Sunday, April 29, 2018

Leah Crosses a Deep Creek

Well, Leah continues to be a rock star trail horse, making me further scratch my head and ask, wha-wha-why did we have that setback?!?  Last Thursday we explored a new trail with some friends.

This is the creek she had to cross both coming and going.  No problem!

The only issue I can really say we have right now are occasional refusals when she sees a scary path, to somewhere she’d rather not go, and going down hills slower. Right now she just barrels down hills, and I don’t feel comfortable with that. Something to work on.

Here are some more photos of the horses from today.

Beautiful looking all mustangy.

The horses are back on pasture for part of the day.

Little Joe is back with the girls.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

What a Difference a Week Makes

After I realized Leah's refusal to go forward was a behavioral, rather than a pain, decision, I decided to address it calmly, but firmly on Monday morning.

My response was simple: when Leah would try to stop with her head held high, I'd anticipate it, catch it before it happened, turn her into a circle, and ask her to yield her hindquarters, then return to the line we were walking. I had to do it about ten times, but soon I was able to move on to picking an imaginary line where I wanted her head to be carried, and if she raised it above that line, I'd circle her again.  We also practiced stopping, with her head in a lower position--and backing.  She responded to that intervention very fast, and we soon had our partnership back.


That night, I went back out to see if she'd partner with me even when the mare herd was grazing outside of the arena.

She did.

The true test, of course, was the trail, and we did that yesterday.

Leah did great!  I give her a 90%!  (Less than 100% because she did have a couple of refusals on trails she knew were steep and difficult.  She was like, I'd rather not.)

The trail to this view was one of those trails, but boy was it pretty on top.  We stopped and let them graze as a reward.  In fact, my friend's horse is very green and had a bad experience at the park last week, so we really wanted it to be positive for him.  I thought it would really help him to pause a lot on the trail and let them graze until  he would relax--then expose him again--then pause, rest and relax, etc.  It worked very, very well. He had a positive experience, and so did Leah.

My friend took some pictures of us.

Today, we're going to explore a new stretch of trail at Riverside State Park, Inland Empire to Deep Creek.

When I left for the ride yesterday, I let Little Joe and Cowboy out into the big pasture for the first time.  The mares weren't very happy.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Leah’s Week of Refusing to Go Forward

I had a major set back last week, she stopped going forward.  Just stopped.

Like anyone who has a problem with their horses, I scoured the Internet for answers. Apparently, it is a common issue. Unfortunately, there are not easy answers. It could be physical pain or it could be behavioral issues. Both possibilities loomed large. On the one hand, I had been asking her to do a lot these last few weeks, so there could be pain.  On the other hand, she’s surrounded by spring grass she can’t get to, which could be frustration.  I found out my husband was accidentally graining her--possibility of pain.  But it started in response to the loping training--behavioral.

This was particularly odd because I had a long ride with her Wednesday morning and she did great. We worked on obstacles and then rode out in the pasture.  All the pictures in this post are from that very morning!

That night, I had a loping lesson with my trainer—our second. I worked Leah on the ground, all was good. Then, my trainer got on and Leah started to refuse to go forward. She’d just stop. If she asked her to go, she’d throw her head up. All of this was at the walk, and my trainer is a believer in listening to your horse and not creating fights and/or bad habits, so she suggested we stop until we could figure out if it was pain or behavioral.

I was shocked at the change from morning to night, so I asked to switch places. Leah went through some obstacles for me and then did the same thing. She was done.

The other horses were grazing at the edge of the arena, and she was having to work, so I highly suspected it was frustration with not being able to also eat. I worked her on the ground a bit and then tied her up for an hour and a half as I did other things. I did that so she didn't get the impression her action won her any special treats.

Questions, questions.  Was it because she knew the trainer would ask her to lope and she doesn’t want to lope? Because of her physical history, it could be that she is only suitable for light work—trails and obstacles. Knowing the trainer was there to ask more, maybe she decided to let us know her limits.

Maybe not.

Thursday morning, I went back out to body check her again. Nothing found. And ride her. She still refused forward and still threw her head up. I drove her in bridle from the ground. No problems.  So, teeth were probably not the issue. I decided to give her a few days of stall rest.

