Monday, October 16, 2017

Oh, Bee, What Fun We'll Have At Clinics!



Bee had her first clinic--aka four hours of fun!

It's a colt starting clinic and we work on whatever needs to be done.  Saturday we lunged, worked in the round pen, practiced being tied, and drove from the ground.

I thought it would be good practice to have my granddaughters, who were there with me, work Bee, too.


She was very good with the girls.

By the end of the clinic, Bee was the most calm I've ever seen her.  She also looked mentally tired and, strangely, at peace.  She hadn't worked up a major sweat, but she had to think a lot. The ground driving, especially, was good for her.  She got all wound up in the rope, but had to think to stop herself and not panic.  She also had the rope around her legs and butt--thoroughly sacking herself out.  But she worked through it all and decided to partner up.

Rebecca assessed the saddle and agreed that because of her short back, there will be some uncomfortable moments, however, she thinks it is good for her to get used to all kinds of feelings and things touching her.  The more, the better.  She didn't buck a bit changing gaits at the clinic.  In fact, she made me look like a pro.  I'd say, "walk" and she'd walk.  I'd cluck, and she'd trot.  Kiss, and she'd lope.  She's extremely smart.

These clinics are going to be so good for her.  Lots of exposure.  New people.  New horses. New places.  Building confidence.  Growing up.

The day after, you will be happy to know, she came right up to me in pasture to say hi--a sure sign she didn't have bad feelings from the day before.  Success.

Here are some of my fave photos from our lovey-horsey weekend.


This one is classic.  Cat is like 4 feet tall (or less) and she was riding Little Joe all over the place and getting him to do these big obstacles all by herself.  Proud moment for me.





The girls and I choreographed some drill team moves and did patterns in the arena.  It was quite fun.


And, our 15th Anniversary trip to Sandpoint, Idaho, where we were married and return every year.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Happy, happy Autumn With Horses and Family

Autumn is my favorite time of year, and I look forward to it each and every day after it passes.  I tell my husband not to plan ANY trips during the fall season because that is when our area is the absolute most beautiful.

Because of autumn, and its absolute grip on my heart, it has been a while since I've written on the blog, and I haven't been visiting my favorites as often as I'd like either. But it has been a busy and delightful time.

I've been able to get a couple rides out with Cowboy, a couple with Leah, and lots of work with Bee.  I even had my horse-crazy niece up for a weekend.  This coming weekend, I get to have my granddaughters, as our clinic season starts up again!


Unsaddling after the ride.


Last I left off, I was getting ready to ride Bee in saddle.


I started by working her on the ground. Lots of rope work--until I'd see her relax.  Then, practice carrying the saddle at all gaits.

She bucked  hard from trot to canter--just like she did the night she bucked my trainer off.  We had the snorting, all fours off the ground kind of bucking. Not for the faint of heart. When she quit, I was completely calm (after all, I wasn't on her back!).  She looked at me like, "What the heck just happened??"  I pointed for her to move on.  She did so quite willingly and didn't buck again.

But she did avoid going from trot to canter for a long time and several sessions.  Yesterday, she was full of energy, and I got her to do the transition several times with only a little bucking and/or kick out at the transition or when she'd slip.  The bigger issue yesterday was speed.  Cantering in saddle makes her nervous, and nervous makes her faster.


After seeing the first buck at transition, two weeks ago, I realized the bucking was not being mean or feisty or resistant.  It was just not understanding the feeling of that saddle on her back and it scaring  her.  It is hard work for a horse to hold themselves up at the canter/lope in a circle--and when you throw in a saddle, it makes it even harder.  But it gave me the information I needed to realize she needs lots of work carrying that saddle before carrying a rider.

However, that didn't stop me from riding her two weeks ago after her bucking session on the line. My plan was to keep it all at the walk and avoid transitions.  We also practiced lots of mounting and dismounting from the ground.  I had interesting things set up around the arena for her to walk to and inspect.  But I found her feet to be quite sticky and myself unwilling to do what was needed to unstick them.

