Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. ~ Thomas Merton

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Nutrition and Cricket's Headshaking

I have fielded several questions about my nutrition program with Cricket so I've decided just to post about it.

When Cricket began headshaking for the second time, I began an 18 month journey into every aspect of my care and treatment of my horse. Initial attempts to treat just the behavior were wildly unsuccessful and often resulted in increased frustration for me and more violent headshaking from Cricket.

The hardest part about dealing with this issue was the seeming lack of connection between each episode. I couldn't tie it to the weather or the time of day or even Cricket's heat cycles.

The beginning of my nutritional odyssey started when I found a website that linked head rubbing with head shaking. The website, which I've since lost, was for a woman in England who practiced Traditional Chinese Medicine. In an email exchange she helped me see Cricket's head rubbing not as itchiness but as an attempt to interrupt the misfiring of her trigeminal nerve. She cautioned me to cease all vaccinations and all chemical dewormers as Cricket's system was too delicate to tolerate the toxins.

On a whim I searched for "headshaking" in the Savvy Club vault and it yielded a brief article from Linda talking about headshaking in horses that are very sensitive but tend to hold everything inside. And that's when I started to understand that this is my horse - highly sensitive and yet extremely internal.

And it was then that I began to see the inextricable link between the physical, the mental and the emotional.

It was all tied together when I read an article in The Horse. It was fascinating research on equine headshaking. And it made total sense. Dr. Madigan of UC Davis, recommended nutritional support to raise the threshold for the firing of the trigeminal nerve. Based on his recommendations and other research, I made some changes to my nutrition program

The two main additions to Cricket's nutrition program were Magnesium and Spirulina.

I feed Cricket 4 oz of Quiessence from Foxden Equine. This provides Cricket with 5 mg of chelated Magnesium and 15 mg of Magnesium Oxide. Magnesium plays a role in muscle function and digestion. Stored in the muscle fibre, Magnesium assists the muscle tissue in returning to a relaxed state following contraction. It also works in the digestive tract to clear glucose from the blood stream. Low levels of Magnesium can contribute to higher blood glucose levels which leads to metabolic issues and an increase in fatty deposits at the crest, shoulder and tail head. Low Magnesium also affects the muscle's ability to relax and Magnesium-deficient horses can be hyper, excitable, nervous and fractious.

She also gets 20 g of Spirulina. Spirulina is available in different forms - wafers and bulk powder. The wafers might be easier to feed but the bulk powder is much cheaper. Spirulina is considered a super food and provides the body with amazing levels of essential nutrients. It is beneficial to the immune system and aids the body in dealing with stress.

Cricket continues to receive Dynamite for her basic vitamin and mineral needs along with Chastetree Berry for her hormonal support. Unrelated to her headshaking but something I will continue is some form of Omega 3 supplementation. Due to pasture depletion and the over-processing of most equine feed, our horses' diets are too high in Omega-6 and not nearly high enough in Omega-3. While both are essential fatty acids, present in the wrong ratio they do not function effectively in the horse's system. A main function of Omega-3 is to control inflammation. Without sufficient Omega-3, the body tries to use Omega-6 but the function of Omega-6 is to promote inflammation.

Note: I am not an equine nutritionist. I have researched headshaking and possible treatments through nutrition. I have made decisions for my horse based on my research and consultation with professionals when I felt necessary.

A Look Back and A Leap Forward

As 2009 draws to a close, I am thinking about everything that has happened this year. It has been a very good year. I cannot help but reflect on how my horsemanship has changed over the past year. I guess it's a picture of how I have changed as well.

Cricket and I started the year awash in frustration and fear. Her headshaking was making riding sessions difficult. While things had improved over the previous summer, it was still unpredictable and unnerving to ride. Cricket was obviously upset and I wasn't able to help her. Our groundwork was deteriorating as Cricket became less willing to offer anything more than the bare minimum on-line. Liberty was a disaster as she refused to draw to me in the round corral and preferred to just leave if we were in the arena.

