challenging.  Lots of steep hills, narrow paths, pavement with speeding bicycles and lots of pedestrians, a large bridge, and a water crossing.

At the half way point, by this water crossing, we had a picnic lunch.  I was with my granddaughter and my son-in-law.

Foxy, my son-in-law's horse, had to take the lead, and she was quite jiggy at first.  There was a very loud ORV park at the trail head and it was busy that day...and loud!  However, when we got to the steep stuff--the really hard terrain--she mellowed out and did great.  She's a horse that needs a job.

Leah was a little antsy at first, too, but got better as the ride progressed.  It was five hours in total.

Leah really surprised me in one section.  It was super steep and sandy--with some rocks thrown in here and there--and the horses had to really sit back to make it down.  I had never seen Leah do that successfully, but she did that day.  She really sat back and put on the brakes when she had to.  There was a moment when we started to slide, but she had us covered with her big back brake on.  I think she was surprised, too. (And, I think the chiropractor work had helped to get better communication between her front and back end.)

Another tough obstacle for us was the water.  At first, she wouldn't get in at all, let alone cross. She stopped at the water's edge, and when I tried to urge her in with my legs, I could see a fight brewing.  So, I got off and worked with  her.

It only took a few minutes, and when I remounted, she went right in with Penny and Foxy.

It was a great day of learning and bonding.  I developed  more trust in Leah's abilities, and she developed more trust in herself.  Rebecca, my trainer, says that next year will probably be her year for getting those trail feet under her and becoming that bomb-proof mount.  We'll be doing clinics all through winter to help that happen.

Day 112

My granddaughters spent the weekend with us, and my younger granddaughter is becoming a horsewoman in her own right.  She is determined to learn about horses.  Last spring, we welcomed Little Joe into our family to be her horse to learn on.  

My friend, who gave him to me, told me he'd make an awesome kid's horse, but I didn't know for sure.

Turns out, she was understating that fact.  He is an awesome kid's horse times 100.  He walked like a gentleman with little Cat on his back.  He did everything she asked like a pro, and he took the most careful, cautious steps!

Afterward, her sister wanted to ride him, too, and she took off trotting and loping.  He did it all.  Then, Cat got back on and he went right back to walking. What a horse!!  And, I think he likes the kids.  He's better with them than he is with me. 

After this ride with the girls--I rode Cowboy bareback and showed off my skill at loping sans saddle--the girls were impressed!  Remember those posts last spring?  Well, all that work paid off.  I can ride Cowboy bareback at every gait--as seamlessly as if he were wearing a saddle.  I love it!

After we put the horses away, Sophie helped me train Bee to self-load, using the technique from the clinic--two long lunge lines tied together.  It worked awesome!!  She loaded and unloaded all by herself. 


Today, I went out to see Beautiful Girl to bring her in for ground work, but as we left the pasture, the black clouds rolled in.  I stopped and unhooked her.  She stood and let me pet on her and talk to her.  She didn't seem to want to leave my side. Eventually, I walked away, but as I turned, there she was watching me in the same spot.  I got to the barn and fed the fish in my trough--she was still standing watching me in that spot.  She stood in that spot until I was half way back to the house.  

And, like that, I had this feeling that I want to take a chance with that horse.  

I want to ride Beautiful Girl.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Bee Works to Overcome Her Fears, as I Work to Overcome My Own

The terrible air quality, with all the fires in our area, slowed us down, but it didn't totally stop us.  I've continued to work with Bee--as we call her now--on trailer loading, hauling, standing tied, and driving from the ground.

We had a wonderful all day clinic Saturday with my trainer, Rebecca.  She taught us her system of teaching horses to self-load and unload--which is a much safer way to do it, and much needed.  Bee had gotten to the point that she was trying to turn around in her divider before the divider was open.  She was also rushing out of the trailer backwards.  We needed some tools to teach her to slow down and to also be prepared for the "just in case" moments.

While we went over the lecture portion of the clinic, I let Bee out in the arena with tried-and-true Money Penny, aka, Penny.

And, we practiced standing tied, which is a prerequisite for being able to stand tied in the trailer.

Rebecca introduced her to the "Be Nice" halter.

It worked wonders for Bee.  She immediately gave to the pressure.  I'm going to buy one.

Rebecca showed us the technique for teaching to self-load.  Two long lines hooked together and ran through the front window.  The horse is on the line and you're allowing them to choose to go in.  If they run backwards, you have enough line to hold them (wear thick gloves!!), and then you just ask again.  Unloading goes the same way.  You have the lead rope on the horse, but you also have the long line and you ask them to step backward while giving more and more rope.

Here she is working Bee into her small 2-horse slant.  That went well, loading and unloading.

We moved on to my trailer.  Bee loaded, but wanted to turn and bolt out when she got in there alone. Rebecca had control of her with this long line.  She's asking her to stand in the trailer at this point.

She also closed the divider and opened it, which is when Bee has wanted to bolt, but she kept her head around.

