Tuesday, January 31, 2012

And I fell off Sparrow again…

Yup, I did.  But it’s ok!  I was actually really happy with how the whole schooling session went yesterday – Sparrow did really well!  Yay! : D

It was interesting, because I wasn’t sure that he would behave.  It was a hot, sunny afternoon when I arrived at the paddocks, but in the two minutes between saddling him {complete with pulling faces on his part, some side stepping which I corrected and a growl on my part} and putting on his bridle a really fierce wind whipped up and blew in some nasty looking storm clouds.  Sparrow’s head went into giraffe/Arab/TB mode, and I was thinking that there might be a possibility of some trouble, so I debated whether to lounge him first or not.  But then I didn’t really have the time, and I wasn’t going to wuss out of my ride, so I led him to the arena instead, shutting all the gates behind me. {Even though the “gate” for the arena area isn’t a gate, it’s two rope strung across where the gate used to be.  Somebody stole it.  Our arena doesn’t actually have a fence either – it’s all rather open.}

He stood like a rock for me to mount {whoever trained him to do that did a good job!} and we got on with it.  A few jogs here and there, a bit of *stop* “Oh lookit!!  My mates are over there!” and a lot of “Yikes! That-horse-eating-barrel-has-moved-AGAIN-you-can’t-tell-me-it-won’t-jump-out-and-nom-me-how-‘bout-we-walk-over-THERE-instead”s, and he finally started to drop his head and relax.  10 minutes later we were walking around calmly and listening to leg signals.  Yay! 

We just did some simple schooling, walking, figures of eight, 20m circles {which aren’t quite 20m yet, more like 19m ‘cause he doesn’t want to “touch” the outside track… Grrr.}, trotting large and in circles, and in figure of eights.  I practised my leg position and my two-point position to make things harder for me, and we did a few serpentines. 

I was walking him past the horse-eating-barrels {they are painted bright green and white and sit just out side the arena} in a shoulder fore, working on the “let’s keep to the outside track at a straight walk, not a jog or veer, kthx” and he was slowly starting to listen to me, and not spook. Of course we had to be right next to the barrels when one of them went “Bung!” as the metal cooled down from the heat.  Sparrow went Ahhhh! *Jumps for his life*.  Stupid me lost my seat and I accidentally dug a spur into his side, so he promptly skittered away from that and I just slipped off the side and landed in the dirt at his feet clutching onto the reins. 

He then peered down at me with a “What just happened?” look on his face and I looked back at him and said “I fell off you goof.”  He actually seemed sort of relieved when I got up and patted him!  Away, then it was desensitization to barrel type noise time, so I walked him up to the barrels and started banging, kicking them, and knocking the buckle of the reins on them.  He actually hardly reacted to the noise at all, so that was good considering that he is quite sensitive to sounds.  When he looked bored with the whole business, I hopped back on and we continued our nice calm walking around and our shoulder fores past the barrels.  A little bit more skittery about the barrels, but really no worse then the beginning of our work out; still listening to me and really that was it! 

I was thrilled at the end of the ride.  He did really well considering that the wind was whipping around in trees, everything from long grass to weeds to leaves was constantly moving and rustling and shaking about.  The fact that I got calm, relaxed ‘plodding’ from my four and half year old TBx for most of our schooling session says progress to me, particularly when just two rides before the only time he would relax would be half an hour to forty minutes into our session, and then it would only be for a few minutes because I would reward him and end the ride.  A trick which seems to have worked well! 

In summary, I think he’s trusting me more and that’s great.  I have only had him for three months, and three weeks out of those months I didn’t ride him at all, so all in all, we are actually doing okay.  > U <

If you manage to make it to the end of this rather long post – kudos to you!

See ya!


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Just Have to Say -


horse. andy wakeley .horses_motion2

Sparrow and I had a really great lounge session this last Sunday.  It wasn’t very long, but it’s always nice when your horse is glad to see you and is happy to come up and say hello!