My low point came in August when I seriously considered getting rid of her and getting out of horses all together.

And then everything began to change. I found a way to help her with her headshaking by adjusting her nutrition. We experienced a quantum leap in our riding during fall camp when it just all came together. Then the thirty day program saw advances I'd only dreamed about.

As the year draws to a close, I cannot help smiling as I think about what we have accomplished. I feel more confident cantering my horse. I feel confident riding her at the walk and trot with just a carrot stick. But it continues to improve and my confidence continues to grow. Playing at liberty has become the dance it once was. Cricket is starting to offer more life on-line.

Now comes the leap forward. Tomorrow starts the new year and my new enterprise with my horsemanship. My goal is to spend time with Cricket every day until my spring camp in May. It doesn't have to be major, 10 minutes of something positive and progressive. To help, I may create a set of "get out of jail free" cards to give me a few days where I don't have to do anything.

It will be hardest during the winter months when it is cold, dark and possibly wet. But I have a covered arena and I can layer my clothing.

The end result, if all goes according to plan, will be my green string. And it's okay if it takes longer. But that's my carrot.

Here's to a new year and a new chapter in the journey.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Getting Back to ME

I am finally getting back to my life as I want it.

Right before Thanksgiving Cricket lost a shoe. Taking the opportunity to give her feet a breather, I had my farrier pull the other three. She ended up sore on all four feet. There just wasn't enough hoof growth to allow her comfort after he tidied up each foot.

The Tuesday after Thanksgiving all hell broke loose at work and I ended up putting in very long hours for two weeks, including working on the weekend.

I was able to get out to see Cricket once during that time. I called to her and she whipped her head around as if to say, "Where have you been?! I've missed you!" It was so hard going from seeing her every day to not seeing her for almost two weeks.

My brother and sis-in-law arrived the week before Christmas and what time I had off was now devoted to visiting with family I hadn't seen in about 18 months.

I finally got out to the barn for some really horse time yesterday. I know the importance of rebuilding the rapport with Cricket. We started in the lush field with hand grazing and some simple "respect my leadership" games. I worked on some circle game with her, asking for canter transitions and change of direction. Her canter was wonderful. Her change of direction was better than ever. I played with the techniques Pat (re)introduces in the new L3 On-Line program. I got at least one FLC from right to left but none left to right. She was, however, more willing to pick up the right lead canter after the FLC. I'm pretty sure I need to have the chiropractor out.

We went into the arena and played a little at liberty. Before the 30 day program, her open area liberty consisted of a left-brain bolt. Now she is very connected and it feels wonderful. I used "late and light" (from the new L3 Liberty program) and our stick to me was better.

More as a friendly game than anything else, I asked her up to the mounting block. I just played with jumping and laying over her back. Cricket can get snarky with mounting so I'm trying to play more friendly game. I decided to get on and when I sat up, she was stock still. I shimmied around a bit. No bad ears, no turning to bite. I asked her over to the rail and I took the string off my stick. We walked around the arena totally nekkid - her not me, this is a family barn, after all.

We did a little follow the rail, some turns and halts. She pitched a minor fit when I asked her to move away from some friend with whom I'd been visiting. She settled down and we just stood in the middle of the arena. I asked her for lateral flexion with the stick. She was pretty soft and I decided that was enough. I hadn't been on her back in about a month and my first ride was bareback and bridleless - not too shabby!

We finished with a little liberty in the paddock. I just need to get to and get that filmed! At the end, I allowed her to graze. She was fantastic.

I am so pleased with her. Despite the time off, she was pretty willing to give me back my leadership. I felt at ease on her even though it had been weeks. I cannot wait to start putting in more time with her!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Panic and Relief; Disappointment and Delay

How does that saying go? The best laid plans of mice and men are oft to go astray.

Saturday evening I received an alarming call regarding Cricket. I was at my parent's house, celebrating my niece's first birthday. My cell started ringing but I chose to silence it so I could be fully present to the family festivities. As I gathered my belongings to head home, I decided to listen to the messages. Something was wrong with Cricket. My first thought, Oh please God let my baby be okay. All I really got was that she didn't want to move and she wasn't interested in her food. I grabbed my keys and my bag and dashed out the door.

