dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How time flies

Steele will be three next month. He's coming along so well and lately I've seen a real jump in his maturity both physically and mentally. I wanted to look back at how he's developed over the past 18 months.

Here he is shortly after arrival:
his first night. see how he likes to make a bed out of hay?
first time he and Irish were out together
conformation shot
He looks like a skinny teenager.

Over the winter he filled out and here he is this spring:

And now you can see how he's filled out and just look more mature.
this is his 'noble' pose
I swear, he knows that I'm taking his picture!
I now have to stand on my tiptoes to groom his butt. He's still quite 'roany' but now his tail looks like it's been dipped in blond paint!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Driving lesson # 2

Monday was a beautiful day so when I got home for work I decided to work Steele again. I figured that a repetition the next day would be good for both of us 

I started with the familiar lunge work. I wanted to make sure that any extra energy was taken care of. But he was quiet and obedient from the beginning. I asked Ed to come and help and he was happy to oblige. I explained that essentially he was a 'spotter' and to walk beside Steele and if he freaked out to simply bring him into a small circle. 

I fastened the lines and off we went. And, as I expected, it was no big deal. After  5 minutes I asked Ed to unfasten the lead but walk beside him. We turned right and left. We did circles.  We halted. No problem so I had Ed stop while we carried on. The only thing was that Steele kept trying to veer towards him and there was one grass eating attempt. 

I stopped it then so that we ended when all was good. 

I just have to say that I have the smartest pony in the universe. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Steele learns to drive!

No, not a car. Can you imagine? The mind boggles at the thought of Steele behind the wheel.

This is Patches. You can find him on Youtube
As you know I've been lunging Steele and introducing side reins. He's been doing fantastic with it. His responses to verbal commands is very very good and his gaits are generally steady and rhythmic. I've been wanting to introduce him to ground driving- which is where you attach two lunge lines to the bit and walk behind the horse. It's a great way to teach them to respond to the reins without weight on their back. The problem is that to start you need two people- one at the head and one behind.

I've been introducing Steele to the concept of yielding to rein pressure. I've also worked on getting him used to ropes and lines around his legs and haunches.  I knew he was ready but I didn't want to push it by myself and lead to disaster. As a wise friend posted on FB: "if you don't have time to do it right you better have time to do it twice". (yes there is wisdom on FB although I'm not sure if it's Glen's wisdom or if he was quoting someone else).

So this morning when my friend Cindy said she was coming for a visit I immediately hatched a plan. Cindy is an experienced horse woman who has a quiet and gentle approach with horses. I admire her horsemanship very much. I did my usual lunge work with him and then Cindy and I got him ready. He stood there while we set up the lines.
kinda like this
Cindy stood at his head with the lead line and I moved to the back and asked him to 'walk on'. He started off beside her but when he felt the lines on his haunches he spun around and got a little nervous. Cindy simply brought him around and we walked off again. That was the only thing that happened. The rest of it was just like it should be- no big deal. It was so cool to walk behind him and feel him in my 'reins'. We walked forward, turned left, right and 'whoa'. Cindy commented that you could really see him thinking about this new twist but he was not in any way upset.

We walked around for about 10 minutes. Then Cindy unclipped the lead line and stepped away. Steele stood still and I asked him to walk on. He looked and saw Cindy far away, looked back at me and backed up! I could understand his thoughts-' I'm supposed to be at someone's shoulder, not up here by myself!'
Cindy came back to his head and walked beside him. As we walked around she slowly increased the distance between them until it was him and me. I did a little more and then brought him to a halt and ended the lesson.

I was so excited by the whole thing. Steele made sure that his behavior was rewarded with lots of carrots!

Mr. Totally Awesome
Update: Cindy sent me some photos that I didn't know she took!

from the lunge session
Looking terrific (note the photo bomber!)
left? right? how about we head to the grass!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Not Just a Pretty Face

It's the last day of Thanksgiving weekend. I am too full to write a long post so here's a video that's worth a thousand words.

Steele wants you to know that he's not just ornamental- he's helpful. 


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Toad of Toad Hall?

When you have a barn you start to realize how attractive it is to many of the creatures that live around. Mice and rats of course. But there are others.

