Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Teaching the Horse to Adjust Their Head

"One main thought I like people to be on the lookout for is that spot where a person's thought becomes the horse's idea.  There is a complete control over the horse when this occurs, and this control is no part of any contest whatsoever.  I don't mind saying again that there's no place at all for ideas about dominating a horse in the connection we are building here."  

True Horsemanship Through Feel

The good thing about the 100 Day Challenge I'm doing this year, is that any training counts, it doesn't have to be all earth-shattering, ground-moving stuff.  Yesterday, I didn't have much time before work, so I decided to practice something I hoped would be simple--approaching them in pasture, haltering, and bringing down their heads.

This comes from Part I of True Horsemanship Through Feel: Teaching the Horse to Adjust His Head Position

Paraphrased: Standing on their right side (and then left), you place one hand softly at the poll and then pull down on the halter knot with the other hand.  The hand at the poll shouldn't be digging in or pushing.  When you get any kind of movement down, you let the pressure go, then ask again, and again, until their head is just maybe a foot from the ground.  (Do not put your head directly over them, just in case they pull up real quick.)

I worked with Beautiful first.

It was their second day out in the large pasture, and it was windy. Beautiful was standing on a  little knoll, relaxed, mane blowing in the wind, eyes on me.  If I had been placing bets, I would have bet she'd run away wildly over the entire 15 acres.  But she didn' never place bets on your horses!  Instead, she stood very calmly and let me approach her with the lead.  I walked around her on both sides, ran the lead rope over her back and neck, haltered her and then asked her to lower her head.  Bit by bit, with gentle pulls and instant releases, she had a nice, low relaxed head.

After working with Beautiful on both sides, I looked over to the other side of the pasture and saw Leah.  Leah saw me, too.  Off I went toward her, and surprise, surprise, she stood waiting for me.  She even bent her head in to greet me.  I did the exact same thing with Leah, and since we'd already been working on lowering the head on other days, she did awesome. 

As I was walking back to the house, I was thinking to myself, does this even count toward a day of the 100 Day Challenge?  It was too easy.  But I think it most certainly does count.  Getting a good indirect feel in the pasture, and that lower headset and slack lead is essential to the kind of togetherness I'm looking for, and that takes us further down the road to a true partnership.

Monday, March 28, 2016

March Musings

"I've spent most of my life riding horses. The rest I've just wasted." 

March has been hit and miss for me with my horses, but I'm at a time in life where I don't really care.  I'm still keeping track of my 100 Day Challenge, but I'm not concerned how fast I get there.  I'm enjoying the ride!

I've had to cancel a couple of Leah lessons because the conditions have been wintry--windy and snow/rain mix--and I don't like to trailer a horse who already has issues being in the trailer alone, in bad conditions.  I'm blessed to have a trainer who gets this.  

We had new neighbors move in two houses down who are going to fix up the old Dairy and start boarding horses there.  Years back, a friend and I cleaned up one of the big outbuildings on the Dairy to make it an indoor arena.  The new owners are going to build on that work and open up the arena for the public.  They're even willing to make gates from our place to theirs.  I'm really excited about the possibilities.  They're very kind-hearted people.

I did get out on my first ride with friends last week.  The horses were fresh--mostly Cowboy, that is.  He was jigging for the first five minutes.  We rode at James T Slavin Conservation Area.  The area in the trees was wet and slick, but the ground exposed to sun was dry and stable.  It was a great ride.

Cowboy has started a new thing this year where he does not want to go back to the trailer.  He insists--or implores--me to keep going.  He'll try to lead me to trails that lead away or past the trailer.  He loves that time together, as do I.  He is my heart horse through and through, and I owe him big time for the last 13 years he has blessed my life.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Indirect Feel Versus Direct Feel (Video)

"There are two kinds of feel and it is important to understand the difference in them. Direct feel is when you have a physical connection between you and the horse and the indirect feel is when nothing (no physical contact) is between you and the horse.  With direct feel, he learns to feel of you from that physical connection between you.  With indirect feel, he learns to feel of  you and understand what he's supposed to do from the way you maneuver around him.  This ties right in with how you present what you intend for him to do.  Most people miss out on this, because they really haven't got any idea that the way they're feeling and moving around that horse even matters to him.  But that's exactly the thing that matters the most to him."  

True Horsemanship Through Feel, Bill Dorrance and Leslie Desmond. p. 18

Since I've been reading this book, I've started paying more attention to how my horses are responding, from the time I start walking out to their pasture, approach them, and leave.