Why the panic, you might wonder. Six years ago on a cold Saturday I received a call that my horse just wasn't feeling right and didn't want to eat. Two days later I was holding his head in my lap as the vet put him down. I cannot help but have flashbacks to loosing Moose.

I called my best friend Robin and she offered to meet me at the barn. It took an hour to get from my parent's house to the barn. The whole way, the tears were falling and I just prayed to God to keep my precious girl safe.

When I arrived, Robin had Cricket in the hallway and I could tell something was wrong. She just looked off. Ann, my friend who first called me, related the evenings events - Cricket's unwillingness to move and her lackluster attitude towards her dinner. Ann thought something was wrong with her hind end.

I felt all up her back legs and around her coronary bands on all four. I picked up a front foot and she did not want to put it back down. I asked her to walk and she tried to follow me but was very reluctant. She had halting, exaggerated movement on her back legs.

Ann's fear was something neurological. She had a call into my vet, deciding to call him when she couldn't reach me. I wasn't so sure. Another old saying: When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. This generally applies unless you are on an African safari and we weren't.

Cricket lost a shoe earlier last week and my farrier came out on Friday to pull the rest of her shoes. He trimmed her a little, despite it being several weeks ahead of schedule. I think he took her too short and she's sore on all four feet.

Robin and I watched her for about two hours, waiting for the vet to call. She was eating her hay and drinking a good amount of water. She pooped and it looked fairly normal. I decided to give her some bute and turn her out. I mixed up some pellets with bute, probiotic and electrolytes. She scarfed it down and was happy to wander out to the field. I finally spoke with my vet at about 10 pm and he agreed with my assessment. Sunday, Cricket seemed more herself but still tender footed.

So she will be off for at least a week as her feet heal and grow a little. I'll keep her on the bute so she is comfortable and willing to move.

I am a little disappointed that our next program is going to be delayed. More than anything, however, I'm relieved that my Principessa is, excepting her sore feet, just fine.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Parelli Pony Party and Post-Poned Plans

Cricket, two years ago at fall camp, playing in Carol's outdoor playground

Saturday was fan-damn-tastic. For the past three years a small group of us from fall camp have been promising to get together. Karen and Margaret live only 45 minutes from where I board and Becky and Genia are local. Saturday we finally managed it and by the end of the day we were kicking ourselves for waiting so long.

We started with some ground play in the outdoor paddock. The space I set up for my L3 online audition has just become our outdoor play space. I had Cricket on the 45' and everyone else was on the 22'. We played with the toys and just enjoyed being with each other. I eventually slipped Cricket's halter off and we played at liberty. She gave me some nice circle game with good draw. We did some yo-yo over a jump. I didn't push her too hard. We are still rebuilding our liberty confidence and I wanted to prove to her I was a good leader.

We broke for lunch and when we returned it was time to ride. We spent a little time in the arena. Karen and Margaret have not ridden much away from home (other than camp) and Margaret was nervous as was her horse. I had Genia watch me with my cantering. Though I only did one circuit of the question box on the left lead, it felt good and I stopped on the positive note. I'm trying hard to preserve my cantering confidence and so far it's working.

We decided to ride outside the arena in the paddock where we had played in the morning. Margaret is very unconfident outside the arena but she wants very much to trail ride. We all helped her feel safe and gave her space and encouragement to trust her horse and provide him the leadership he needed. We were just walking around, using the obstacles and having a grand time.

At some point I started goading Genia to jump. In her younger days she took 4' fences with or without a horse. Despite the lapse of time, her body remembers and she is just beautiful over jumps. After rising to my "dare" she turned the tables and sent the challenge back my way. I said, "No way!" The first time I ever fell off a horse was when I began jumping and it's made me slightly afraid of jumping. Genia kept it up and finally I agreed. Margaret lowered the pole and I walked Cricket over it twice before attempting anything else. I then turned her towards it, asked for the trot, grabbed mane and kept my eyes up. Cricket was a little wobbly but she jumped the rail and continued on at the trot.