And, then I started to feel dreadfully sorry for myself.  All my time.  All my training.  All my hope.  All my heart.  And, what was worse?  I had finally seen Leah give me her own heart after all that waiting!  All of you can attest to how long I've waited for it.  And finally, she was doing so damn well--winning the admiration of everyone who saw her.

All of it...possibly....gone.

But a slight glimmer of hope.

Sunday, yesterday, I rode Leah bareback and let her go anywhere she wanted. I didn’t even ask for forward. I just sat on her, ready for whatever she'd choose--stand, walk, trot.  Hopefully, no head throwing or rearing--but I was ready for that, too.

I brought her to the mounting block.  She stood still and close enough for me to easily swing a leg over--a good sign she was willing.  As soon as I was situated, she was waiting for the cue to move.  I didn't give it to  her, but I didn't restrain her either.  She moved out. We meandered around the obstacle course.

She was doing so well that I decided to add in leg and neck rein. She thought about balking, and began to bring her head up, but then she corrected herself, as if she had thought it through and decided to partner up.

We did a little more and then I dismounted and praised her.  I didn't want to push my luck.

Today, I’m taking her to the trail because she loves that work and it’s the best place to get forward. Arenas can make horses sour, ESPECIALLY when they see their buddies right next to them feasting on green grass.  It can be hard, tedious work for horses, and I think it is a breeding ground for behavior issues--especially in horses who struggle with conformation.

At this point, if I had to guess, I’d guess it was a behavior issue.  She was great on the ground and standing tied. She is very respectful—extremely respectful on the ground. Personally, I think she was telling me what her limits are. I’m not the type to “make her” do things. It’s a partnership. What she does, she does because she wants to, and she likes being with me and accomplishing new things. We’ve worked in small increments to get where we are today, and we got here based on trust. I’m going to be doing some soul searching to find out exactly what that means for us going forward. I think one thing for sure is that I have to do the training myself and Leah will tell me when she’s ready for each new step.  I'll find out a lot today on the trail.

The question in my mind: How much of what our horses do for us is only because they WANT to do it?


That BS was behavioral!  I went out to work with her today at home, rather than at the trail, and she started grinding her teeth as soon as I put pressure with my legs on to ask her to move out.  Then, I sat on her back and shifted around to see if there was any pain--I couldn't detect any and I'd already worked on the ground and gave her an all over massage/checkout--so I asked her to move in circles.  She did.  Pretty soon, she snapped that head up and tried to come to a stop, but I pulled her head in tight, kicked her haunches over, and had her do a circle.  We moved out, and she tried it again, I repeated it.  Every time she'd look out at the mares and see them eating, or we'd pass the gate, she'd snap the head up in a halt--but before she'd get it all the way up, I'd circle her. 

Pretty soon it ended, and she was moving out nicely again.  I realized when I used to whoa her, she'd come to a stop with her head snapped up high, so we worked on whoaing with the head low.  During our work, I chose a height that I felt was acceptable and whenever her head even slightly passed that imaginary mark, we circled tight and came back around on our line.

We went over our obstacles, to the gate, walk and trot transitions, backing, and ended on a very positive note.

After our work, I tied her to the trailer and came in here.  I'm going to leave her tied until I go to work at 1:30.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Training For the Lope

At first,
They may try to buck,
But give them the reins
And sit deep in the saddle.
Like everything in life,
No guarantees,
We’re all on the bottom peg,
When it comes to living,
Or dying,
Or even breaking a leg.
Loping a green horse
Isn’t much different
Than falling in love,
Or growing old.
We like to feel alive,
We like to fly
On the back of a horse
Learning to run,
With chaos on her back.

Leah and I have had such a breakthrough in our partnership this spring. We're together in ways I didn't think possible--which I attribute to the slow, patient work we did with the gate.  That waiting--no matter how long it took, and it did take a LONG time--for her to calm, opened up a new level of trust and communication. 

I rode with another friend last week who had last seen Leah in action a couple years ago--at her lowest point--and she was amazed at how different she was--both in looks and attitude.  She said she could barely recognize her and that she was going to make me a great trail horse.

And, in fact, Leah did shine in every way--on the obstacles, opening and closing various gates around the equestrian area, the collected trot, and trail work.  