We didn’t do anything special this time {although I am planning to introduce him to the Pessoa system soon}, we just went into the round pen, which is on a slight slope, so it’s great to make the work out just that touch more difficult.  Spaz did a lot of cantering, he has a ton of excess energy at the moment and I am beginning to think that it’s probably not just ‘coz of all the grass seeds. 

He was on rather poor pasture at his last paddock – the place was very rocky and weedy with sparse grass, which generally means a lack of energy for young horses unless their grazing is being supplemented regularly.  Since he’s come to the new place two months ago, he has not only put on at least 50kgs or so, he’s also grown into his hammer head, so he doesn’t look half as gangly or dorky.  My riding instructor also think he’s had a growth spurt which may be well true but I sure hope it doesn’t continue to long.  ; P   It’s far enough from the ground from the height he’s at at the moment thankyouverymuch….

Anyway, he was a lot softer on the lounge then I have seen him before.  Not quite mouthing, or licking his lips, but definitely softer and more attentive.  Woot for progress!  : D

See ya!


Monday, January 16, 2012

Make or Break – Part 3: Horses Are Like Onions



After Part 1 and Part 2 discussing Sparrow’s behaviour I would like to break down my thoughts on what it all means to me and where we are at as a rider/horse team.

When thinking it over, the biggest thing that stands out in my mind is that my silly, idiotic, stubborn green youngster is simply trying to intimidate me, and frankly, that just won’t do.  I have had horses play that game with me before; let’s face it.  Horses are horses, and always will be.  They will go through every trick in the book and then some to get out of work, which is basically whatever you ask them to do.  However, I have come to realize that riding 8 year old or 12 year old green but tried, off the track TBs, Standies, ex-polo ponies, a 16 year old grumpy Appaloosa, etc – granted they all gave me experience riding green horses; but it’s just not the same as riding a green 4 and a half year old.

Basically, you can’t ride a green youngster until you’ve thrown your leg over and ridden a green youngster.  It’s completely different from riding an older green horse.

I am finding you have to be a bit more motherly with the babies.  Not a cooing, fussy type mother but an “Oh, come on, you’re a big boy now – that’s not scary!” type mother.  Pick ‘em up and send them on their way.
; P  

Too be sure, if you need to tell them what’s what, you can’t hesitate.  Just like a two year old always pushing the boundaries, so are your young horses.  They also learn VERY quickly what they can and cannot get away with!  But here I am going off on a bit of a tangent.  Almost everyone knows the famous Shrek quote “Ogres are like onions” and seriously, I think it’s an excellent description of the levels of a horse’s training and resistance. 

The two go hand in hand; the more training you do with any horse the more resistance you are going to come across. This resistance can be anything from kicking out, refusing to be caught, and in it’s more extreme forms bucking, rearing, and/or bolting.  At first it won’t be much, like the thin outer layer, and you’ll work through it, but once you are through it won’t take long until you hit another layer of resistance that is slightly thicker, and so on and so forth until you will reach the ‘core’ that I like to call the “breaking point”.   It’s the last resort for the horse, thus it’s serious and often more desperate then all the resistance before.  In my mind, this is the crucial turning point.  You have to come through this one on top – firmly in control as the alpha mare/stallion in your horse’s pecking order. 

No, this doesn’t mean you are to be violent or anything like that, but you are firm.  Your horse HAS to know that you are boss and what you say goes.  You will know when they have submitted, you will be able to feel the readiness beneath you, the softness of his back, mouth, neck, the openness of the horse’s mind as they listen for your next command. 

Remember that the reward for softness is always softness and release of the pressure on your part.  If you don't release, the horse will become sour and cranky and confused, because they won’t understand what you want.  Another way of putting it is that you have asked, they gave, but you didn’t tell them that was the right response by releasing the ask, so you are just asking, asking, asking and they are all “WHY?  I DID IT!!” 