WOW! I jumped my horse. In an open paddock. Without anyone holding a safety line. I JUMPED MY HORSE! I know the jump wasn't big. But Cricket didn't trot over the pole. SHE JUMPED. I was so proud of myself and my horse. I decided to do it again and it was just a tiny bit better. I cannot believe it.

I know it only worked because of the time I've put in over the last weeks. I am even more eager to start my next Progressive Parelli Program with my Precious Pony. But alas and alack, it's going to have to wait. I have to be realistic. The impending holiday weekend just isn't going to allow me the time to properly start my next adventure. So the plan is to start Monday November 30. We are going to progress through the Patterns with a focus on riding. I can hardly wait!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

In Between and the Need for Simulation

So Cricket and I are in a bit of an "in between" space. I finished my first thirty day program and now I want to do something else. I'm still spending time with her each day but it's fairly low key. My hope is to create another program to continue and build upon what we started in this last thirty days. I don't think our next adventure needs to be constrained by a certain time limit (i.e. x number of days) but it does need to be measurable.

In our current down time, I'm working on Cricket's deworming program. I have been very negligent of this aspect of her care and it's time to do something about it. It is important to me to exhaust every avenue of natural deworming products. I am loathe to introduce chemicals into her system. I just got her headshaking under control and I'm determined to keep it that way.

In order to evaluate my efforts, I'm making sure I do fecal exams on her before and after each deworming product so I can see if it is having any impact on her. The first thing I tried didn't work worth a plug nickel. On the recommendation of a natural vet, I used three tubes of natural paste dewormer administered daily for three days.

To say this stuff smells disgusting would be the understatement of the year. The predominant smells are cloves and garlic. But the label says it has "apple flavor." Whatever. A total waste of additive, if you ask me.

The first day I brought Cricket into the arena with dewormer and cookies. She took the tube just fine and we continued with a really nice play session.

Day two, I was in a bit of a hurry so I decided just to deworm her at liberty in her stall. Yeah right. She came up to me but the minute she saw/smelled the tube, she turned and said, "see ya!" I haltered her up and with a little protest on her part, administered the dewormer.

Last night she wouldn't even come up to me. I had the dewormer and a second tube of molasses. Nope, nothing doing. She was quite against the idea of allowing me to slip the tube in her mouth. Of course, when I did, she was a perfect lady and accepted her medicine.

So while I try to figure out my next program, I have an "in between" program of deworming simulation. I have a container of applesauce and we'll play with getting her to accept the tube without throwing her head around.

I almost hope this crap doesn't work so I don't have to do this ever again!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thoughts on Thirty Days

Yesterday was the last day in my "30 in 30" program. The original goal was to spend at least ten minutes doing something positive an progressive with my horse for thirty days in a row. Out of those thirty days, I can only count two days where I didn't really spend ten minutes with Cricket. On those two days, I did little more than feed her but I did take some time to pet her, talk to her and tell her how much I loved her.

In starting this program, I had no real idea what would happen. Having never applied my horsemanship consistently I just couldn't imagine what was possible. My hope was that my riding would improve so that by my Spring camp, I would be comfortable cantering on a casual rein.

Before I started this program I was rather unconfident in my ability to progress under saddle with Cricket. We had come so far with our walk and trot but I just felt it was beyond me to "teach" her to canter freestyle. I felt I lacked the skill and leadership to communicate canter and not just go faster. Our groundwork was very stagnant because I couldn't find the way to ask more without getting frustrated and upset, not so much at Cricket but at myself.

In thirty days, I accomplished more than I could ever have imagined. I feel completely at ease walking and trotting with the Carrot Stick. I am growing in my confidence with cantering, more so on the right lead than the left. I can canter totally freestyle to the right and the left is beginning to feel more comfortable and less discombobulating. While our on-line has not gone as far as I would like, I began to see how the Patterns will help push the boundaries and minimize frustration. Our "open area liberty" has gone from Cricket bolting out of left-brain unconfidence to her offering to canter circles around me. We completed our first competitive trail ride - a major accomplishment for both of us. I feel like my horsemanship is being stretched on finer points and not basic skills.

