dancing horses

dancing horses

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Autumn Colour

This is not a riding blog post. I rode yesterday and it was fabulous. Again.

But what is also fabulous is the colours around us.

So I decided to post some photos. I got the idea when the photo I posted in my last post was 'explored' on Flickr. What that means is that my photo was selected by someone who works at Flickr as worthy of posting publicly. It results in lots of views and comments.
Why they chose this photo over all the brilliant work on Flickr, I have no idea. However, I must confess is that the subject is pretty darn compelling.

However, Irish looks fabulous against the colours:

Fall is my favourite time of year. the weather is usually beautiful, the bugs are gone and it's not too hot nor too cold.

And some random shots of the dogs and a squirrel, just, because. 

this weather frizzes my hair!

looking for critters in the tall grass

come on down and play!


with all this harassment I need some compensation

And one cute story about Steele: this afternoon I was filling water buckets and got distracted. I heard the water overflowing and ran to shut it off. Steele came into the stall to see what was up and surveyed the damage. He then drank off the top of the bucket so it stopped spilling over. It's lovely to have a horse that is so helpful.

I'm going to be offline for a couple weeks so don't worry. I'll be back. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Good Decisions

The more I work with my horses, the more I realize that training is a series of decisions- some good some bad.

Sunday dawned cloudy and cold. As I drank my coffee I saw that the sky was getting heavier and  even more threatening. I sent a quick text to my friend that if we wanted to ride we better get on it. While she on her way I brought the horses in and got things ready. When she arrived we tacked up quickly and headed up to the ring. As we rode it began to sprinkle. However, once I'm on I don't want to quit. So I decided to keep riding. I like having a horse that is used to being schooled in the rain. That way if I'm at a show and it rains it's no big deal. And I'm not so sweet that I melt.  I'm glad that I decided to carry on with the riding because it went really really well. The trotting poles were easy and Steele is starting to pick up canter with just the leg cue, and not needing the voice cue. We stopped before the rain got too heavy and then dried off and conditioned the leather. Later that day the rain became torrential so I'm glad we decided to carry on riding.

Monday was back to work and I needed to go to the city for meetings. The drive in was long due to to traffic and the drive home was longer because there had been a fatal accident on the highway. We were diverted off the highway onto a secondary highway. It doubled the commuting time. Today I had to head back to the city and again it was a long drive. The weather was also cold and dark. As I drove home I decided that I wouldn't ride when I got home- I was tired (physically and mentally) and cold.

However, when I got home the sun was out and it was warm.
So I put on my riding clothes and went out to get Steele. One thing that I'm careful about is to not ride if I can't be patient. There's no point and it can do more harm than good. So I decided that I would monitor my mood. He started off with a nice forward walk but then got distracted by Irish (who was throwing a tantrum down in the small paddock). So the work, I decided, would be on keeping his attention. And it really didn't take long at all to get him on my page. As we trotted along I slowly made it more complicated. We started off with a circle on one end, cross the diagonal and circle the opposite direction and repeat. A few times he began to rush so I simply brought him back to walk and then back to trot.

Belle decided to do some hunting in the long grass beside the ring. As we trotted down by her she popped up her head which sent Steele in a spook and canter. However, now that I'm getting more consistent in keeping my core engaged (thank you Jane) I went with him and simply brought him back to trot and then we carried on. Because I didn't react emotionally he settled right back to me.

I gave the cue for canter and he picked it up right away. We stayed on the circle and I tried to use my seat and legs to get him to be more relaxed and not quite so excited. As I asked and stayed patient I felt him relax under me and blow gently. I asked for a trot and he came right back to me. After a walk break I tried it the other way and it was the same thing. I finished there and told him he was genius. All he said was "I know, right?"

I'm glad that I made the decision to ride today.

Steele making his favourite decision- which blade of grass to eat

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Riding Double

Today I rode Steele twice.

My friend was coming out to ride Irish but couldn't ride until late afternoon. I wanted to make sure that I rode Steele in case it rained. Again. We've had about 100mm in 3 days. This has meant that Steele has not be worked since monday.

This morning I went out and brought him in. He stood in the barn like a pro and was calm while I mounted. The only thing that I noticed was that he was quite forward in the trot. But he didn't spook at anything and stayed focussed on me for the whole ride. The ring was quite wet but not as bad as one might expect given all the rain.

