dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, June 30, 2014

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

I used to think that the phrase meant that you should have fun while you can. Now that I have a small farm I realize that it's more about work than pleasure.

Canada Day is tomorrow (yay) and I was off on monday so was looking forward to a nice long weekend.  My daughter is moving to her new apartment tomorrow so we were planning to help with that, otherwise the weekend stretched before us full of sunshine and warm weather. I could hardly wait.

And then on saturday the guy I get hay from called.
"I'm cuttin' hay this weekend. How much do you want?"

Dang. There goes the plans. I have not been successful in finding someone who delivers (well who isn't prohibitively expensive). So getting in hay means that we have to go pick it off the field. And it means hanging around waiting for the call that it's ready. We talk amounts and timing. I've adamant that July 1 is out because of the move. He figures that Monday 'sometime' will work.  So monday is a scorcher of a day. That morning Ed and I work on some chores. Mostly we work on the fence. There was a short somewhere. We figured it out and fixed it. Ed showed me how to make lead wires that connect the electric from one to the other.  I was banging the wee metal bit onto the end of the  lead wire- and feeling pretty accomplished when Ed walked in barn. Right then I banged my thumb with the hammer.

$##%# I said snatching my hand away.

Did you clip it? He asked. 
"You're going to get a blood blister"

Just then blood starts dripping out of the end of my thumb. I try to finish putting the thingy on but Ed tells me to go into the house and get a band aid. Fair enough- I was bleeding all over the stuff. I headed into the house leaving drops behind.  We finish the fencing work. I am now proficient with the electric drill and wiring fences. The horses were quite amused by the whole thing.

We then have  to have a quick lunch before heading out to the get the hay. The only thing to cook quickly is a box of Bagel Bites. I guess I need some groceries. At that point a dump truck towing a backhoe drives into our property.
uh oh.
It's Kerry. He's the guy we hired to do the foundation for the garage we're going to build. Fortunately he's just dropping off the equipment. I talk to him about a couple other things I want him to do- bring a load of sand for my ring and grade outside the barn so that the water runs away from the barn rather then against the door. We chat a bit, scarf down the bagel bites and hitch the trailer to the truck.  It's about a 15 minute drive to the field and we start to load the hay. With the truck we can get 50 between the truck and trailer. Since we're picking up 100 it's just 2 trips. However, it's hot and heavy work.  We bring the hay back and unload it and stack it in the barn.
 We replenish the water bottles and head back to the field.  We get the last load and bring it back to the barn.  At this point the sun is beating down, we're hot and sweaty and scratched by the hay bales.  At one point I'm in the truck waiting for Ed to shut the trailer so I can drive on. The minutes drag on- I check the mirrors, no sign of Ed. I wait a little longer. Suddenly fearful that he's had a heart attack back there I leap out of the truck and head to the trailer. He's inside texting. WTH? I ask him. I might be a little cranky. We both draw on the last vestiges of strength to get it done. I climb into the back of the truck and pitch it over the side so that Ed can stack it.

As we're working Martin the cat saunters in. There's nothing to make you feel more like a minion than a cat who casually lays on a bale of the new hay that you're stacking to check it's comfort level. And then looks at you as though to say 'you're not going to move this are you? I'm just getting comfortable" For a minute you think 'oh poor kitty I won't disturb him" 

I gave my head a shake.

Finally it was done. I then took the trailer to park it and Ed went and got the tractor. It seems that he promised his mother in law manure while we were heading to the city to move Amanda. He brings it out with the tractor and loads it into the back of the truck. I realize that we won't be able to get the cover on unless it's levelled out. I climb onto the back of the truck and try to smooth it out. Ed watches me and I see that he had a smirk on his face. I look at him "if I fall into this pile of manure you're cooking supper"  He smooths out his face and says earnestly "I was planning to cook anyway" But I suspect that he's thinking that it would be worth it.

Now it's time to feed the horses and sweep up the barn. I head into the house to have a shower, stopping by the laundry room to strip- there's hay everywhere. I catch myself heading to the door to shake out the socks that are full of hay and stop- realizing that I'm naked and perhaps should not open the door and traumatize whoever happens to be driving by.