I have a whole new list of goals for my mare and me. I want to improve our communication at the trot. I want to increase my comfort and confidence at the canter. I want to take my on-line skills out of basic L3 and move them towards L4. I want to trail ride over more difficult terrain.

Next Monday I'm going to start another thirty day program with her. I think my focus is going to be Progressing with the Patterns. I'm not sure how I'm going to structure it. The days are getting colder and the sun sets so early. I want to continue my progress. I have my eyes on a prize and for the first time in a very long time, I feel like we can do it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Day 26-28: Over the River and Through the Woods

This picture was taken during our ride on Saturday. We paused to let the horses blow out a bit. I had enough composure to pull out my camera and take a quick picture. More about the ride in a bit . . .

Friday was day 26 and I just had to write it off as a "missed day." I had dinner in town with a dear friend and thus did not make it out to the barn until nearly 8:00. I fed the horses and gathered some things for the next day. I petted on Cricket, kissed her nose and turned her out for the night.

Saturday, day 27 of my grand adventure, was our first ACTHA competitive trail challenge. My dear friend Margenia and I decided this would be a wonderful opportunity to put some of our Parelli Principles to a Practical Purpose.

The ride consisted of ten judged obstacles along a six mile course that covered every kind of South Tennessee terrain imaginable. Until this ride Cricket had three official trail rides under her girth. All three were at a local rails-to-trails. She'd been out of the arena, down the roads and through the neighboring property, but all her adventures were on groomed trails or flat areas. Nothing prepared us for what we encountered.

Not even a mile into the ride, we had our first challenge. Cricket stopped and refused to go on. It took two dismounts, a change in headgear and Margenia's encouragement for me to get back on and to continue the ride.

About halfway into the ride, our path took us into the woods and up a fairly steep hill. It wasn't until we reached the crest of the hill that two things dawned on me:
  1. Going up a hill means coming back down.
  2. I've never ridden down a hill and I didn't think Cricket had either (in retrospect, the friend who trained her for two months lived on hills and may have ridden her up and down but I don't know for sure)
We were not riding on groomed trails. We were going up a hill, through new growth woods, picking our way through leaves, soft dirt and smooth rocks. On the way up, Cricket's shoes slid on the rocks and she lost her confidence and refused to continue. I waited until she agreed that we couldn't live on the hill and we continued.

The beginning of the descent was okay. Cricket and I managed to muddle our way down the hill. As we approached the bottom, the grade became steeper. At one point, I had my reins too long, a death grip on the cantle and we began to pick up speed as Cricket fell onto her forehand. I was near terrified. I could feel Cricket slipping out of my control and I was so afraid she would loose what little balance she had and end up somersaulting down the hill. Margenia was stopped across our path and I just aimed Cricket at her hoping everything would be okay. Cricket sort of slid into Margenia's mare and Crystal, the most wonderful TWH mare in the entire universe, held her ground and allowed my little mare to softly body slam her.

It wasn't until after the next judged obstacle that we learned we had taken a wrong turn up the hill and we actually had to repeat that adventure. As scared as I was at the time, I now realize it was the most fortunate of mistakes. Coming down the hill the second time, I was more mentally prepared and thus was able to better support Cricket as she made her way down the hill. We picked places to stop and regroup. For the rest of the ride, we had much more collected ups and downs and I left that experience with more positive thoughts.

The judged obstacles were a cake walk compared to our adventure in the woods. We didn't execute them perfectly but we tried every one of them. Maybe if we had studied the criteria more, our scores would have been better. I really don't care. This was Cricket's fourth trail ride. It was the first time I had ever ridden that kind of terrain. To top it all off, I was in an English saddle!