For instance, in Part 2 I describe how felt Sparrow relax and soften, releasing his tension after a long hard work out, and I called it a day immediately.  I walked him to cool off and hopped off.  And you know what?  The next day I rode him he hardly fussed at all, and the day after that he was really, really good and didn’t resist me once.  Now that’s what I call an improvement from just two days ago! 

So moving on from here?  Well, we haven’t reached the core of resistance yet – I am still waiting to reach that ‘breaking point’, or if you like, the end of his list of tricks!  In my previous experience, it’s usually taken about a year to reach that point; however, Sparrow is entirely a different kettle of fish to any of my previous mounts.  He is far more intelligent than any of them, which means although it’s great that I’ll be able to teach him anything, it also means that he’ll pick it up super quickly and promptly spend the rest of his time figuring out how to get out of it…  : /    Horses…


That being said, that’s what I love about him.  I may have a lot to teach him, but I also have a TON of things to learn from him.  I need to be more sensitive to his ‘baby’ fears and less reactive, and he needs to learn to trust me.

He is by far the most challenging horse I have ever ridden, but if we can work through our issues successfully he will also be the most talented horse I have ridden.  And I am darn sure that I am not giving up on that kind of potential. 

Top Tip:  If your horse is fighting with you all the time, listen hard for the first moment of softness, and make sure you reward them for it by giving; a word of praise, a pat, a walk, or if they get it after ages of resistance, walk them for a cool down and turn them out.  If you do not give, the horse will keep on fighting you regardless of whether they are ready to obey. 

If your horse is not submitting at all, check your hands, seat and legs.  You may be clenching onto them, throwing them off balance by leaning forwards or backwards, and/or holding onto the their head.  It’s a process of give and take, and if you never give, soon your horse will have nothing to offer but resistance. 

Also, don’t forget to check the tack – a lot of problems under saddle are caused by pain/discomfort, so it’s well worth making sure those things are all ok. 

See ya!


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Make or Break – Part 2: This Gets Real

Continuing on from Part One:  Training Tantrums.

We enter the arena and I think that there might be a botfly bugging Sparrow or something ‘coz he keeps on kicking up with his hind legs but then I’m like – “Mmm, actually, now that I think about it, maybe not.”  *applies spurs*  Miraculously, the kicking stops!  Huh.  How ‘bout that.  *rollseyes*

Note:  To clarify, the spurs I wear are 1inch dummy spurs, blunt and soft.  I use them as training aid as per recommended by my instructor and only when necessary.  Just in case you were wondering.  : )

I start off by pushing him in a trot, we trot up and down the arena, turn to head back up and, just like I expected, horsey *BLOWS UP!!!* 

He starts tossing his head, nose to the sky {seriously, my nickname for this guy is “Giraffe” – his head gets up THAT high; the funny thing is that he looks like an Arab when he does that!!} while running backwards and trying to pull the rein away that I am opening up to circle him.  He is NOT happy.  He felt like he was going to do this:


as soon as he could.   At one point his feet DID leave the ground, although to be fair it was more like this:

He is scrabbling, twisting, shaking, pulling, spinning while I am fighting to get his head down and around in a one rein stop to END this nonsense. 

The one rein stop is very effective to get a horse’s head out of the air, as well as to stop him going backwards, but it’s actually really hard for me to pull his head right in at this point because he KNOWS that if I get his nose, I win. 

I sort of manage it, not fully as I was just not strong enough to get his head all the way around, plus I think my rein was too long; but did I get it enough to stop him.  I move him forwards and decide to try a little trick I’ve read about on some of the Western training blogs I read.  They call it working “patterns” and my understanding is that it’s type of competitive discipline where the rider puts the horse through a series of quick and complicated manoeuvres.  Translated to English riding I call it “Don’t give the horse time to think” so I started thinking manoeuvres out loud and getting Sparrow to do them as fast as possible.   Example:  trot, walk, turn left, turn right, figure of eight, trot, halt, trot, walk, 20 meter circle, figure of eight, across the arena short, go large, walk, halt, turn right, left, right, diagonal, serpentine, etc. 

