Saturday, February 25, 2012

More progress and the scary trotting poles of doooooommmmmm



This is what I wish my arena looked like. Not what it actually does…. > < ~

Hmm.  Today was interesting.  Again.  I’m not sure how I feel about it; and that seems to be happening a lot these days!

Joey {yes, Joey was Joey, then Sparrow and is now Joey again…} was pulling grumpy faces and stepping away when I went to saddle him.  I’m not sure how to stop that, but it’s a good indication of where his mind is at at the moment.

Horsey’s all like *dumdumdunna- wait!  Is dat a saddle??  Ohnoes!  *pulls grumpy face and sidles away…*  “Maybe she won’t notice if I tippytoez over herez…  I dun really want to do this today…

Anyone got any ideas for keeping his feet planted?  It’s not too bad as in I can get him to walk back to his spot again and then put the saddle on, but I really don’t like the fact that he thinks that he can “get away” from work.

Besides that we had fun lounging – he’s gotten a lot better at staying out on the line and working through his transitions.  He does a little “humpy” buck on the right – I growl at him and get on his case.  I don’t think that has been the most effective response from me though, because he tends to race around like a maniac on the end of the lounge then.  I don’t want him learning that discipline = running fast, so I am going to change tactic and work his butt off on a tighter 15m circle.

After that then we had a discussion about the scary trotting poles of doooooommmm.  Backstory – Joey thinks that any type of trotting/ground pole or jump is super-duper scary because his last owner would jag him in the mouth every. single. time. he went over a pole or jump.  He is so scared/worried about them now it’s not even funny. 

I basically have to work him over poles every time I go down there until the new response of over poles = calmed and relaxed, as apposed to over poles = *arrrgguuh! They’re going to eat me! Quick! Jump-forwards-so-they-can’t-catch-me, run-away, jump-sideways-just-in-case, buck, snort*

It did get hairy on the ground because he tried to escape the poles by barrelling right past me at a canter.  I wacked his chest/shoulder as he dashed past, but I was not impressed, so he worked his butt off for that one as well!  Once he’d done a few more circles he did walk quietly over the poles in both directions.  And that’s one of the things, if not the only thing, that keeps me coming back to this horse.  He will freak out like any TB green four and a half year old, but he’s teachable. 

If you can get him to go down a gear and relax, you can actually see him working things out.  I like that.  That’s the part of him that I think has potential.

So more lounging after that episode as he was not ready to be mounted yet, and then I got on.  We just walked around the arena and did some trotting and 20m circles.  And then I just had to see if I could push it didn’t I!

jump with poles

~  You’d think that I asked him to do this!  ~

Yup, I tried to get him over the poles.  First time, he was sticky, evasive and unwilling, but we did get over them; mind you at a very fast clip!  He spooked away from them sideways – trying very hard to teleport out from underneath me, and I sort of lost my seat, but not that badly so I wasn’t able to sit and quietly ride the crazy.

Second pass?  Uh, no bueno.  Things got really hairy this time – I was gritting my teeth and focusing reaaaaallllllly hard on the other side of the poles as well as directing myself in my head with “Forwards!”  *nudge-nudge-nudge*  “Straight!”  Gentle guide with reins.   “Forwards!”  “Straight! Crap-I’m-going-to-have-to-use-spur-do-it-only-on-the-side-where-he’s-running-through-your-leg!  Straaaaight!” “Forwards!”, etc.  He wasn’t having much of it, he was tossing his head, backing up{though not scrambling backwards thank goodness!}, and he was really pipped at the application of the spur because that meant he had to listen.  Still, he did walk up to the first pole.

Then my dad walked his horse past us and around to the other side of the poles, and it got ten times easier.  Joey went over, trotting a bit frantically to Mercury's side{my Dad’s horse}, I scritched his whithers and gave him a few seconds to relax, then turned him around for another pass.  He was still sticky, but he went over and from there on it just got easier.  We went one way, then the other, we followed Mercury over, we had Mercury walk beside the poles and we went over, and then we finally finished with a loose rein, head stretched down, calm walk over the poles AWAY from home AND Mercury which was really good.   I just walked him around the arena a bit more then hopped off.

I am glad we finished so well, but I do have mixed feelings about it because it only worked out that quickly because of my dad and Mercury.  I know I helped Joey deal with his anxiety, but I’m not sure that I’ve really dealt with mine by doing that.  See, it was easier to get him over the poles with the help of another horse/person, but I sort of feel like I needed to ‘win’ that one by myself for my own confidence….  I don’t know. 