When she asked Bee to back out, Rebecca exited the trailer to the side. Bee ran backwards as fast as she could and kept going.  She would have lost her with a regular lead rope, but the long line held.  She loaded and unloaded Bee again and again until this last phase, where she did much, much better.

Today, I went out and worked on tying, loading, self-loading, unloading, driving from the ground, and getting on her myself.

The self-loading didn't go well because I didn't have long lines.  I asked her to self-load from her side, but she would only put in her front feet.  We did that over and over.  Then, I got in and asked her to follow.  She did.  We stood around for a while and I asked her to unload politely.  She did.  We repeated that over and over.  I closed her divider, then opened it, untied her, and asked her to back out nicely.  All good.

From there we moved to driving her from the ground.  I did that with the reins in hand, rather than long lines.  It was awkward, but she allowed me to turn her, back her, whoa and move out.

At that point, I took her to the mounting block and she was excellent at letting me on.  I may have a broken toe from slamming my foot into a barbell, so I chose to go bareback, as to avoid the pain of a stirrup.

I was very scared and my heart was beating like crazy.  I petted her, jumped off from both sides several times, and remounted, and bent her in, but I didn't ask her to move out.  I knew that, at this point, I wouldn't be able to get back on if something went wrong. I don't think I'd have the nerve, and continuing forward is a must. She has only had four rides, and I don't feel ready.  When I know we're communicating from the ground, and she seems more relaxed, I may feel  more confident.

But until then, I'm going to keep filling in the holes.  Everything she's doing is much better than before.  She stands tied better, she was better for the farrier today, she loads better.

This winter I'll be doing a colt starting clinic, with Bee, next door.  I'll also do a follow-up clinic with Leah, for more advanced horses, on a following weekend each month.

One step at a time, but Beautiful Girl and I will get there--together...

each of us having to overcome our fears.

Monday, September 4, 2017

For a Mustang, Boredom Training is Torture

"When a horse doesn't do what you tell him, you think you've lost. 

It's not about winning or losing. 
A horse doesn't even know what that means. 
If something goes wrong, you start over. 
You have to accept defeat to gain success." - Ray Hunt

Boredom Training: Day One

After the little bucking fit last week, Rebecca's post-analysis really stood out to me.  She said, "It was as if B got bored with going in circles and she just had enough." She said she could feel it coming on the previous ride and was expecting it that night.  So, it didn't really come out of nowhere.  Did a wasp land on her? Did Rebecca touching her butt right before it happened bother her?

Maybe.  But my mind went back to the times B is standing tied, hits a wall of boredom, and starts to pull back.

It hit me, whatever the catalyst, the problem with her being able to stand still and rest is a root issue that has to be addressed.

To plug that hole, I started boredom training the very next day, tying her to the trailer, by herself, in the a.m., as I cleaned the horse trailer.  And, then again that evening, with a buddy.  Her evening tying session lasted an hour and a half, as my husband and I sat in my Cowgirl Cave directly in back of them.

B did great--for an hour--then, she got bored and started pawing, threatening Little Joe, and not eating her hay.

I wrote Rebecca to tell her what I was doing, and she wrote back:

Good plan breaking her from being a herd horse. Being a broke horse will be hard for a bit for her.

Boredom Training: Day 2

If  Beautiful is any indication, it's tough for a Mustang to be bored.  They're always wanting to do.  Rebecca said she's rarely seen a Mustang that isn't the enforcer in the herd.  Beautiful is definitely our enforcer.  

On day 2 of Boredom Training, or How to be a broke horse, or How to be a less herd bound horse...whatever  you want to call it, all the same, I loaded her in our trailer and hauled her two houses down to the barn. That is our barn in the background of the above photo.  Beautiful as not at all happy she could see her herd, but not get to them.  

She did good in the trailer, loading and unloading.  She was on high alert, with all the new horses, and knowing hers were so close, but separated by fences.   Despite that, she did walk well on the lead and had no problem navigating the barn and aisle-ways to the indoor arena.

Inside, Rebecca told me to let her go.

At first, she was a sweet heart, checking out the scary periphery, then coming back to us, venturing further out, coming back, and on and on.

However, after she finally made it to the scariest things in the arena, and touched them, there was nothing more to stimulate her mind, and it was as if whatever happened during the bucking fit was happening again.  

She had come to tell me, "Hey, mom, I saw the scary things. Conquered the scary things.  Been there, done that. Now, take me home."

I basically said, "No, honey, you go entertain yourself for a while as we sit here and chat."

And, the wild rumpus began.  There was trotting, cantering, head tossing, pawing, an all out brat attack.  She was like a teenager playing heavy metal in their bedroom so that the parents have to hear their anger.  She knew she couldn't make me leave, but she was trying to send signals that she was very unhappy with my choices.

Rebecca threw her a bone.  She walked out and started to build obstacles for her.  Beautiful followed her around as she did this, as if she was so wishing she could use her hooves as hands and do the work for Rebecca.  

