Tag Archives: training

Being In Love

I must be fickle, because I always fall for whichever horse I happen to be working with – I loved Klondike because he was fun and responsive.  Rosie because she was simply magic, Afton because he was so confident to fences, Archie because of his sweet nature and how amazing he was to ride once I figured him out, and Mikey because… well who couldn’t resist Mikey?

So I shouldn’t be surprised when a new horse comes along and I find myself her number one fan.  I adore everything about Candace (or as I’ve taken to calling her, Miss Moneypenny – don’t ask why, my brain is just wired strangely).  Over the first week of riding her my primary goal was just to get her moving forward.  She was slow and quiet, and keeping her going was a real struggle. 

I am pleased to report, though, that we now have a “go” button.  Now that she is going more forward, it’s much easier to ride her – I can use my legs to get a better quality walk or trot, or move her over laterally, rather than constantly just trying to keep her going.  I think front shoes have helped and she is more comfortable stepping out, but she’s also gotten more confident and as a real tryer, she is happy to oblige as soon as she “gets it.” 

As she is weak behind still, I’ve been focusing mostly on really making her use herself behind, and travel straight.  She tends to carry her hind end to the left, regardless of which direction you’re going, which is a little hard for me to figure out.  I’ve learned that attempting to push her rear end over with my left leg sort of works, for a few steps, but then she just moves over more with her shoulders, so I’m having to learn to balance where my leg is and stay really consistent with the outside rein (basically asking for a right bend) to just keep her straight.

As she gets stronger that has improved a lot – thankfully our indoor here has mirrors at every end so I am able to visually keep tabs on things (and because I often feel straight/correct when I’m not, the mirrors are my #1 tool right now to make sure I’m not screwing her up).

Taking my cues from Jess, I’m also riding much more on contact and forward than I usually would at this stage.  And I’m using my neck strap. :)  This week she seems to be learning a little bit about stretching forward and down – though I don’t get a lot of it from her we’ve had some really great moments where I can feel her back come up as she starts to stretch, and it feels really lovely.  For a horse as petite as she is (she is not short, but she is definitely built like a baby and is quite svelte and petite bodied at the moment), she has a really big stride when she starts to engage, and it feels great.

I have cantered her a few times but because she really needs to strengthen her hind end I’m focusing a lot more on good forward trotting.  I will say, though, that her canter is to die for.  I have no idea what it looks like, but I LOVE to ride it.  She’s very fluid and smooth in her canter, with a nice natural rhythm (especially now that she is more responsive to leg) – it just feels easy and effortless.

Today was supposed to be her first trail ride, but all the rain the last few days made it quite muddy and I’d rather go out without slippery footing as an added variable.  Just from leading her through the field I’ve noted she doesn’t like mud (little princess!) though she will happily go right through puddles in the ring when you’re riding her.

She’s also picked up some weight, which makes me happy.  Some of the horses we’ve had here have been difficult to get weight on (Archie took a while, for example).  She is already broadening and filling out over the back and butt, and I think will be looking much better in another week or so.  We’ve been giving her extra feedings with added rice bran pellets and soaked alfalfa pellets, and I think that’s all she’ll need to continue rounding out.  Since the only picture I’ve posted of her so far was taken while she was still racing, I have to post one to show what she actually looked like on arrival.  They look a little different after they lose all that muscle and racehorse glow, haha!

She has the greatest attitude – nothing seems to phase her at all.  Walking up the driveway today all the boys came galloping across the field, tails and heels in the air, and she didn’t bat an eye.  All the mares are in heat (including her), but her big “acting out” is to whinny under saddle.  She’s learning to respect my space more (she can get a little gung ho about going through doorways and in/out of the barn, so I had to get after her to not get ahead of me or run me over, but she learned that pretty quick!).  She’s been ridden in all three rings here, and is easy in all of them (outside she is more distractable but quite good!).  She has earned many compliments from people on her attitude, they just cannot believe she’s three!  OK, so she’s 4 now by jockey club rules, but her birthday isn’t till March, so she’s still 3 to me!

