Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Old Pictures of Leah

Billy Vens, a trainer, used to come to my house to help me through the first rides.

My husband even rode her!

Her grandpa, Quincy Sun Dun.
 Quincy Sun Dun.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

2nd Week Training My Green Horse and I Don't Like the Name Cya

Week 2: Training Cya

Lesson 2

Getting Cya into the trailer today was a breeze.  Whew.  During the ride over to the lesson barn, however, she did nick the inside top of her left hoof, probably from hitting it with her right hoof.  It was bleeding a little when we arrived.  That makes me think she either isn't balanced well in the trailer or she was pawing around.  Hard to say since I can't see back there when I'm driving.  Whatever the case, she loaded and unloaded quite well.

As I waited for my instructor, I had time to groom Cya and work on her bending and bubble exercises.  When my trainer came over she asked me what went right this week and what went wrong.  I told her I was a little confused about the bending, so she watched me.

It turns out, I had it wrong.  What I was supposed to be doing (working on her left side) is holding the rope about at her withers with my left hand and feeding the slack through with my right hand (this part was correct), but instead of holding the rope taut until she turned in, she wanted me to pull the head in by feeding the rope from left to right--pull, space, pull, space, pull, space--until her head was where I wanted it and then I was to release the rope to full slack.  If she took her head back, I was to instantly pull, space, pull, space, until she brought it back around.  Eventually, she knew to keep it in.  Easy enough.

The bubble work was solid except she wanted me to quiet down my "ask" for the back up.  I tried using a more gentle nudge/wave on the rope, and Cya picked it up instantly.  My trainer would like to see her stay softer in the head.  Cya has been raising her head for the back up, and she needs to be more relaxed--like I'll want her in the saddle.

My new homework was backing her up as I stood at her side.  My trainer wanted me to pull into the center of her chest and have her back up until the opposite front leg went back, then release.  She also wanted me to pay attention to keeping her soft and centered.  She had me stand in front of Cya, while she backed her, and look at her tail.  Her tail should be directly in between her legs.  If it's off to one side or another, she isn't balancing out and, in her case, she was bracing from the opposite side--which is to say, she wasn't doing it as willingly as we'd like.

These little things can seem nit-picky, but they do make a big difference in her softness.  I just have a hard time really seeing it because it's so darn subtle.  Quite honestly, I thought she was doing great, but when my trainer showed me the difference it was clear.

We also worked on yielding hind and front quarters.  Cya is pretty good at that, but stiff.  I was having her pivot around on her front to release the hind, but my trainer wanted me to let her move her front and release the hind more smoothly.  As for the fronts, she didn't want me to worry about the crossing of the front legs yet, she wanted me, rather, to concentrate on where I wanted Cya to put her opposite front leg and get it there.  The crossing will come later.

Lastly, she had me work on the lunging from the week before, but working with her to square up properly when she came to a halt.

On a positive note, my trainer gave an assessment this week and said she thinks my little mare is going to make me a really nice trail horse!  High praise!  (It's funny how a little encouragement/validation can sink so deep into your heart.)

When the lesson was finished, I met with another trainer who rides horses for clients.  I asked her if she'd be willing to work alongside me for the first rides I do.  She was interested, but she has a waiting list.  I think Cya is ready to start some rides this week, and I think I'm going to do it myself.  All of this working and ponying has helped me to know and trust her.  I think, in the next few days, I'll go ahead and saddle and bridle her and work on all the bending exercises with the bit.  My trainer said that would be good.  If I feel comfortable, I'll go ahead and initiate the next step--getting on her, bending from the saddle, and walking her out.

One thing that has always bothered me is Cya's name.  She came with that name, and I don't think it suits her.  I've never liked it, but I've never changed it.  Is it too late now?  Everyone knows her as Cya.  Would it throw everyone off to change her name at this late date?  Does it matter what everyone else thinks?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Starting a Green Horse On the Trail

The posts I'm sharing about Cya are going to serve as journal for me, a place to sort things out and reflect back on our progress as we work toward a goal of better communication and cooperation.  Trust.  Respect. Partnership.

