Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Possibility of a New Family Member

“The greatest problem with Irish Wolfhounds, though, is that they don't live very long: their great hearts give out. A good deal of this is genetic, of course, but I think it is in part that they worry so for us, care so much.”

--Edward Albee

Saturday was a busy day for us. It was the annual Palisades Park Cleanup and Wildflower Hike. As many of you know, I volunteer stewarding the park by maintaining the kiosks and other things. The cleanup is our day to join together and remove all the filthy garbage.

After the cleanup, before the wildflower hike, we have lunch together and laugh about all the crazy things we found. Yesterday, during lunch, I got a text message from a friend. She knew I was thinking about getting another Irish Wolfhound and she had just been contacted by a friend, (who is also a breeder of IWs) who was considering finding a home for one that had been returned to her. My friend told her friend that we would make an amazing home. Her recommendation of us was so glowing, her friend was willing to pursue it.

My husband was sitting next to me, and, excited, I told him about it. He was excited to hear more, too.

But first we had the wildflower hike. The hike is held about every two years and led by Dr. Rebecca Brown, a professor of Botany and Riparian Vegetation at Eastern Washington University. She is passionate about wild flora!! So am I. My only question is, why isn't everyone else??? These hikes are free, but we have the hardest time getting anyone to come to them. I don't get it!!! It's like the mysteries of the universe are opened up to us in those hikes....really private, intimate details of creation.

The Balsamroot was profuse in the park.  You can see Spokane in the background.

The "Fragile Wood Fern"-- It's a poem in itself.

Doesn't this Prairie Smoke look like a human body?

Just looking at these pictures gives me goose bumps.

After the hike, we went home and I was able to learn more about Loki.

He's almost 2 (in May), his owner was a woman who thought she'd be able to take him with her to school, where she works, but instead had to take him to doggy daycare, and realized, eventually, she didn't have the time for him.

Irish Wolfhounds are not for everyone, many people can't handle their needs, but I grew up with one who lived until she was 10 years old--very long for an IW whose average lifespan is 6.5 years.

Mish didn't get anything special, like expensive dog foods and such, but she got a big family who loved her more than anything, and I think that's what kept her alive so long.  Irish Wolfhounds feast on love, and there are tales of them passing away directly after their owners pass away, simply from a broken heart.

Six years ago (with my dad's help--he's pictured above with Mish), we were able to bring Riagan home. My first IW as an adult.

I'm officially an Irish Wolfhound person. (And, a Lab person, as well!)

So, this is how it's going to happen. The breeder is a woman who LOVES her pups. She commits to them for life, even after they go to their new homes. She is willing to keep Loki herself, but IF, after meeting him and spending time with him, we find that we'd like to open our home and commit to him for LIFE, she is willing to let us. This is not a "rescue", but rather a possible adoption.

Our first date is May 6th. From everything I've heard about him so far, I'm optimistic.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Learning to Speak the Same Language: Linda & Leah at School

"All equestrians, if they last long enough, learn that riding in whatever form is a lifelong sport and art, an endeavor that is both familiar and new every time you take the horse out of his stall or pasture."

Jane Smiley

The quote I chose to start this post with today sums up how I feel about working with my green horse, Leah.  It feels new.  It's like learning to ride a bike all over again, or balancing on wobbly legs and learning to take those first few steps, and also it's also like learning a foreign language.

When my instructor talks, I think I know what she's saying.

She says: Bittle, boitle, chitten, chatten, walk. Boitle, chitten, bittle, chatten, left.

And, I'm like, Oh, I get it now! Botten, totten, roiter, doodle, bittle, chitten, boitle, chatten.  


Poor Leah, is wondering, Is she telling me to Bittle, boitle, walk, and boitle, chatten, left?  I just can't tell what she's saying, but I'm trying to figure it out. 

We're both working hard to learn a new language together, so that we can truly communicate with one another, and she did awesome yesterday with her willingness to try and her forgiveness of my mistakes.  Her attitude was beautiful from the moment I haltered her in the pasture.  I don't know how to describe it except to say that it seemed her mind and spirit were open to me, and that did not go unappreciated.  In fact, I was deeply appreciative.  Maybe the more so because of her having been closed to me on Tuesday.

My instructor had a lot to say about what happened Tuesday and how it may have fallen apart for us, but it really says it all in the video.  The mistakes I was making emerged in the work we did yesterday, the timing of releases, the amount of contact, etc.  

It's important to always remember what Buck and the Dorrances pointed out over and over again, and probably every other great horseperson--It is NEVER the horse's fault.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

When to Release--Not Too Soon, Not Too Late

 "Timing is everything."
Buck Brannaman

Sounds so simple, doesn't it?  But it's not.