We don't, however, lope....yet.

My goal with Leah this year is to get her in shape so that she can balance herself at a nice little lope. Easier said than done. Balance and hind end propulsion isn’t easy for her. She has to work hard to do what is difficult, but easier, for other horses. I’m working with my trainer because she has more experience and better balance than I do, and I want it to go the best it can.

You also can't discount muscle memory, just reminding her body how it feels to carry itself a certain way--and that she can do so and it will  make her job easier.  But again, having Rebecca to guide me through this--introducing certain exercises--only makes it all go that much better.

We started last Wednesday, and we used side reins to help Leah collect at the lope. The side reins are not very tight, allowing her to maintain her natural headset, and they have elastic. Still, Leah likes to hollow out and hold her head higher when she transitions, so she did feel the end of the give, which made her react /evade.  At the time, she was going right, and she evaded by bolting out of the circle--her favorite move.  My trainer stayed with her and brought her back into the circle. When they were done, she rode her and worked on the same things in saddle.

Going right is often the weakest side for horses, and she’s no different.

Tom Dorrance said this:

(Since reading that, I've been starting her to the right at the beginning of every training session.)

Rebecca suggested that I lope her only from the ground, every day, for one month, to get her in shape, and to vary the terrain where I lope her to work on paying attention to her feet.  (I found that she does much better in pasture than in the deep sand of the arena.  It's easier for her.)  Part 2 of the weekly plan is that Rebecca will come by and put a ride on her each week--working on the same concepts in saddle. 

 She cautioned that I stick to that plan, but....

I didn't.

I was working Leah at Riverside State Park, in their 60 foot round-pen, and she was doing so well that I thought I'd give it a try in saddle. Of course, no problem going to the left, but she did not want to lope going right, no matter how much I asked, and her extended trot was so rough it threw me off balance. I gave up and confessed to Rebecca that I'd jumped the gun. Lesson learned. I'll go back to the plan. (The good thing is that I did get the above poem out of the deal, and no harm was done to Leah--but it may be more difficult for Rebecca this week.)
Leah has lost weight and she is the healthiest she has been in a long time. Because of that weight loss, she's able to move better than she has in a long time, too. It's opening the door for many possibilities I didn't think we'd have.

Yesterday, we got a trail ride in with my husband, riding my heart horse Cowboy.  I wish I could be with all three of my heart horses at the same time, but this helps when I can bring one along for the ride.  

I'm so excited about the future!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

On My Own: Part 4 The Results

By now you've all probably guessed, I got the best case scenario with Bee.  After unloading her from the trailer and walking her around to familiarize herself with the area, we went to the round-pen.

She was tuned and listening.

Next, we went to the obstacle course.  The labyrinth was first, and we walked through, then backed through it.  She was trying very hard to listen to my gentle asks.  She trusted me, even when she couldn't see where she was going.

This was followed by the ladder.  Perfect on the first try.  No balking, no stepping out, no panicking.  I've never had a horse go through it like that before on the first try. 

(This video was taped the following Monday, but it is exactly the same as she did it Friday.)

The bridge...pefect.

The fan...pefect.

Sidepassing over a log...almost perfect.

The tire...and this one freaks most horses out or, AT LEAST, gives them pause.

Again, PERFECT.  I asked her to step up, and she didn't hesitate or act in the slightest concerned.

It went on and on like that at every obstacle!  She was freakishly willing to do anything I pointed her to.

We hiked up steep hills and trails--

No problem, mom, I just like hanging out with you.

We practiced tying to trees.

Sure thing!

But this boy over here needs to be taught some manners.  I'm going to scoot on over and threaten him.

Or, flirt with him.  Whatever!

It sent so well, I couldn't wait to get her back down there on Monday where I was meeting friends and setting up a sort of day camp.

We did all of the obstacles again--with no problem--and then we ponied in the arena (picture at top of page.)  She was awesome!

So good, in fact, that we decided to hit the trails.

Beautiful ponied through water, and other obstacles, like a pro.  Cowboy, on the other hand, started to jig and jig, jig, jig all the way home, proving that even the seasoned horses have their moments.

My girl, Bee, was acting like an old, broke horse.  She was waiting her turn to be worked.