I'm not a professional trainer.  In fact, I've hired one to help me train my green horse.  I'll make mistakes--lots of them.  She'll get over it.  Horses are resilient.

Week One:  The Homework

My homework for the week was to help Cya tune in and choose to listen.  My trainer requested that I take her places where she'd be distracted.  But the first day, I worked with her at home.

I filmed this next clip to give you an idea of what I'm doing with the bubble.  Unfortunately, she wouldn't let me come around on her right side and my hand wasn't free to block her from turning in.  I had to stop filming and work on approach and retreat from the right side.  I had no idea I'd let that side become so weak and the other so dominant.

After the arena work, we practiced trailering.

On the third day, I took her to Riverside State Park to do some work in the round pen and then, if everything went well, to pony her on a trail ride. It also gave her practice in the trailer again.

 Walking to her weak side, the right. Much better than day one.

 Asking her to back up.
Doing the lunging to the shoulder.  My foot shouldn't be moving forward like that, but it's a habit.  My trainer requested that I stand in my space and pivot around.

She squared up nicely here.  Back feet aren't perfect, but I was supposed to concentrate on front feet.

There were a lot of people at the park setting up for a trail training program, but Cya did great, and I was able to take her for a trail ride.  It was a lot of fun.  I was proud of her.

On Saturday, I decided to take her through the trail training course that IEBCH (Inland Empire Back Country Horsemen) was sponsoring.  I had talked to them when I was there the day before and they told me it was a self-paced program designed to simulate real things you might find on a trail ride--four wheeler, tents, chain saw, tarps, water crossing, bridges, logs, and other things.  I knew from the beginning my issue would probably be more Cowboy than Cya, but Cowboy did pretty well as the lead horse.  Although, he was not happy about it.  The whole Cya tagging around on all our trail rides was getting to him, and he didn't appreciate that I'd taken him to another wild and crazy clinic. (It wasn't wild and crazy--Cowboy just thought so.)  It was actually a very calm, well-organized event.  Truly a fantastic experience for trail horses.

We went through half the obstacles and then took off for another ride to let Cya (and Cowboy) decompress.  After the ride, we came back in to finish up.

Crossing the tarp proved to be an issue.  Cowboy crossed over, but Cya balked.  Then she put her foot on it and started backing up with the tarp stuck to her hoof.  Of course, it followed her.  She pulled back and I held onto her pretty tight with the rope sliding through and slightly burning my hand.  In the end, she gave up with just about six inches of rope left in my hand.  (I have a small blister to show for it).  I had gloves on before the ride, but somehow I decided to take them off and leave them at the trailer.  I was cursing myself all day for that.

I got off Cowboy to work her over the tarp and kind of threw my lessons out the window (mistake).  Instead of working from that 4 foot bubble and getting her to move forward over it, I did more of a walk and  pull thing.  Not very effective, I might add.

All and all, a good, solid week, and tomorrow I head back to the trainer for a brush up.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

First Day of School: Homework for My Horse and Me

Today was my first day back to school with my green horse, Cya.  It was eventful.

First, I remembered this morning that she hasn't trailered off the property in over a year, but I hoped she'd do as good as she always has.  That was not the case today.  She went in the trailer right away, but she started prancing around and acting scared.  I let her stand for a minute and then backed her out, hoping that I could settle her down by loading and unloading a few times.  Instead, she wouldn't go back in.

Time was ticking, and I didn't want to be late for my lesson, so I ran to get my solid trail horse, Penny.  I loaded her up and then Cya went in easily, but was still worried.  With no time to spare, I secured the divider and left for the lesson barn hoping for the best.

On arriving at the barn, all seemed well, and I unloaded Cya to go to her lesson.  However, as we walked away, my well broke trail horse, Penny, started kicking around the trailer, so much so that it sounded like a train wreck. I went back and unloaded her and ended up taking her to the lesson area and putting her in the round pen...just to be safe.  All of that shaved about fifteen minutes from my lesson--but my trainer compensated and went longer.  Whew!