We rode for just about 40 minutes and I put him away. After I dragged the ring and did some chores before lunch. After lunch I headed back out to do some more work (fix a break in the fence, wrap shrubs for winter etc). I heard a ruckus and looked up to see two riders cantering down the road. This got Irish and Steele quite excited but I hate seeing horses cantering on pavement. I don't think that it can be good for their feet or joints. Shortly after Cynthia arrived and we brought the horses in. Irish was quite excited still.

While he stood in the cross ties Steele gave me a look when I put the saddle back on.
"um, didn't we do this already?"
"yes, but we're going again. You're young and strong. And we didn't work hard this morning"
"I'm pretty sure it's only ONCE a day"
"nope. At a show it will be more than once."
"I think I need a union"

Up in the ring I could hear a noises coming from the farm next door- it sounded like the grandkids were visiting and we could hear ATVs and a chainsaw. After I had dragged the ring I set up some trotting poles. I wanted to add in something new to keep his brain occupied. When I entered the ring Steele began to blow and puff up. I looked around and realized that he was concerned about a wheelbarrow. Earlier I had seen that it was full of rain water so I tipped it over.
"hey that wasn't like that before!"
"it's a wheelbarrow"
"is it dangerous?"
"Nope. It's just in a different position"
"well I don't trust it"
And he didn't. He kept a weather eye on it for most of the ride. Initially it was all he could think about. However, walking over the poles helped get his mind back on me. But he was tense and not at all the horse I rode that morning. I just tried to keep my aids steady and supportive.

One thing is that his neck is much straighter and I think I'm getting better with the outside rein. After a bit I decided to try a canter. He was quite willing to canter. If you want to consider leaping forward into a hand gallop 'willing'. I steadied him back and got the trot steadied and asked again. This time there was more control but definitely forward. I moved up to a 2 point and let him find relaxation in the movement and rhythm.  The nice thing about Steele and his canter is that no matter how scrambled it gets I never feel like he'll buck or scoot out. So I have the confidence to let him go and simply work on steering.

We circled a bit and then we went down the long side. I saw him eyeing a largish puddle along the long side.
"have you ever galloped through a puddle?"
"um. no?"
"Okay then, lets go"

We headed down and although I could feel him hesitate when I put my calves lightly on his side he cantered on through.
"wheeeee" I said as the water splashed up over us. We came back around again.
Steele "Irish what the heck is she doing? Has she lost her mind"
Irish: "don't worry. Every now and then she thinks she's 12 and that we are Thelwell ponies. Just humour her"
Steele: "well it IS kinda fun"

The next time through I could feel him really stretching out.

After a canter both ways he settled down into work. I ended up by trotting him over the poles. I went up into two point and put my reins steady on his neck so if he bobbled I wouldn't hit him the mouth with his bit. He trotted through like he'd been doing it for months. Not like it was his first time.
We tried it the other way- same thing. So I brought him back to a walk and let him cool down.

It will be fun to do this again. However, between the morning run (5 km), riding twice and the chores I am exhausted. But in a good way.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Rude Awakening

My morning routine is pretty much set: The alarm goes off, I get up, turn on the coffee and head out to the barn. I feed the horses and then muck out the stalls while they eat. When Irish is done (I'm sure that you would be surprised that Steele is always done first) I go outside to open the doors from the stalls to the paddock.

There is a gap between the fence post and the barn that is just large enough to squeeze through. I always go through there and walk along the barn wall to get the doors open.

Bear with, this is relevant.

These days it is still dark in the morning. There are motion lights over the large barn doors but not on the side of the barn.This means that I really can't see when I go out to open the first stall door.  But this doesn't matter because I know where everything is.

Or I thought I did. This morning was particularly dark because of the heavy cloud and rain we've been having. I was on autopilot this morning doing my chores and thinking of the warm house and hot cup of coffee that would be waiting for me when I went in. I headed out to the side of the barn and was walking towards to Irish's door when I hit something with my shins.

what the... was all I could think before I plunged head first into the water trough. I came up sputtering and soaked.  I realized that had happened but couldn't figure out why.

WTF  good heavens why is the water trough by the barn? 

I realized that the water trough had been moved from the location that I had it to be beside the barn. And since I didn't move it that left just one person.


Now it's not unusual for Ed to move stuff around according to his sense of order. I have also my own sense of order. We typically manage by respecting each others' space. Every now and then though, Ed can't help himself.

