Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Return of the Beast – Episode 600


~  * The culprit himself looking all cute and innocent in his new rug… *  ~

*sigh*  What is it they say?  One step forwards, six steps backwards?  That sounds about right…  After Monday’s nice and fun ride, today was something of a blow out. 

It started off well enough, he was so quiet on the lounge that I only did a couple of circles at walk/trot on either rein – yup, I wanted to get on and RIDE!

We walked around the arena, we did our 20m circles and we even went past the scary stuff ok!  Then I tried to sneak in some pole work like I did on Monday.  *huff*  Yeeeeaaah.  That didn’t work. 

Joey would not go over those damn poles.

And I know it wasn’t because he was afraid.  He just didn’t want to, so he was being an absolute snot about it.  We ended up wrestling over this for a good 30 to 40 minutes – he was doing everything he could not to listen to my seat, leg, then spur aids.  He was kicking out, jacking up, walking backwards, scooting sideways, bucking; you know, the lot. 

The darn horse actually stepped over the first pole at one point then went backwards again when he realized he’d done that!  > x <

My approach to the situation was pretty simple:  he could stand and look at the poles for a little while, then I would quietly ask him to move forwards, my aids were applied stronger and stronger until he stepped forwards, then I would immediately release the pressure. 

He would actually eventually get up to the poles with some fussing but when I asked for the next step that is when he’d get shirty and start trying to run sideways around the poles/go backwards.  As soon as he started going backwards I would rouse on him and make it very uncomfortable for him to be doing that, he would chuck a tanty, then would eventually stop facing the poles again because I wouldn’t let him turn or run away from them.  No circles, no side steps, just plain old facing straight at the poles.  That’s when I would sit quietly. 

We went backwards and forwards too many times to count and eventually I decided that unless I had all afternoon to keep this up I’d need a slightly different tack or we’d get nowhere. 

I pushed him up to the poles one more time and before he could get sticky or tense I hopped off him.  I asked him to walk forwards and when he refused I made him go backwards and sent him around in tiny little circles around me when he wouldn’t go backwards anymore.  Three or four attempts like this and he went through the poles as quietly and calmly like there had never been a problem in the first place.  Honestly, butter wouldn’t have melted in his mouth.  Not a foot wrong, not a fuss.  I KNEW it!  He was just being a brat – testing the limits.

One good thing that came out of this is that I know I can handle pushing his buttons.  He wasn’t happy with me today, and he let me know it.  I could handle it and even doll out the appropriate disciplinary action when he needed it.  No, kicking at the leg or spur aid is not on.  Neither is running backwards, bucking or jacking up.

That does up my confidence level – I now know that I can handle his temper tantrums and that even though he doesn’t want to obey, at no point did I actually feel unsafe/in danger.  Not happy, and definitely not comfortable or relaxed{!} but still, okay.  I didn’t feel like he wanted to kill me, he just wanted to do his own thing. 

Still not sure where I am going to go from here – I don’t think that getting on and trying the same thing tomorrow is going to be any kind of productive solution.  So I am thinking that I am going to cull it back – get him used to going over one pole on a lounge circle and then transfer that to a 20m circle over one ground pole under saddle.  One step forwards, two steps back.

In the mean time, he will still be doing pole work on the lounge/in hand and I think we’ll definitely be doing more work on backing up.  He has to realize that if he can only back up if I want him too, not as an evasion, and he also has to realize that if I want him to back up the length of the arena he had better darn well do it, just because I said so!!

See ya,


Sunday, March 18, 2012


I have just finished up my first ride on Joey in about three weeks {thanks to rain, a head cold, a bout of mastitis and some ‘flue….  Yay. Sick.}.  I am really pleased to say that he did really, really well today!  He was soft and listening for most of my riding lesson; there were a few times I could have used my spurs, but I forgot to put them on today. 

Still, I am super pleased with today’s ride.  I had some serious “Aha!” moments with my riding position and some really good feedback from Joey.  There is nothing like getting it right and getting an instant response!