The lesson itself was great.  We worked on four things which are now my homework.  I hope I remember them correctly.  If not, I'll get a reminder at my next lesson.

#1 Bending.  When my trainer saw the way I was bending Cya she didn't like the fact that Cya was releasing too soon and I seemed to be doing all the work by pulling her head around.  Instead, she had me place my right hand on her withers and hold the slack in the rope with my left, tighten the rope to slightly taut (but not bring it around) and when she bent in on her own, instantly release--instantly. Of course, her head went right back to the front, but she had me pull it taut again and then instantly release it when she chose to bend in--giving full slack from my left hand, through my right.  By full slack, I mean enough that she could easily get her head back to the front position.  After doing this four times, Cya stopped taking her head back and instead kept it turned in toward me.  My trainer wants her to choose to bend into me until I give her a cue for release.  Cya got to the point where she'd keep her head bent toward me for a long time.  She was relaxed and paying attention and it was all her choice.  The point of this was to say to Cya, "Yes, there's a lot going on around here, but you don't have to worry about it, I will." The ability for her to give up control and surrender it to me gave her the relaxation she needed. The tautness in the rope seemed to me too little at first.  My trainer reminded me that horses are extremely sensitive and could feel that slight tightness.  At first, I didn't think she was responding, but my trainer pointed out that she actually was responding with a slight pull away, very slight, almost imperceptibly slight, but then chose to give the bend.

#2 Bubble.  Since horses can see us better when we're further out, my trainer wanted me to work from a four foot bubble to get Cya to learn to choose to pay attention to me.  When her attention shifted from me to something else (and there was lots going on at the barn to lose her attention to, such as, another lesson being taught in the same outdoor arena, semis coming and going, and lots of horses boarded around the arena who were finishing breakfast) I was to walk slowly away from the direction she was looking and see if she'd turn her attention back.  If not, I was to push her hip away from me (maintaining the 4 foot bubble) and when she got the hip out, tug on her halter, square my body up to her, and give the line a lot of slack.  Cya got to the point where she would square up with me right away and maintain her four feet of distance.  This also helped her become super soft.  Sometimes getting her hip around required something that looked a lot like lunging, but the point was for her to get her hip out.  We started at a small ask and built to bigger ones, followed by the same dramatic release and squaring up.  Again, it was telling Cya that she didn't have to pay attention to all that stuff going on.  I would take care of her.

#3 Circles around the bubble.  Unlike most natural horse people, my trainer doesn't like for you to push the horse from the hip when doing circles.  She wants your energy to be at the withers.  I've always been a hip person, so this was new to me.  However, there was a dramatic difference in the two strategies.  My trainer wanted me to stand on my spot and not move, except to turn around as she went around (something else I didn't do beforehand), direct my energy at the withers, and when I went to stop her, tug on the halter and give her the big lead rope release to let her square up.  It was kind of magical, the softness she had when I directed the energy to her withers rather than her hind.  She was better rounded and much more soft and attentive.  If she stopped, or got confused, I continued pushing her forward until I asked for the stop.

#4 Backing up.  Maintaining a four foot bubble required that Cya knew how to back up when I asked.  She didn't.  At least not when I was asking from four feet.  My trainer wanted me to walk toward her and ask that she move back as I moved toward her.  Cya stood still.  I started waving my lead rope--nothing.   My trainer told me again I was doing all the work.  Instead, she wanted me to use the end of my lead to slap her at the shoulder until she moved.  The end of a carrot stick would have worked, too, if I had mine with me--which I didn't.  When I took a step forward and she took a step back I was to give her release.  Eventually, she should be able to do this with a simple wave of my lead rope.  And again, it was small asks that build to big ones.

As we were ending the lesson, I told her I was a little worried that Cya doesn't show interest in things.  She demonstrated with her horse how she used the four foot bubble to direct him toward new objects and have him put his nose on them.  He did it pretty easily using the techniques we'd worked on during the lesson.  I will be doing that, too, when she gets a little further this week.