I didn’t plan these manoeuvres, and I found that saying them out loud helped me to do them faster which is what you want.  I don’t know if it worked in terms of overcoming his resistance, but he didn’t muck up again and I could see his ears flicking back and forth; he was listening to me which is a good sign.  I think he was surprised by my quick and random riding; it made him switch on to me which is definitely a good thing.

However, he was still stiff through his back and neck through all of this.  It was only when he spooked in one corner of the arena and we did that corner a couple of times to work it out, that on the last time we did it, I felt him stop resisting.   I got one moment of softness from him – real, true, ‘I am listening, tell me what to do’ suppleness, so I brought him down to a walk and called it a day.   I don’t know if it was the right time to stop then, he wanted to canter a couple of times through the manoeuvres, but I never asked him to – my gut instinct told me to finish right then, but my horse-sense is telling me that although the battle might be over, the war is not yet won…  The onion metaphor comes to mind, and I’ll discuss that in part three. 

See ya!


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Make or Break – Part 1: Training Tantrums



Well that’ll learn me!   Sparrow has had a three week holiday and today he behaved like tantrum-y toddler on a sugar high.  Which he just about is – a toddler, I mean.  And yes, for three weeks he sat in the paddock eating grass seeds the entire time…  *sigh

Of course I didn’t mean for him to have that long of a break, but I got sick for a week, then it was Christmas, and then the family all went to Khancoban for a week.  It all adds up so fast! The long and the short of it is that things did not go well today. 

Of course I expected the usual shenanigans, he is a horse after all, but I didn’t realize that as a green four and a half year, three weeks without any handling does not work in my favour to say the least!  It’s more like oh, half a year off?!

We started off well enough – half an hour or so on the lounge, walk, trot, canter alright with a bit of slowness responding to “walk on” and “whoa now” – but like I said before, grass seeds = excess energy.  I was happy with the work out.  We mounted ok, but when I bent over to check the girth, he started scooting backwards, tossing his head side to side, nose in the air and I could feel his hind quarters dipping like crazy.  I spun him in a circle to keep his head {and feet!} down and then sat and wait until he relaxed.  {I won’t lie, I needed to get my heart rate down as well… I hate feeling like a horse is going to rear ever since I had an OTTB rear up and fall over backwards while I was riding her.  She landed next to me thankfully, but it was a close one and I really, really, really don’t like rearing now!}

Check and tightened girth, then moved off.  He needed a little refreshing on turning corners properly, {bend, not straight} but other then that we were ok.  I didn’t want to do too much schooling with him as it was our first day back, so I went to take him on a small trail ride. 

Him:  *looks longingly over shoulder*  We go back to the paddock now yeh?

Me:  No, we aren’t finished for the day, but look!  Trail ride!  Yay! 

Him:  *drags feet*  But I dunnnwaannnnaaa mmmmmuuuummmm……

Me:  Seriously, it won’t be long and you’ll get to see some fun stuff.

Him:  NO!  I WON’T  *plants feet and does best imitation of turning into a rock*

Me:  Uhhuh, no you don’t, come on now…

Him: *whirl-spin-go-home*

And yeah…  Granted, it was his first time out on the trails at his new paddocks without another horse, but really, his jibbing was a simple, “No, I won’t and you can’t make me.” 

So we spun around, pointed back out down the trail, spun again, and walked a few more steps.  Got cranky, did the rock impression, tossed head around, spun, spun, saw the hind quarters and the head at the same time{!!}, spun, walked a few more steps – well, you get the picture.  Lather, rinse, repeat.   I think I got him 80ish meters down the track before I thought that I could safely turn back without him “winning”. 

The reason I did so was that the trail where we were battling it out wasn’t the best for that kind of thing.  For starters the grass is up to his knees, so you can’t see the ground beneath; how slippery it is, rabbit holes, rain degradation, that sort of thing, and then there was the proximity of the barbed wire fence because this was a rather narrow lane way.