I called Rebecca and asked for a ground driving lesson.  If I'm going to make her go, and work on steering, until she has it down pat, I'd prefer to do it from the ground and avoid fights.  If there's a fight, she will win.  The only way we'll both win is if it's a partnership.


We used a halter to keep it safe until she understands all of this very well--then we'll move to a bit and bridle.  After Rebecca was done demonstrating, I took the reins.  I practiced alone here yesterday and it was fun.  Tough to get the feel for it with those long reins, but overall it went very, very well.  If something does go wrong, and she gets wound up or steps on a rein, the halter is very forgiving.

To sum up with Bee--my goal is to have her going so well on the ground, in saddle, that it takes those worries away from her when it's time to ride.  I want balancing the rider, interpreting rider cues, being away from her herd--to be the only stresses. And, those will be enough.  By practicing versions of all three of those things, in small increments, I hope to minimize them.

****

Leah has been a blast to ride.  Her body has come together.  She loves the fall trails. She's full of energy and she's strong.  But with her strength, and new found agility, she has also started taking more and more advantage of that big left shoulder escape route when we come to parts of the trail she'd rather not partake in--like steep descents or water crossings not previously practiced, so not in her imaginary "contract."


I had to UNretire my spurs.  


(She was a bit mad at having to back up and take this picture.  We'd already had two fights at junctures she didn't want to go down. After this last unhappy moment, however, the rest of the trail was fun for her and her demeanor brightened up.)

When I say spurs, I mean gentle ones.  Mine are turned down a little bit and have a wheel on the end.  I first ask with my body, then my leg, then a gentle, gentle nudge of the spur.  

She gets it.  I should say, so far, so good.  In the photo above, you can see my crop--that was the ride I learned she wasn't to concerned about the crop.  The next trail ride, a few days later (no photos) I buckled on my spurs and only had to use them gently twice--and got a much better result.  

The crop is awkward.  All the shifting it from hand to hand, dropping it here and there and having to dismount to pick it up.  If the spurs continue to work, I'm all in on spurs again.  The last time I used them was with Cowboy, back when he was 8 and also doing some BIG evasions.  They worked very well, and I never rode without them until I retired them about four years ago.  They're back.

****

Besides time with horses--we've been taking trips to Greenbluff with the family--and hey, we found more horses.  This was a wagon ride we all went on together.


You can see the wagon behind--and the driver photobombing us.


The following weekend, I took more of my kids to Greenbluff, but did the wine, hard cider, and brewery tastings.  The big kid version of the trip.



(Big Barn Brewing Company in Greenbluff, WA)

It has been a wonderful autumn, and there is only more and more to come!  A clinic tonight (remember those fun clinics of developing trust all last winter--it's those again. Yay!) and Saturday, and hopefully lots and lots of trail rides before the snow falls!

Happy autumn everyone and HAPPY TRAILS!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

How to Avoid or Stop a Bucking Horse


I was so driven forward by who knows what on Sunday, that I didn't even ask anyone to take my picture for my first ride on Beautiful.  I remedied that immediately on ride 2 with a selfie! Then I asked my sweet daughter, Shiloh, to come out and snap a few shots.  In all honesty, I shouldn't even be riding her without someone there to help, in case of an emergency. It's just hard for me to be dependent on others.  I'd never get any training done.

I'm going to share the photos as I write about my primary concern with Bee--bucking.  Although, I should say, right off the bat, she did not buck me off, and NONE of these photos have anything to do with bucking.


She looks so short her, my feet almost touch the ground.  Why should I fear bucking?  ....Kidding!

Bucking.  

First, it's a sign of an athletic horse.  But that's about the only good thing I can say about it.

If you want to know my philosophy about training without any bucking---this article, by trainer Dan Keen, sums it up very well, "The Buck Stops Here." (Horse and Rider)

I didn't know Bee was a bucker until I saw her buck my trainer off on her 4th ride.  Since she did, I learned it is in her repertoire.  Before that, she had never bucked in fear or evasion.  Her go-to move had always been backing up. 



But since she did unseat my trainer--even though my trainer got back on--which was ESSENTIAL--it did open a door for her to try it again in the future.