I am now sitting here, clean, exhausted and sore. But there's hay in the barn and I have my horses home so it's all good. Maybe I'll get to ride tomorrow.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Aaand Can-TER

That's right, we did it!

A few blog posts I wrote about how I was waiting for the right moment and that was yesterday. Let me bore you with the details.

On friday I worked with Steele and he was going pretty well. We were having some issues with transitions- they seemed to be much more work than necessary for both of us and he was getting a little stressed by it. So I thought for bit and realized that I needed to make it more clear and more simple. So we spent 20 minutes doing walk-halt-walk transitions from just my seat. I doubt very much that I can describe it well but my method is at the walk to allow my seat to move with him and when I want him to halt to stop my seat. My goal was to do a walk- halt with no reins and halt-walk with minimal aids (a small little bump with the calves). As we went into this work he was all distracted. But I stuck with it patiently and he began to settle. As he settled, it got easier which leads to more settling. In the end I had a horse 100% focussed on me and responding beautifully to lightest of aids.

There, I thought, we are ready for a walk-halt dressage test. As long as it doesn't require any steering accuracy. 

On Saturday, my friend Cynthia came out to ride Irish in the morning. Steele stood in the cross ties like a old pro. I commented on it to Cynthia and she said that she thought that Steele had an old soul. In the ring we went to work. After some ground work I got on. I could immediately feel the difference from the day before.We were able to practise steering and transitions. There were a few bobbles- once when I planned to go left and he thought we should go right (where Irish was) and our conversation went something like this;
Me: and we go left
Steele: I think right is better
Me: no it's LEFT
Steele: you go left, I'm going RIGHT
Steele: RIGHT
Me & Steele: CRAP, FENCE!
At which point we did this spectacular and heretofore not recognized dressage maneuver called 'spaz left'.
I had to laugh as we headed down the fence line.

Another time a horse fly landed on his nose while we were trotting around and he was trying to shake it off but it wouldn't budge. He first tried to drop his nose to rub on his leg but he couldn't so then he tried to bring up his foreleg to rub his nose! As we were trotting he was flinging his right foreleg up by his nose. I decided that stopping and letting him get the fly might be the safest of options.

A few minutes later as we were trotting a lovely circle to left I decided to try the canter. I made sure I was steady in the saddle and said "annnd can-TER" just like I do when I'm lunging him. He flicked an ear back.
um, what? 
I repeated the canter and gave a little bump with my calves. Steele trotted even faster.  I steadied him and asked again. He picked up a canter but it was the wrong lead. No worries. We cantered a few strides and I brought him back to trot. I gave him a pat good boy because he did what I asked. The wrong lead was a balance issue. We settled back into our work and I asked again. He broke into canter but dropped out after a few strides. Not a problem. I gave him a pat and we took a walk break.
I then switched direction and once the trot was going I asked again. this time he picked up the canter and kept going. I worked very very hard on keeping my seat light in the saddle and my reins slack so he had room to go. I could feel him trying to figure out how to do this with me on his back. After half a circle I asked him to trot and then back to a walk. I gave him profuse praise and then left the canter alone. I just wanted him to get the idea that we can canter. I can build on it over time.

My friend Cynthia saw what we were doing. She said it looked pretty good. Which is good to know because it felt a bit discombobulated.

We did a cooling out walk.  As I dismounted a horse fly began bugging him under his stomach. But he stood perfectly still while I got off and then tried to get it. I took my crop and rubbed it under his belly and one flew away. I figured I got it but he was still swishing his tail between his leg and kicking up. I realized that there was a nasty horse fly on his 'tender bits' and I got it. He looked at me with supreme gratitude.

one day we will fly together
If it's not clear by this point- I am having a ball on this journey.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Solid Foundation = Not Dying

I've had a few more rides on Steele and it's been interesting.

On Sunday my friend came to ride Irish again. As always I started with ground work. My view of the ground work has undergone a shift. I don't use it to tire him out but to confirm that he's tuned into me and responding. On sunday it didn't take too long so I mounted up. We did some walk work and then I asked for a trot. As I started to post a squeaking noise started coming from my saddle.  I had conditioned it the night before and it was my full seat breeches creating some friction in the saddle. Steele was a bit disturbed by having this squeaking coming from his back. He didn't know whether to trot faster or stop. He compromised by staying in the trot but trying to swivel his head to see what was up. I couldn't help it- I started to giggle. That seemed to relax him and he settled down right away. After a few rounds around the ring and the squeaking went away. We had a great time walking, trotting, steering and standing stock still while Irish cantered around us in a circle. t have to say that we had one of our best rides to date.