As soon as we enter their sphere, we begin to put pressure on them.  Maybe it's feeding time, and they're happy to see us.  Maybe it's after feeding time, and they wonder why we're coming.  Maybe we have a rope and halter in hand, and they know they're going to be taken away from the herd.  I wanted to observe them in all those various settings and, especially, see how Leah is taking it all in and, if she's bracing or walking off, get her to be together with me.

I want my indirect feel with her to be just as good as my direct feel.

So, here is part of the herd as I start to approach from the house (outside the pasture).  Cowboy (my love), Red (the leader and love of the mare herd), and Leah (basking in the glory of Red).

As you can see, they have spotted me and are very attentive to my approach.

I went into the pasture without a halter and lead--to take that level of  pressure off.  This indirect feel was all about them and me.

First, I went to Beautiful.  She was inquisitive, bent in towards me, and nuzzled my hand.  Next, was Penny.  She's a lover girl and immediately walked over and bent in.

After that, it was Cowboy, who stopped eating and bent around to say hello.

Last, was Leah.

Braced.  One ear on Red.  One on me.  Ouch.  Stiff as a board in the neck.  Mouth tight.  Eyes wary.

This is what I don't want, and why I'm going back to square one--the basics--indirect feel, with Leah.  She's a gentle horse.  She doesn't want a fight, but this kind of disconnection will not serve us well down the trail.

In this video, I'm doing some approach and retreat--getting her attention, and then moving away to see if she's interested in connection.  She's barely interested, but I do get some movement.

In the next video, I finally get what I want, but first, the dog behind her barked and growled and got her to react--exactly why we need that unity--if the flight had kicked in, she'd have been out of there.  Right afterward, she gives me the release and acknowledgement I'm looking for.

After that, I went to get the halter and lead rope and approached her again.  She was responsive to it.  I again worked on bringing her head down and walking off with some "float in the rope".  We went into the arena and practiced leading, stepping the hindquarters over and front end around, backing up, and the cone game (which uses a lot of the changing direction through feel.)  I tested her at the walk and trot about 4 feet out to make sure she was still maintaining the float in the rope--she was--so I progressed to saddling and bridling.

After I saddled and bridled her, having introduced another level of pressure, I started from square one in the arena, on the ground, and did all those things (above) again.

It had been over two weeks since I rode her, so I wanted to make sure we were together.

She did great.  She wasn't stiff or resistant or bracey--she was willing and gave it a lot of try.  She wasn't as straight as she had been, so we had to go back to doing circles again--and then moving out straight, but I didn't think it was bad considering she's such a green horse and had over two weeks out of saddle.  She didn't react to any outside influences--even though there were plenty to react to--our dog chasing our cat through the arena--a metal chain blowing against a metal gate--things she could have chosen to tune into--but didn't.   

A++ there, Leah.

As I continue to read through the book, here's a list of what will be covered (below).  Dorrance suggests you have the first 7 parts done on the ground before you ever get on a horse, but it's too late for that!  LOL.  Although, I did have some of it.  Kind of like the Swiss Cheese of True Horsemanship.

Some pictures from the book about what it looks like to have float in your rope...or not.

The 7 things to work with on the ground before riding your horse.

Part 1: Teaching the Horse to Adjust His Head Position
   A. Lowering the Horse's head
   B. Getting with the horse On the Start
   C. Learning to Follow a Feel
   D. Bringing the head from Side-to-Side Real Slow, with the Feet Still
   E.  Learning to Wait
   F.  Timing Your Releases
   G. Teaching an Older Horse to Soften
   H. Taking His Head Around While Mounted
    I.  How Softness Can Carry Over

Part 2: Teaching Your Horse to Lead Up Real Free
    A. Test Him Out
    B.  Maintain Float in the Rope
    C.  When His Feet Don't Move
    D. Self Preservation Is Natural
    E.  Misuse of the Lead Rope
    F.  Using a Snaffle Bit to Help a More Braced Horse Lead Up Free
    G.  One Colt that Didn't Lead Up
    H. Teaching a Horse to Lead Up from Horseback

Part 3: Backing and Leading Up One Step at a Time

Part 4: Teaching the Horse to Stand and Other Important Things

Part 5:  Stepping the Hindquarters Over

Part 6:  Stepping the Front End Around

Part 7:  Changing Direction Through Feel

Part 8: Feeling of the Feet in Different Gaits and Lead Changes
Part 9: Trailer Loading
Part 10: Knots that are Needed for Tying Your Equipment