It was the first time I had tried to get him over the poles myself.  We did do it once, but it was that second time that I needed to get with him.  I think.  Maybe I just need to help him first and then help myself.  I don’t know. 

I am less nervous about riding him, which is great, but I am still really nervous about pushing him outside of his comfort zone.  Today, half the battle was that it was scary for him and half the battle was that he didn’t want to listen to me.  It’s that not listening to me part of him that gets the ol’ hamster spinning in my tummy.  I don’t like it.  It’s not fully licked yet. 

I don’t have all of his respect yet – and I am still stumped with how to get it.  I really am trying to bring it with the ground work and have everything just so, but under the saddle it’s still eluding me.  And that’s why at times I am still scared to ride my horse.  : X



Thursday, February 23, 2012

Changing names…

So Sparrow doesn’t seem to be sticking as a name for the pony.  I have had comments about how he looks like anything but a Sparrow, and to be perfectly honest, at this stage I’m not really surprised.

I did mention that the boy has been filling out right?  Well, everything has gotten bigger.  I had to do up his noseband a hole looser – his head has even grown!!

So I’m thinking of going back to plain old Joey.  Or do you think there is another name that suits him?  It has to sound similar to Joey or Sparrow – he already knows those names. 

…Or does that mean it has to be Joey again?  Do you think it’s fair to change a horse’s name once they know it?  I tend to think it’s a learned response, so the horse probably doesn’t care altogether that much.   In fact, Sp-er, Nameless One probably thinks that he’s really called “Steady Boy”!  

See ya,


Monday, February 20, 2012

Whoo hoo!

~  Not Sparrow and I yet, but someday…  ~

I am about as jazzed as I ever could be.  Today for the first time ever, with Sparrow,  I had my horse fully with me! 

It all started with the same routine – except that I had not ridden him in the last two weeks. 

Oh, this is going to be interesting. 

I went to get him and he was hanging out at the gate for me{isn’t he so cute?}, we groom and get ready to ride – uhoh, it that a saddle?  *Sparrow pulls face*

He looks grumpy as I tack him up, but I am prepared to lounge it out of him; no way am I just hopping on after the nice long holiday he’s had! 

He works really well on the left rein on the lounge line, but when we switch directions he doesn’t want to stay out on the track and keeps cutting in.  I use the whip at his shoulder to stop that, and he takes off at a canter.  He then proceeded to buck a bit which got him into trouble!   I don’t let him do that, and he knows it, so I growled and pushed him forwards; making him work hard for that bit of bad behaviour….

Now for the scary part.  Yup, it was time to mount up.  At this point I am moving slowly and methodically, forcing myself to concentrate on being calm and just breathing.  I have noticed that when I get nervous I tend to rush or ‘flutter’ about; so if I concentrate on each motion as accomplishing a certain task, that helps to calm the stampeding hamsters in my tummy!

I get on, thanking my lucky stars that he stands like a rock for mounting, which is always nice if you are feeling a bit squiffy about riding.  I settle into the saddle, marshalling my thoughts.  I have a plan today – I want to try out some new training techniques that I have been reading about.  So here am I thinking out loud as I absently scratch Sparrow’s whithers, as much to calm myself as the horse!

“Ok.  Think forward.    Get off his face.   Remember the 1-2-3 aid; seat bones, leg, then bucko-you-so-don’t-want-to-go-there with a touch of spur.   Control his feet with your legs.  Bump one side then the other if he’s sticky.  Keep your shoulders level.  Stay out of his face….

I take a deep breath, asked for forwards with my seat, then had apply a touch of leg as he obviously hasn’t figured out a seat aid yet! 

And then we just walked around the arena.

Big deal?  Oh yes, it is!

It’s the first time since I bought Sparrow home that I’ve been able to get him just walk around the outside track of the arena.  Yes, he didn’t like the boggy muddy corner.  Yes, he was looky.  But he was looky at a loose, head-down, relaxed-ish walk.  When he felt like he was going to come off the track I nudged him ever so slightly with my inside calf, then the outside, alternating until he straightened up and relaxed. 

By the time I had gone around the arena twice on the left rein, changed rein and made my way down the long side on the right rein, I was grinning so hard my cheeks were hurting…

I had him.  He was there, in my hands, in front of my leg – listening…  I felt the tears well up.  I have spent the last two months stressing.  I didn’t know how to break through to him.  I didn’t know if I would ever get past his resistance without some serious fighting with each other.

