Monday, December 5, 2016

Enter the Short, Cold Days of Late Fall

November, and the last flush of bird:

Quail, winging their way to land,
And the Canada Geese, so low overhead,
You could feel the vibration of their flight,
A tenor of simultaneous swushing,
The bleeting sky made more joyous
by the ripping apart.

On the third day, the doves, too, arrived.
Drawn to the pasture by salt blocks. 
Their synchronized flight to the west,
Then a quick turn over us to the east,
Finally, landing further off, 
A safe distance.

We were amazed at the bounty--
Moments we added to our list,
The one we fall asleep to, 
When we can't sleep.

Thank you for the quail,
Thank you for the geese.
Thank you for the doves.

Late fall, early winter, is a mixed blessing.  In some ways, it slows us down and draws us closer to home--family, friends. In other ways, it shuts doors--less horse time, for example.  I don't like that shutting of horse doors, and I'm doing everything I can to resist it.

To help stay warm, I purchased this base layer at our local equestrian store, Foxy Horse and Hound.  It's made my by Kerrits, and it is WARM....and soft on the inside.  Fits like a blanket, but you will get hot if you wear it in the house--at least, if you're like me.

(A base layer that can stand alone, this versatile, hard-working piece can migrate depending on the weather. Keep the super-soft microfleece next to your skin and layer on a Horse Play Quilted Vest or Flip Tail Fleece Jacket. Or, wear it on top of your Ice Fil®, the durable exterior repels dirt and horse hair.)

I wore it Saturday for our monthly clinic and I was warm with it, my vest, and gloves.

The clinic was another successful day with horses.  In fact, I LOVE these clinics.  I hope they never stop!

We worked on the same basic things--leading without a rope, tying, loading in a new trailer, massage, but we added canter work and backing through the maze.

Leah seems to love these clinics and takes pride in her accomplishments there.  Her walk and whoa are solid.  Her trot, which was a struggle last month, is turning out to be smooth and beautiful now--even on a loose rein.   She backed through the maze (above) perfectly on her second try--really looking to me for direction for each step and--most importantly--highly cognizant of where she was placing each of her four feet.  (Being aware of her four feet has been an issue we've worked on for years. The more we work together, the more she keeps calm, and that calmness translates into more thoughtful movement of her feet.)

Not that it was Leah's fault at all, but there is one thing we couldn't perform--the canter.  As I asked for it, she gave me lots of warning that she wasn't ready or willing.  She pinned her ears and then she grinded her teeth.  I asked my instructor to get on and see if it was a real issue or just me not riding correctly. It was a real issue, so we stopped asking her.

She has come so far in her recovery from laminitis--her trot, as I said, is beautiful now.  But she is not physically ready for the canter.  She does it in pasture, but it seems difficult for her on the circle.  In the future, I'll be working towards the canter on a lunge line in small increments.  

(You can see her pinning her ears here--a warning that she is not ready for the canter.)

One thing about this clinic that I appreciate is that we don't push our horses to do anything they can't do. It's a partnership.  Rebecca applauded Leah's willingness to "tell me" she wasn't ready.  That's the kind of communication she is looking for from our horses.  

The hollow, white polls in the above picture bothered Leah in our first clinic and it took forever to get her to go over them.  If her hooves hit them the tiniest bit, they roll, and the rolling scares her.  This clinic,  however, she went over them like a pro--even side passed over one.  I highly recommend them in anyone's arena.  They really do make them more honest and interested in foot placement.  It's one thing to nick a board with a hoof--quite another when the THING starts to chase you!

These clinics give me so much joy because they allow me to be with my daughter and granddaughter--and my new horse friends.  It's magical watching them become partners with their horses, too--independent of me.

Rebecca is not only a thoughtful, sensitive instructor, but she also brought us all gifts for Christmas!  There were treats for us and our horses in those bags.

During our break, my younger granddaughter came over to watch and her big sister gave her a ride.

Good times--even in the dreaded LATE FALL, EARLY WINTER.

Oh, and I also got a trail ride in with my Cowboy last week.  We came upon this herd of deer and they let us get about 20 feet from them before disappearing into the trees!

Kicking back with some wine.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Restoring the Soul--Horse Time Heals the Wounds

Two days after the most shocking and painful election of my lifetime, I had a ride and picnic with my two Cowboys at James T Slavin conservation area.

We ran into a friend who took our picture and later she shared this photo below of the Trumpet Swans that were there that day.  I couldn't get a good photo on my cell phone camera!

Above: Photo copyright Cindy & Gary Miller

I asked my husband to take a picture of the same spot we were in last summer to show the difference between the seasons.

July 8, 2016

November 10, 2016

Leah and I have been working on walk trot transitions on as loose a rein as possible. I hold the reins in a position where I'm framing in the outer-boundaries of where she can place her head, but they are loose.  If she decides to put her head down or up, when I ask for the trot, she hits the bit.  That area in between is quite large--not overly collected or tight.  As soon as she gives me a few relaxed steps, I stop and praise her.  So far, we have only been successful in a large circle.  And, as we move through the circle, I have to lift the rein and direct her, but as soon as she responds, I give it all back to her.