I learned so much about myself and my horse during this ride. So much of what we encountered forced Cricket and I to push the boundaries of our partnership. I had to trust her and she had to trust me. By the time we were working our way back to camp, she was relaxed and obedient. She was calm and patient. She started listening to me and doing as I asked. I started listening to her and trusting her judgement. Despite her periodic protests, Cricket was willing and she took such good care of me.

I cannot wait to get out and start trail riding on more demanding trails. Margenia and I plan to continue to participate in competitive trail challenges. It's just one way to get our good better and our better best.

Oh, yesterday was day 28 and we just played at liberty in the arena. I had intended to try and tape but Cricket and I had some leadership issues to work out. I was worried, after our ride on Saturday, she wouldn't want to see me. She nickered when she saw me and was eager to put her head in the halter. I tried to be more playful with her during our session. She left a few times and I changed my approach. Previously I've allowed her to find her own way back. This time I used a "don't you dare leave" attitude. I made sure I didn't scare her but I was pretty strong with her. This yielded much better results. Hmm, how interesting. We finished with some great circles, transitions and changes of direction. Then lots of dwell time and a juicy apple.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Day 25: A Step Back(wards)

Ugh! Things with Cricket did not go as well last night as I had hoped they would.

This is entirely my fault.

We started with a little liberty play in the arena and then I put a bareback pad, hackamore and neck string on to do a little riding. I wasn't on her long. She's in season and doesn't like to be ridden at all, let alone bareback. I was pleased with her willingness and opted not to take advantage of her good mood.

At liberty she was much more inclined to leave than she was the previous night. I couldn't figure it out at the time. During my post-play reflection, it dawned on me. Wednesday night I was playing with her. Last night I was testing her.

On Wednesday I was so incredibly pleased at everything she did. Even when she left, the pleasure of her returning completely over-shadowed the initial dismay of her leaving. I was excited how much she offered to me and was giddy as a school girl that I could once again play with my horse at liberty in the big arena.

Last night, everything was done with a critical eye. I kept thinking, "She has to do this or that for the audition and dammit, she can't leave like that and why won't she just do what she did before. This isn't good enough."

I have to STOP thinking that what she does isn't good enough. I cannot live in a place where I am critical of her. It is my leadership and love - or lack thereof - that gives her time and space to offer all that she is and all that she can do. If she does not offer what I know she has then my leadership has not created the space for her to feel safe and free.

I think, tonight, my plan is to play and to just love being with her.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day 24: Liberty Fun and Progress Under Saddle

Yesterday was a very good day. I spoke to my Pilates instructor about my issues with riding Cricket's left lead on the circle. I went through a series of exercises and I have a slight issue with the way my hip and shoulder work together when I need to activate my left side. I can isolate either with excellent stability but when I have to use both, I tend to allow my hip to drift up rather than keeping balance through the left side. It's very subtle and it explains a lot.

Heading out to the barn, I decided to ride and just focus on sinking both hips down and allowing my body to operate in greater balance.

I started out with some liberty in the arena. Cricket's connection and draw have gone through the roof in the past couple of days. I've started insisting she draw to me. It's not mean or mad but it's telling my very dominant and opinionated horse that my ideas are more important than she wants to think they are. I've been pushing energy behind the drive line and causing her to draw at a trot. It's been the ticket to our liberty issues. She is much more keen to come and to do so with effort. It's even causing her to draw back when she's out of range of the stick and string.

I saddled at liberty. Cricket was squirmy but more because she wanted to back up to get the cookies. I think I'm going to do more target training with her to help her "park" for saddling.

During our warm-up, I found just how un-connected she is to my seat for walk-trot transitions. She'll go up just fine but then won't come back down. This is the only time she doesn't listen to my seat. When we canter, she's easy to move back to the trot or halt. I'm not sure what is going on. This might warrant a call to the Gold Hotline.

I decided to put her on the Question Box to work on the transitions. She was pretty hot to canter so I kept her at the walk and trot until she relaxed. She was a little pissy - she's in season and I try to be understanding that riding isn't her favorite thing during her heat cycle. She offered the left lead and I decided to take it. We did a couple turns at the canter with my trying to settle into her rhythm. It wasn't great but neither was it a total disaster. I dismounted while I felt good about the whole thing.