The first big one that made the most impact on how he rode was a tip I picked up from Val of Memoirs of a Horse Girl:

-  Close your outside upper arm against your side when riding in a circle.  OHMIGOODNESS I can’t believe how well this worked!!  Basically, Val wrote that she was told to pretend that she was carrying a ‘precious piece of paper’ – like a cheque for $100.00! – between her outside upper arm and ribcage when she was riding in a circle.  I tried that today with Joey and you would not believe the difference it made to his circle work!  I was really catching his energy that was escaping out through his outside shoulder and channelling it forwards.

I found this tip particularly was also extremely effective for controlling his spooking away from particular points in the arena.  Joey will flex in a circle, but he’ll often bulge in and out depending on whether he finds parts of the arena scary.  So, for instance, we’ll be doing a 20m on the left rein at C.  He’ll cut in on the circle when we are heading towards S because he didn’t like the tall weeds waving in the wind.  I had to really support and use my inside leg to push/leg yield him out while opening up my outside rein to create space for him to move into. 

Once past S on the centre line, he would promptly spurt forwards and out, trying to get away from the scary weeds.  So before the centre line, I would half-halt, clamp down my upper outside arm and close the gate by really applying my outside leg.  I was amazed at how much of a difference that made to his bulging out/evading issue.  The outside rein reinforced my leg far more efficiently and I was able to actually execute a circle rather than a corner from the centre line to R.  

- Direct with your thumbs.  This means to hold your thumbs up and point in the direction you are going; creating “rails” from your shoulders to the horse’s mouth that guide the shoulders.  You can open your inside “rail” to turn, or close it to keep that shoulder in.   I found this super helpful because it helped me to a). keep my wrists straight and even, without breaking/bending to try and turn him, b). it helped me to keep my fingers closed on the reins which is great because my coach has been nagging me about my bad habit of open fingers for ages, and finally, c). it made Joey’s turning much smoother.

-  Use your belly button to turn.  This also helps to create a smooth turn if you twist your belly button in the direction you want to go.  Useful!

I can’t believe how much of a difference these little things are making to my riding and to Joey, and I am so glad I can see the results of using these tips! 

My homework:

-  Working my half-halt and halt.   I tend to brace against the stirrups and lift out of the saddle when I am halting which is bad, bad, bad and totally ineffective.  I know what I am trying to do, but I am not doing it right.

My lower leg needs to go ON, and THEN my spine needs to draw up.  I want to think of actually creating energy in the halt and half-halt, not just stop.  This also applies to downwards transitions.

-  Lower leg position.  I have been working on this, and I am not doing to badly, but I need to be more consistent and really aware that during downwards transitions and halts/half-halts, my lower leg tends to swing forwards which also ruins the effectiveness of my halt aid.

-  Turning the trot poles into a comfort zone for Joey.  We didn’t do trot poles today in the lesson, rather we snuck them in when we had rest breaks and just got him to walk over them calmly.  I was so excited to see how well he did with them today.  He was a star! 

I have to make sure I don’t tense up when approaching them in a trot though; the first stop he pretty much stopped and then walked over them.  He was a lot better at trotting over them when I was relaxed too.

I think that’s it; I love writing all this stuff out so I can remember it properly.  It’s super helpful.  Oooh!  And I also got an accidental walk-canter transition from him today!  It was all very exciting, because even though I didn’t ask for it at all, he did it beautifully.  He just stepped under himself really deeply, lifted up his shoulders and flowed up into a canter!  I was so shocked, but it was so beautiful and neat!   I didn’t let him canter on after the first few strides of course, but I didn’t scold him either, because that was a lovely forwards transition and he did it so nicely.  He wasn’t trying to bolt or pull, he just went up a gear, skipping trot on the way.
 : D   

I love that he has that athleticism – I can’t wait to see where we go in dressage.  I had a fun ride on my horse, and that’s really cool.  > w <

See ya!


P.S. -   Ack, more text I know – sorry for the super long post, but I also have to add that we had some really good tying up training after our ride today.  Joey has sucked back a few times and learned that he can escape being tied up by breaking the baling twine/and or his halter{!!} which is really not good news. 