There were two days last week that were just awful for me--and I did not attempt to work with Leah during those times.  I felt like I missed out on two sunny, beautiful days--and I did--but my soul hurt so badly, it wouldn't have been fair to her.  It's a reminder to me--do everything you can to limit your exposure to toxic people. Sometimes, it's difficult, especially if you work with the public, but you still need to do all you can when you see those early warning signs of a cruel temperament.  If you don't heed the signs, you will most certainly lose a little of what is most precious and that cannot be bought back--not even with all the money you can make in a lifetime.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What a Training Session with Leah Looks Like Now

After all the lessons, clinics, trail rides, books, videos, physical challenges, vet visits and our own unique experiences & personalities, I want to share with you what a day training Leah looks like.

Whenever I go out to work with Leah in saddle, I allot myself 1.5 hours minimum.  I'm addressing the whole horse--body, mind, and spirit, and that is the least amount of time I can do everything I need to do.

I start by going to get her.  If she's in a stall, I expect her to come to me or face me.  If she doesn't, I call her.  If she still doesn't, I may swing my lead rope toward her hind.  If she runs out of the stall, I wait for her to come back in and face me.  If she's in the pasture, I expect her to stand still.  If, when we're haltering, she puts her head way up in the air, I massage her poll and face until she drops her head willingly into the halter.

If we're riding, I always massage Leah in the arena, rather than the barn, first thing.  The reason why is because I want her to relax where we're going to ride.  She's already relaxed in the barn.  (On days we don't ride, however, I do massage her in the barn.) On the way there, I have her lead on a loose rein.  If there happens to be a big rain puddle, I ask her to cross through it.  When we get to the arena, I close the gate and throw the rope over her back.  I start the massage by running my hands along her top line--looking for any soreness or sensitivity.  From there, I concentrate on the poll, neck looking for knotty spots or sensitivity.  Usually she tells me where she wants to be worked. Here's a great diagram of the different muscles on a horse.

After that, I bend her in and get my hand behind her shoulder and work my way down.  She loves that work and it really helps her bend in.

Then I continue down her back and move to the other side.  I also do work on her face and around the base of her ears.  Some days, I do tail rotations and pulls and leg stretches.

After her massage, we walk around the arena both directions keeping her always on the side of the rail.  This gives her practice being led on the right and left side, which I hope will balance out her left dominance.  Some days, we go around 3 times both ways and then I throw the rope over her back and lead her all over the arena hands-free.  This walking is good for her and me. It warms us both up, gets us connected to one another, and works off some steps towards my Fitbit goals.

We may also do some flexion and disengagement of hind-quarters.

Then we go off to saddle.  Before we saddle, if I haven't already, I groom her and do another body check for pain. Leah is really good with saddling.  I don't bridle her at the saddle area.  Instead, I throw the bridle over her saddle horn, put on my helmet, and walk her back to the arena.

At the arena, in saddle, a new phase starts, and it's as if we are starting from scratch.  So, we walk around the arena again, both ways, we bend and disengage, and then I start the process of bridling.  If, during bridling, Leah starts with her head way up, I massage around her poll, ears and face until she drops her head.  Then I present the bridle to her and see if she stays relaxed.  If she does, I place it onto her and get it secure, walking around on both sides to make sure it fits well over the brow and under the neck.

When everything looks good, I tighten the cinch again, and bend her in both ways with the bit.  Then I'm ready to mount.  I can mount from the ground or a mounting block, but I mix it up so that she learns to stand for both. My mounting block is a turned-over trough--so nothing fancy!

In saddle, before I ask anything of her, I drop the reins and massage her neck, poll, and when she turns in, her face.  During that time, I also get my own seat underneath me--trying to balance up and get my back straight and legs relaxed at the sides.  When we're both ready, I ask her to turn and disengage her hindquarters both ways.  This helps her practice turning tight and moving all four feet.  She's gotten much better at it in the last couple of months.  Losing weight probably helped a ton!  After the turns,  I squeeze my legs and ask her to move out.

The next part has changed over the last couple of months, but since she no longer pulls to the left (Woohoo! That is OVER! No more bag, no more crop!  Solved in less than one week!) I throw her the rein and ask her to move out on the rail.  At this point, I still have the reins in my hands, but they are loose.  I try to influence her with my body only.  If I start to feel her get unbalanced--which makes the saddle feel off on one side or the other--I put more weight on the weak side at each step to that side.  I make sure to move my hips with hers, and I work my legs in a similar walking pattern to Leah. After a while, going around the arena both ways and working on walk-trot transitions (I'm trying to get her to do the transitions smoothly), I throw her the reins all together and work on hands-free cues. 

She LOVES this part!  Leah is a great candidate for bridleless, bit-free riding. I'm actually shocked.  Just three months ago, if you remember, I thought she needed "lots of support" with the bit.  Ha!  I was wrong!  Support to Leah is giving her room to make mistakes--lots of room.  The more room, the less "mistakes."