I untacked her and decided to hang out with some more liberty. At one point we had the sweetest circle game going at walk, trot and canter. It's been so long since she's offered to circle at liberty in the arena. She broke away twice but some energy at Z4 and she was right back with me.

I did a little bareback mounting friendly - jumping up, getting on and then immediately sliding off the other side. I'm not sure what she thought of the process but I was giggling the whole time. She was completely nekkid and she was a champ.

The end of our session was me sitting on the pedestal and her just hanging with me. It was some very sweet, intimate moments. Man, I love this horse!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Day 23: Quiet Reflection

Impromptu dinner plans with my sister altered my barn plans for last night. I think it was a good thing. I am having so much lovely success with Cricket but I need to remember how important it is to keep things slow and on our pace.

During some downtime yesterday, I went back and read some of my earlier posts. It's almost hard to believe that only three months ago I was considering placing Cricket and getting out of horses all together.

Last night I sat in Cricket's stall and listened to her munch her hay. Every once and awhile she come towards me. It was almost like she was checking in, making sure everything was okay.

As I watched her, I thought about my journey with her. It has not been easy and it has not always been fun. It has been one of the most rewarding endeavours of my life. I have taken time with her, not always by choice but at it turns out, it was always for the best. I have followed my intuition more often than not and I have a beautiful relationship as a result.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Day 22: Trail Walk and Arena Ride

My plan for yesterday was to work on our canter. I need to reduce my dependence on the reins for guiding her and to convince her she can follow my focus at the higher gait.

When I arrived at the barn, another boarder was taking advantage of the remaining daylight to take a little trail walk. I decided to join her figuring Cricket would enjoy the grazing that always accompanies these little jaunts.

We headed out to the pond on the neighbors property. My friend wanted to see how her horse would handle the water. Cricket has never been a big fan of swimming or even getting her feet wet, for that matter. I thought it would be a chance to at least play some approach and retreat. Cricket is not fearful but I want her to trust my leadership.

We found an entry point that had some grass growing in the shallows. Ever motivated by her stomach, Cricket offered to step into the water to reach the more tender grass. When she indicated that she was concerned about having to go further, I asked her to back up a step or two. After a short pause, I asked her to go forward. She willingly went into the water and we had a lovely, confident squeeze game through the water. I repeated it a few times and she went all the way in until her belly and chest were wet. I allowed her to graze while my friend was doing some approach and retreat with her mare. I then asked Cricket for a circle game, going up the small hill, down into the water and continuing the circle up the hill. We did both sides and she was so calm and willing.

Darkness began to fall and the mosquitoes were out so we headed back. I asked Cricket for traveling circle game and then some Z4 driving. She was so good. I figured that was a good warm-up so when we got to the arena, I saddled her up. I decided to saddle completely at liberty. I'm working on Cricket's responsibility to stand still. We're doing a little target training - I'm using cookies but only giving them to her when her nose touches the wall. It's helping keep her with me instead of backing up hoping to align her nose with my hand to get a cookie.

In the saddle we started with trotting the rail. Cricket picked up a nice working trot to the left and I took her an entire circuit of the arena without touching the rein and posting and she maintained excellent rhythm.

We moved to the Question Box for some transition work. I started with the walk and then added walk/trot/walk transitions. Cricket is beginning to assume that coming into the box at a trot means leaving the box at the canter. While I'm happy she's so willing, I want her to be ready to go either way. It actually makes for a more collected transition. Once she was more tuned in, we started some cantering. She was relaxed and I'm just IN LOVE with my horse.

After only about two circuits to the right, we turned around to go to the left. Starting with the walk and trot, I made sure she was checked in before asking for the canter. I'm still having problems relaxing into the left lead. My friend, who was now riding her mare, watched and she assured me Cricket has a clean upward transition and a nice true three-beat canter. So I now know it is all me!