This one is going to be a superstar – I love riding her, and she has the attitude to go far!  The stronger she gets, the prettier she moves, too. I can’t wait to post an “after” video in a few weeks because I know it will be amazing to see the difference from the earlier video!

And if all that wasn’t enough for me to love her, she sort of has a head like Rosey’s, with a “brain bump” :)  I love that.

i am important

No, *I’M* not important, I just looked in the blog stats and got quite a chuckle out of the fact that searching that phrase apparently brought someone to this blog.  I’m going to have to make that a tag.

Anyway, the last couple days have been challenging for me, emotionally speaking.  Without getting into specifics, I’ll just say that horses are always good for a little heartbreak, and with lots of emails and scheduling and vet stuff flying around, I needed a weekend off.  I am very fortunate to be seeing someone who’s good at reminding me of that fact, and so I spent the actual weekend doing fun non-horse related things (despite the last post which listed the horse-lovers weekend itinerary).  I went to the air show at Andrews Air Force Base, and then Sunday a wine festival in nearby Columbia.  It was pretty awesome, and just what I needed.

Of course, that meant Monday hit me like a brick.  Got into work to find out one of my bigger projects was all kinds of messed up, batch testing hadn’t caught some pretty significant issues, and I was going to be having fun all day getting things fixed and re-run.  Too many emails to sort through, both from work and CANTER-related.  All kinds of things I have to look into and check and remind myself of so I can get back to people later with requested information, etc… ugh.  And of course bad personal news too.  So all in all, I needed last night to go well!

Someone is scheduled to come see Archie this afternoon (I do have to check that – the weather is icky and since she wants to see horses out at the layup farm too, which is awfully weather dependent), so I wanted to ride him yesterday and make sure things are all good with him.

Things started on a good note when he was right by the gate when I went to get him – for once I wouldn’t have to slog my way through calf-deep mud! Unfortunately as he came out of the gate he dove for grass to his right, which meant his butt was swinging straight towards my face, and I was completely at the end of the lead rope with the horse in my left hand and the gate to my right.  Determined not to let go of Archie, and to remind him that this was completely unnacceptable, I had to actually let go of the gate. 

At the same time, Archie’s very herdbound companion realized he was leaving, and she came galloping towards the now wide-open gate while I struggled with getting him turned around.  I’m not sure how I managed it, but apparently me standing in the middle of an 18 foot wide open space waving one arm and growling was sufficient means of getting her to stop. Got the gate closed, got Archie reminded (a bit) of manners, and headed up the driveway. 

From there everything was fine until he turned his head at me while girthing up.  Also not acceptable.  Bad Archie! I corrected him (a bit strongly, I’m afraid) and he was then perfectly polite.  When I went to get on, he also started walking before I really had even started to swing up, but I was able to correct him very easily and he backed up and waited politely for the second attempt.

Once on, we had a fairly lovely ride in the indoor.  He is making fewer faces at his reflection in the mirror, but largely because I’m trying to keep him thinking/occupied.  We started at the walk just working on serpentines and figure eights, while keeping his neck and shoulders as straight as possible.  He does seem to have started coming behind the bit or below it, so while working on this I also spent a lot of time with leg on and really emphasizing forward from behind, to discourage.  A couple times I had to practically boot him forward so that he was using himself better. 

Up into the trot and we worked on the same things.  I also spent a lot of time on circles in the middle of the ring, where he can’t depend on the wall so much (he tends to fall inwards through the turn and then bulge his body out towards the wall as he approaches it).  Staying off the wall as much possible, I just alternated direction and started practicing large circle-small circle-large circles.  The next step would be a little more bending work and spiralling in and out, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet. 

When I went to work on the canter I found it’s actually much easier on both of us to act from a reasonably organized walk.  On the right lead, you can get a fairly clean transition from the trot but I find everything feels much better from the walk.  To the left, asking from the trot doesn’t really get me anywhere – we keep picking up the wrong lead and he wants to rush, and the second he gets at all disorganized you give up any chance you had at the left lead.  Even from the walk we had substantial issues with that lead, though we eventually got it and maintained it for a few circles.  I think as he gets more strength this will all get much, much easier, but part of me is impatient and wants everything better right NOW! 