She was standing tied while we had lunch.

All told, she was away from home for seven hours that day, but she seemed to love every minute of it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

On My Own: Part 3 Unloading A Green Horse From the Trailer

Once we took off down the road, I shifted gears into action.  All the questions had been asked, all the tools loaded, all the foundation laid.  Any fear I had was gone.

This is how I work: Leading up to what I'm going to do, and it could be anything, I entertain a thousand possible scenarios, but when I decide on a course of action, my mind blocks it all out. Which is probably a good argument for someone kicking me out of my comfort zone.  People like me can get stuck there until the necessary impetus launches us out into the big world.  Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't, but it's never as bad as I think it will be.

Out in the big world, the drive to the park was a breeze--barely any traffic, Bee was quiet, it was completely normal and boring.  When we pulled up, I could see Rebecca off in the distance with a group of riders.  She was finishing up a clinic.  I figured it was best to unload Bee by myself.

Anticipating that Bee may want to bolt out of the trailer, when I was preoccupied with opening and securing the panel in our 3-Load Slant, I secured a long line to her halter, from outside the trailer, then fed it back through another partition.  When I entered the trailer, Bee was a little nervous and wide-eyed and I could see she was breaking a sweat (but not as bad a sweat as the ride last summer).

I picked up the long line and started to open the panel.  As I opened it, she did, indeed, move to the left to open up a path for a quick forward exit--or bolt.  But I had a hold of her with the long line, and I held it firm.  She felt the pressure, and immediately gave to it. (Whew) That gave me time to secure the divider.  Not wanting to get trampled, I held the long line until I could get near enough to grab hold of the lead rope--which she had untied.  Then, I unclipped the long line and asked her to back out, which she did very well.

We had made it safely.  One of my two big what if's had been conquered.

I took Bee for a little walk around the park, letting her see everything and build confidence by the ability to move her feet (self-preserve).   I stopped here and there to see if she was listening to me, if she was looking to me for security.

She was.

  (To be continued.)

Monday, April 9, 2018

On My Own: Part II Preparing for the Trailer Ride

(When I walked out to get Bee, she was sleeping. I had to wake her.  I even haltered her as she was lying down like this. What would her day be like? Would she be safe? Would she still trust me?)

I'm not sure if my trainer has actually planned to stop being a security blanket for me, or if it's just how it worked out, but needless to say, she is making me do things mostly on my own. I  had asked her to come to my house and be with me through the whole process, but she didn't take me up on it. The knowledge and experience are in this brain of mine, but for some reason, I don't like to do things like this alone.  Wah, wah, I need my security blanket!  

What if Bee throws herself around in the trailer and breaks a leg? 
What if  we get there, Bee panics, pulls the rope out of my hands, and runs home--straight up Trails Rd--into the cars--through barbed wire?

Those were actual true and real thoughts that went through my head!

I guess what I really want are guarantees, but that's not practical with horses.  Sometimes, all we really have to rely on is faith in the foundation.  So,  I asked myself if I'd laid a good foundation for her, and the answer was, yes, I did, to the best of my ability; I exposed her to everything we'd be doing.  Well then, have some faith.

I was supposed to be at the trail head at 1 pm, so I gave myself lots of time by going to get Bee at 12 pm.  As I walked out to get her, I told myself that if anything seemed amiss--and I would try to read her each step of the way--I'd stop wherever I was and not push her further, even if it meant not loading her that day.

It was a bit windy and cold that morning, and before we left, I tied Bee to the trailer to groom her. She was reacting to everything, and paying very little attention to me. She seemed more concerned with her safety--or self-preservation.

I had to find a way to allow her to work that out, so I took her to the arena and did some basic groundwork until she was able to feel better and give me her attention.  Then, we returned to the trailer to finish grooming, and she was more calm and relaxed.

As she stood tied, I loaded everything I'd need at the park.

--Lunging whip for the round pen.
--2 lead lines for getting her out of the trailer, should she try to flip around and bolt out.
--hay bag to keep her busy standing tied at the trail head.
--bottled water for me.

It was all going well, and I felt like she was ready for the next step. So, on my own, with no one to even hold the door open (and the door kept trying to shut on us), I loaded Bee into the trailer, closed the panel and the door, then jumped into my truck.