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Horses in Hawaii

"Until the horse is ready to look to you for the direction and support he needs so he can stay relaxed and follow your feel--you need to follow his feel.  By that I mean to be ready all the time to get with him, and all the time be aware of when things start to change in that horse's mental system. If a horse understands that a person is in favor of him, and that their mental focus and physical abilities are available to him, then he can pick up some reassurance.  As long as what a person does to help a horse doesn't bring out the horse's self-preservation instincts or disrespect, a time will come when that horse realizes a fella's there for him in a way that maybe he hadn't thought about or understood possible."  True Horsemanship Through Feel

My first day on the beach, during our Hawaii vacation, was spent reading the book, True Horsemanship Through Feel.  The first few chapters dig in deep about how to get feel and the different types of feel--direct and indirect.  It's all about being with your horse as much as possible and looking for new ways, improving on old ways, and having an unquenchable desire to learn. It's all about listening to your horse and finding a way to communicate and be together from the very beginning, from when you approach and halter, and then throughout the entire time you're together.

My first day back, I put some of what I'd read into practice, having realized that I often jump ahead of myself in my horse work, instead, I slowed down and spent time asking Leah to lower her head in the pasture before haltering her.  When I got that, I moved to haltering her and bringing her head down again in a nice relaxed frame before I walked off.  Dorrance emphasized that nothing else should be done until you've got that first sign of togetherness and relaxation and, if it takes your whole time together to achieve, so be it.

He also suggested walking a horse on a loose lead--which I already do. He said that, ideally, the weight of the rope is all you should feel.  You should be prepared for something more, but a relaxed horse will usually be with you and the rope is more of a safety net.  All of my horses are really good at that type of leading.

The big difference in what I do and what he talks about is in the next steps, being with the horse up close before you ever ask them to move out away in a circle.

I tried it his way--the way most of my trainers have always taught me, but that I conveniently always forget--which is to say, yielding and bending, directing the feet, and then moving from there to a small circle about 3 feet out--still controlling the feet and maintaining a good feel between us--and then, if need be, further out, again, as long as the good feel is still there.

It went great.  Leah never lost her connection and relaxation.  As far as Dorrance is concerned, there's no need to go there.  A horse should be with you ever step of the way or it's time for you to take some steps backward.  We made the choice to be with the horse, so it's up to us to get feel--even though, the horse has its own feel going on, too--but these two things need to come together for the good of the horse.

I tried something new with the yielding--which I call the "I forgot something" game.  It's easy for me to play the game, because I usually do forget something.  It consisted of me asking Leah to move away in front because "I forgot something over to the right over her", or moving her hind end away from me because "I forgot something behind and to the side of her."  It was yielding with a directional purpose.

She liked it.

At the end of our session, doing it the Dorrance way on the ground, I finally had the togetherness I had been seeking with her.  Using feel, without knowing I'd done it, I set her up for success, and she was proud of herself, confident with me, and there was a new kind of relaxation and unity.

It was something we had been missing, so I'm excited to see how it translates in the saddle.

I put the same principles to use with Beautiful before the farrier came yesterday, and I got the same results.  She was giving it more "try".  Something in the barn was scaring her, and her body was shaking, but she looked to me for support instead of pulling back and trying to flee.  When the farrier came over to trim her hooves, she relaxed and did great.  Big changes from small changes. 

I'm still at the beginning of the book, so I'll have a lot more to write about as we move along.

While in Hawaii, we also went on a horseback ride around Waipio Ridge.  Wiapio Valley was closed off because of the Dengue Fever (YIPES!), but we were able to go out on the ridge and look down at the ocean and waterfall.  It was beautiful, and the ride up was something else with the thick, tall stands of Eucalyptus trees.

The two girls we rode with had only been on horseback once before, so they didn't have any idea how to keep their horses from eating grass along the way.  I didn't want to nag at them, or ride ahead of them too far (their horses would see us passing and then trot to catch up, which they couldn't sit), so I tried my best to help them out and, otherwise, enjoyed the leisurely stroll.

 The view is always better between horse ears.

The big island is home to one of the nation's largest cattle ranches, the Parker Ranch in Waimea. If we go back next year, I want to ride on the Ponoholo Ranch, the second largest on the island at 11,000 acres, because they offer rides for the more experienced horse-people

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Our Elder Equine Ambassadors

 By the time you're 80 years old you've learned everything.  You only have to remember it.  

George Burns

My first horse was not an old one, even though I wish it had been, but I have had the gift of raising an elder horse now.  Old Red is 35-36, which is the equivalent of 106-108 human years.