When I started getting frustrated about the left lead canter I slowed down, took a breath, and went back to working at the trot.  I figure the canter is hard because he’s weak behind and still somewhat inflexible through his body.  So I went back to the trot, and started working a bit more on bending and lateral movement (not too much, he’s a wiggle worm!) , and more transitions to build up that rear end strength.  We finished on a really good note – I did a series of figure eights (well, more like coming across the diagonal over and over) trying to really encourage him into a more forward trot with impulsion (and straightness! haha! This is the big key to riding him). and really trying to encourage him to stretch his head down and out (he likes to get behind the bit and avoid contact, as I mentioned earlier).  I eventually got what I was asking for – for about ten strides to the left his head went down, but I could feel weight in my hands at the same time, and he kept his forward impulsion.  So we quit with that and called it a night.

Physically he has finally lost the vast majority of his weird hair and is developing a nice shiny coat.  Still needs more weight but things are slowly filling in, and you can see some cover developing on his ribs (finally!) .  Can’t wait for an opportunity to get new pics and video!

Let the De-Fuzzing Begin!

I discovered something sort of cute about Archie the other day.  I pulled into the driveway and saw his pasturemate was not in the field with him.  He was buried in the haypile as usual, but as I drove by I stopped, and rolled down the window.  “Archiiiieeeee!!!  Hi ArchiiieeeeEEEE!!!”  Up came his enormous buffalo face, and he talked back to me.  He’s got this great, deep, low pitched breathy greeting neigh, and it about melted my heart with the cute.  The only other horse that ever “talked” back to me like that is Allie’s amazing horse Phinny (who is pictured on this page - he is magic, pure and simple!).

In any case, this was the weekend of the attempted de-fuzzing of Archie.  I intended to give him a bigger clip than I usually do (normally I do a rough “bib clip” sort of thing) but my clippers couldn’t handle the yak hair.  The blades are dull and his coat is amazingly thick and long – plus he is recovering from a case of skin funk, so there’s some difficult going in there.  My clippers were heating up too much and he was getting irritated, so the only thing he got clipped was his chest and the lower part of his neck up to his jaw. 

Horse? Or Yak?

Looking Slightly More Civilized

I managed to trim down a lot of the excess hair off his jaws. I didn’t want to shave his face, or accidentally take chunks of hair off, so this was a pretty delicate operation.  Overall I managed to do an OK job – I wouldn’t take him to a show tomorrow, but his face looks a lot less like a buffalo now.

After that I hopped on for his first official ride in our indoor.  He was fine to get on, stood at the mounting block like a champ, and then we wandered around for a bit.  He takes a fair amount of leg to keep going, and is much more typically “green TB” than Kat was, in terms of how he goes.  He tends to want to go in a big oval instead of going straight, then turning and bending, and going straight again.  The canter is obtainable – it’s a bit of a big push at this point, especially the left lead (to the left he wants to lean in and cut the turns much more than he does to the right.  Which could be him but is also probably a lot to do with me, too!)

The other hilarious thing he does is try to attack his reflection.  My own horse, sometimes, will snake his head and bare his teeth at other horses while we are in the ring (bad boy!) – Archie does the same thing… to himself.   Every time we went by the big mirror at a speed faster than walk, he pinned his ears at himself and went “GRRRRRR!!!!” (well, if a horse was capable of such a noise, that’s what he did).  His head would come up and he would act all ferocious.  The first few times he did it, I didn’t even realize what was happening – I thought he was just having a tantrum about bit contact, or something.  It took a while for me to catch on but by the end of the ride I couldn’t stop laughing.

I also think part of him cutting off half the ring to the left was seeing his reflection in one of the end mirrors – he could see this “other” dark bay horse coming at him, and wanted no part of a head on collision.  That took some working through, and I’m still not sure he gets it.