I had to ask myself why my horse bucked.  Was it....

1. Lack of work ethic and training--what some term "lazy." (I don't term it lazy.  They're just not used to being asked so much, and it's frustrating until they build a work ethic.)

2. Past experience. They unseated someone before and it got them out of the stressful situation.  (Let's face it, riding is work for them.)

3. Ill-fitting tack.

4.  Body pain.

5.  Fear or surprise.

In Bee's case, I think it was either fear/surprise or lack of work ethic and training OR both.



To keep a horse from bucking you have to keep them moving, keep their head up, and if possible, keep them turned in doing circles.  

If they do buck, and succeed in bucking you off, you cannot get mad at them when they stop or they'll think you're mad they stopped.  You have to keep your cool and get back on.  AKA: Cowgirl. Up.



I do lots of circles, and when I feel that we've hit a wall--stiff body, backing up, tossing her head--I dismount, work her on the ground, then remount and continue the ride.


Yesterday, I said I wanted to give her purpose, softness, willingness, and trust.  I have a few ideas.

Purpose: 

I can ask someone to ride one of her herd mates in front of us.  She is very in tune with her herd, and it could help us to get some safe riding time in where I focus more on turning, stopping and backing cues--different gaits, etc.--without the stress of being separated from her herd.

Another activity to give purpose is placing boxes and bags around the arena that have one treat in each.  Ride her to one, dismount, give her the treat, remount, and ride off to the next.

Softness:

Softness comes from understanding.  Bee is super soft on the ground, but she's nervous being ridden.  I want to help her thoroughly understand what I'm asking--each little whisper of an ask.  To do that, I need to ask in my body before asking with an aid. When she understands this unspoken language, I must praise her to high heaven and build pride in herself.

I also need to deepen that partnership by being out there with her--EVERY. DAY.  Not just riding, but having fun together, too.

Willingness:

A partnership helps with the willingness.  There's a lot a horse will do for someone they love. I don't believe in using fear to make them willing.  My philosophy is to build in small increments, so there is never a reason for her to fear.  When she is fearful, I hope to help her through that and show her it's okay.

Trust:

Trust comes from all the things I've listed so far--but it also comes from strength.  When we get back on after falling off, when we stay calm through their fear--it builds their trust in us.  Likewise, when they surprise us with their own courage, our trust in them deepens.


The next time I ride Bee, I will be using my saddle.  I hope to have someone ride Penny in front of us, or do the hidden treats.  And, with all of this--the buck may still come. Some things are worth the risk.

Two things for me to remember--loosen the non-asking rein and keep my head up instead of looking down at her all the time.

Monday, September 25, 2017

My First Ride on Beautiful Girl, Trail Training on Steep, Scary Trails, & a Trip to the Hospital

Be careful what you wish for.  Last Tuesday, I wrote, "Live like you're going to die.
Because we are."  
The very next day, I was in the Urgent Care, having my heart stopped, loaded into an ambulance, and off to the ER.

I had my 6th episode of tachycardia, but they couldn't get it under control by normal means. My heart was pounding out a pretty steady 215 bpm for about an hour and half, so they decided to stop it and let it reset itself.

Before they did that, they were able to catch it on the ECG (EKG), and saw that I a have an extra node.  It's called Atrioventricular nodal reentrant tachycardia or AVNRT.  Here is a description:
AVNRT is caused by an abnormal or extra electrical pathway in the heart, a kind of "short circuit." Electrical pathways in the heart consist of microscopic muscle fibers that conduct electrical impulses. Normally, a single electrical pathway allows impulses to travel from the upper to the lower chambers. An extra electrical pathway in the AV node allows those impulses to travel backward at the same time, starting another heartbeat. During AVNRT the electrical impulses continuously go around the two pathways. This is known as "reentry" and can lead to a very fast heart rate.
I saw the cardiologist on Friday, and he recommended ablation surgery, where they go in and, basically, burn off the offending pathway(s). I went ahead and scheduled it, I mean, who wants to have to go to Urgent Care and have an ambulance show up with paramedics (bless their hearts, they were sweet!) who stop your heart then send you to the Walking Dead Film Set  Emergency Room.