When are you holding too long?  When are you letting go too soon?  These are questions I'm trying to find through feel with Leah. 

On Sunday I had a GREAT ride with her.  We'd had a lesson the day before and worked on her loping (riderless), and that seemed to improve her walk and trot on Sunday when we were alone. 

Today, however, not so good.

When I went to get her, she was a tad grumpy.  Also, she had been grazing on the green grass and her stools are soft.  Reminds me of the Scrooge quote, "There's more of gravy than grave to you."  It's possible she just wasn't feeling her best today. 

She did awesome on the groundwork--very tuned in and soft.  She stood very well for me to mount. (We'd had a couple issues with that last month.)  She bent in softly at both sides.

When we started to walk out, however, she didn't want to go straight.  She started tuning into her herd mates and I had to redirect her feet a lot. She also didn't want to maintain the speed I asked and she kept breaking into a trot.  To top it off, she also rooted at the bit--really stretching her neck down to take my reins.

Eventually, we got some nice walking and so we trotted, but her speed was excessively fast.  I pulled back on the reins--softly first, than harder, and I eventually got her to slow down.  But then she'd speed back up.  We worked for a long time--getting varying results.

At the end, I started working with her on moving away from leg pressure, and she did some amazing side-passing.  So, we ended on a good note.  She was sweating from ear to tail, though, and it took me a while to cool her off with rest and a cold bath. 

I've been reflecting about it the last few hours and I'm worried my releases aren't right.   I'm going to talk to Regina about it at my next lesson.  It could be, too, this all had to do with her not feeling well, assuming she doesn't feel well, and that question can only be answered with a little more time.

Either way, it won't hurt me to really practice and learn more about the release.  I know that green horses need every bit of encouragement--but letting go too soon only reinforces a bad habit.  It's a fine, fine line.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Achieving A Soft Feel

"They like what they do.  That's important."

Betty Staley, 7 Clinics with Buck Brannaman

Lessons are great, and I love them, but time alone with Leah allows me to tune into her and only her.  And, that deepens our relationship.

Today, I watched a section on Disc 3 of, 7 Clinics with Buck Brannaman, before I went out to ride Leah.  It was "Achieving a Soft Feel."  There were several things that impressed me, in that section, besides the timing of the releases:

1.) It should be fun for the horse, 

2.) Horses don't like trainers and we shouldn't aspire to be one.  We should aspire to be horsewomen (men), 

3.)  It's a dance. (So, try not to step on your partner's feet!)

Our dance today started out a little funky.  First off, while bending her head around, she started to move her feet.  I held the pressure on the rein steady until she stopped, but it took her about 2 or 3 minutes.  I was hoping she'd stop on her own, but I did end up saying, Whoa, real nice to her, and that's when she stopped.  It taught me something about Leah and myself--we're a verbal duo.  Good, bad, or otherwise, I'm going to start talking to her more.

From the funky, twirling dance, we moved to the walk.  Our next door neighbors have a bunch of sheep and baby lambs, so she wanted to look over at them.  What helped us was something my instructor taught me, always be "opening doors and walking through". It's just a matter of, "Here's a door, let's walk through.  Here's another door, let's walk through."  It gets her mind off the thing and onto the job.  

The last thing we did was trotting, and it was hard for me to get the softness I was hoping for because she and I haven't fully come together in our understanding, but I was able to get her to a pretty steady speed that was easy to post, and have her maintain it for half way around the arena.  On the side with the sheep, she'd speed up, so I did the going through doors trick, at the trot, and that helped her regulate.  We did a lot of trot work, and she started to show signs of fatigue, so we ended on a good note.

At one point, about half way through, she did act like she might stop and resist, I could feel her locking up and she tossed her head at the trot, but I gave her a gentle squeeze, and she kept going forward.  That was much better than what she did at our lesson on Tuesday.  I was PROUD of her!!

Towards the end of our time, I asked her to walk again and, as we walked, I petted her neck, and bragged her up. She seemed pretty content and proud of herself...and I think that's a good way to get to liking what she does.  I loved it!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Spinning Head, Trotting Feet

When we speak about having a connection with a horse through feel, what's meant by that word "connection" is the part that's in place when what you understand and do is directly connected to what that horse understands and does."

My riding partner canceled last week, so I didn't get to ride Leah on the trail.  I ended up going to Seattle with my husband for the weekend, had a great time, but got nothing done with the horses. 

Tuesday, though, I had a lesson, and even though it was a bit cold and windy, I loaded Leah and went.  I almost didn't.  Someone I care about was having a crisis, and I didn't think that I could switch gears and concentrate on my lesson.  I messaged my instructor that I wasn't coming, but then I thought it over and messaged her back that I was. 