This year we had barn swallows. The would roost up in the rafters and twitter at me when I came in. As they got used to me they became less agitated but let me know when I was bothering them. It seems that swallows do not like to listen to the radio first thing in the morning. And the night I came in after midnight to check on Irish they were quite peeved. I could hear them muttering up above me:
"what's she doing NOW?"
"oh who turned on those lights, they hurt my eyes?"
"oh it's her"
"my god, doesn't she know we have to get up at 4 a.m.?! How RUDE!'

Rodents and birds I was prepared for. What I didn't expect was toads. When I first spied a toad hanging around I was warned him (her?) to watch out for Martin and Belle. I needn't of worried. After a few inspections they gave the toad a wide berth. It seems that toads secrete a noxious substance so that predators will leave them alone. So became used to seeing them around. I did have to catch one that hopped into my tack room when I had the door open. I caught her (him?) in a bucket but she refused to leave the bucket when I brought it outside. So I tipped it over and left. Later I saw that the toad was gone but had left behind a present- she pooped in my bucket! Who know that toad poop was so big?

The toad finally took up residence in the shed where I keep my sawdust. I would come to get some, see him (her?) nestled in the dust and pick around him. After a while he would just move to the side and I would about my business. I don't know how smart toads are but this one seemed to figure out that if he just went to the side of the shed I left him alone. There were a few times when I scooped up a fork full of sawdust and when I dumped in the wheelbarrow there was the toad- looking very very grumpy about the whole thing.
I had to be careful - I was afraid that I would stab him accidentally.

Now the weather is cooler and I have seen him (her?) for a while. I suspect that she's hibernating somewhere and dreaming of all the flies that the horses will bring come spring.

isn't she cute?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Steele Totally Rocks It

Yesterday I spent the morning on a photo outing - it was the annual World Wide Scott Kelby Photo walk. When I came home I decided to do some work with Steele.

Because he and Irish are together 24/7 I do separate them from time to time so that they get used to being apart for 'work'. This time I left Irish locked in the lower field while I brought Steele in for work. Irish hung around the fence line, and, while he did not look impressed, he was not horribly stressed. Steele was the same. There was no calling while in the barn and he was very well behaved heading up to ring.

On the lunge I've been working on two main things:
1. Promptness with transitions.
2. establishing a steady and even pace that is not rushed.

When Steele first starts out he is often excited and wants to bomb around the circle at full steam. This is not good for his joints, for getting him to settle into a proper working gait or for getting him to listen to me. When we first start I keep him on a smallish circle because I just want him to walk. He wants to barrel forward into a trot but I keep him walking. Once that gait is established and I believe that he's tuned in I ask for a trot and enlarge the circle. If he breaks to canter I bring him back and we start again. I work on being consistent- if I didn't ask for it it's not happening, firm- I'm not going to wait 3 circles for him to decide to walk and low key- one of us has to be calm and since I'm older it probably should be me.

Since I only lunge him about 3 times a week he can be a bit excited. A word that I'm working on is 'easy'- that means settle down in your gait. He's really starting to get it. After a few circles of walk I asked for a trot and he took off in an excited /rushed manner. Eeeeasy I said and he immediately slowed up into what I think is his working gait. At that pace he relaxes over the back and settles into a steady rhythm.

We're working away (about 8 minutes in) and he's being fabulous when all hell breaks loose down in Irish's field. All of sudden he starts bolting around and screaming his head off. Steele immediately raises his head (up periscope), tenses through his back and begins to look very worried. At this point I have no idea what bee has gotten into Irish's bonnet but I am welcoming this as an opportunity to work Steele through this. When we go off to clinics, shows or other fun events there is a high liklihood that there will be a horse acting up. He needs to learn to focus on me despite what distractions there are around him. This is why I don't pen up the dogs when I work with him or ask Ed to not do work while I'm riding Irish or working with Steele. All that happens is that the lesson changes.

So as Steele begins to think about bolting away I ask him to walk.
Seriously?  he flicks an ear at me. Not now, I have to run around

Yes, seriously. I bring him in closer so he has to walk.  
good boy.

Irish is still pitching a fit. He walks about half a circle but then trots off again. 

He walks.
good boy
 His eye starts to soften and his posture relaxes.
you are so clever I tell him. I swear that he preens.