Before today, even when he was obedient, it was like he was literally obeying because it was easier to do that then to make a fuss.  But the problem with that is that I could still feel the resistance. That slight stiffening in his back.  The tiny drag of his hind quarters.  And the hard neck.  My goodness, that neck!  I knew I didn’t have him, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

But today?  Nothing but softness…  We trotted in 20m circles.  We spiralled and leg yielded, and did even better spirals after that.  Sure,  he was crooked at times, and I would check my shoulders to make sure that the crookedness wasn’t my fault.  He would also loose focus once in a while, and I’d have to remind him that I was there, but you know what?

He always came back to me.  And that is just great.  I even decided to walk him out on the first little part of our trail ride, despite the fact that he’s been so spooky and boogy when riding without a trail buddy.  I felt confident doing so because I had a plan and I knew what to do!

I made sure he was pointing forwards while maintaining a loose rein, and kept him moving by nudging one side then the other when I felt him getting ‘sticky’ and worried about leaving his buddies.  We walked to the end of the jump paddock with minimal fuss, I halted him, and we just sat there for a few minutes then I dismounted.

I loosened off his girth and bridle and gave him the signal to graze.  He had a few mouthfuls of clover and then we walked back up the paddock together.  It was so funny!  You could see him thinking about the ride as we walked back.  When he’s doing that he kind of knots his brow and chews a bit, looking very thoughtful. 

I lead him back while he was ruminating, and pulled off his saddle.  He stood so quietly while I unbridled him and put on his halter.  Then he looked at me.  I looked back and…  I don’t know.  We just had a moment together, acknowledging the connection we found today.  I kissed him on the forehead and hopped over the fence to get his feed.  He dropped his head to graze – the moment was over. 

I am still euphoric.  What a day – what a ride!! 

And for those of you that are interested in the new riding/training techniques I’ve picked up – go read the Mugwump Chronicles if you haven’t already.  And I mean start from the beginning and read all of her posts type read.  Seriously.  Do. It. 

I learnt the nudge-nudge trick from her{although she calls it “bumping” – I just translated that to mean an English riding nudge.  Dunno if I am right, but it works!}, how to get your scaredy cat/barn sour/herd bound horse out on a trail ride by himself, why thinking forwards is so important, the principle of feet {control the feet and you have control over the horse},  and stuff that I haven’t even had time to process yet, but I know is lurking in the dark recesses of my brain… 

Best three days I ever spent.  And I proved that today by riding Sparrow and finding my horse.  I am so stoked.

See ya!


Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Goals for Sparrow

I thought I’d write this down so that I had it clearly in my head.  This way I can track my progress with my real goals and not get side-tracked with perceived goals in competitions and the like.

  • To ride him bareback on a trail ride/over jumps/where ever
  • To have a ‘broke’ horse that trusts me, no matter how scared he is
  • To have him soft and forward going – engaged in the work
  • To enjoy our riding together!

Yes, I want to train and compete in dressage to the highest level we can make it to – but I want that as an aside; something that happens on the way.  It’s not the sole purpose, or even the focus of our riding together.

See ya.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rewards and work ethic – Guest post by Mugwump


I love this post – it makes so much sense when you are looking to train good work ethic in a young horse.  Release and reward: use it wisely and it’ll work wonders!  Here’s how, as detailed by Mugwump from the Mugwump Cronicles.



Can you tell me what you mean by rewards in this case that the owners should have provided? What should they have done in this case? And why would the horses rebel? How can you make it so they are happy and don't rebel?

I had a different plan for today, but this question is so good, I'm going to cover it in today's post.

My training method is a fairly common one, I've developed it in bits and pieces from the clinicians I've seen, the trainers I've worked with, and the horses I ride.  I'm sure that many, if not most of you, will recognize things I say and do as methods that come from other trainers.  I never will claim to have invented any of this stuff, so if I sound like I have, understand I am continually learning and trying new and old things. It's all mixed up in a jumble of what works for me, and I have made it my own. But I sure as hell had to learn it somewhere.

When I start a horse the first thing I set up is a reward system.  To my mind, the horse doesn't really care if I pet it or praise it. Horses spend their life looking for the big four {Eat, sleep, run and poop!}, none of which have anything to do with me. I like to pet horses, but that's for my benefit, not theirs.

To them, a reward is to leave them be.

When I step to them, that creates pressure.

When I step away, it relieves pressure. Stepping away is a reward.