Tuesday was a very blustery day. My riding ring is surrounded by tall grass and bushes. Our ground work went very well but when I mounted I could tell that he was very uncertain about the way the grass and leaves were blowing around. Once Belle came bouncing out of the grass and he spun away. I sat up and said 'whoa' and he stopped immediately. Good boy. And thank you Royce. We went back to work and he spooked again- this time with a small hop. Again I said 'whoa' and he did. I realized that he was really uncertain. It's one thing to deal with this with me providing leadership on the ground. it's a whole different kettle of fish with me on his back. I could have dismounted but I don't think that would have helped. I decided that this called for some finesse.

if only you could buy it in a bottle!
My views on learning (whether animal or human) is that you can introduce something new in a known context, or try what's been learned in a new context. I decided that in this case the wind blowing a new context so I would stick in our comfort zone- mostly walking and steering.  So that's what we did. I did a little bit of trotting but not much. I just wanted him to understand that it was all fine and that I wasn't worried. I have to say I was pleased that he continued to listen. In fact he completely outperformed Irish in this regard.  One thing that was freaking him out a bit was walking through the shadows of fluttering leaves. He really thought we should play it safe and go around but I was patient and helped him to figure out that it wasn't dangerous.  I ended by us halting on top of the leaves and dismounting.

Today was also breezy. However it was also hot and humid which may have helped. But this time there were no issues with the blowing grass or leaves. And we were able to work on our walk-trot-walk transitions and serpentines. Sometimes, as we cross the ring it becomes interesting because I think we should go left and he thinks that we should go right. It reminds me a bit of Ed and my early car trips and me helping him navigate Montreal.
keep in mind that we are country folk 
What I realize is that the more solid the foundation the safer we are.

And that I really need someone to come and take some photos. (hint, hint)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

So How Smart is Steele Anyway?

I know I've been writing about how quick Steele catches on to stuff- even stuff I wish he wouldn't figure out.

Anyway tonight I was doing a bunch of chores- feeding, mucking, refilling water buckets etc. The dogs were hanging around, like always and I will confess that I was a bit lost in thought. When the barn chores were done I went and got the tractor so I could take the muck cart down and empty it.  My manure pile is a ways away from the barn. While I was emptying the cart I couldn't see Belle, my Aussie. I figured she was in the woods looking for squirrels and rabbits. I finished dumping the manure and went back up to the barn.

My next chore was to look for the shoe that Irish managed to get off. I realized that I still couldn't see Belle. A slight worry began to develop in the back of my brain.  I decided to carry on with looking for the shoe with the idea she would realize I wasn't down at the pile and come find me. Luck was with me and I found the shoe right away. But still no Belle.

I called her and looked around. She didn't come back. The worry was starting to grow and pulse a wee bit but I was mostly annoyed that she would wonder off for so long. She's usually right by my side. I went and put the tractor away and then picked up the mail.

No sign of her. I'm now a bit annoyed and getting really worried.

"Belle SUPPER" I call. d'Arcy (my border collie) starts running around looking for her. He circles back to me. I call again. He runs around and then into the barn. I'm now actively working on NOT worrying. I try to decide if I should go in and make supper and wait for her to return. I push all thoughts of reasons 'why' she hasn't returned out of my head but they keep creeping back. I decide to call a little more.

Steele begins to nicker at me. And then call. I decide to go in and give him a pat. As I walk by the tack room door I stop.  

I wonder.....
I open the tack room door and Belle pops out like a jack-in-the-box. I had accidentally shut her in the room without realizing it.

I walk up to Steele and give him a pat. He nuzzles my hair.
"better now?"
"yes, thank you"

My question for you is: Did he know or was he just looking for a carrot?

