Sunday, June 26, 2022

Sweet T's Second Trail Ride & New Obstacles

Sorry for all the posts, but when I'm in the obsessive training mode, there are lots and lots of updates. Eventually, everything will be so routine (I hope) that this won't be the case anymore. It will be all yawn, yawn (for me) and not as, wow, wow, Tweed, Tweed!

Today's ride alone went very well. I lengthened time and distance, and added a few steep hills to practice going up and down together. One had lots of rocks that made Tweed insecure for a moment, but he got the hang of it. That hill will prepare him for a much, much steeper and rockier one he will soon encounter, and another very steep one that winds down through dense trees from a high plateau. (I have shared many photos from that plateau). But we will work our way up in increments. Could he do it today. Yes. But I don't want to overwhelm him. I want this to be fun, and so far, he comes to me every morning to be haltered, and jumps right in the trailer. I don't want to ruin that willingness.

He is doing very well on the bridge now, so instead of boring him with it, we've moved onto the log pull and the dreaded teeter totter bridge.

All I did today was throw the rope around his body, then drag the log behind him from the ground. I have him in one hand, and the log pull rope in the other. I let it drag right at his back feet, and he threatened to kick it, but got used to it after awhile. In saddle, I side passed him over to the rope and picked it up and held it. I didn't drag the log...yet.

The seesaw or teeter totter bridge. I have mixed thoughts about this one, but I do think we need to work on it. Today, I only wanted him to face it, then put his front two feet on it. He did both. This little short is our first approach, and I think I have something in my mouth while I'm talking. Maybe my glove. I can't remember. I was very proud of him for approaching it calmly and then putting his front feet on it.  Good start.

Our First Solo Ride on the Trails

Trail training continues, and yesterday I wanted to see how Tumbleweed did over the "bad bridge" with me in saddle. At first, he was hesitant, but we got there. He wanted to rush onto, and across, the bridge, but I asked him to stop and back up, then move up to it in increments. If he rushes over it, that's a sign he isn't really doing what I'm requesting, but what he has decided it's "safe" to do. In other words, he is saying he is doing it, but only on his terms.

In case you want to see it, here is his refusal at the bridge. I asked him to stand in front of it and rest at his "yes" spot.

After a short session at the bridges, we moved to the arena where I tried out riding in different stirrup lengths, trying to get the right set of my ankles to hips to shoulders without losing the stirrup when riding. (I may need to add a couple of new holes.)

After the arena, I set out for T's first solo ride (with me) and we walked and trotted the trails together. I would have loped him on the trails, but I thought the ask for speed was cueing him that there was something to be afraid of in the woods. When we took up the trot, he shied away from a log, and that gave me the impression he didn't need to be amped up anymore. After all, it was our first time out alone together, and I wanted it to be safe and build both of our confidence levels. It did.

Riding the trails alone isn't ideal, but the work we're doing is so individual and incremental, it isn't really fair to ask another person to haul all the way over and watch this cake be baked. I need the flexibility to listen to Tumbleweed and make instant changes to the plan. 

I'm going to add a new trail to our rides each time we ride, and build very slowly. I want to encounter things on the trail like joggers, bikers, dogs--and get him used to these scary intrusions little by little. Adding in another horse, a friend's horse or one of our own, will only slow this process down right now. It will happen soon though.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

New Equipment (Yay!)

New day, new reins. I'm tired of messing with the mecate rein that I start all my horses in, and Sweet T is ready for some simplicity.

When I was with the girls Wednesday, my friend with the 5 year old was using an interesting set up--the Schutz Quiet Control Single Rein. It has a little weight at the bit, in the form of the leather straps, sort of like the slobber straps, but not as big and heavy. She had attached a swivel clip on both ends, too. They had a really nice to feel to them. Perhaps, their greatest asset is the little leather nubs built into them on each side so that you know where the "even" point is as you slide up to shorten or lengthen your reins. Turns out, another friend there was using them, too.