It’s funny, psychologist types who study brains and animals and behavior often will remark on the ability to see the reflection and understand it as a sign of intelligence.  Like, rats generally don’t understand their reflection, but chimps do.  It’s a sort of self awareness thing.  Horses are interesting because some of them seem to get it (Kat – when she saw something else in the mirror, besides her, she knew enough to turn around to see it in ‘real life’) and others don’t (Archie).  But I’m not sure it’s a sign of intelligence, because Archie seems to learn very quickly and retains things well (I can tell that in the short time he was with Jess he still has some “buttons” from her, and it’s been quite a while!). 

After the ride I tried to continue the defuzzing by doing some mane pulling, but Archie is NOT a fan.  I will probably work on this over a few weeks and see if I can get him to stand the way I got my horse to (he HATES it – but essentially I rewarded him with a treat every time he kept his feet still, until he stopped trying to move around.  He’s allowed to do whatever he wants with his head and neck, as long as the feet stay put.  It was a long process).  I will probably clean it up with scissors (gasp!!!) and a thinning comb, but will work on this as it’s something that helps his adoptability :)

I also took some other ‘before’ photos, for the record.  I really think as he gains muscle and sheds, he’s going to be a really pretty horse.  For now, the masses of 6″ long yak hair are sort of hiding that fact, but you watch!  He’ll look great in a month or two! 

Horse or Moose? You decide!

 

Cute Face! Minus most of the Beard!

Stephen Bradley Clinic

Just a note to anyone in the MD area -

Stephen Bradley is giving a clinic this weekend at Waters Edge Farm in Sykesville, MD.

We will be manning a table with snacks and hot drinks, along with information about CANTER and listing sheets to distribute.  Additionally proceeds from the $15 Audit fee will be going to CANTER, so it’s a fabulous opportunity to get some education from one of the best event riders around, as well as helping us care for and rehome horses.

I’ve become a bit of a nerd about Stephen Bradley since Allie told me that his horse, Brandenburg’s Joshua, came from Charles Town, which is essentially our home track.  It wasn’t his registered name, but by looking up his breeding, I was able to find out more about him, and realized I knew the people who had bred him from all my meanderings on the backside.  I also found out they have a half sister of his, still racing (she just turned 4 – and she is PRETTY!).

Stphen Bradley and Joshua at Rolex '08

 (credit to our director Allie Conrad for the lovely photo)

I would give a lot to see pictures of Joshua from when he was still at the track.  I’m very curious about what he might have looked like – his muscling, overall demeanor, etc.  I wonder whether it was immediately apparent that he would be very talented, or if he looked like any of the other horses we post – cute, but maybe weedy, or maybe “unremarkable.”  One of the things I’m constantly trying to get better at is improving my eye for track horses – I’ve seen the transformations happen, seen the “afters” of a lot of the horses in our adoption program, but Joshua’s success just makes me very curious. 

I tend to think that there are more “diamonds” at the track than people realize.  Many are appreciated and purchased, but may not reach the level they’d be capable of with the right person in the stirrups (well, any loving owner can be the “right person” but you know what I mean).  Every time there is a thread on a bulletin board analyzing the track listing photos, looking for a good horse, I’m always struck by some of the critical comments, and the things people can’t overlook that seem very trivial.  I’m not talking about conformational flaws (it’s always good to be objective), but the “well he has a chain over his nose, so he’s probably hard to handle” or “there’s poultice on his legs, that probably means there’s a problem.” and those sorts of things.  I see a horse who came off the backside of our little racetrack, from people I know, and wonder how many people might have overlooked him for some reason like that…

Sorry.  My mind is meandering again, it happens when it’s this cold out.

In any case, come to the clinic.  Learn.  Eat cookies.  Visit with us!

Canter Poles

What a fun weekend!

On Saturday I played hooky from the barn again (I was sick all week- so, excepting one day when I held a horse for x-rays, this meant a full seven days of no riding. Amazing!) and drove up to Harrisburg PA to the open house at Penn Ridge Farm.  In addition to meeting some wonderful and fun racing people, I got to see the wonderful Real Quiet, who still looks every inch the Kentucky Derby Winner.  One of the things I love so much about Thoroughbreds is how many of them have that “LOOK AT MEEEE!!!” personality.  Real Quiet spent his entire time out striking photogenic poses (drat, left the camera in the car! boo!) and watching the crowd like he expected applause at any moment.