I can't believe that you locked me up

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Elementary my dear

There has been a marked change in my rides on Steele the past few days.  The spooky corner is a total non-issue. In fact he heads towards it as it's now the 'resting spot'.  I am becoming more confident in the saddle and we're both getting used to the idea of this new relationship. 

Steele is now learning about the geometry of the ring. I've been working on straight lines, circles and bending lines. It is the straight line that creates the most problems. As I head down the centre line we start off really well but then he starts to move towards the gate. However, the straightening is getting easier each time and he responds really well to my leg. 

Thursday we did figure 8's and more trotting. Today we did even more. I started off walking the shapes. I then began to trot them. It was fun. With the serpentines I would walk to change the bend to make it easier for him. Our  trot is getting more steady in the rhythm the steering is much much better. 

I have not yet cantered him under saddle. Today I was wondering if I was being a bit chicken. And maybe I'm on. But I realize that every time I have pushed something with him because I 'thought' I should it has never gone well. But when I've done something because it felt right it's usually worked. So I guess it doesn't matter whether I 'should' or someone else 'would'. To be honest, I'd like a ground person when I try it. 

Today our ride was lovely. It's evident that he's understanding a bit more and not worried or upset. I felt very solid in the saddle (it's still wonderfully comfortable) and coordinated with my aids. Ed was mowing the front pasture with the bush hog while I rode and the dogs were bopping around. None of that phased us. I decided that it was time for a mini-hack. When I was done I dismounted and opened the gate. I then brought him back to the block to remount. He wasn't too sure and moved away twice but with corrections he stood for the third time. He was confused because he was sure that we were done. Anyway I rode him out the gate and down to the barn. I had prepared for this mentally by thinking of what could go wrong and having a plan. Because I had a plan nothing went wrong. As we walked down to the barn I asked him to halt about 5 times so he didn't get rushy. I then stopped at the barn and dismounted. I was grinning from ear to ear.

It occurs to me that if I were to put this academic terms Steele is entering his early elementary school years. It is no longer 'yay I'm sitting on him'. Now it's early training. Training that will set the foundation of the rest of our journey together. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Proof, as they say,

is in the pudding.

Although technically and historically the phrase was "The proof of the pudding is in the eating". And investigating the origin of that phrase will take you on an internet journey of a good 30 minutes. If you are a geek like me.

But I digress.

If you are an AA like me you like to finish each ride feeling that you made progress. We read, take lessons, paritcipate in on-line debates, look at videos and try to apply what we've learned in a systematic fashion. But you are rarely 100% sure that you accomplished what you wanted. An issue pops up, you deal with it and hope that you made at least a step towards correcting the issue rather than making it more ingrained. For me, no matter how confident I feel that I tackled something correctly, it is the next ride that lets me know if I was correct or not. If the issue is better (or btter yet, gone) then I feel that I'm on the right track.

In my last post I wrote about an issue that had croppped up and that I handled- hopefully accurately and with intelligence & finesse. But I'm not a professional and I don't pretend that I am. This is a training blog of an AA working as best she can. Trust me, I'm not professing to be brilliant at anything. So I was excited on Sunday to ride Steele again and see how we were doing. I was also excited that my friend Cynthia was coming over to ride Irish. This would allow me to ride Steele in the ring with another horse.

I wanted this to be successful so I made a careful plan. Irish had a few days off with an abscess and I wanted to ride him to make sure that he wasn't overly enthusiastic with Cynthia. It as also a coolish, windy day. Always fun with a redheaded half-TB.  I figured a 30 minute ride would tell me how he was. I'm glad that I did. He was quite , ahem, enthused. But I was able to channel his energy into some fun work on lengthens and canter work. I put him back out to the field and brought in Steele. I put on his lunging equipment and we went up to the ring. After a warm up I put on side reins. I realized I hadn't done that in a while and I wanted him to get a sense of rein contact that was steady. After a bit of that I then ground drove him. Through all of it he was right with me. He would see other things going on but ignored them in favour of me. Good boy. I was thrilled when I put him away.

