Friday, June 30, 2023

A Huge Breakthrough (Part 1)

Two weeks ago. No photos from today.

It has been a challenging month. We’ve been dealing with a major heartbreak in our family. Not a death, but something that feels very much like a death.  We know there will be light at the end of this tunnel, because we have been down this road before. Yet, there are many unknowns. Scriptures like this one in Matthew 6 become extra important in seasons like this.

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

As we take life minute by minute, day by day, around here, trusting that good will come out of bad, we also keep up the daily routines. For me, that includes working with Tumbleweed. 

I think I left off at the point where I was riding on a loose rein and only picking it up if Tweed moved off the line. We did a lot of that work, and it was very helpful. He liked it and it helped us build a stronger partnership. When I go out to the pasture to get him now, he will come to me and want to be caught or petted. He did that before, but not with the same intensity. Now he thinks of me as his person, and he’ll run the others away, especially Cowboy. So, I have to always go out with a halter and lead rope.

He has also become used to lots of different horses working around him at the park. They come and go, and he cares less and less. 

Photo taken a couple of weeks ago.

I had a lesson today with the trainer who helped me with Leah when I was starting her. Regina is one of the most respected trainers in our city. She has been teaching pony club snd 4-H for twenty years or so.  Probably much longer than that. She has a way of seeing what’s happening and breaking down training (from her perspective on the ground. She doesn’t ride them for you) that is unparalleled. 

She asked me what was happening. I told her about the trail ride where Tweed wanted to shake off the reins and run back home, the dropping to roll, and the rooting at the bit. 

She told me to do what I usually do, and she would watch. 

In the round pen I worked on yielding and bending. Then I asked him to move in a circle. Right there she saw an issue. She saw him look to the outside and cut into my bubble. It was very slight, and I hadn’t corrected it. But she said that’s where it all begins. She told me to point my flag at the knot on his halter until his attention was back, and then put the flag back in place, pointing at the hind, keeping him moving the whole time. 

Well, that little tweak made my boy a bit miffed, and he started to pull back. She told me to stay with him and keep asking for forward. He then chose to trot, even though I’d asked him to walk, but she said that was fine. Soon, he was moving with intention, really coming under and taking responsibility for himself. Very beautiful to see. I stopped him. He took a step toward me. 

Do you allow him to do that? She asked. 

No, not usually, but maybe I have become lazy about it. I’m not sure. 

He needs to stay where you stopped him. 

I told him to move back. 

We did those things for a while longer, and soon there was a complete change in Tweed’s body language. It was like everything was right in his world. Life was in the proper order. He was relaxed, attentive, soft, and responsive. 

It was like some weird horse magic trick! 

Time to mount up and work on the same thing in saddle. 

(To be continued)

Here are a few fun photos to leave you with.

My mom bought me this amazing horse orb for my birthday. 

Some flowers at the equestrian park.

A field on our daily walk.

Starting to tear the barn apart.

Listening to the symphony play at our local winery last Tuesday. The sun came out after a monsoon.

Time with my sweet grandson. 

Comfort food yesterday morning. The banana bread version of making lemonade from lemons.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Convoluted Journey of Getting to Trust

 (A walk on the trails.)

Hello again! After yesterday's post, I thought it was better to write an actual post, so as not to leave it out there hanging. I'm going to do my best to give you a general picture of what has been happening, rather than going day by day by day.

I was making good progress with Tweed this spring, working with my trainer a couple of times, and spending a lot of time at the equestrian park working on obstacles, arena, and trails. I think last I left off in the posts, the plan was to make the arena hard and the trails fun.

Well, all that training came to a screeching halt due to a trip we made to Texas, and then a number of other events and family gatherings, bad weather, and LIFE. Tweed went 2 1/2 weeks being a pasture ornament with his little mare herd. He got fat. He got lazy. And, he developed a preference for spending his days grazing.

Insert me into that idyllic picture. Come on, Tweed, jump in the trailer and let's go work and play! Tweed, being the sucker that he is, trusted me, jumped into the trailer, and loaded happily to the park.

I started our training with easy days, lots of wins. When Tweed did everything I asked of him, and remained relaxed and willing, we didn't waste much time going home and letting him graze again. All was good.

I decided to meet a friend for a longer day at the park. My plan was to work with Tweed, rest, work, rest, work--all day, and get him used to being away from home for longer again.