With some extra TLC, he is going strong and is still #2 in our herd of 8.  He gives the grand-kids, nieces and nephews their first rides, and he instructs the younger horses on how to be calm and smart.  He's the glue that holds our herd together, which is why, I think, he is still alive.


I have seen so many wonderful things.  Last night, when I got home from work, he and Cowboy were out nipping and playing with each other, heads bobbing, front feet striking the ground playfully--even chasing each other.  

I've seen the mare herd surrounding Red in the dark and walking him to his stall.  I've seen the mares lie around him when he sleeps. They protect and love him more deeply than I would have ever imagined possible.

This morning, before coming to work, my sweet nephew got a ride on Old Red.  (Pictured above)  Then I worked on approaching Beautiful Girl and Leah without them moving away or putting their heads in the air.

I used TREATS!

I spent about fifteen minutes going back and forth, approaching and withdrawing--scratching their withers and giving them their goodies.  By the end of it, they were following me up and down the fence line.

That's the kind of eagerness I'm looking for.

I'll be gone for a little bit, but I will catch up on all your blogs as soon as I get back!

Happy Trails, everyone.  And, give those Senior Equine buddies an extra hug from me.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Setting My Horse Up For Success

"When the horse understands what you want, he will do what that is, right up to the limit of his physical capacity and sometimes well beyond it."  

Bill Dorrance, True Horsemanship Through Feel

Everything happens for a reason, and in its right time.  Last night, at the end of my terrible day, a book arrived in the mail, True Horsemanship Through Feel, (A BIG thank you to Grey Horse Matters), and I started reading it this morning.  The first two pages gave me instant psychic relief.  What do I mean by that?  There was a stress over me since yesterday that could not find relief...until I read a few pages of that Dorrance wisdom.  

The very first chapter talks about feeldirect and indirect.  Direct Feel is when you're attached to them by rope and halter or saddle, whereas indirect feel is when the horse is free, but near you, such as in a turnout.  It also talks about the foundations of feel and the importance of time with your horse in order to learn or get that feel.  All of it was a validation that I'm on the right path--mistakes and all.  How can I learn feel if I don't sometimes screw it all up and get knocked down a few pegs and sent scrambling to the drawing board?

The quote at the top of the page today sums up where my work with Beautiful went bad yesterday--

And, how I set her up for failure.

If  you read yesterday's post, The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad EXTRA Day, you know that things went really well--almost perfect, I thought--when I had the direct feel with Beautiful Girl, but when I released her, she didn't want to hang out or join up.  She would let me approach her to halter, but she didn't seem happy about it.  I would push her away and try again--looking for a softness.  I didn't get it. I left her in the arena and went to work...frustrated and disappointed.

But I was told a long time ago by my farrier, who was also a cowboy and trainer, to never hold a grudge against a horse.  He told me that after I'd had a really bad day with Cowboy.  In fact, during my flexion work with Cowboy, he had stiffened up and taken a kick at me...a warning kick.  This was about 13 or 14 years ago.  I had put Cowboy back and I was about ready to cry.  I didn't even like Cowboy at that moment.  In my mind, I was done with him.  But Joe--my farrier--ran into me and asked me what was wrong, and he told me that wisdom that his father had told him, and I really believed what he said...gave Cowboy another try the next day.  Dear Lord, what if I hadn't?  I would have missed out on the best relationship I've ever had with a horse. 

Last night, I thought it through and had an epiphany--I hadn't trained Beautiful for what I was asking of her--I had trained her for the exact opposite.  For seven years, I've taught her that when we're connected directly there is one set of rules, but when she is released it is her time and she is free to go back to the herd.  We weren't in with the herd yesterday, but she was across from them about 200 feet (indirect contact), and tuned in.  They were at the gate watching and directing her during At Liberty

Today I went out to show her that I didn't hold a grudge.  Oddly, she seemed to be telling me the same thing.  She came right up to me, put her head down for the halter, and stood sweetly at my side.  She walked with me, on a slack lead, to the arena.  We worked on having her stand away from me, and then me motioning her to come near.  She wanted to know what I was asking.  She wanted to understand.  

I don't want to set my horse up for failure.  I think Dorrance is right on, our horses want to do what's expected of them.  They want harmony in the relationship and in their lives as much as we do.  But they are horses and we are humans and communication--understanding--between us can be a challenge.

Oh, and Scarlett O'Hara was absolutely right--maybe she did get Rhett back!--"After all, tomorrow IS another day."

It certainly is.  The important thing is to do something--anything--just keep moving forward.