In a bit of a small-world  coincidence, I also ran into a trainer who donated a lovely horse to CANTER a while back- Sunshine Admiral.  Who, by further coincidence, has apparently found his way back to us.  Look for more updates on him soon!

Sunday, obviously, meant time to catch up.  Odds and ends from the auction (hopefully, the last of it!  And thank you letters! Whee!), and getting some horses ridden.

Stephen is doing very well.  He is recovered from his illness and being ridden by two volunteers who split duty with him.  His Sunday rider describes him as, “so lazy!!!”  No worries Lea, we’ll find the go button soon!  Stephen is also sort of a case study in the slightly harder-to-keep TB.  He lost some weight with his illness, and in addition had some difficulty adjusting to field board and getting off his racing medications.  So in addition to his daily feeding (mix of pellets/sweet feed, 10/10), he also gets a bucket of soaked alfalfa pellets, with rice bran pellets (for added fat), a probiotic (to aid digestion), and Platinum Performance.   PP is an excellent supplement, consider this a shout-out to that company ;)   I’m going to try and get some condition photos so we can track his progress. 

Afton is, as always, wonderful.  I think that he had all week off (again, I wasn’t there, so who knows!), which would make the ride we had Sunday even more wonderful.   Standing at the mounting block was MUCH better than the last few times I rode.  Also much more relaxed at the trot, or at least, willing to come back to the walk and relax, and even stop and stand.  He’s going into his corners much better and not motorcycling as much, too. 

One of the bigger issues we’re having is control of his shoulder.  Especially to the right, he likes to really bulge that shoulder out on the second half of the circle.  I’m starting to figure out that fixing it involves not only my left leg and keeping outside rein contact correct (resisting the urge to cross my left hand over the neck, heh), but it also involves me learning to shift my weight a little better.  Like when asking to canter, things seem to get a little better when I weight my outside hip more and sit deeper on that side.  So I have to work on that a bunch.

He still has some issues once we canter.  He doesn’t understand regulating the canter, and still likes to increase his speed as we go around.  He’s very sensitive to my weight shifting forward, so this is a great horse for me to ride to really learn to sit deep and upright.  After cantering, coming back to relaxed-walk is much more difficult for him than it is at the trot.  He still seems to get in a mindset that canter = work = “we’re going to work till we’re tired, so why are we walking again? Let’s go!”  I feel a little bad because I got a little forceful a few times, “um, no, I really mean walk now!” but I suppose he knows enough at this point that I can tell him when I mean it, right?

On the other hand, we cantered our first canter pole, which didn’t phase him in the slightest, and increased the trot poles to four, which also was no problem.  Cantering poles is really fun on him, and I think will translate to a good jumping experience, once we get that canter a little better.  He goes absolutely straight on the approach and landing of the pole, and will stop in a straight line easily.  Hopefully the Sunday gymnastic lessons will start soon- despite the not-so-fantastic flatwork, I think he’ll be really good at it and enjoy it.  We just have to perfect turning, so we can actually get straight approaches to said gymnastics (to the right, the tight turn is easy, to the left, not so much, heh).

In other news, a lovely and gracious friend of mine who designs belt buckles and jewelry is doing something very sweet for us this month.  Check it out:

http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=22815

:)

OK, OK, so he’s not perfect (yet)

Yesterday I was forced to accept the fact that Afton is not perfect.  Yes, he’s quiet, fun, trail rides, crosses water and ditches, and jumps super easily, but the reality is that we have not been paying that much attention to a thing called “ring work.”

So yesterday I made a point of focusing on it, and I learned the following:

  • Afton has a giraffe head to rival Rosey, which is an accomplishment
  • Afton doesn’t quite have the ability to keep his body aligned on a curve, and likes to “motorcycle” his turns
  • He really, really, likes to chew and jaw on the bit
  • Once you have warmed up, he doesn’t quite get the point of walking
  • If you lean forward to pet him, that’s a signal to go back to work (my own horse, by the way, has the opposite view. Pats on the neck mean STOP, darnit!)

I knew a lot of these things before, but we’ve not really concentrated on working on any of them yet, so today was an adventure.  There was lots of this:

oy.  Just... Oy.

oy. Just... Oy.