The combination of cold air, rain and the water I fell in meant that I was soaked and cold. However, I was so pissed off I'm sure that there was steam rising off my head.
It was lucky for him that he was still in the house. I finished up my chores and squelched back to the house. Ed was sitting there with his iPad, drinking coffee and looking warm and dry. I couldn't help myself. I threw my soaked glove at him. It splatted on his leg.

Why did you do that? 
It's a surprise isn't it? Kinda like falling into a water trough in the morning because it was moved 
why would you fall in it? 
Because it's dark out! 

I saw comprehension dawn. Turns out that he moved the water trough so he could get the tractor through the gate and didn't put it back and it didn't occur to him that it was a trap for me.

At least that's what I'm going with.

So we talked about moving my stuff. And how I felt about that.

works for husbands too

There's never a dull moment on Oakfield Farm.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

It Takes a Village

Sometimes as I ride I get a bit philosophical. However, I did minor in Philosophy in University so I guess that I shouldn't be surprised.

Anyway, my thoughts are not new to myself and certainly not to anyone else. However, it did come home to me how a number of elements came together to create Steele.

First off, there's his breeders: http://www.doscompaneros.com/index.php who were committed to breeding quality horses that would be rideable. They were careful in who they chose to sell to as well.  I know that there can be good horses out of all sort of circumstances and we can't all buy high end horses. However, it's not rocket science that just because you have a mare that it should be bred.
The breeders also did a great job raising their foals. So that when Steele came home to live with me he was well used to people and being handled.

My vet and farrier have been fabulous in helping him learn how to be a model citizen.

There are all my fellow horseman who have given me the benefit of their knowledge and experience as I raised a yearling. If they engaged in any eye rolling they kept it to themselves. I loved having them come to visit with us and tolerate my 'oh isn't he beautiful' gushing (seriously- I'm sure that I was/am very annoying).

Then there's all the people who have taken the time to teach Steele and I. All have been keen to work with us and were able to help me develop a plan for continuing to work. I fully appreciate the patience and sense of dedication (not to mention sense of humour) that is required of riding instructors.

Then there's Royce- he gave us a great start allowing me to carry on and feel safe. So safe that today we went for a hand gallop around the ring.
a photo I took of Royce at a local barrel racing event
Let's not forget Ed- not only does he do a ton of work around the farm but he also does all sorts of stuff never expecting Steele to spook. All of which has led to Steele tolerating all sorts of stuff that many horses don't know about. Not to mention a desire to play with power tools.

*cough**cough* ahem. and what about me? 

Right- Irish. He's done a brilliant job raising a baby with manners around other horses.

What's my role in all this? Basically to not screw up. Of course there's more to it than that. I have worked very hard over the past few years getting him used to lots of things and riding him to the very best of my ability. I do believe that we are forming a partnership and I can't wait to see where it takes us.

So the next time someone tells you how 'lucky' you are to have a such a good horse keep in mind that luck has nothing to do with it.
ha! I was always perfect. She just loves to exaggerate...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Keep Calm and Ride On

"Success isn’t measured by money or power or social rank. Success is measured by your discipline and inner peace.
Mike Ditka - "

It's going to rain tomorrow so I wanted to squeeze in a ride today. The weather has been unseasonably warm and there is a feeling of pending weather. I quickly changed into my riding clothes and started my barn chores. I was waiting for the horses to come in for their supper but I believe that they sensed a trap. I looked out when I heard galloping and they were tearing around their fields like the hounds of hell were on their heels. I carried on with my work and finally they came galloping into the barn. Steele was blowing hard. I closed them in and brought him out to the cross ties. He was very calm while I got him ready and walked up to the ring without any ruckus. However, when I went to mount him he became tense and walked off. I brought him back to the mounting block and he walked off again. I got down and brought him back, this time he pulled away and got loose. I stayed calm and got him penned into the corner.

I decided a change in tactics was called for. So I ran up his stirrups and did up his reins for a free lunging session. After a few spins around the ring with me directing which way he went I stopped and turned away. He immediately came trotting up to me and was stuck to my shoulder like glue. Back to the mounting block we went and he stood quite still as I got on. With the weather and his winter coat coming in he was puffing so I my goal was for a quiet walk. He started off tense but I simply sat back and rode on.

It's always interesting what sticks in  lessons. From my lesson with Jane what seems to have become entrenched is to sit up and back rather than hunch forward. As soon as he tenses I find myself going back without thinking. This is great because if he spooks I find that my seat is rock solid. However, he didn't spook. I believe that because I was sitting up and kept my legs relaxed he began to relax as well. I loved how forward his walk became and his back was swinging nicely.  Not that it was all the time- it was a cycle of tense-relax-tense-relax but each time his period of relaxing became longer.