I can't say she every fully rested like we'd want to see, but there were moments of rest and they were rewarded by moving outside and walking around the property.  

The work we're doing right now may seem small, boring (hopefully), and, to some, pointless--but I beg to differ.  Every horse is unique, and recognizing what each individual horse needs in order to progress, is always a good thing.

When we were done in the indoor, I went around scooping up B's mess--she followed at my elbow every step of the way--thinking, wanting to do it for me, trying to figure out a way that she could.  I love that about her.  I love that she's a thinking and doing horse--a horse who loves rules and knowing what the rules are--then enforcing them.  

When her basic personality can be tempered with a little patience and trust in a new--human--herd, we will be well on the way to a wonderful trail partnership.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sometimes, The Best Choice Is To Dismount

I don't think I mentioned my 99th day yet, so I'm going to backtrack and title this post: Sometimes, the Best Choice is To Dismount.  Because, ....well, you'll know soon enough.

My 99th Day was a wildlife preserve called James T Slavin.  It's a rather large wooded area with a giant marsh in the middle. The marsh attracts all kinds of wild birds--geese, ducks, swans--you name it.  The woods attract all kinds of wildlife--deer, coyote, and moose.  The grasses grow quite tall--often above the head of your horse, and things can fly out from underneath those grasses, or scurry across the path from the grasses--at any moment.

On our ride, we encountered two issues which tested Leah and myself.

The first was a very steep, narrow path with a large drop-off.  We tackled it first to get it out of the way. However, when we got to the steepest part, the trail splits off into two--one tough, but preferable path--and one tough, and non-preferable path.  Unfortunately, the preferable path had a log down over it--and there was no way to get past it.  The leader of our group of three continued to the non-preferable one, but her horse had other plans and decided to bale off the trail up a steep embankment at the top of the hill.  Leah was following behind him and instantly tried to push her left shoulder through my aids to follow him. I had a split second to decided what I'd do--and I did not think she could handle the embankment. Or, at the very least, there was a chance she would lose her balance--and that would mean certain injury for her--and possibly myself.  Not to mention, I had another rider behind me who is very cautious and is dealing with anxiety.

I dismounted as well as I could onto the embankment (there wasn't room for both horse and rider side side by side) and got in front of Leah.  Lucky for me, she is extremely calm when she can see me on the ground, and she instantly relaxed and followed to the top of the hill.  My friend following behind thanked me for dismounting.

From that point, we took the lead, as Leah isn't quite there with her following yet, and everything went very well.

The second thing that happened was Leah alerting to a large bull moose in the trees.  She saw it pretty early which gave us time to decide whether or not it would be wise to pass and risk getting charged.  We talked it over and opted to try passing around. It stayed in the trees watching us.

That was the second time Leah has been to Slavin, and I was very proud of her.  1. She stood still just long enough for me to dismount in a tight situation, and 2. She didn't turn and run when she saw the moose.  She alerted, I let her know I heard her by rubbing her neck and saying "okay", and then she did what I asked her to do--going past the moose.  I couldn't have asked for more.

So, last night was the first time since adopting Beautiful Girl that I trailered her away from home.  That's embarrassing, but true. For some reason, I have always been afraid of her getting hurt--and because of that--I've kept her from taking chances.

But that had to end.  She needs to step up to the plate, and she wants to step up--to the plate--and the trailer.  We hauled her ten minutes down the road to the state park, and she did very well standing in her place with the rail engaged. (I have a 3-horse slant load)

She was obviously scared because she was covered in sweat, but she was smart enough not to hurt herself.  She unloaded and we took her to the round pen where Rebecca began to work with her.

Everything was going pretty well, and she is a "green broke" horse, so Rebecca decided to ride her for a bit.

The ride was going so well, I stopped taping.  And, out of no where, Beautiful started bucking hard.  It was so out of the blue, we think it may have been a wasp since we saw wasps afterwards, but it was definitely a true bucking fit and not a kicking out, crow hop, etc.  She was very athletic and got a lot of air.

Rebecca lost a stirrup in the back and forth, but was able to get her head around and away from the rail where she could dismount.  It was a painful dismount, but it was on her terms and she was okay.

Beautiful seemed completely calm when she was done.  Rebecca walked over to her and mounted again.  They rode for about another five or ten minutes in perfect unity and perfection--walking, trotting, backing, and walking.

So, the theme of this week is that things can, and will, go wrong, horses are living and breathing partners--and that's why we love them.  It's sometimes a good idea to get off--on your terms--not as a reward for bad behavior, but as a preemptive measure, before things get worse.  The important thing is to keep calm and get back in the saddle.

After Leah's attempt to almost bolt--she was a great leader for the rest of the ride.  After Beautiful's strange bucking fit, she was an excellent partner to Rebecca.

And, today I went back out to work with Beautiful and see if she held any hard feelings.


She stood to be haltered and loaded right back into the trailer.  As far as I'm concerned, that's a sign that she's thinking, "Let's do this!"