I was on a horse bulletin board the other day where people were complaining about a movie poster for “Australia” because it showed abusive riding, because the horse was gaping in the mouth.  So now I feel like an evil horse abuser, though I was pretty much just letting him do his own thing (note the incorrect lead).  And do excuse my head, someone outside the ring was talking to me.  On a more positive note, we also got a little of this:

Happy trotting

Happy trotting

So he’s not real round or anything there, but I like how engaged he is behind, and how much he reaches in front.  He’s got to learn to sort of put things together, but he at least is a nice forward going guy.

After working around a little, and realizing that he gets a little anticipatory, AND he likes to do weird things on turns (in both directions, at different times, he’ll lean in, or bulge out, with different parts of his body), we went back to working mostly at the walk.  I know, boring, but I think the walk gets neglected a lot, even though there’s lots you can do. 

So I stopped, asked him to give his head in both directions (which he’s not real good at yet, either- this is not a flexible horse at this point in time).  Then we practiced an elementary turn on the forehand, to get him thinking about shifting the hindquarters in response to leg.  He’s actually pretty good at that, which surprised me a little.  After that, I began asking the same questions on a small circle- shift the hindquarters away from my leg, and turn from the outside rein.  He was jawing the bit like mad, and I’m starting to think this is just a habit, something he does when he’s thinking hard (kind of how like, when I’m concentrating like crazy, I bite/chew on my lips, which is more than anyone really wanted to know about me).

Eventually we went back to the trot, and just kept turning- figure eights, serpentines, etc… when he wanted to lean in and drift in on a turn, I just turned that into a little circle, working to get closer to a real bend.  It only halfway worked.  We did eventually get some really nice trot, where he tried to stretch down a little bit.  Of course, stretching down for Afton doesn’t mean very far… he doesn’t have that flexibility yet, but he tried, and we also found a nice, more comfortable and rhythmic trot. 

Afterwards we walked down the driveway and hopped one of the logs to end on a good note. 

Whee!

Whee!

Small Figure Eights

Last night I had an interesting ride on Rosey- she was quite energetic, and while I generally like the “forward” thing, I kept getting the feeling that she was running while simultaneously not being “in front of my leg.”  To add insult to injury, when I tried to bring my leg back into the correct place, I totally lost my center, and she got even quicker.  After fumbling around for a bit, I decided to stop working so hard and began to ask her for some serpentines and figure eights.

That seemed to work nicely, it got her attention, and with her slowing down a bit I was able to get myself better aligned, and even get my leg “on” more without her reacting so much to it, which gives a much nicer feeling (and makes it much easier for me to sit straighter and feel more balanced).

When we stepped up into the canter, it turned out really lovely.  I worked on keeping her mostly on circles, and just focused on me as much as possible- sitting quietly, following with my hands, and that sort of thing.  She really goes much better the more I focus on what I am doing, so I’m trying to make that the primary goal of every ride.  She’s becoming much more even (I’m thinking that Trainer Extraordinaire may have something to do with that) and I had a much easier time last night keeping her on the circle to the right. 

I do also try to make our circles more like “square” circles- occasionally she wants to motorcycle a little, since she doesn’t have bending down, so if you stay on too much of an arc, she can start diving around the turn a little bit. 

I didn’t want to do too much, since I’m still a little unsure of the riding schedule (I finally made a little calendar to put on her door, so we can all keep things straight), so we also spent a fair amount of time at the walk, learning about bending a little, and stopping/starting while keeping the head down and relaxed.  We also began some elementary turns on the forehand, but this is a little hard for her.  When she had trouble grasping the concept I got off and asked her from the ground.  She has a little trouble with the concept of crossing her inside hind in front of the other and stepping to the side- I don’t doubt she will mentally pick it up quickly, I just think she’s physically still a little weak and not really flexible.  So I will be adding some hind leg stretches to the carrot-stretch post ride routine.  

And, because pictures always make blog posts more fun, but I don’t have any new Roselicious photos, here’s some grey horse nose:

Whatcha got there?

Whatcha got there?