I then asked him to trot on. Initially his trot was quite tense and choppy. I realized that if I wanted him to relax he was going to need my help. I began to slow my post. He responded immediately. Finally the penny dropped. It's not that I didn't realize that I could use my seat to set his pace, it's just that this was the first time that I felt the immediate effect. At that point it seemed to become instinctive. So we spent the next 30 minutes trotting and walking with me using my seat to set the pace. I was pleased with how relaxed I was able to stay both mentally and physically. I believe that because I was not fussed I gave him the leadership he needed to relax. He began to blow and we went along. I love that sound- it's the sound of a horse relaxing.

Our trot-walk transitions were much improved as well. He wasn't being so abrupt with it this time. However, it did take many more strides for the transition to occur. I decided that that was okay since he was moving into the walk rather than dropping into it. I believe I can get it prompter.

I then brought him back to walk and let him cool off on a long rein. He stretched out his neck and lengthened his frame. I was so happy with this response it was hard to contain my glee. As we walked around I was able to direct him using just my seat and legs. I then sat up and stilled my seat. He came to a halt. I dismounted and praised him heavily.

I'm happy that some of what I learned in my lesson is coming together. Now if I could just sort out that inside rein......

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sunday's Ride

We celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving on the weekend, which makes it a long weekend. While monday is officially 'Thanksgiving' we usually have family dinner on Sunday (gives us monday to recover).  Sunday was beautiful, clear fall day. There was just enough crispness in the air to make it cool for riding and keep away any flies.

I wanted to test out some theories so I brought both horses in and locked Irish up for the ride. He was not impressed. Steele was mellow in the cross ties and led up to the ring without any problem. Usually my dogs are around but I put them in the house this time because they were being silly and hyper. I was curious to see how things would go with Steele only having me.

He was nice in our warm up walk- forward moving and relaxed. Not looking around for things to tense at or trying to pick the direction. At our walk I practiced bending lines and leg yields he moved away from my leg quite nicely. He does like to bend his head to the outside to look around- I believe that contributes to my hanging on the inside rein. I really tried to make sure that I had contact on the outside at all times and pulsed the inside to get him to bend. It took a while for us both to get the idea but it became easier.

Our trot work was similar to the walk. I encouraged him to stretch forward into contact from behind but not rush. A few times he broke to canter and I let him carry that  few strides before bringing him back. I didn't want to confuse him with 'go forward' 'no, don't go forward'.  I was getting frustrated with my inside hand being on too much but honestly- I take that as a positive development. whenever I start to really be frustrated with a part of my riding it heralds a change.

We began to canter. My goal was to get him to relax in the canter. Right now he's using his neck as a balancing rod (as I would expect) but he's sticking it straight up and carrying his body stiffly. As we cantered a circle I made sure that my body was relaxed and asked him to soften in his jaw. It took a few tries but he began to lower his head and soften. At this point he can only maintain that for a few strides so I didn't make a big deal of it. I would simply repeat the ask. On a even more positive note he's not breaking from the canter quite so often and when he does a light squeeze with the legs and he goes back up.

At the end of the ride I wanted to work on our trot-walk transitions. I wanted them soft and forward to walk not a slam down into walk. I would establish a nice forward, soft trot and then ask for the walk. If he was abrupt I simply put us back up to trot and asked again. If it was soft I would praise him and walk a bit longer. I really tried to figure out what he needed from me for this transition to be good. I had to have a soft hand (no surprise) and found that as he was making the transition a few soft bumps with my calves helped him move forward into the walk. I didn't worry if the transition was slow as long as it wasn't abrupt. I feel like we made good progress on it.

So overall I was quite pleased with my pony. Our circles are beginning to look like actual circles, we can travel on straight lines without looking drunk, our steering is 150% better and riding alone is no big deal. I think he was happy with himself as well. He certainly didn't seem to be upset by anything.

my shaggy, brilliant pony

Monday, October 13, 2014

Moving Forward

After Tuesday's qualified success I really wanted to get back in the saddle. However, between weather and work it was Friday before I could ride again. Cynthia came out to ride Irish so I wouldn't be able to test which piece of resistance was due to not having Irish around but that was okay. Having Irish in the ring allows us to work on other things.