Of course even though we were walking home the silly horse had to pull another rock, toss, whirl move…. And I am like “What the?” and he was all “Oops, I don’t want to got that way! Okay, we turn around now”.
> O < Horses!!

*deep breath* Anywho, I must confess I am rather shaky with all of these goings on; as previously mentioned I hate rearing horses and Sparrow certainly does a marvellous job of feeling like he’s about to blow sky high as well as feeling like if he just got one chance he’d buck me off in a heartbeat {which, if it was mine, would be faster then you could blink…  : / }.

I was thinking in my head what an idiot he was being and whether or not I wanted to push it and try to work it out of him.  The chicken in me was all “Well, you got those last few steps up the trail from him, you could call it a day”  then the stubborn part of me was like “No, you shouldn’t give into him”.  The clincher was when my horse-sense chipped into the conversation with a “Well, if you were my horse I’d certainly get into you” and then I thought “Lol, lol, he IS my horse.”  And that was that.  I would love to say the heartbeat went down, but it didn’t.  However, steely resolve entered my breast {or something like it anyway} and I knew it was time to go into the arena and battle the beast…  But that tale can wait for part two! 

See ya! 


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Guest Post from The Many Adventures of Lauren

Of course there's a box turtle in the pasture....

I was turning Pumpkin out today and had to cross through another pasture to return him to his gate. On the way through, I nearly tripped over a box turtle who was slowly migrating his way... somewhere...

I definitely did an equine-style "spook" in place, the only thing missing was a loud exhalation of air through my nose. I assured myself he wasn't a snapper and put Pumpkin back in his place.

On the way back, I stopped for a moment and pondered the inner thought process of the turtle... why was he there? Where was he headed? Why did he have mud all over his shell?

You know, typical "I work alone" type things.

After I walked away, Pete meandered over to see what I had been looking at. (Who says horses aren't smart?)

I wish I'd had my phone with me to try to video the following scene, but it was inside on the charger, so you'll have to imagine it.
Remember, box turtle. Approximately 9" long.

Horse, nearly 16 hands tall and about 1200 lbs.

Turtle: *sits on ground, looking curiously around*
Horse: *sees turtle, meanders over with nose close to ground.*
Turtle: *sees horse approaching, snaps head back in shell*
Horse: *startles in surprise that this new rock-like thing moves, snorts.*
Turtle: *waits a few seconds and then cautiously peeks head back out*
Horse: *watches warily as turtle puts head back out*
Turtle: *cautiously takes a look around*
Horse: *snorts at moving turtle*
Turtle: *pulls head back in shell in response to loud noise*
Horse: *spooks at quick movement from turtle*
Turtle: *sits motionless on the ground*
Horse: *musters up his courage and moves infinitesimally closer to turtle*
Turtle: *slowly begins to look out from underneath his shell again*
Horse: *eyeballs turtle from new, minutely closer position*
Turtle: *notices horse closer to him, snaps head back in shell*
Horse: *spooks at quick movement from turtle, backs up to former position, a slightly safer distance from scarymovingrockthing*
Turtle: *sits on ground*
Horse: *moves head- but not feet- slightly closer to turtle*
Turtle: *doesn't move*
Horse: *blows warily at unmovingrockthing*
Turtle: *assumes rock-like position*
Horse: *thiiiiinks about moving one toe in the general direction of unmoving-at-the-moment-but-could-do-something-crazy-at-any-moment-rock-thing*
Turtle: *still as stone*
Horse: *moves head up and down, trying to get a good sense of what scary-not-moving-rockthing might be up to.*
Turtle: *still hiding in shell*
Horse: *snorts loudly at turtle, challenging him to a showdown*
Turtle: *doesn't move*
Horse: *inches closer... freezes....BOLTS*
Turtle: *#winner*
Who says horses...aren't... smart...   never mind….

….Seriously go and check out the rest of this lady’s blog ~ her escapades are interesting, her training tales useful and boy, can she ever tell a funny pony tale!!  You can find Lauren at The Many Adventures of Lauren

See ya!


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