The first time I saddle I step to them with the pad, then away with the pad when they tolerate it.  So the reward is to have the pressure of me and the pad taken away.  And so on.

The horse learns that if it does what I ask, I'll relieve their pressure.  After the first ride I step off and loosen the cinch, then I put them up. The reward is the release of the cinch, and quitting for the day.  In the beginning I release them by putting them up for every positive step they take.

They really start looking for that positive step.  As I get farther along I increase what I ask for.  I want more and more from them before I give them the big release.  In the middle they get small rewards for being good.

After each properly executed manoeuvre I let them stand for a few minutes on a loose rein.  All my horses will stand rock still with the reins hanging after the first 10 rides or so. They know if they are quiet I'll let them stand. If they move I don't pull them down, we just go back to work. With enthusiasm. 

I rest them often.  I try to make a clear decision with each horse, for each ride. I will either ride them past their comfort zone, and deal with the fall out, or I'll quit before they get to the point of arguing with me. 

If a horse starts to fade or misbehave because I've pushed them, I make them mind, and we work until I have their focus again. Then I quit.  This builds a try into them that's really satisfying.

If I have to ask for more, they'll always give it.

Not because they love me.

Not because I give them carrots.

Because they trust me.

They trust my consistency.

They trust my leadership.

They know for a fact that if they try, I will get off, and leave them be.
I'll let them continue their equine quest for the big four….

….[to read the rest of the post go here]….

All the hugs, kisses, pats on the nose, or whispering sweet nothings in their ear, will never replace being fair.

If you're not sure how, start reading….

And now it's time to get riding. Later.

Wise words from Mugwump – I love her blog and her way of training; it just make sense to me.  Check out the Mugwump Chronicles for more Mgwumpy goodness!

See ya!


Sunday, February 12, 2012


Yes, I think I can say it: we are making progress.  I am so excited! 

Yesterday it was lounging time again.  Particularly as he’s had a five day break over the last week - though I am sure he and everyone else thinks I’m nuts for asking him run around in endless circles!

In fact, I got asked yesterday if I ride him much, sort of in a “Are you one of those only ground work people or do you actually ride your horse” sort of way….   > <   Yes, yes, I DO ride him.  I just try to make sure that the majority of our work together isn’t schooling at this point.  I am focusing on learning by experience{trail rides and in hand ground work} and balance and obedience conditioning{lounge work}.  I am trying to create/encourage a good work ethic in my boy, and I think we are going in the right direction.

Unfortunately, it’s a bit hard to find people to trail ride with at the moment; either the timing doesn’t work so well for one or the other of us, or the type of horse/ride I want doesn’t work.  We are walk-only trail riders at the moment and calm, experienced horses are essential trail buddies for Sparrow’s peace of mind.  Which means that my options are rather limited at times.  Still, that tangent aside, I really think that all this ground work/lounging is good for him.

I can really recommend it if you have a young, green horse that’s a bit squiffy under saddle, or bolshy on the ground – lounge, lounge, lounge them until they can run in circles in their sleep.  I find that it’s helping me to learn to read and lead Sparrow and I think he’s a lot more relaxed after doing it too.

We also spent some time chillin’ and relaxing down by the new jumps that appeared in our jump paddock.   The new girl brought in her set and boy, oh boy, are they pretty!  We now have proper stands, wings, jump poles, cups and even a few ‘scary’ fillers for the ponies to get used to. 

Sparrow was actually really good facing up to all the new, bright horse eating monsters.  We just walked around and through and over some ground poles and although he was ‘looky’, he didn’t really turn a hair. 

I know it’s because I was on the ground leading him.  I have learned that he will pretty much relax and calm down for anything if there is someone by his head leading him over/near the scary things.  Which is really good on one hand – he trusts me enough to listen even if he’s spooking.  On the other hand, I have to figure out how to transfer that trust in me on the ground to when I am in the saddle. 

I am not sure how to do that at this stage, but personally I think that the more we do together, the more that will happen.  So we will wait and find out.

More updates later – I am trying the Pessoa system on him today so we will see how that goes!

See ya!


Friday, February 3, 2012

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why am I here?


I’m just thinking – typing the first things that come into my mind…  So this is going to be a bit of a ramble that hopefully makes sense in the end. 

I think I’m over-horsed.  I’m not quite sure how it happened, it’s not like I’ve never had experience with horses that are too much for me.  I have, and I’ve handed them back/onto someone else far better suited to their needs.