If I was to sum up the ride it would be 'uneventful'. There were no big resistances or spooks. He responded pretty well to all I asked him to do. I focussed on getting him forward and working on various school figures. When we first started he really wanted to follow Irish around and kept trying to go where he was. this gave me the opportunity to work on keeping his neck straight and making sure that I was in the correct position. For myself I tried to focus on letting go of the inside rein. Yikes. It's amazing how much you can be on it without even knowing it.

Saturday Cynthia came out again and we rode in the morning. While I was waiting for her to arrive I grabbed my pruning shears and cleared out some branches on the bottom part of my trail. As we were getting ready another friend dropped in for a short visit and took some photos of our ride. I love have friends who drop in with camera in hand.

Steele felt a lot more forward which was fabulous. I walked him for a bit and then picked up a trot. He really wanted to 'go' so I worked on trying to balance him without shutting him down. As we changed direction he leapt into a canter. I decided to let it go rather than stop him. I figured burning off some energy would feel good. It was a bit wild and wooly. I started off in a 'half-seat' so I could stay off of his back. At the canter he really tenses his neck and body. I realized that my body tenses in response so I began to relax my muscles while encouraging him to go. Having the photos by Joanne was fabulous- I could see our tension and then when I started to let go so did her. I love this photo:
I'm actually sitting back and letting him go forward into my hands. My leg could be more under my seat  but I'm not gripping. I love that he has one ear forward and one back.

After this canter he settled into his work. I kept working on staying off the inside rein and encouraging him to step forward. I could feel him start to stretch over his back and into the bridle. It would last a few strides and then he would lose it. But that's okay- we're getting there.

After our ride we headed for a short hack into the woods. Steele was much more tired relaxed about the whole thing and walked into the woods like he'd been doing it for years. He stopped briefly at the section where there's a swampy-puddle. Once I let him check it out he walked right through.

I love those rides that when you end you just feel good about the whole thing.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Post Lesson Ride

The lesson was on Sunday. Steele had monday off but Tuesday I got home from work in time to ride. With the days getting shorter I need to ride between 4-5 so I can get some work in before it's too dark.

When I headed out the field both Steele and Irish were galloping around like a couple of race horses. I let them blow off steam and then brought both horses in and tacked up Steele. Irish stayed in his stall to munch on hay while we headed up to the arena. It was a windy day and the dogs and cat were about. He was a bit behind the leg to start and I was working on asking him to walk forward with more purpose when he spooked and spun away from some waving grass. Fortunately I was sitting on my behind and went with him without changing position. My hands did come up but were down by the time that the spook was done so I count that as progress.  What I realized was that his head was not in the game and he was repeating some of the behaviours from the lesson on Sunday. I threw the idea of cantering out the window and went to work on walk and trot. the focus on was on keeping him forward and listening to my aids. I also focussed on keeping the outside rein, laying off the inside rein and sitting up and back.

I recognized that he did not like being alone in the ring with the dogs and cat popping around but I decided to support him as he learned to deal with it. I have to say that we made some progress up until the last 10 minutes when he was tired. By this point we had been working about 40 minutes. I decided to finish on a 20 metre trot circle. He spun inside 3 times so around we went again. He repeated the spinning. I had to do something before this became ingrained behaviour. I came to a halt, took a deep breath and then asked him to move off. As we trotted to where he was doing his first spin I asked for a 10 metre circle. We circled once, came back to the large circle and carried on to the top - I repeated the 10 metre circle at every point where he had been spinning. Sort of like the diagram below:
Now I know that 10 metre circles for a horse at his stage of training is something to be careful about because of the stress they point on his joints. However, I figured that his spinning was also stressing his joints and his mind (not to mention mine). And do you know what? It worked. I was able to break the train of thought he had about spinning out. After doing this twice I asked him to trot around the circle and he did - with no thought of spooking/spinning or being foolish.

I came to a halt, walked him out a bit and dismounted. I was pleased that I was able to work through all this without getting upset and I was able to keep my seat in the saddle and not get dislodged.

I will update you on the other rides later (spoiler alert- they get better and better).

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Road Trip # 2

About 10 days ago I was asked if I wanted to participate in a small local clinic. The instructor travels over to a barn not far from me (in fact one where Irish lived for many years). I immediately jumped on it. I asked Cynthia if she wanted to take Irish and she agreed. 