When Cynthia came we went out to the field to get them. Both came trotting up- Irish with more enthusiasm than Steele. He went right up to Cynthia to say hi. I swear he believes that he's the true host of Oakfield Farms. And who am I to argue? We tacked up the horses and headed up to the ring. I realized that in my excitement I forgot my helmet so Steele and I headed back. I expected him to want to follow Irish but he stayed with me. In the ring while Cynthia rode I did some ground work. While Steele definitley knew that Irish was in the ring he was very focussed. So after a bit I decided to mount up. I told Cynthia that we couldn't be counted on for steering and that I might be dismounting again, depending on he felt. When I mounted he moved a bit but stopped when I said 'whoa' and stood still until I asked him. He balked once shortly after we started and I gave him a light tap with my crop. He jumped sideways and moved on.

I made sure that we did not start by following Irish. I wanted him to listen to me, not get into a discussion about following. As the ride progressed we got closer and closer and I practiced steering towards and away. I dismounted once to fix some tack and then re-mounted. He backed up as I was getting on so I repeated the mounting again. I think that I had the rein too tight for him and he got confused. I was so thrilled with the ride. We walked, trotted, did circles, changed reins, and he was tuned in the whole time. The issue of the 'corner' came up once and I just made sure that my whole demeanour was one of 'nope. we don't worry about that remember?' and it became a non-issue. I finished the ride by stopping in the middle of the ring, with him on a loose rein and both of us watching Irish trotting and cantering. He was having a grand time. And Steele didn't try to walk off or follow. After standing for a good 3-4 minutes we walked off and then halted again and I dismounted. This time I went over and sat on the mounting block so he could stand beside me and wait for Irish. He was quite content to stand there and hang out with me.

So sunday was a lot of fun and a big success.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


So yesterday I had a bit of break through. The break through was for me but it has repercussions with Steele.

Here's the story:

You remember 'yes Ma'am' post. Well two days later I was working him. His ground work was good. Not perfect but good. I did have the sense that he wasn't with me 100% but I didn't trust my gut. Then I got on. It started out fine when all of sudden he began to balk at going forward. I urged him forward with my feet and my voice. It worked, sort of, but then he stopped and we had a conversation that went like this:
'walk on'
'walk ON'
'seriously? move!'
'la la la I can't hear you'
'dammit horse'
'screw you. I'm done.'

I wished I had a crop but I didn't. I was trapped. I couldn't think of what to do so I dismounted. We marched over to the gate and I'm sure he was happy. However, I put his halter on and clipped on the lunge. I won't lie, I was pissed. I know that emotion has no place in training but I have to acknowledge that it's there. So I took my anger and put it aside. I then used the energy from my anger in the next steps.
I asked him to move forward and he did. I asked him to whoa and then he refused to go forward. I corrected him sharply. At which point he leapt forward. Great- forward energy. I put his little defiant butt to work. Steele was not so happy with the idea of work. He threw a major tantrum. I was glad to have a chance to work this out with him. My thoughts were that for most of his wee life he gets to choose what he does. For the time I'm with him I get to pick what he does. Period.  The sooner he figured that out the better for both of us. After I had a nice and obedient horse I took off the lunge equipment and remounted. I made sure that I had forward when I wanted and then finished.

What I realized is that I need to pay attention to how he is during the ground work and not let it slide.

The next time I went to work him he was lovely with his ground work. I mounted but this time was prepared with a small crop that I have. After about 10 minutes he tried the balking again. I quickly reached back and gave him a smack where I had addressed the issue on the ground. He spun around:
'hey, someone hit me'
'what? really?'
'yes. where are they?'
'no idea'
'was it you?'
'how could it be me? I'm up here, not on the ground. We better move ahead'

I only had to use the crop twice. He couldn't figure out where this person was which was fine with me.  I was feeling pretty smug.

Then he began to be spooky about the far side of the ring. Now this has been a spot that has been a bit problematic but we've been working on it. As he was getting tense I suddenly flashed back to something that Royce said to me "A horse learns what you teach it". I realized that on the ground working in this area was not causing us any problems so why was I teaching him that it was okay to be spooky when under saddle?
I said to Steele and me "do you know what? you were fine down there just 10 minutes ago when I was on the ground so I'm not accepting that it's a problem when I'm up here"
He flicked an ear at me. We then walked down there with no issues. It had nothing to do with him understanding what I said- what happened was that my body language changed completely. I was no longer feeding the notion that we needed to be worried about that corner. In fact we were able to stand still for at least 3 minutes down there with him on a long rein. His ears were at half mast and his hind leg cocked. I called that a win and dismounted.