At the lesson, my instructor, Regina, thought it was time to do something new, so she offered me two choices for the lesson: 1.) Go out and ride in the woods near the barn, or 2.)  Work at the trot.

Since it was a little cold and windy, I decided to stay in the arena and work on the trot.

That's when the quote above about connection really struck home. 

Leah is new to trot work, and I am new to trotting on a horse that is new to trot work.  I needed to somehow get her understanding and my understanding, and her balance and my balance, to merge.

First off, Regina told me to shorten the reins and put Leah's head in the place it was going to naturally shift up to when I asked for the trot.  I did.  Then, she told me to ask Leah to trot.

Squeeze.  Cluck.

Off to the races!

Her trot was fast and fresh, but thankfully, my reins were short.  We were trotting in a big circle/square around the entire arena, so I couldn't hear Regina very well.  I was like, What? What?  Not to mention, my mind and body were maxed out keeping my seat and trying to steer her at the same time.   That colloquialism about your head spinning--mine was spinning right off.   

Legs. Hands. Stay On. Sit back. Pull back. Release. Steer. Faster. Slower. Good. Not good.  Listen to Regina. Hold Coffee Cup. Pressure on outside rein. Inside rein steady. Where do I want to go? Where am I going? 

I think Regina told me to pull back both hands evenly and keep them together, like I'm a holding a coffee mug between them, and pull back with varying degrees of pressure--10 plds, 20 lbs, 5 lbs, depending on how fast Leah was trotting beyond the speed I was asking for.  She also told me to do this thing where I sit in my seat solid and move my feet back and forth like I'm walking in place--this movement slows down the pace and Leah responds well to it.

We worked for a long time and finally got this beautiful, relaxed trot, that was like floating on wings.  We did some wide figure eights and moved to smaller circles.  Leah didn't like the smaller circles.  They were hard to do at the trot. 

She decided she was done trotting. 

Leah stopped going forward and started throwing her head up in the air, instead. This throwing of the head is much easier than the trotting! My first reaction was to try to bring her head around, but my instructor told me to hold my hands as they were--together in front--and ask her to trot.  But when I asked her to trot, she'd throw her head up again.  And, Leah was getting a tad pissed.

I marvel at how brave I am with my instructor near me.  Alone, I would have been scared and gotten off.  I'm pretty smart, and I know when a horse is telling me they're done, but that was no way to end it, and we weren't done, and with Regina telling me what to do--good eyes on the ground--I was fearless...or somewhat fearless. 

Eventually, the clouds parted and the sun came out (figuratively), and Leah started going forward again.  I worked her just a little bit more and stopped and petted and praised her.  She rested, and we started again. Her trot improved enough--regular rhythm and speed and collection--that I could post it.  She lightened up under the posting.  Like, What a least  you're off my back half the time!

There were many moments during the trot work, when I felt Leah and I coming together. Connection.  Love those moments!!  Addictive.

Friday we're going to work on the lope, and my instructor says that after that, she'll be even better at the walk. 

Still hoping to get her out on the trails, but that will have to wait.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Back to Reality: The Ups and Downs of True Horsemanship

Saturday, after my wonderful day with Leah Friday, I was dreading going back out and working with her again.  You know what I mean, further to fall?  Like, Oh dang, I have high expectations now, I can only be disappointed.

I chose to work with Beautiful first, but before we went to the arena, I needed to fill a trough up through the orange hose in the picture above.  For some reason, Beautiful was scared to death in that area, and somehow managed to get turned around and caught in the hose!  It wasn't pretty and, in the process of her trying to escape the hose, she crowded my space. Quite. A. Bit.

When she does things like that I start to wonder if I really want to ride her someday.  But then I remind myself that any horse can panic in the right situation and it just shows me what we need to work on.  And, we did work for a while on being comfortable in that space and comfortable with the hose.  Then, we worked in the arena, and after she was calm and engaged, I put her back in with the others.

When I went to get Leah, she walked away.  Self-fulfilling prophecy?  But she didn't walk too far, or too fast, and stopped pretty quickly.  I worked on lowering her head and then progressed to some mouth work.  Most of her tension is held in her mouth--she grates her teeth when she's really pissed off--so she wasn't about to give me her mouth happily.  I'd say we didn't do very well at all with that part of it.

Fast forward to Sunday, I got to ride Cowboy at Palisades Park.  My job in the Palisades group is to maintain the website, social media and park kiosks.  There are 4 kiosks spread over 700 acres, so I generally ride Cowboy to each kiosk and refill the flyer boxes with trail maps.  We also have our annual clean up coming April 23rd, so we needed to staple advertisements for volunteers to the kiosks, as well.  My  husband did that part for me.  It was a fun ride and Cowboy was sweating from tail to nose at the end.