The clinic was on sunday so on Saturday we got everything ready. In the morning we loaded up the horses and headed over. I made sure that we were really early so that Steele would have a chance to adjust. He came off the trailer quite nicely. While he was definitely 'up' he walked beside me like a broke horse and went into his stall. Once the two of them were settled I had a chance to take Steele into the indoor arena and do some lunging. Once again he was a bit excited but lunged perfectly. He was quite entranced by the mirrors that ran along the far end. I let him have a wee sniff but then moved him away so he wouldn't get them dirty or bash into them. 

Steele and I were 4th in the order of go (12). Irish went at 10 (he and Cynthia were stars but she'll have to do a guest blog post on that). I brought Steele in while the 11 o'clock rider was cooling down. He was definitely tenser with the saddle on. I did my best to convey 'calmness' but I'm not sure how successful I was. I talked a bit with Jane about where we were in the riding and that he tended to balk when uncertain and slam on the brakes. She did a bit of work on the ground and noted that he needed to keep his neck straight. I didn't really understand at first but as the lesson progress I realized what she meant (I'll return to this in a minute).

as I mount up you can see that he's tense
Steele was definitely tense when I got on and really not sure about this whole deal. Did I mention that the weather turned into a small hurricane of blowing winds and heavy rain? This did not help. As we walked around on a circle with Jane talking she kept reminding me to keep his neck straight. The reason for this became apparrent when Steele suddenly popped his shoulder and tried to spin in a different direction. The idea is that if his neck is aligned with his body then control of his direction and pace is much much easier. Saying this sounds like I got that idea immediately. I didn't. But Jane is a patient teacher and let me gradually come to this conclusion. 

As the lesson carried on there were good moments where we were connecting. 

And moments were we weren't:

There were quite a few moments where he would slam on the brakes and try to go the other way. I began to realize that if I kept his neck straight I could control this much better than my usual method of using my inside hand to lead him around. I started to ensure that my outside leg encouraged the turn while my outside hand did not let him turn his head left and pop out his shoulder. I wish I could describe that feeling of triumph when you realize something, put it into practice and it works. 

What was really interesting was that it mostly happened when we were travelling counter clockwise (On the left rein). Which is also where I ran into this issue on the lunge. Hmm....

We went onto trot work and of course this issue resurfaced

see- twisthing his neck and popping out his shoulder. I want to go left he wants to go right. 

I'm doing a better job of keeping his neck straight so he's objecting and intverting. I need to tuck my tail more and not be grabbing so much 

Now to be honest, I'm not surprised that we ran into issues. I've been feeling them coming on. It's similar to the ground work. When it was new and I didn't push it was all fun and he didn't mind humouring me. Now I'm being more insistent on what I want and it's beginnng to feel like work. I am glad that it surfaced while I had expert help available. In case you're worried all he was being asked to do was to walk or trot a circle in a steady manner and from behind. Oh and steer. I get that he was a bit upset by the weather and situation but my goal is for him to figure out that no one dies because a situation is new. This requires me to be firm and clear in my expectations and to ride like I know what I'm doing. 

As we progressed I got better and better and keeping my contact steady no matter what he was doing and ensuring that I was sending clear signals. This meant that when travelling on a left circle I had to ensure that my right leg was on at the middle of the short side to be clear that we were going left. There were a couple times when Steele found that I wouldn't left him turn right and he refused to turn left so we ended up halting at the wall with no where to go. This was  critical time for me to make my point. He could not go right no matter what. So I gritted my teeth, kept my right leg on and, when necessary used my crop to tap (sometimes hard) on his right shoulder. When he turned I left him know immediately that that was the right answer. 

As we went along at the trot that was, frankly, pretty awful, There were times when he spun away and my hands came up. Jane reminded me to keep them down but as I explained to her:
"I know intellectually that I need to keep my hands down. And I tell them that. But in the moment of the spook/spin they tell me to f&*# off." 

Steele was not being 'bad'. He was demonstrating how he felt and what he thought we should be doing (leaving). It was my role as the rider to help him find the confidence he needed to tune in. I may have growled at him a few times to make a point but I was never angry or frustrated. This is what having a young horse is all about. 

Jane kept up her quiet and confident instructions. She has patience, I'll give her that. I pride myself of being a student who tries 110% so I kept listening. And trying. All of sudden I riding this awesome floating trot. He was stretching into the bridle and moving up over his back. I had to smile. 

It was fabulous. I knew it was in there (like I knew that there was a discussion coming). 

