Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Victory By Inches

(Photo: Quincy-Cia before our lesson.  There's a little attitude in those eyes.  It took 30 minutes of ground work to soften.)

Working with my green horse, Quincy-Cia, is so much fun!!  It's pushing me out of my comfort zone in a good way.  In fact, and this is true, I say a little prayer every time I haul to a lesson that we will both come out on the other side safe and with a closer relationship.  

From the moment of catching, loading and hauling to the saddling, round pen work, and riding lesson--the unexpected is the expected, but, to this point, the expected unexpected hasn't happened--only the unexpected-what-you'd-expect.  And so, I fall deeper and deeper into trust with Quincy-Cia every day.  

Yesterday, we worked on two things: going forward with a relaxed head set and turns.

Relaxed head: The first day of lessons my instructors asked me, "What do you want to do with this horse?"  My answer to both of them was, "Ride the trails."  Everything we've done since has been with that in mind.  Regina, yesterday's instructor, was interested in helping me find out where Quincy-Cia naturally carries her head in an extended walk.  Once we found that, it became our goal.  If she went anywhere else, I gathered up my reins and resumed contact in the bit until she relaxed back into the natural headset, and then I released.  The progress she made in one week, on this point, was monumental.  For most of the lesson, I was able to ride on a slack rein.

Turning By Inches: My instructor pointed out last week that I have 3 points of contact--mouth (reins), seat, and legs, and she asked which I thought I used most.  I answered, "Reins."  Bingo!  I was right.  She told me to quiet my reins so Quincy could hear my other points of contact, and it worked.  But yesterday, I went back to loud reins.  She asked me to turn her and I pulled her around to the right.  Quincy's energy shot up from a 2 to a 7.5.  I had to bring her to a halt in a one rein stop.  Regina asked me to try something different.  She said, "Pretend like you're picking stems off a cherry and gather your rein up one inch at a time until she responds.  At that point, just hold it.  Don't pull back.  See what she does."  

It was hard for me to switch from the "Whoa, Nelly!" style of reining I was using to the gentle suggestion Regina was talking about, but I did.  What I got was beautiful turns that kept her energy at 2--the level at which I'm most comfortable, and she's most happy.  Turning, turning, walking, walking--it was beautiful and so counter-intuitive!

Our next lesson is Friday.  

P.S. I have a big decision to make.  Winter is coming! (And, not only in Game of Thrones)  I can't haul in ice and snow--it's dangerous.  I have to decide if I'm going to board Quincy-Cia at the barn where I take lessons.  I love the social, horsey atmosphere and the indoor arena, but I hate having my horse away from me.  I like to look out my window and see them.  There will be days I won't be able to make it to the barn, if she's boarded, but my trainer will ride her on the days I can't--giving her more consistency.  


And, here's my new favorite picture of my boy, Cowboy, and me on last week's trail ride.  I wondered if my heart was big enough to accommodate another horse relationship and still love my Cowboy--it is.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Point of Resistance

"It is always darkest before the dawn." --proverb

I'm working with two trainers now, one solely for the first rides and one for myself as I do the groundwork and first rides with Quincy.  My lesson yesterday was with the second, my main trainer, Regina.  I've trained with Regina previously, both on her horses and with Cowboy as I rehabilitated him after his P3 fracture.

Yesterday's lesson was half on the ground and half in the saddle, but both shared the same theme--finding resistance and getting past it.

Resistance can be tough to see.  Or, if we see it, we come to some sort of peace with it because you have to pick your battles and as long as your horse is doing pretty well, you figure, it's good enough.  If resistance goes ignored, it shifts from resistance to training--bad training, bad habits. 

Regina is hands off during our lessons, but instructs me from outside of the round pen.  She is a fountain of information that I only half retain once the lesson is done.  This is probably because I'm listening to her and my horse simultaneously.  However, no matter the exercise we're working on, she is always wanting me to let Quincy find the right answer. 

The thing with Quincy, and all horses, is that the wrong answers are sometimes a form of resistance. They want to give an answer that they're comfortable with and allows them the most freedom. You ask for something, like a bend in their neck, and they twist it down to the ground and say, how about this instead?  They're negotiating for the best deal--one that preferably leads them back to eating at the soonest possible moment.

When I first got in the saddle yesterday, Quincy was moving forward as I asked, but her head was all over the place--mostly down.  It was uncomfortable because in that position she couldn't move forward properly and I didn't have any control.  She could break into a trot or, if she wanted to, even buck me off.  My first impulse was to bring her head up through the reins and bit, but she was ignoring the reins and it was taking more and more force to get her head up, which was frustrating her while her frustration was scaring me.  

Resistance and frustration are very different.  Frustration comes after resistance when they're not finding the right answer and there is more a battle of wills between horse and rider with no clear path to success.  We have to create a clear path for them to see and choose.  Knowing how to create the path is why I have a trainer.