Fast forward to Monday.  Cowboy walked away from me as soon as he saw me coming to the pasture! Surprise!

Fast forward to today, Tuesday.

I had a lesson with Leah this morning.  First off, when she saw me coming to get her, she and Cowgirl started running to me from across the pasture.  I have no idea why they did that because when Leah arrived at my side and thought about it for a second, she backed away.  Like, oops!  But it was too late for her to change her mind and she was soon haltered and heading down the road to the lesson barn.

We had a wonderful lesson and I think I'm going to take her on her first spring trail ride tomorrow to test all of this out.  Also, there's a trail challenge coming up this month, hosted by my instructor, and she thinks we're ready for it.  I just might try!

I did ask her about the mouth thing, and she watched me with Leah and gave me some suggestions.  What she had me do is tip her head in and massage/rub the outside of her nose and muzzle.  When she relaxed a bit, I let her head go to give her time to think about it.  Then, I tipped it in again and continued to massage her mouth and the corners of her mouth with my knuckles.  Relax.  Release.  And, on and on, until I was massaging her gums with my hands from both sides.

She also had suggestions for my ask on lowering the head.  She had me cup my hand into a "C" shape and place it just behind the boney party of the poll.  Put pressure there, wait until she lowered, and release.  If her head bounced right back up, I put the pressure back on.  I only used the halter to position her head, not pull down.  Then, she wanted me to pick a spot--the height of my elbow--and make that the goal position for her head.  If she raised it above that spot, the "C" pressure was put right back.  It worked pretty sweet, I must say.

I'll update my blog tomorrow and let you know how the trail ride goes!

*** My thought for the day***

A horse walking away isn't necessarily a rejection of you, more likely, it's a rejection of the idea or proposition you're presenting.  (ie. a trailer ride away from her/his buddies and an hour, or more, of pretty hard physical and mental work.)

Friday, April 1, 2016

True Horsemanship Pays Off--A Dream Day

As you all know, I've been working on some of the ideas from, True Horsemanship Through Feel, with our horses.  Today was my first lesson since our trip to Hawaii, so I was really excited to see if it would make a difference.

It did!

When I hooked up and pulled around the horse trailer, I went to get Leah in the pasture. (In my mind, I had been debating getting her first, then pulling around the trailer, but opted to let her know what was happening instead.) Even though she knew I was coming to take her away, she stood for me and bent around to greet me. (Big improvement on the Indirect Feel).

Before loading her, I worked with her on the ground, lowering her head, moving her feet, all with a "float" in the line.  I stood outside the trailer and asked her to walk in on her own.  She did. And, trailering went great.

At the lesson barn, the beautiful weather had brought everyone out.  Lots of horses and people and the cutest little five year old with the best-behaved pony I've ever seen.

We worked in the big outside arena with the other riders (and little girl with amazing pony) and adjacent cattle pen.  Leah was definitely wanting to look around, but I just asked her to pay attention, and she did.

It was the best day I've ever had with her.  I finally experienced the beginnings of real togetherness.  My instructor was thrilled, too.  Leah was like a different horse, less reactive and moving out with balance and thought.  The saddle barely slipped to the side, whereas, it used to constantly roll.  When I applied leg pressure, she didn't bolt forward like it was her cue for the Kentucky Derby.  She got it!

I talked with my instructor about what I'd seen--Leah bracing in the pasture when I'd walk up--and how I took a few steps back to improve on that rather than thinking I always had to ride.  She thought that was a good decision.  Leah hadn't lost any of her training, but the foundation of being together with me--a willing partner--was a dramatic difference.

The cute little girl on the amazing pony, who had been watching us, rode over in my area (her mother was giving a lesson on the other side of the arena) and said,"You have a really pretty horse.  Is she all trained?"  I told her thank you, and she is still in the process of being trained, but almost there.  She said again, "She is really pretty!"  >>melt heart<<.  The fact is, though, Leah looked prettier today because of her attitude.  Even my trainer said, "I kind of love this horse!"  

My trainer and I talked about lowering the head, and she said she does that with all her horses.  Hers can touch their lips to the ground, and they even lower their heads on a verbal cue.  She also bends them around to the side and lowers the head, though not as low as in front.

So, I'm riding the high of the feeling you get with togetherness.  It was a validation to me that I hadn't been "wasting" my time by doing the fundamentals.  When we got home, I took Leah for a little walk around our property before putting her in with the others.  She was so sweet.  Her head was low as I petted her, and she was enjoying the relationship, something I hadn't really had with her and that I was wondering if I'd ever get.  She was in no hurry to be put back, and I was in no hurry to let her go.