But with Sparrow, it kind of snuck up on me.  The first few rides on him were perfect – cantered him without a care, he felt just fine and I loved it.  That’s why I wanted him. 

But then he bucked me off during that one lesson.  I was told I scared him, but I don’t really know why it happened, and I didn’t see it coming.  He tossed me as easily as a pancake and ran.  I got back on, and we continued like nothing happened.  But something had.  I guess that’s when the first seed of doubt was planted.

Then I moved him to his new paddocks, but I waited a week to ride him until I was having a lesson with my instructor.  I told myself it was because that way she could help with any initial teething problems, but now I wonder if it wasn’t just because I was too scared to ride him without her?

Ever since then riding Sparrow is a battle for me.  Thinking about riding him makes my stomach twist into little knots.  I’m usually ok once I am on him and riding – but I think my reactions to his behaviour are more extreme in that I am more subconsciously worried when riding him, and I have noticed I will have a ‘bigger’ reaction if he does something.  If he freezes for instance, I don’t just push him on, I pause for a split-second, thinking that he might rear if I ask him to move off with anything stronger than the softest leg and seat aid I can give – more of a gentle suggestion then a command.  It’s no wonder he ignores that so often and just stays there. 

I don’t mind handling him on the ground.  I just poke him over when he gets in my space and if he gets agitated, I just send him in little circles around me until he calms down.  No, the main problem here is riding him and the main problem here is me.  My nerve.  It’s gone.  I’ve lost it with him. 

So why am I persisting?  Because I really feel that if I can work through this, I will be a better rider - no, actually a better horseman overall.  This horse is teaching me so much more than any horse I’ve had before.  He’s teaching me to be more clear, more precise and more accurate as a rider.  I can’t muddle my legs aids, he just won’t do what I ask if I do.  I’m ok with that – I WANT to get better, I want that so very badly.

He’s also teaching me to read his signals and body language in a way no other horse has.  Most of my horses have rarely had repeat issues over one particular thing.  Sparrow is far more sensitive and fearful then any other horse I’ve had.  I know that it’s partially his temperament, and I’m not going to change that, and it’s partially due to his age and lack of training and experience – that I can change, for the better or for the worse.  To me it feels like he will simply go one of two ways – either learn to calm down and trust me even when he’s afraid, or just learn to blow up and freak out.

I don’t know if I have enough confidence in my abilities to be the leader he needs so that he learns to calm down and trust me.  I think we have made some progress, like I mentioned in my last post, but I’m not sure.  I don’t have that confidence that I feel I need to see this through without one or the other or both of us getting hurt.  It might be because I can’t afford lessons with my instructor more then once a fortnight – which is hard.  More than ever I need a knowledgeable eye on the ground to assesses how we are going and what Sparrow is saying to me when I can’t read him myself.

*sigh*   And reading that last paragraph over, one thing stands out to me.  I just don’t have the confidence.  I think that I am a fairly good rider, although I have tons more to learn, I know I am handling him fine on the ground, but something isn’t clicking under saddle and I guess it’s that green, young horse unpredictability that I am feeling in him that is spooking me.  I’m not used to it, but it’s part and parcel of where Sparrow is at at the moment – and probably will be until he get a few years and a lot of mileage under his belt.

I read on Equestrian Ink the other day{The Young Horse} that a young horse, no matter gentle or well trained they are, will have significantly difficult, maybe dangerous, moments. 

…Inevitably it happens….eventually there is a day when the young horse acts up. Horse spooks or bucks or bolts—person is dumped and hurt, or just scared, and things are never quite the same again. Person has lost confidence in horse and perhaps horse has lost confidence in person. Sometimes confidence is regained, sometimes not. But overall, it’s a predictable story that could easily be avoided…

That’s my story to a T.  I got bucked off, but I didn’t get hurt, at least, not physically.  The damage is my confidence in Sparrow.  I just don’t trust him like I used to.  The question is – can we work through that – can I work through that – should I work through that?  Will he benefit from my persistence{or stubborn refusal to give up if you like}, or will it just end up badly for the both of us? 

…If you want a no-drama horse, choose one that is eight or older. If you choose a younger horse, be sure that you are Ok with some “dramatic” moments. Because you are very likely to have them...  

Am I ok with drama?  Yes, I don’t mind it.  Am I ok with unpredictable drama?  No, not really.  Am I going to be ok if I keep riding Sparrow?

….I don’t know.

Is that alright?   


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