So that's two break through with myself: 1. tune into ground work. If I don't think he's with me then he's not.
2. I need to make sure that I don't reinforce spookiness or worry. One of us should know what we're doing.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Yes Ma'am

Irish has always had what I call a 'squirrel' brain. This means that he can be going along seeming to be paying attention when all of a sudden he's not with me at all. This has been our downfall at shows. When he was younger the sequence would go something like this:
I would be using my aids in a soft and tactful fashion to ask him to do something. He'd be going around 'la-la-la-la completely oblivious. I'd give a stronger aid and he'd react like he'd been bit by a snake. My riding coach would berate me for being 'harsh' and I'd feel awful and ineffectual, go back to being 'soft' and the whole cycle would start again. Over time I learned to feel when he was more out of it than others and do a fairly good job of keeping him on the aids. However, in retrospect I think that I should have ignored the over reaction and carried on letting him figure it out. I do that now and he's much more focussed. But hindsight is 20-20 and I could be wrong.

All of this is background for the story I'm going to tell you next.

Steele does not have a 'squirrel' brain. He can be quite focussed. But he can also be opinionated.  Sometimes the same behaviour can manifest for different reasons. The other day I was doing ground work with him (our sessions start with ground work and end with riding). He wasn't being disobedient but he was being really slow to respond to my commands. Sort of like a kid walking to school when he really doesn't want to go. And he was busy looking around at everything outside of the ring, his leg was itchy, his hair was in his eyes.....  And while he was technically-sort-of-listening I did not have his attention or respect in anyway.  There were flies around. However I have seen him be able to fully concentrate on grazing while not letting the flies disturb him.

I could see this and knew I had to sort it out. I tried putting my commands closer together so that he had to pay more attention. This improved things a bit but not as well as I wanted.

So he was moseying around me at a leisurely walk and I said 'annd trot'.  
I reached out with the end of my lunge whip handle and smacked him on his rump.  He jumped in the air and whirled around, looking at me in shock.
you hit me!
well you weren't listening
I can't believe you hit me! 
I can't believe you were ignoring me. 

Now let me be clear- there was no beating of innocent young horses here. I didn't leave any sort of mark and he was not bruised physically. His pride maybe but I can live with that.

annnd trot
And with that he trotted off smartly. From that point on he kept one ear on me at all times and whatever command I gave he responded to immediately.

All the interesting things outside of the ring went away and he was no longer itchy.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Brakes and Steering

Are not fully installed yet.

Since my last post I have ridden about 3 times. Each time is a bit better than the one before.

Do you know what the really hard part is? It's not that the brakes and steering are still a bit unreliable (more on that later), nor that his rhythm is still sketchy. It's that I have to keep foremost in my brain is that whenever it goes wrong it's because he has no idea what to do. He's not being disobedient  he just doesn't know. And he doesn't know what he doesn't know.

I, however, am supposed to know. So whenever it goes not-quite-according-to-plan I have to stop and think how I can help him to understand what I want. Easier said than done. However, I made the choice to buy a baby and bring him along myself. So if things are a bit difficult at times I have to appreciate that I am being hoisted by my own petard (I've been dying to use this phrase in the blog- it's one of my favourite phrases).  If your original background is with schooling horses, as mine is, then you learn that school horses have a whole bunch of evasions that they've learned over the years to use on people. However, that same behaviour by Steele is not a deliberate evasion- it's not like he's on the internet doing google searches on 'how to stop my servant from getting above her station and actually trying to sit on my back". At least I don't think he is. Uh oh.

Earlier this week when I first mounted Steele he walked off before I was fully in the saddle. I got on more hastily than I planned and brought him to a halt. I then dismounted and returned to the mounting where we practiced standing-still-while-your-human-gets-on. He didn't walk away to be bad. He probably was unbalanced and that was his response. There was no point in getting annoyed- I just need to fix it. It hasn't appeared since.