We then headed up to circle by the mirror. It was pretty good. And then it wasn't. I believe that Steele was stressed, tired and having this horse in his personal space was the straw. He started slamming on the brakes and then half-rearing. Jane was instructing me to sit back, let go of the inside rein, keep the outside and ride forward. It was always by the mirror so I'm convinced he was not sore. At first I was a bit disconcerted but as we carried on I became more confident and thinking just walk on you silly pony. Which we did. I suddenly realized that by giving the inside rein I'm taking away his ability to brace and then rear. There's no restriction for him to fight so it's easier to get him forward. I put him forward a few times without any foolishness and stopped him around the corner and asked Jane if I had that right. She smiled and informed me that I did. 

So we ended on that note. What I learned in this session:
  1. keep his neck straight and remember that the outside rein is not just for show. 
  2. engage the hind legs and  you engage the brain
  3. sit up and back when he balks, let go of that inside rein
  4. Keep my hands down. and down. damnit, put them down. 

I have my homework and I want that floaty trot again. 

Steele has just left Primary and is heading to Grade 1. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Morning Shenanigans

Ed has replaced the dutch doors on the outside of the barn (from the horses' stalls to the paddock) with sliding doors. As much as I like the look of the dutch doors, last winter taught me that they just weren't practical in Canada. So I had to either build out a roof (too expensive) or replace the doors.

I think he did a good job making them look like dutch doors:
the new one on the left. the one on the right to Steele's stall has not been replaced
at the time of this photo. 
What I hadn't appreciated is how easy it makes opening and closing them. I think this winter will be much easier. Since this photo was taken I have cleaned out the weeds from the wall and there are two doors.

In the morning I pretty much stick to the same routine. I feed the horses and pick out Steele's stall first. I do this because he's focussed on his breakfast and I can clean around him without him making himself a pain by asking for scratches, playing with my muck bucket, wanting to leave the stall. After I finish Steele's stall both boys are done eating so I let them out and clean up Irish's. This morning I opened the outside doors. When I went to come into Irish's stall he was standing at the exit and blocking Steele from coming in. I shooed him out and then slid the door closed, leaving it open just a few inches. This was so I could keep my eye on the water trough that I was filling.

As I went to work picking out the stall I felt like I was being watched. There was Steele's nose crammed in the opening.

Hey, let me in!
C'mon! I'll be good. 
No you won't. You just want to see if Irish left any food behind. 
I'll stay out of your way. 
I just want to help. Ed let me help while you were away. 
Look I just want to get this done. Go eat the grass. 
Don't you love me? 
Yes I love you. 
Then let me in. 
You will get in my way. Just give me time to finish and then you can come in. 
Pleeeease... I'll be good. You'll see. 

So when I was pretty much done I opened the door and in he popped. He amused himself checking out what was in the bucket, looking for dropped grain and demanding a scratch. He then tried to grab Irish grain bucket. But since I was done I just left the stall to let him look around.

As soon as I left so did he. I guess it's not as much fun if I'm not there.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Steele Makes me Look Good

Last week my farrier came to do the horses. This time I was able to be there rather than Ed. I always enjoy talking with my farrier- I pick up some harmless horse gossip (who has a new horse, who's sold a horse) and he's just a genuine nice guy who can hold a conversation.

Steele was getting his pedicure when Paul said to me "you know when you told me that you were buying a baby to raise and train I wasn't sure what to think"
I looked at him curiously.
"well I knew Irish was a nice horse but I didn't really know the role that you played with that. I was concerned that I would end up with a horse that would be a problem to shoe"

That made sense. Why should he have faith in my ability to install ground manners in a horse? Anyone can talk it's results that truly count.

"but you have a really nice horse who's easy to work with and a real pleasure to be around" 

I was thrilled at what he said. He works with all sorts of horses and does not throw compliments around freely.

Now I'm not a fool. I know that Steele came with a sensible character to begin with. That was why I bought him (well one of the reasons, love is not completely logical). But he could have been a real brat. He certainly has tried on occasion. But if there's one thing I hate it's rudeness- in animals or people. So I did my best to install ground manners in Steele. As a result I have a horse that will stand still in cross ties, single tie and ground tied. In fact up in the ring he will stand with no tie at all as I fix the stirrups and made adjustments.

So all the work on insisting on manners has paid off in all sorts of ways.

Most importantly  I still have my farrier.

I'm smart enough to know that bouncing is for the paddock and not the barn