The first half of that day went pretty well, but Tweed wasn't as soft as usual. There was definitely some resistance. It wasn't bad, but it was definitely there. He was making an effort to go along with everything we were doing. He was also playing off the other horse. All in all, I would have considered that morning a success. Obstacles, arena work, cone patterns ...all good.

We had lunch, the horses rested tied to the trailers, and then I made a decision to start the second half the day.

Well, that started off a bit more rough. Three new horses came into the picture, and Tweed used that as an opportunity to be very distracted and worked up. As we made our way through it, he worked up quite a sweat. It was hot, humid, and he was done. But I took him into the arena again to stand and watch my friend do another pattern. 

As we stood there, he began to toss his head and root around the reins and act like he wanted to roll. I turned him in circles, kicked him forward, and kept him busy. It escalated. Pretty soon, he wasn't going to stay up, and I felt his front knees buckle. I jumped right off and he popped back up, surprised, and I worked him on a circle from the ground.

Well, now I'd gotten into it and had to stay at the park to work it through. My friend had to go home, so there I was at the park, alone with Tweed again, in a battle of the wills. And then it started to thunder, huge, loud booms--a storm was on its way. We loaded as quick as we could and got home. The storm came through and lasted a couple of days. It turned out that some of my friends had trouble with their horses, too. Lots of bucking, rearing, and refusals. I felt lucky not to have had any of that. 

Since that day I have made a few changes to my work with Tweed :

1. Be careful NOT to push him to the point where he shuts down, and / or be more sensitive to the signs that he has shutdown.  For example, that day, since all I was doing was standing watching my friend on the cones, I could have dismounted and watched from the ground. 

In fact, I had a breakthrough this week that that is one way to reward Tweed. He loves to see me and get praise from the ground for a job well done. As a green horse, he isn't as rewarded when I do it from the saddle yet. I have made a big change in our work to take advantage of that. I divide our time into blocks, and when each block is finished, I dismount, praise Tweed, and spend some time with him from the ground. When we're ready for the next block, I remount (it's easy to get off and on him) and do the same thing over again. 

2. More attention to BIG rewards! I discovered Tweed likes to be rewarded from the ground, but he also likes to be rewarded with food. I ran into some young ladies at the park who are working with their own horses, and we have joined together to help each other with trail work. One of them was a trainer, but she quit taking outside clients because people were often hard to work with, and dishonest. She is very good with her three horses, and they had a willingness and softness that I admired. She recommended I ride Tweed out on the trails, dismount, halter him, and let him graze, teaching him that the trails are where he should want to be. I think that's smart, and I've started doing that.

3. Give Tweed more opportunity to make mistakes, and stop supporting him all the time with my legs and reins. This came to me from watching Ryan Rose videos. He wanted us to give our horses a loose rein and see if they'd remain straight walking out. If they didn't, let them fully commit to moving off the line, and then turn them 180, then immediately drop slack into the reins (so they know this isn't a punishment) and ask for a straight line again. Well, I tried that with Tweed and it worked great. He figured it out super quick, and he wants that slack rein. So, a lot of our work now will be to get him to step up and take responsibility. I've been doing the same on the trail.

This is quite different than my work with Leah, when I was starting her on the trails. Leah seemed to like that connection with the bit and reins, and I had to support her with it for a long time as she built up trail confidence. Tweed does not seem to get support from that kind of contact. He prefers a loose rein. Green trail horse. Loose rein. Hmmm...I have a dilemma, don't I? I plan to solve it in small increments, with the help of my new trail buddies. We're going to ride out together, ride apart from each other, and introduce a number of short trail scenarios to help our horses through the trail basics. When Tweed is relaxed and connected, he will get a loose rein. If he's not connected, he will have to do some work until he is, then he will get the reward of a loose rein again.

I see this post is getting long, but hasn't captured all of what's been happening. There are times I doubt myself, but then I look at the bigger picture and see everything I've got right. I continue to have faith in building slowly with an eye on the big picture. It isn't about just today, it's about the 30 years I might have Tumbleweed. It's about teaching him to like to work and seek that partnership. It's about trust, him trusting me, and me trusting him. There is no shortcut to that goal, so you better sit back and enjoy the convoluted journey!