The brakes are pretty good. He usually stops right away when I ask. I have to be ready because sometimes he's a bit abrupt. He puts the brakes on at times when I don't think I want it. Like when I say 'good boy'. Oops. I had to teach him that 'good boy' did not equal "time for a break".  Today was funny. I rode him early this morning but it was still pretty warm (for the record 'pretty warm" here means in the 70's. At least this time of year). I always do ground work so by the time I was riding he was probably feeling the heat and thinking more about napping. So he started stopping. And then he began to not move forward. I had to use a fair amount of  leg to get him moving again. After two episodes I had to think about what was going on. I decided that there were two things happening:
1. he had had enough of this game for today.
2. the past few rides I've been so concerned about making sure that I had control that I was praising for 'whoa' but not for 'go'.

At one point he stopped right by the gate.
"see I whoaed. Awesome. And we're by the gate. Double awesome. Let's go back to the barn"
So I had to change what I was doing. Everytime he went forward I praised him and gave him a pat. I could see him thinking about this. I couldn't dismount until I was sure that he understand that I wanted to things from him: To stop when I ask and to go when I ask.  When he was nice and responsive a few times I walked us as far away from the gate as we could go, asked him to whoa and dismounted right away.

I'm counting that as a win.

I'll save the steering topic for another post.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Spring Photos

I realized that I didn't really have any shots of the horse enjoying the spring grass. So here you go.

Check out Irish- he's 14, looking fine. For the first time ever he has dapples!

Who needs wings to fly? He is definitely getting lighter.

Irish has always possessed a beautiful tail

And yes, I do think that the sun rises over my boys

We own a small piece of heaven

Monday, June 2, 2014


I'm on the last day of a four day weekend and it's been wonderful. The weather has been cooperating (for a change) which adds an extra shine to everything. On saturday I worked Steele in the morning and rode him for a bit. When I was lunging him he was getting a bit excited at the canter. Rather then slow him up I wanted to see what he would do so I jumped suddenly in the air. He skidded to a halt and looked at me curiously. 
"You're not going to fall down are you?" 

That evening a friend came over and rode Irish. They were doing well so I went and brought Steele up for more work. He was a bit excited but working fine. Then a kid driving a lawn tractor pulling a cart came down over the next field (in the spooky corner). Steele freaked out and tried to run away but when he hit the end of the lunge line he skidded to a stop and stared at this contraption with eyes as big as saucers. 
"I knew that field hid some dangerous things! We should flee. "
I asked him to whoa and he stood but every time I tried to approach him he would back away farther. Which is not what Iwanted. I thought for a second and then turned around and walked towards the monster. By this time the kid had noticed Steele's reaction and come to a stop. Steele's training kicked in and he followed me. I saw that it was one of the boys who had helped me pick rocks earlier. I spoke to him for few minutes and let Steele realize that it was all fine. I then thanked him for stopping and asked him to carry on as this was a great time to help my young horse realize that it's all fine. So he did. And we went back to work. 

 I had a session with Royce yesterday and we worked on setting up some 'spooky' situations and teaching Steele how to handle it. We hung an old rain sheet on the far end of the fence so it could flap in the wind. At first Steele was pretty sure it was a horse eating monster but he got over it quickly enough. When Royce was mounted I shook it as they went by. Steele wanted to run but when that wasnt' the option he stood still but made it clear that he did not approve of such shenanigans. Otherwise it was business as usual. I told Royce that I wanted a couple weeks to work on things on my own. 

This morning I told Ed that I was going out to ride and could he peek outside every now and then. "no problem" he said. I do that all the time anyway." I tacked him up and we went to work in the ring. He was fine at the lunge. I even did a bit of leg yielding in hand. He seems to be figuring that one out. I then did some driving for a bit and it was all easy. I was putting the lines away to mount up when I saw a SUV drive into the field next door and man got out (it's been a busy field these days). 'Great' I thought. As the guy approached the fence line I led Steele over and we chatted for a few minutes. I thought about not riding. But then I gave myself a shake and got on. The only way to know if Steele is going to react and I'm going to be able to handle it is to take a few risks. And do you know what? We were fine. We walked all over the ring, practicing our steering. I then asked him to trot. First time in the new saddle. I wanted to post but the first time I tried he skidded to a stop. 
"What are you doing up there?"
hmm. How to introduce the posting to a horse that has only really been trotted in a western saddle? I put him back into a trot and then posted minimally. As he got used to it I began to truly post. I could feel his back free up as I did so. Which is the idea. A lighter seat will make it easier for him to carry me. I worked on trotting a circle. The first time we made it half way before he fell back to walk. The second time we made it 3/4 of the way around when he got a bit fast. "Easy" I said and he came to a sudden stop. oops. A little work and we managed to trot a full circle. We then went around the ring. Then we managed to trot two thirds of what might generously be called a 3 loop serpentine. 
what I had in my head. the reality was more like a drunken dressage test
We ignored the man in the field. Well I worked on helping Steele ignore all but what I wanted. For a baby he did pretty good. I was happy with that and dismounted. He looked quite pleased with himself too. 