Hmm. One little problem. I forgot my keys.

I decided it would be best to unload Bee and tie her up to the trailer, so that I'd have time to walk back to the house and get them.  I was kind of mad at myself--dang it, Linda, how could you forget the keys?!?  But I think some mistakes are meant to be, because it was good practice.  She loaded better the second time, probably thinking it was another false drill.  Oh yeah, she loads me up, closes the door, walks away, then comes back and gets me.  I just need to pretend like it's a-okay.

But it wasn't a drill.  I started the truck and began to pull out, straining to see her through my rear view mirror.  When we got up to the front gate, I took the opportunity to jump out and check on her. She was standing quietly, a little wide-eyed and nervous, but she wasn't stomping, kicking or pulling back.

Here we go, Bee.  Stay calm.

And, I got in my truck, told myself one more time I was doing the right thing by her, and pulled out.

(To be continued.)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

On my Own: Part I Is She Ready to Trailer

I had my day of reckoning, last Friday, when I was tasked to load, trailer to Riverside State Park, and unload Beautiful Girl all by myself, then take her through the obstacle course.  I had prepared my mind by re-reading True Unity by Tom Dorrance, and writing a blog post about it.  One of the things he said was--
"People have to rely on themselves. I tell people that it has to come right out of the inside of themselves, the end result. There can be some direction, or support and encouragement, but the feel itself can come from no one but themselves."
My trainer, Rebecca, seems to be moving into that part of the training experience.  She pushes me out of my comfort zone and then hovers nearby, but otherwise, leaves me to myself to figure it out.   She made it clear, she wasn't going to be with me during the trailer loading and unloading.

Dorrance also said--
"The rider needs to recognize the horse's need for self-preservation in MIND, BODY, and, the third factor, SPIRIT. He needs to realize how the person's approach can ASSURE the horse that he can have his self-preservation and still respond to what the person is asking him to do."

Thinking of all the reasons why what I was asking her to do would violate EVERY rule of her self-preservation--load into a trailer, leave her herd, go to a strange place, put her trust in her human, be around other strange horses, go over scary obstacles--I developed a checklist to make sure I had, truly, prepared her for it.

1. Getting in the trailer.  Check.

As Dorrance suggests in the book, after the bucking incident last summer, I analyzed the good, and the bad, and did my best to discover why it happened, so that I could set her up for never having it happen again  Here is one of my posts on bucking.  Toward that end, we worked on standing tied--because you have to do that in the trailer, loading and unloading, and trailering away from home.  I even attended a clinic on trailer loading and discovered things I ended up needing for this day.  That post is here: Tips on Trailer Loading a Horse.

2. Leaving the Herd. Check.

It was abundantly clear last summer that Bee did not have enough experience leaving her herd.  The first trip away from home was just too much for her and led to the bucking incident.  I immediately started training her by pulling her from the herd and walking her to the barn next door.  A post on some of that is here.  We also did winter clinics at the barn next door--driving over obstacles, riding over obstacles, going through the scary tunnel, standing tied, and meeting new horses.

3. Trusting Me.

Dorrance said--
"I'm not trying to get everything completed, but to get enough there to where if the horse gets troubled he will come to me; or to where I can get him to come to me for security and cover. Without that foundation I feel very insecure with a horse."
But trust can only be tested under stress, so I wouldn't know if I'd accomplished that until after the day was done--after the trip away from home to Riverside.

I was scared for Beautiful.  She's my baby mustang I adopted from the BLM. I've always been afraid for her.

I had gone through everything in my mind and decided that YES, I  had prepared her for what I was going to ask.  I couldn't do anymore than I did.

And yes, what I am doing is the right thing to do! I have to get her trained for her own good--so that if anything happens to me, she can go and be a partner to someone else. So far, she has shown herself  fully up to the task.  She is eager to do this!

I have to give her the chance.

Set her up for success, yes, ....

but also give her room to make mistakes.

(To be continued.)