I ordered a pair in this year's favorite color--blue. Turquoise blue, which looks amazing on Tumbleweed! 

Obviously, I have turquoise on the brain, because I ordered a summer shirt by Orvis in the same color.

My husband fixed my saddle, so that is ready to go. Although, I would like to replace the latigo before a really long ride.

I wrote yesterday about how Tweed is becoming fun, fun, fun. It's true. Riding him makes me feel like a kid again. Sarah put a super solid foundation on him for me, I just had to unlock it. We will encounter a lot out on the trail, but I plan to take it very slow and build little by little. 

I knew the day would come when I wouldn't have a horse fit enough for the kind of trails I ride with my friends, and that happened last year when Cowboy couldn't get up and down. He can still do easy, flat trails, but I cannot ask him to go down steep terrain or over large obstacles. Leah has always had her own lameness issues that I've worked around. BG overreacted too many times for me to trust her on the trails. The rest of my herd is retired and / or only used for light work. (Foxy, Little Joe, and Cowboy)

To have a horse again, one that can do what I want to do, and is so close to me, and me to him, after raising him from a baby--well, it's what I dreamed would happen. When Tweed was a few months old and just arriving here from Shirley's in Canada, it seemed like raising him would take forever, but it went fast, didn't it? 

Friday, June 24, 2022

And Just Like That, It Became Fun

And just like that, my Sweet Tea became fun, fun, fun! He has conquered the bridge, and he is keeping his lope. He's opening and closing gates, and standing ground tied for saddling and unsaddling. He's not frightened at the park, and he's super tuned in to the partnership.  We're ready for the trails.

I was right about all that work I did with the bridge, and how it isn't about the bridge, but something much bigger. It's, Am I going to trust you and follow your lead? That's everything in a nutshell. 

We started today with bridge work, and I came ready for success, flag in hand. It was all about the yes, no, and maybe, small increments, rest, and making the wrong choice hard. Voila. It really does work, but not always on our timeline.

When it clicks, it clicks in lots of other areas. The Tweed who came home from training had disconnected from me. The Sweet Tea I have now is tuned in and connected.

I tried to get some decent video, but my phone overheated and turned itself off. It only caught a small part of our session, the first lope. The lope got much better with time, but I can see that the saddle stirrups still need some adjustment (my husband fixed my saddle yesterday. He's pretty awesome.)

Here are some video, if you'd like to get a little glimpse of the work.

Tweed's trainer is well known for giving you blunt, honest assessments so that you know what you might encounter when you go home. That's a big might, because you never know how they will blossom with their owner. Sweet Tea has been my baby since a week after he was born, and all that time together counts for something. Since T has been home, he has surpassed my expectations, and I can see a bright, bright future. And lots of FUN!!

This is the long version, sped up, if you want to see what it took to get him on the bridge.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Putting the Chart to the Reality Test


June was a big birthday month for my cowgirl friends. We celebrated by meeting up at the park and having a potluck lunch and cupcakes--a little horse play time and ride time together. I love these days because it allows me to spend many hours, about 6 hours yesterday, with my boy. It bonds us. When we're in a group like that, he realizes he and I are the herd. 

I arrived around 11 and got set up. Unfortunately, while I was riding Sweet T, a bolt came loose from one of my fenders, and it was way up under the seat. A couple of us tried to fix it together, but it was impossible. That ended my riding.

We had lunch. They rode off. I stayed back with T to work on obstacles.

Recap: Tumbleweed used to do every obstacle I put in front of him, UNTIL I took him over the teeter totter bridge last year. That set him back, and he began to refuse the solid bridge at the park and the teeter totter. (On a side note: One of my friends there yesterday had the exact same issue with her 5 year old. He went over the teeter totter, jumped off, refused to go over again, and refused the solid bridge. 100% exactly like Tweed.)