So today my riding instructor double haltered him {his rope one underneath and a nylon halter over the top}, twisted both lead ropes three times around the solid metal pen rail, leaving only a small amount of rope, so that Joey was ‘tied’ short, while she had the other ends of the lead ropes.  We both stood on one side of the fence and he was on the other, and then I went to town picking off the rain scald scabs on his forehead.  I wasn’t hurting him, but he so didn’t like it so the first thing he tried to do was suck back, and when he found he couldn’t do that either he wasn’t happy!

My instructor would release a little bit of rope for him as he went backwards, so that he knew that he could go backwards, but she didn’t let him pull right back or go very far, and she didn’t make it easy for him either!  After a few minutes of dancing around and fussing, he was standing still and letting me touch his forehead and his ears and gently rub the scabs off.  It’s a really great training technique for horses that suck back, but a bit difficult to ‘set up’ when you are a). by yourself and b). don’t have anything specific that’s going to make him suck back so that you can implement the training!  As a result, I was really glad the timing worked out on this lesson for Joey. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Training Tip: Loosening the base of the neck

Remember when I wrote the Training Tip: Slow him down post?  The basis of that post was to use lateral flexion at the poll to soften the horse and slow him down by asking for concentration on the gait and balance, rather than just speeding around. 

To do that, I would signal for flexion by pulsing/vibrating my inside rein, asking the horse to flex his head in from the poll and bend his nose marginally so that I could just see the eye.  Hold that bend for two to four strides, then pulse/vibrate the outside rein and ask for the same degree of bend to the other side.  This can be done on a twenty meter circle or on the straight.    

This exercise is great for slowing down a fast canter on a 20m circle, but as I found out today it is also great for loosening a horse’s neck muscles.

Val from Memoirs of a Horse Girl writes her take on using in-out head flexion in this post Riding Reflection – The base of the neck.  She doesn’t go into the specifics of asking for the release of the horse’s neck, but she does go into the results saying

Asking him to release the muscles at the base of the neck allowed him to relax his entire neck and back… When he wanted to release those muscles more, I moved both of my hands slightly forward, toward the bit…

I experimented with transitions and changes of direction, always looking and feeling for the muscles in front of the withers to be soft.  Sometimes I opened the rein quite dramatically to prevent myself from pulling back as much as to encourage him to let the muscles go.  I was focusing on the withers, but the effect was on his self carriage.  I could feel him stepping evenly with both hind legs and becoming lighter in front.  I was concerned that cantering would introduce too much excitement and spoil the magic, but he actually carried the feel into the canter.  He bounded in front of me, lifting his shoulders with each stride.  The best was the last transition. 

We went from canter to a nice trot and then I asked him to walk.  He lifted his withers, making a place for his hind legs, and I felt him step deeply underneath our weight as he shifted gears.  This is so difficult for my horse, and he could not have done this if I had pulled on the reins...” 

I find it so interesting because she describes that feeling of her horse stepping under himself, and the softness in front of the whither.  I remembered how that felt with Copper’s canter – I hadn’t realised that’s what I was getting, but I was!

I also knew in a flash that the in-out flexion technique I was using in canter for Copper would be excessively valuable in walk/trot as well for loosening up Joey’s neck.  A light bulb moment if you like!

So adding on to the benefits of softening a fast gait, we can also achieve softness through the neck, which in turn allows softness through the back and then the horse can engage his hindquarters and lift/use his back.

Training exercises can produce more than one result!  *ding*  Useful to know.

See ya!


Friday, March 16, 2012

Rain, rain go away.

As you can guess from the title, not much has been happening around here. The radio silence has pretty much been due to some heavy rains for the last two weeks.  Which brings me to the topic of my agistment. 

One thing I really dislike about keeping my horses at a government paddock is the fact that I don’t have access to an indoor arena.  I will go out and visit the ponies when it is windy, dark, hot or foggy; pretty much any weather but rain. 