Friday, April 6, 2018

The "Thing" the Horse is So Full of and Needs From Their Person

I've returned to the book, True Unity: Willing Communication Between Horse and Human, by Tom Dorrance, to read and interpret his message from this new lens of progress Leah and I have made. I can't say enough how important his first chapter, "Feel the WHOLE Horse," is to having a real relationship and partnership.  I'm reading it again and again and trying to let it all soak into my mind.

Here are a few quotes that really speak to me, and maybe they will speak to you, too.

"The rider needs to recognize the horse's need for self-preservation in MIND, BODY, and, the third factor, SPIRIT.  He needs to realize how the person's approach can ASSURE the horse that he can have his self-preservation and still respond to what the person is asking him to do."

"It's just as well  not to crowd the horse if he isn't ready for it.  You keep offering, trying to help as much as you can, without troubling him too much about it. Then, there will be a day when it will all just clear right up."

"Generally, people have no idea what I'm talking about, so we need to try to figure out some way to understand this thing the horse is so full of, and that he has such a strong desire to get from the person in return. It has to be togetherness."

"The important thing is that it doesn't matter if it comes out real good or real bad.  The important thing is to try to understand what took place that caused it to be good or not so good.  There's something about that: if a person can understand what took place, then maybe he can help the horse get in a position that will come out better, that will help him avoid getting into a position that's not so good."

"People have to rely on themselves. I tell people that it has to come right out of the inside of themselves, the end result. There can be some direction, or support and encouragement, but the feel itself can come from no one but themselves."

"I'm not trying to get everything completed, but to get enough there to where if the horse gets troubled he will come to me; or to where I can get him to come to me for security and cover.  Without that foundation I feel very insecure with a horse." 

"Sometimes the horse doesn't seem to understand, but it doesn't seem to bother him too much.  Other horses, if they don't understand--they get bothered all over."

"I like to work from where the horse is, to get him to be able to operate wherever and whenever I need him."

"The longer I live, the more I see in animals--about how they operate. No horse wants to be hurt.  They will do things that will cause themselves to get hurt, but they usually don't head for that--that isn't what their intention is. They are no different from the rest of us.  They have a strong sense of self-preservation."

"If the inside of a person or a horse is bothered, it's for sure that the outside is going to show it."

"I didn't used to elaborate on the third factor, spirit; I only just mentioned it.  But I've begun to wonder about it in the last few years.  Maybe if people got to realizing the importance of that part of the horse, they could get more feel and understanding from right in the horse's innards.  Then they could try to figure out the mental and the physical parts."

"I've felt this in horses all  my life, but I don't think I realized how important it was to try to calm that inward part down. I was always working on the surface, both mentally and physically--not getting right down to the inside of the horse."

"Riders may want to get an answer to their questions right early--on the surface.  I want them to try to figure out something; I want them to work at figuring out the whole horse--his mind, body, and spirit.  Maybe they will figure out what they are missing."

Thursday, April 5, 2018

For One I Barely Knew, But Changed My Life

There are people we barely know, yet, they have a huge impact on our lives. Or, maybe we knew them better than we think, but not in the traditional way. I’m talking to myself here, because a man died two years ago who had a huge impact on my life with horses—Harold Johnson.

My mom texted me this yesterday—

Man, it brought back memories! My first horse was a weanling from he and his wife’s horse, Quincy. I was a little teenage girl, I gave him $500 (a huge amount to me in 1985--in fact, it's what I paid for my first truck that same year!) and he handed me Tanner, who I led to their rental stables, where stall #4 awaited with fresh woodchips.

I asked him, "What should I do with him until he's ready to ride?"  He said, "Spend lots of time with him. Go on walks, tie him up and groom him, just spend lots of time."  I took his advice, and Tanner pretty much trained himself when he was three.  We had so much connection, unity, there wasn't anything he wouldn't try for me.  I will always remember that advice, and I've shared it here on this blog over and over and over.

His family treated me like family. When I’d knock on their door to pay rent, his wife, Sharon, would invite me in to talk. When I’d go out to spend time with Tanner, their son, Michael, would jump on his 4-wheeler and drive to the barn to keep me company. I ran into Harold at any and every horse function—auctions, county fairs, team roping and barrel racing competitions—and he always had a smile and made me feel at home.  There was never any judgement from him--only a big welcome to the horse life!  You're gonna LOVE it!  So, yeah, it was like I found my people--the life my heart  yearned for--a life surrounded by horses and horse lovers.