I had been studying my flowchart pretty intensely, and made the decision to try to turn a "no" into a "maybe" or a "yes." Yes, no, maybe post. 

At the end of the day, I made a change to the flowchart, based upon what happened. It's a small, simple change, and I'll explain.

(Stubborn T, he refuses to put a foot on the bridge. Unfortunately, the only photos I took were at this juncture, because it was too distracting holding a phone and a rope.)

Yes, no, or maybe/try. 

I knew where the yes was on the bridge obstacle, and that was walking up to it and facing it straight on. That was a definite yes, and it became our "rock star" sweet spot to return to when things went south.

Now to the maybe part of the bridge obstacle and the no--which were almost indistinguishable and went back and forth between each other at any given moment.

I had time on my hands. Lots of time. I decided to go beyond the try, hope to keep the try, but if I encountered the hard, ingrained no, I'd make the wrong decision hard, the right decision easy. 

Thus, the change in my flowchart. I added a line between two boxes the one that makes the wrong thing hard and the box that breaks obstacles down into their smaller parts with lots of wait.

This is how it went: T walks up to the bridge, refuses to put feet up. I let him rest at his yes spot, then I asked for more. He gave me both front feet on the bridge. That was the try / maybe.

I let him rest with two feet on the bridge, and quite quickly that became his new yes spot, and the one we would return to when things went south.

After the rest, I asked for more, and was able to get him to commit all of his body, but not his back two feet. If I asked for too much, he'd leave the bridge. We'd circle back to his yes spot, and wait again.

It went on and on like that for about 45 minutes, until one of my friends showed up late for our party. She didn't bring a horse, but she saw me and joined me at the obstacle. Tweed's body was 90% on the bridge, and he was resting. It had become a waiting game.

As long as Tweed was in that 90% committed position, I let him rest as I talked to my friend, E. We looked like quite the pair! A few riders came by and said, "Hey, you're making progress!" haha. (They had been watching the whole thing.) They stopped to chat on their three horses, and I looked over at Tweed who seemed to think it was perfectly normal to stand with two feet and most of his body on the bridge, but not his back feet. They rode off and Tweed watched them go.

E and I continued to chat.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Tweed had an epiphany and walked onto the bridge very relaxed. Loose rope. No ask. He had finally figured out that what he was doing was much harder than just standing by me on the bridge.

E and I looked at each other and laughed. I think I'll take the win and call it a day! E replied, YES! Take that win!

The change in the flowchart connects all the yes, no, and maybe moments. Sweet T had moments of panic (increased heart rate), but he also had stubborn, ingrained "no" moments, with no anxiety. He went back and forth between all three in one session, and I had to go back and forth between methods. There was a time he tried to run through me to get off the bridge, and I had to get really big back at him. He tried to get bigger. I got bigger. He decided to return to the positive side of the flowchart because he doesn't like to fight with his mama.

When he got big like that, and pushy, the truth is, I began to get frustrated. We had been there a long time. He isn't really scared of bridges, because he does them all the time here at home. When he threw his body at me, my adrenalin spiked, and I could see both of us escalating to a reactionary space. 

I was able to quickly recover and see the bigger picture because of all the prep ahead of time. It was clear afterward that, within one obstacle, there is a lot of yes, no, and maybe. 

After we were done, my friends returned from their ride. haha. I had already said by goodbyes, because I didn't think I'd still be there. But I was, and we had a little laugh about that. It gave me a chance to chat with the friend who had the same situation with the bridge with her 5 year old. 

I said, you know, I spent a lot of time here on this bridge today, but it wasn't really about the bridge. It was about T and me and how we're going to do this relationship. I'm going to help him get through life's obstacles. He can't push me around or put us in danger, but I will wait as long as it takes to make this partnership happen.

Some of us went back to the trailers and got our chairs back out. No rush to get home. We sat and chatted while Sweet Tea stood near me resting. All that relationship building had worked. I felt an overflowing of love for my boy, my partner, my sweet, sweet T.