In the afternoon a man came by selling aerial photos. We couldn't resist. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The New Saddle

As I said earlier Steele's new saddle arrived last week. At first there seemed to be a mix up as it wasn't in the order. Turns out this 'model' doesn't come in an 18" seat size. The Saddle Fitter (sorry I don't like to use names without permission) said she'd bring me her 17.5"saddle to fit to him and if I didn't like it we could discuss other options. 

A saddle needs to fit both the horse and the rider. Often we think of only half the equation. However, I learned that you need to consider both the hard way (the way I seem to learn most of my life lessons).  A few saddles ago I had let myself get talked into a 17" saddle. It never fit me right and it was a real struggle to maintain any sort of position. I was getting so discouraged with hearing 'put your legs back, sit up," and other things that I was ready to give up riding. Then I was at a clinic and the person told me, gently, that this saddle did not fit me. I went saddle shopping and found one that fit both Irish and I. All of sudden keeping my balance in the saddle was easy. So that means that I want to be sure of the new saddle as well and why I was hesitant about the 17.5" seat. 

So she brought it out for me to see. She was very patient and we compared the two saddles (Irish's and the new one). When we brought out the tape measure and measured the new one was actually 17 7/8" inches (we measured multiple times). Irish's was 18 1/8" inches. I took Irish's and tipped it over top of the new one. They looked identical. SF adjusted the stuffing and we put it on Steele and she let me around. It felt fine. She recommended that I keep it for a week and try it and let her know if I wanted to keep it. If not she could order the next model up in the size I wanted. That sounded more than fair. 

Over the past week I have tried it on Steele 4 times. The first day was wednesday ( I was away for work earlier in the week). I lunged him in it and then just practiced mounting and dismounting. Ed was not home so I didn't ride. I don't want to ride with no one home for a while yet just in case.  Thursday Ed was home so I told him I would ride after doing the ground work. He offered to come up and watch but I told him it would be like watching paint dry (I hope) and he just needed to keep a watch out every now and then. I mounted and we walked off. It was my first time riding with no instruction- just him and I. I walked him around for about 10 minutes and then dismounted. The saddle felt fine. Friday I was off so I worked Steele in the morning and then mounted again. This time I rode for about 20 minutes. My idea is to build it slowly and keep it low key and low stress rather then come at it. I have no agenda for this horse (for th first time ever) and so I can go at a speed that may seem slow and I'm okay with it. 

Anyway, back to the saddle. I felt really secure in the seat walking around. And it's probably the most comfortable saddle I've ever sat in. But I want to be sure so I then put the saddle on Irish. It's not a great fit for him but it wasn't too bad. I wanted to test it out at walk, trot and canter to see how it felt. I rode for about 20 minutes. At all three gaits it was easy to keep my legs in position and to cue. So I finished the ride and sent the email that I was keeping it. 

Saturday I rode Steele again (not sure how long, about 20-30 minutes after lunging). As we were working on steering I realized that all I had to do to turn him was shift my weight slighly. I weighted the right stirrup and he turned right until I straightened. Same to the left. I stilled my seat and he stopped. Once I noticed this I was fascinated with how well he responded and kept playing with that: left circle, across diagonal, right circle (well really they were more 'circle-ish'). The reins only came into play when I really needed them. It was an incredible feeling. Now I just have to make sure I don't screw that up. Heaven help me. 

the snazzy new and comfortable saddle (Kent and Masters). Note the 'holy crap' handle :)