Not only does the ground get really soggy and slippery which is pretty challenging in itself, but I don’t have any where dry to put Joey while I groom or tack up either.  It's basically all open paddocks.  

Which is very budget friendly, so the price is right, but also, again, a pain in bad weather.  Or when you have a lame/sick horse and you have to pen him up in the yards in the middle of summer with no shade…  Yeah, that’s not good either. 

Not that it’s been a real problem for me yet, but I know it has been for other horse owners at my yards.  In fact, one of the owners had to put up some shade cloth to shade her horse when he was being kept in everyday because of a bout of impaction colic.  Thankfully, the sails are still up, so if we do ever need to use them, we can.  They aren’t the best form of shade out there – I think well a ventilated stable or a great big shady tree would be better, but they certainly are the best thing for the set up we have. 

One day I am dreaming of my own property with a big barn with all the niceties, an indoor arena, an outdoor riding ring, a round pen, jumping paddock and perfectly fenced paddocks for the horses.   I don’t want much do I?  In the mean time, you can see some of the set up we have. 


Our arena.  It’s not a very clear shot, but you can see the crazy amounts of grass growing all through our riding area.  It’s nuts!


Joey, grazing in Paddock 1, up the top end near the gate.  The rest of the herd is hiding down by the dam as it’s the only dry ground in the paddock.  The field is literally a swamp at the moment; most of it is under a couple of inches of water.


Rusty, my sister’s horse, in the metal pens/yards that is the main holding area.


Another view of the yards – we have two small pens that share a water trough and a larger pen on the end that is usually where I tie up Joey to tack up and feed.  You can see the sail cloth that’s on the end, shading that pen. 

See ya,


Monday, March 12, 2012

Three Things

I haven’t been doing much with Joey due to the rainy weather, however there are three things that happened over the last few times I visited him.  I was pleased about them, so here they are.

  • Lounging:  I went and lounged him yesterday as the ground had finally dried out.  He was just in a rope halter with a line, and he did really well!  Yes, he had excess energy, and yes, he still cuts in on the left lead {I’m trying to fix it, but it’s proving difficult} but when I was watching him trot and canter around I couldn’t help but remember the first time I ever lounged him.  

    He was hopeless! He pulled and yanked on the lounge line, even though it was clipped under his chin to his bridle, wouldn’t obey my voice commands, tried to bolt off and circle?  What’s that?  It was more like, um, random squiggles.  Yesterday?  Reasonably soft, willing, listening and engaged in nothing more than a rope halter, plus, actual circles!  He really has improved!
  • Trot poles:  We did them on the lounge line quietly, and even kicked it up a notch by raising the end pole up on tires.  To be sure, that blew his mind a bit, particularly when the pole MOVED if he kicked it.  Still, we walked over them all calmly with nose stretching in the end and didn’t even freak out when I picked the pole up after he knocked it down several times.  Methinks he is learning.  Yay!  Break through!
  • Trust:  This is the biggest one, but two things have happened that make me think he is learning to trust me more.  One, the other day I led him into the pen that has sails stretched over it with out a single bit of hesitation.  Sure, he did boggle a bit when he realized where he was and he had to have a good sniff around, but that was it.  I couldn’t even lead him near the gate of that yard when he first arrived at the paddocks.

    Secondly, he freaked out yesterday when my dad went to try a new saddle on him – mostly because he had eaten his dinner and didn’t want that thing near him.  It wasn’t good that he did that, we really need to work on his attitude towards saddling.  But what was good was that even when he was ‘trapped’, stuck between the fence and the saddle – he still responded to me.  I could see him thinking about charging past me and trying to get away; very dangerous because he would have basically pushed right ‘through’ me.  But I blocked him with my shoulder and told him to stand and I could see him listening.  He didn’t like it, but he did listen.  I got my dad to back off a bit then, and I hope it was enough of a release that we put the saddle on and then basically took it off again. 
Small events, but good ones none the less I think!  Now if only I wasn’t so scared to ride him.  *sigh*  One step at a time I guess.

See ya,


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