Regina had me move up on my reins until I could feel the bit make contact--no pulling back--and then just hold it there as if I was holding an arm full of watermelons.  Quincy tried to go down, but the way was blocked.  Quincy tried to go sideways, but the way was blocked.  Quincy started backing up, but the contact remained.

I could hear Regina saying to me--hold it, hold it, hold it, hold it.  

And, finally, RELEASE!

We apply pressure through aids, leg contact and our physical presence to interact with the horse. Any time there is pressure involved, there will naturally be some "resistance." The idea behind Least Resistance is for the handler to pay attention, "read" the horse, apply only as much pressure as is needed to get results, and release that pressure the instant the horse tries to respond.  Wild Horse Mentors

It seemed like a long time before the release came.  It was the point at which I was about to give up. When I was saying to myself, "Why am I here again??" And then, Quincy's head came to a place of softness--and the release.  She had made the right choice, which happened to also be, the only choice.

Regina talked to me about it afterward and how resistance is our ally in training.  We often don't find or recognize our horse's areas of resistance and, when we do, we give up trying to work through them right before they find the answers.

Today I'm going on a trail ride with my other trainer, Rachel.  She's going to ride Quincy while I ride Cowboy and, as always, if I feel comfortable we can switch off.  She offered to do this for me so I could see what to expect on the trail with Quincy.  I was very happy to take her up on it.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Tarp Training

One of the easiest and cheapest training tools, I've found, is the tarp.  Last month I took Quincy to a trail course and there were two obstacles that she failed to go across: a tarp and water.

Today we worked on the tarp.

There are two things about the tarp (at least) that can scare a horse. One, is the look of it, and the second, is the sound of it under their feet.  If there's a third, it might be the way it shifts and moves.

At the trail course, Quincy got it stuck to her front foot and when she backed up, it came with her.  When you think about it, something like that could easily happen on the trail--especially if they get their foot caught in down or buried wire.  That is a pretty common occurrence on rides when you get off main trails.

I think the tarp is also good preparation for eventually going over water obstacles.  I hope so anyway.

When I first put the tarp out, Quincy shifted into HIGH octane.  The other horses had been let out and were running and bucking, and she decided to run, too.  At first, I had the tarp folded into quarters the long way, and she jumped it.  Eventually though, she slowed down and trotted across it.  Whenever she'd let one foot touch it, I'd praise her.  Soon she was letting all her feet touch it and she slowed to a walk.  I unfolded it in half and did the same thing.  Finally, I unfolded it entirely and had her go across from both directions.  Each change took a little time, but less than the previous.  And, at the end of the session, as you can see, she was standing on it.

At that point I saddled and bridled her and worked on the bending-in exercises my trainer was having me do: pulling her head around and releasing until she stayed.  I worked on releasing her hind and front quarters a bit and then mounting from both sides.  When I was on her, I bent her head around to both sides.

Finally, we worked from the ground over the tarp again with her saddled, but by that point, she had no issues with the tarp, and wearing a saddle didn't add any extra obstacle to her.

Later today I'm going for another lesson, but this time with a different trainer who is going to help me with my first rides.

I'm kind of nervous.  I wish I could go back in time to my youthful optimism--that time in life when you don't know what "can" happen.  I keep having images flash through my mind of run away horses, although she has never acted like she'd run away.  That's why I think more of this as my training than hers.  I'm training myself to know her and trust her, which is just as scary, if not more so, than going over a tarp.

Update: I went to the lesson and it was GREAT.  The trainer, Rachel, rode her and then gave me a riding lesson on her.  Quincy did wonderful.  She's very green, of course, but was in tune with me and sensitive to the cues.  She's super "forward", but didn't try to run away.  She would easily transition from trot to walk and stop--which went a long way to building my trust in her.  The trainer complimented my original trainer who put two weeks on her, and said she really likes my little (huge) mare.  She thinks she's going to be a super trail horse.  In fact, she offered to ride her Monday or Wednesday on a trail ride with Cowboy and me.  I can't wait!  And, from now on, all my lessons with my actual trainer, Regina, will be in saddle.

(Picture of Rachel.  She rode her for about ten minutes and then gave me a riding lesson for the remainder.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Home Is Wherever I'm With You

Not anyone who says, "I'm going to be
     careful and smart in matters of love,"
Who says, "I'm going to choose slowly,"
but only those lovers who didn't choose at all
but were, as it were, chosen
by something invisible
and powerful and uncontrollable
and beautiful and possibly even
only those know what I'm talking about
in this talking about love. 
Mary Oliver, "Not Anyone Who Says", Felicity. 

Everyone has different definitions of love, and there are some great ones.  Mine is knowing I'm home.  No matter where we are, as long as we're together, we're in that special place of security, understanding, happiness, and being comfortable in our own skin.

My husband makes my life, and everything else I hold dear, more beautiful.

For our anniversary this year, we took a road trip to Alberta, Canada--Lake Louise and Banff.  It was beautiful country--rugged and surprising.

We were able to spend five whole days alone together remembering why we are so crazy in love (or, in other words, at home together) and looking forward to the future.