Now, I'm leaning away from it. I'd like to try least invasive first--removing ALL stimulants, lowering my stress through meditation, and taking a beta blocker.  What I have, supposedly, won't kill you, but the "cure" has its own set of risks: stroke, heart attack, permanent need for a pacemaker.  Also, many commenters said their offending pathway grew back after about a decade.

If you've had any experience with this, please share in the comments.  I'd love to hear it.

*******

Would a Horse Fall Off a Cliff?

It [the deer] waited and leaped not
over the skinner's slack length of lead
but into the pack lines over Otto's back
to tangle and thrash and send the whole
entwined line of them down the slope of diminishing scree.

                                    Elegy for Otto the Mule by Robert Wrigley (excerpt)



I'm not sure if it was that poem, or a few bad steps by Cowboy on a steep cliff trail, that got me wondering if a horse would actually step off a cliff.  Years ago, I asked my friend and trainer, who regularly rides the steep cliffs in search of cows that wander away from their herds, and her answer was absolutely, yes.  Every once in a while she had a green horse, who didn't pay attention to the trail, step off, lose its balance and careen down a draw.  None of them were ever seriously hurt, and she always jumped off before going down with them.

Yesterday, I didn't plan to confront all my fears, but there is something a night like Wednesday does to you in making your fears seem much smaller--or, at least, the way around them much more necessary AND clear.

I ride Leah at Riverside State Park a lot, but the one area of the park I have avoided is the steep descent to the river and the narrow switchback trail along the hillside. (pictured above).  I've ridden it a hundred times on Cowboy who, through much practice, has become a pro at traversing the steep trails.  Leah, on the other hand, has a bad habit of always looking up the hillside, as if she's looking for that deer to come thrashing out of the serviceberry or sagebrush.  That's all fine, IF she'd look at the trail, too.

At the worst part of the trail, I got off and walked her. (That's my safe way around).  She did, indeed, take bad steps off the trail--as I suspected she would--but she was able to stay upright without the weight of a rider to balance. I remounted where the hillside wasn't as steep.  All in all, it was a great, SAFE training experience. I hope to do it a few more times this year.

******

Riding Beautiful Girl


No surprise, after traversing the steep switchbacks, I was ready to tackle riding Bee.

I started the day with asking her to self-load into the trailer.  She will self-load her front feet, but not her back.  It's as if she's saying, I want to do what you're asking, but I don't want to give my consent to being fully loaded and hauled away.  Eventually, however, with a little patience, she did self-load fully by just being pointed in from her side.

Applause.

The next step was ground work with the bridle and bit.  She's still in that chewy stage where she's thinking a lot about the bit and worrying about how to carry it.  My answer to that is lots of work while wearing it.

And then, I made the decision to ride her bareback.  My plan was that any time she froze or felt bucky, I could get off and work her from the ground and then remount. I've worked on bareback riding all year, and I feel pretty well balanced now.  It also has the advantage of letting me feel the nerves, and tenseness, in her back--and quickly make adjustments.

The first few steps were the scariest, but when we got to moving--all at the walk--I started to get a sense of her and what she's about.

1.  She's not sure of why we're doing it.

2.  She's not soft to the bit.

3.  She doesn't feel the partnership when I'm on her back and out of her sight.

4.  She's ready for a fight.

On the positive side:

1.  She's willing to take the chance.

2.  She wants to please.

3.  She's thinking it through.

4.  She gives me information, through her body, so I can avoid a fight.

This was the first time she had been ridden since her bucking incident.  At one point, her feet stopped, I asked for forward, and she started to back up instead.  I could feel her back tense.  I slid off her back, worked her from the ground, and remounted.  She went forward  nicely.

My plan is to continue riding her in small increments and fill in all those gaps above--purpose, softness, willingness, and trust.  

I don't think getting off at sticky points will cause her to be more sticky IF I continue to stay calm and work her from the ground, and get back on.


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.