I googled his obituary and found this:

When I think of Harold and his family, it brings back the best memories of my life.  A young woman, graduating high school and starting college, jumping into the horse world with no one but herself and her horses to guide her. I'm proud of that time in my life! I worked hard for it!!

I remember the community of horse people who were scraping everything together, like I was, to make it happen.  The round pen was a perfect example, Harold used recycled electricity poles from his job, to build it.  And it was a sturdy thing that's still standing!  He worked a full-time job and still had time to build that, an indoor arena, about fifty boarding stalls, and a successful breeding operation centered around the beautiful stallion, Lucky T Devil.  Later in life, he built another arena--a huge professional size like you'd see at the NFR in Vegas or something.  I loved riding in it, but he wasn't able to get the zoning for the amount of parking it required.

There was one other thing I learned from Harold--the art of confidence and distraction when working horses.  Instead of focusing on the THING you want from the horse, look for a distraction, and while the horse is thinking of THAT THING, do the thing you're wanting to do.

Here's the example.  I needed a horse loaded and brought to Lucky Acres, but she was a three year old who had never been loaded in a trailer.  Harold backed up the trailer to the pasture, and walked her right in.  I asked him later how he did that and made it look so effortless.  He said he backed it up as close as he could to an overgrown tree and, as he was walking her in, he looked straight ahead and kept going (confidence), but walked her close enough that the tree rubbed her body (distraction). 

So, to sum it all up, he was a man who kept things super simple.  Spend time with your horse, don't make a big deal of the "scary" things, be the leader and always look where you're going, and surround yourself with horses and horse people to your LAST DAYS!

RIP Harold Johnson.  I hope you're enjoying that heavenly reunion with your horse partners.  Thanks for the help and the memories.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Drum Roll....

I don't try to build enough suspense at this blog, but I wish I could in order to express the suspense in myself--for my horses--every time I go out on the trail.  How will they react to new horses?  How will they handle the trailer ride? How will they do on the trails? On the obstacles?  Will they be partners?  Will they show heart?

I met four friends at Riverside State Park, a very large local park, for our first ride of the season.  Riverside has 12,000 acres, 25 miles of horse trails, and 200,000 feet of shoreline trails.  If you've followed this blog, you've heard a lot about it because it's about five miles from my house, and we go there a lot.

I took Leah, and she trailered like a pro.  We unloaded and did some at-liberty work in the round-pen.  She wanted to looky-loo at all the other horses, but I asked her to lope, then stop and face up, then stand and keep her attention on me as I walked  up to her, then walk by my side.  It didn't take her too long to do that, so we went out and did the obstacles in-hand.  She did them all wonderfully, which meant it was time to saddle.

Since my back is healed, I used my old western saddle.  (Oh, how I missed it!)  The first obstacle we rode through was the labyrinth with SIX turns.  I asked for each step going forward through it, and she was tuned into each placement. Then, I had to back her through it, which is much more stressful because she can't see where she's going and has to trust my direction.  Leah is extremely emotional and you can see she is putting a lot of pressure on herself not to step out of the path, so I have to be really gentle in my asks, patient, and encouraging.  For the first time ever, we did it without her getting panicked, and she did it very well.

From there we went through the all the other obstacles with no problem--except the mailbox.  She still doesn't like the mailbox, which made me wonder how she'd do opening and closing the gate--since they're so similar.  The gate was really the ultimate test for me of all that we've been working on this winter. Here we were at the park with lots of other horses she didn't know--a new round pen--lots of activity.  Would she do it???

Yes!  She both opened and closed, then opened and closed again, the round pen gate.  Yay, Leah!!  Woot! Woot!

We were off to the races--or rather, the trails.

During the trail ride, she led the pack at a brisk pace, but maintained her walk. Double yay! We asked a lot of them for their first ride, but she didn't balk.  We went up and down steep trails along the water, over large logs, ran into dogs and people, and she did it all like a pro.

In fact, my friends all remarked on how far she'd come and how she was a different horse from last year.