I got her into the trailer at the end of the day with a little help from my trainer who was standing behind.  By the time I got home with her I noticed she had a little scrape on her hind end that probably came from rocking back in the trailer.  I'll be doing a lot of trailer work this week, too.

After my morning at school, and dropping Cya and Penny off at home, I loaded Cowboy for an afternoon ride at Palisades Park.  I was so happy to be back with the horse I know so well.  It's hard for me to imagine feeling that way with my green horses, but I guess you've got to start somewhere.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Back to School With My Green Horses

Exciting adventures coming this fall and winter, beginning tomorrow, but first, I played hookie from work today.  Is it hooky or hookie?  Why do they call it hookie?  Anyway, it was good hookie.  The weather was beautiful and about 6 of us hit the trails.  We arrived at 10 am, played around on the obstacle course and rode the trails along the Spokane River.  I pulled out at 12:45 with my two horses, drove home and unloaded, threw on a new outfit (did not have time to shower, so still smell like my sweaty horse--which is to say GOOD), and was back in the car at 1:10 and back to work by 1:25.

(Me playing hookie)

Saturday morning I was privileged to ride in the First Annual Ride and Hike to benefit Free Rein Therapeutic Riding--a non-profit that uses horses to help children with autism, and other special needs, and PTSD in veterans.

(Riding out with my partner.)
 (Returning with my partner)

 (My partner and I at the trailhead)

Tomorrow I start training C'ya with the help of a professional.  I discovered two things:

1.  I don't feel comfortable training a green horse.  It's not something I do all the time, and I want her to have a solid foundation.

2.  I don't want to send her off to someone for training because I want to grow as she grows and get to know her through the process.  Even though I've owned her and trained her since she was 2--and even rode her in the past--we never got very far in the whole process, and I never took her out on the trails.  All the riding happened in the round pen and arena and there wasn't much of it.  I sent her to a trainer a few years ago who rode her for two weeks, but C'ya developed cinch sores, and I had to bring her home.  I've worked with her since then, from the ground, going over poles and obstacles (to teach her to watch where she's putting her feet--a complaint from the trainer) and basic yielding, etc.  Cowboy has taken all my time and attention--and he still will as long as he stays sound--but through fall and winter, especially winter, when I wouldn't be trail riding anyway, I want to concentrate first on C'ya and then, when I've had a green horse refresher, with Beautiful Girl.

Wish me luck on going back to school with my green horses. Should be a great adventure.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Letting Go Of My Little Cowgirl

What a wild and crazy summer.  Two weeks after we got back from Norway, we hosted our daughter's wedding on our little ranch. The night before, at rehearsal, the smoke was so thick and ashy, they declared it the worst air quality since Mt. St. Helens erupted, but the day of the wedding, it miraculously cleared.  It was sunny with a high of 79.

The wedding was at sundown with the horses grazing behind the gazebo. When they were pronounced man and wife and everyone clapped, the horses galloped away into the sunset.

It was beautiful.

She was beautiful.

But I was saying good bye to my "little" girl. (Insert sobbing) The little girl who was my constant companion in life and horses.  Before the wedding, I'd be driving down the road or playing the piano and break out crying when I remembered all the times I'd saddled Old Red for her (who was Big Red in those days), then the moment she did it all herself and rode into the arena to meet me, completely independent at 11 years old.  I remembered all the chats in the barn while we groomed.  All the trail rides and the moments I'd look out the window and see her racing through farm fields on Cowgirl.

 I texted her brother the day she left on her honeymoon and said, "I've lost Shiloh."

He wrote me back and told me I was overreacting.  I'd never lose her.  She had moved ten minutes away and would always be close to me.

I sucked it up.

I won't lie.  A part of me will always be a little bit sad and wish I could go back in time and relive those days with her.  Pay more attention.  Savor it.

But I console myself with knowing she is one of the lucky ones who found someone to love and walk beside her in this world.  We've got a new son, brother and member of our family that we all adore....

 And, maybe I'll get some more grand-kids!