Irish is still screaming his head off and running around. Out of the corner of my eye I see a group of riders coming down the road. Aha! Now, until he moved here, Irish has been boarded his entire life. He has seen people ride away and come back. He's been in fields by himself and with other horses. He has been to shows, clinics and trail rides. He's never ever worried about riders and horses.  I have no idea why the sight of riders coming down our road sends him into a frenzy, but it does. Every.Damn.Time.

Meanwhile, back in the ring my attention returns to Steele. I have to teach him that what's happening down there is irrelevant. What matters is the two of us and what we're doing. And do you know what? He rocks it. For a horse who's almost 3 (next month) he settled back into work remarkably fast. He would glance down at that field with Irish running around but did not react other then to look. One ear remained on me. I was thrilled with him. And told him so. I knew it was time to end because the lesson was done. But I got a bit overexcited and when he was trotting instead of asking for a walk and then a halt I said "and whoaaa'. He flicked an ear at me. Oops I thought, I've never asked for a double transition (from trot to halt would be a double) and was about to correct it when he dropped to walk, walked 3 strides and halted. It was  a perfect training level trot-halt transition. It was even square.

As we walked out of the ring Irish was now standing at the gate of his field practically vibrating. Steele walked calmly and contentedly beside me. We went down to 'rescue' Irish. As I opened the gate, Steele gave him a nuzzle as though to say, 'what's up bud?' As Irish went blowing by us Steele continued to walk calmly with me and followed me into the barn for his groom and well earned apple.

I gave him two apples. He totally deserved them.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Friday Night Scary Story

This was a very busy week at work. I had some time with the horses but not as much as I would like. Of course I always want more time. Today after I came hom, I wanted to do something but didn't feel up to lunging him. I headed out to the field and called them. They both came galloping up. Probably thinking that I was calling them for supper. I brought Steele in to groom him and then I realized what I should do- I hadn't done much 'sacking out' lately.

The purpose of sacking out is to desensitize horses to potentially scary situations so that they learn to trust their handler and not fall back on their instinct to bolt away. I put Steele back in his stall but left their doors open. This way they had access to their stalls and little paddock but not the bigger field. I then used duct tape to fasten a plastic shopping bag to a dressage whip. When I went to grab some carrots I realized that I was wearing a sweat shirt and my yoga pants so I had no pockets. hmmm. After reflecting on the problem I stuffed my bra full of carrots and went into the little paddock.

I carried the whip with the bag flapping down at about my waist level. As expected Irish bolted, trying to get to his field. Steele went with him. I simply stood still and let the bag continue to flap in the breeze. Irish trotted around making that blowing sound that horses do when they are spooked. Steele was with him but I saw him glancing my way. I stayed still and let the bag do it's thing. Within 60 seconds Steele had stopped and faced me. I did nothing. He took a step towards me. The bag flapped and he snorted. I kept standing there. He took another step then pulled back. I never moved. He then came back and right up to the bag and took a sniff. I gave him a bit of carrot and told him he was clever. He stayed with me and sniffed the bag again. I gave him another carrot.

After 30 seconds I moved the bag towards his side. Irish snorted and ran around some more, Steele did a kick at it and ran away. I wasn't worried. I knew what would happen next- he came right back. I touched his side again and gave him another piece of carrot. 

Within 5 minutes I could rub the bag all over his body- by his legs, between his legs. over his head, along his back. He really didn't care, he was too busy enjoying the carrots. Irish meanwhile was staying well away and was making his opinion known about all this.

It was interesting, whenever Irish took a step towards me Steele would step between us.

Steele: "no Irish, stay back I will protect you"

Irish: "Are you eating carrots"

Steele: "no, I'm saving you"


Irish: "I can't believe you're letting that touch you."

Steele: "Ahhhh, it's eating me!! Stay back! Save yourself"

Irish: "I'm sure that you are eating carrots."
Steele: "no, no, I'm fighting the bag"

Irish stood a few feet away. His face was very disapproving of all these shenanigans. I lowered the bag and when he didn't move I gave him a carrot.

So here's what I learned:
1. Steele is very brave and Irish less so (not really a surprise)
2. Steele will lie to get all the carrots
3. working with a horse like Steele is a lot of fun
4. It was probably NOT a good idea for Steele to learn that I sometimes have carrots in my bra. I will have to invest in a fanny pack.