For my part, you know how important togetherness is to me--heart--partnership. And, let me tell you--Leah tuned into me the whole time.  She didn't give an iota about the other horses.  Whenever we came to something scary, she'd check in with me, I'd tell her it was okay, and she'd pass over it.  Sometimes, she'd look back at me for reassurance, and I'd reach down and rub her head.  I rode on a loose rein for a lot of the ride, but there were times I picked it up and gently moved the reins with my pinkies to talk to her.  She would talk back, too, if you know what I mean.  This very gentle, I'm here, I'm here--tick, tick--of the rein on either side, and a gentle response, or movement, back from her--to tell me, I'm listening.

It makes me want to cry thinking about it.  There is nothing more sweet or rewarding than when your horse gives you their trust.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Opening and Closing a Gate and Possible New Saddle

The new obstacles are really coming in handy.  For example, the mailbox--I showed Bee how to open it one time, and she immediately wanted to do it herself.  I love her curiosity.

Leah lacks that for some reason, but I did use the mailbox to work on getting her to side-pass to objects--in preparation for the gate work. She was, of course, resistant, but eventually she got me close enough to open and close it a few times.

And then it was time for the new gate obstacle.

For the record, Leah is great at letting me open gates.  It's the closing where she loses her mind.  The day she fell down--about 1 1/2 years ago, we had opened the gate and walked out of the arena toward the barn.  Then, I asked her to turn around and walk back into the arena and close the gate.  She would have NONE of it and she tried to bolt away, but I held her, she braced and started to fall, I bailed off and hit the ground, she recovered herself and stood in the gate opening looking (I thought) devastated. In retrospect, I'm not so sure.  But she did stand there and let me get back on.

Anyway, I wanted the new gate to open to the pasture so that we could removed the variable of the barn.  She will always want to go back to the barn to eat, and that is a fight I don't need to introduce right now.

We worked on closing the gate for about 30 minutes before we got success.  I had to drop it many, many times when she would side-pass away or go too far forward or backward.  I could feel her heart really beating, too, like she was stressed.  So, I would ride her away, and then come back, hoping it would deescalate it.

In the end, the thing that brought us success was staying put at the gate, asking for one step at a time, and letting her rest until I could feel her heart rate return to normal, before asking her to take another step. It was meticulous work that took every ounce of patience I could muster.  And, there were moments I thought it was a big waste and at the end she'd just bolt anyway.

But she didn't.  She took that gate, step by step, to its closing position and allowed me to latch it.

I began to praise her to high heaven and she turned her head and looked at the closed gate like

That's all you wanted???

I decided to dismount there and give her rest as her reward.  I jumped to the ground and grabbed her face and kissed her and kissed her.  Then I took her picture to commemorate the moment.

I need suggestions.  Leah has lost a lot of weight, which is a good thing, it's what we've been working on, but I would like to give her a supplement that she can enjoy eating and won't cause her to get fat.  I give my elder geldings equine senior every morning and night, and I would like to give her something substantive, too.  Right now I give her a small scoop of Farrier's Formula.

Also, I'm trying to get away from my heavy saddle--not completely away--but when I'm riding three horses a day, I need a lighter saddle to move between horses, but one that has all the safety features of a real saddle.  I've been going through all of mine and here is what I've found:

1. I love the feel of my heavy western saddle.  You sit deep in it.  The fenders stay in one place if I need to get on and off, and it's easy to get on and off without a mounting block.

2. My endurance saddle with english leathers and stirrups is very comfortable, but not as easy to bail off fast or get back on without a mounting block.  I can certainly do it, but it's not nearly as easy as the western.  The stirrups want to get stuck on my boots.

3. The horses love the feel of the english style girth on my endurance saddle.  The elastic isn't as confining.

4. I'm trying out an endurance saddle with western style fenders, but the seat feels flat and I'm having a hard time getting used to it. Is that common?

5. I've only tried the new saddle on Cowboy, so far, but he seemed to really like.  The rigging is different and sets the cinch back more than on western saddles, but he seems to like that placement.

Any thoughts on endurance saddles?

Here it is. It's an RR Gulley, handmade saddle.  This wouldn't replace my western saddle, but it would give me a lighter option to use at home when I'm switching between horses.  Thoughts?  I'm going to ride in it again this morning and see if I can get used to the seat.