When working on the stop, I try to use body CUE first, then voice cue, if she doesn't hear my body.  Since we're new to this, we still need the voice cue.

In this video you see her ears go back, that's when I sat back and pushed my heels down.  She was listening for something, she knew there was going to be a change, but she wasn't sure what.  Then, I added the voice cue and her head went up and she stopped.  We'll keep working on this until she's so comfortable with my body cue that her head stays in a relaxed position and she stops without voice cue.  Leah tends to get a little anxious about any new cue--until she realizes she is doing the right thing.  She's a sensitive soul!

We're also working on hands-free turns with leg pressure only.  She tends to want to trot off and resist turning right now, but I go with her and pick up the rein lightly when she ignores the leg.  When I get the turn, I praise her to high heaven.  She loves praise when it involves being petted.  It always relaxes her and we make much faster progress.

I'm very new to this way of training with Leah. I use a loose rein and hands-free with Cowboy, as with all my trail horses, but Leah being green, I rejected those basic principles, scrambled for more control and made a mess out of her.  Now, I feel like I'm working back from a negative position.  She expects a heavy hand on her mouth and her head goes up a lot when she anticipates it, and I'm having to prove to her that rider is GONE.  I think that's why I get her very best when we go hands-free.  It takes the worry out of her for a bit/rein cue.  It strips all the layers away and allows her to concentrate on my body cues.

She's a happier horse and, honestly, I'm having WAY more fun, too.  What we are doing is so much more satisfying.  It's the deep soul stuff, the WOW moments, as Rebecca calls them. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Finding Gold On the Eve of Election 2016

Heaven says--Enter between these two ears,

I'll give you my gold--

Here, in the United States, we're on the Eve of an election, one that each of  us takes personally and that may change the course of our lives and our children's lives.  As for me, I'm much more concerned with my children's lives.  I'm getting older now, and I've lived a full life, but it is my hope that my kids live longer and do better than me.  I think most Americans feel that way. Most people around the world feel that way.  I don't know why I was blessed to be born and live here and have this quality of life, but I am so thankful...and I do not take it lightly.

My friends without horses always tell me how lucky I am to have horses.  They're right.  In this moment, on this spot of earth, I am blessed.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but I have hope in the goodness of people no matter the outcome.

And, for as long as I can, I'm going to keep pointing my way between those two ears--my way to gold, my way to heaven on earth.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Leah's Second Clinic: Riding & Leading Hands-Free

Today's clinic--the second in a set of seven--was about influencing your horse without aids (leading your horse hands/rope-free), touch (massage in saddle and on the ground), and with your body (Rising trot, following seat, influencing seat, etc.)

I took my granddaughter over to the arena last night to catch her up and when she experienced leading her horse, Penny, hands-free--no rope--she was thrilled.  Today's clinic built on that.  Not only did we lead hands-free, but we also rode our horses hands-free.

One of the activities we did to help us learn to communicate with our bodies--no hands--was break into teams and lunge each other.  In fact, what we did was just hold the lunge line while our riding partner worked on riding hands-free at the walk, trot, and whoa.  Not easy.  It took Leah three times around to understand that me sitting back and pressing my heels down meant whoa.  Her walk-trot transitions got much better without the bit, though.  She was more pleasant.  She was also very good at knowing when I signaled for a walk from the trot.  I sit back and move my feet in a walking motion.

(My granddaughter lunging another young participant.)

This type of work is PERFECT for Leah.. The whole point is to get your horse so in tune with you, so wanting to be with you, so willing to trust you, that you don't need a bit or a bridle or reins or anything. Not that we got to that point today, but we did get a long way towards it.

Leah was wonderful.  She only balked at one point--crossing over a set of large plastic poles. (And, this was when I was holding the reins.) For some reason, she just did not like those poles and she bolted left.  Even watching other horses go over the poles did not ease her fears.  Our instructor saw us and came over and helped her over them a few times.  When we got her somewhat comfortable, I tried it on my own again, and she started to bolt left, but I had my crop, and I smacked her real quick on her neck. She corrected immediately and proceeded over the poles.

So about that crop.  You remember from the last post that I was using a plastic bag to block her to the left?  Well, now I've progressed to a short crop.  When she bolts, I have it ready, and I usually only need to flip it up in front of her.

Shirley pointed out two things which were quite accurate.  1.) It gets her out of her left side frame of mind.  It's almost like she has a dazed, hard eye and when you flip a bag or a crop over there, she snaps out of it.  Which leads to 2.) How long will it last?

I don't want to overuse my trick.  Last night at the arena, if needed, I used my left hand only.  I bent forward and put in front of her left eye.  It worked.  Today, I used the crop.  I haven't been using the bag at all since the trail ride, and I may not need to ever again.  The loose rein, influencing her with my body movement, massaging her on the ground and in saddle and just that overall hands-free partnership--wanting to be together--it's all working.

If you'd told me three weeks ago I would have had these wonderful rides with my left-bolting-Leah, I wouldn't have believed it, but I have.  Even in an open field today on a loose rein--she was a rock star.

I'm thrilled.