I decided that was enough and dismounted. I know I need to canter more but I also know I need to keep good feelings so I quit when I feel good. I unsaddled Cricket and stayed in the arena at the request of my friend.

I'm still hesitant about playing at liberty in the big arena. Cricket developed a pattern of leaving and I'm doing everything I can to increase her confidence and break that habit. I played with increasing her energy on the draw. She was very motivated by pushing energy behind the drive line. When she put for effort I rewarded her with cookies and scratches. It wasn't long before I felt her very with me. I played with some circles inside one of the question box circles. Cricket seemed to accept the cones as a fence and gave me a lovely trot circle. Hmm, might be an option for our liberty audition.

I had a great session with her and I just cannot believe how much fun we're having with cantering under saddle. I've never felt my canter improve. It's always been good once or twice and then slowly goes down hill. For the first time, I am seeing continual improvement. My happiness is nearly indescribable.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Day 19-21: Bits and Pieces

The last three days have been a bit of a whirlwind. Work has been busy, building to a major proposal submission today. Just when I thought I had the whole thing ready there is a potential last minute change and I'm in a holding pattern. Ugh!

Friday, day 19, I was at work until around 8pm. I needed to go out to the barn to feed but I was just too worn out to do anything. After I fed everyone, I opened Cricket's stall door, put up her stall chain and pulled in a step-stool to just sit with her. I gave her a pile of her sweet orchard/timothy hay and just enjoyed my pretty girl.

Day 20 doesn't exactly count. A friend and I decided to go audit a L2/3 camp at Carol Coppinger's place in Mt. Juliet. I went out in the morning to give Cricket her "dewormer cookies." I loved on her, petted her and gave her some hay.

As much as I wanted to be home playing with her, I'm so glad I went to audit. Watching Carol play with Legend was so instructional. Legend was not connecting with Carol and it was a treat to watch her work through his druthers. Not just in what she did but also in what she said, I brought home a lot of gems for my time with Cricket.

Day 21 - I had every intention to play and ride, really I did. But when I met my friend Becky out at the barn, we ended up in a "tack room organization" marathon. It was good to get some things back in order and sort through the stuff she brought over. We turned both horses out in the little paddock and allowed them to graze while we worked. Then it was time to turn all the horses out to meet the new horse (Becky's second horse she just moved to the barn). At first Cricket didn't want to leave. It was important to me that she meet Bolder in the light so they could sort everything out so I drove her out. After they went tearing around the field, she came right back to me. She even nudged the halter. How could I refuse?

I took her into the arena and worked on draw on-line. Then I decided to take advantage of the daylight and we headed to the round corral. As good as our connection is, something happens with circling in the round corral and she won't come to me. If she circles close, our draw and redirect is good but not if she's out on the rail.

So we played and when she ignored me, I ramped up the game. She was doing some lovely stuff in the corral. She started drawing to me with some high energy. I need to figure out how to cause that and then how to reward that so it becomes solid rather than "accidental." All in all, I had a fine time with her and I cannot wait to go out this evening.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Day 18 - Onward and Upward

I feel as if Cricket and I are on an upward spiral. For the first time in a very long time. I think a lot of things have contributed to our recent success: the support of good friends, the change in my awareness and balance through Pilates and the consistency of time spent with my horse.

I was a little nervous going out last night. Just what if Wednesday was a bit of a fluke? What if my nerves and ego get in the way and I try to force it and ruin everything I've gained? It is very hard for me to tame the "what ifs."

When I arrived at the arena, there were two other people riding. I pulled out my gear and went to get Cricket. She was happy to see me which made me feel better.

We started with our circle and it wasn't very good. She was lackadaisical in her transitions and unwilling to maintain gait. I think she felt my lack of commitment. I really wanted to get to riding and prove that Wednesday wasn't an accident.

After a short warm-up I put Cricket on the question box pattern. I started with the walk and then the trot, making sure she understood what I wanted and allowing her to dwell and lick and chew in the question box. The first time or two I asked for the canter, she wasn't with me. I think that was the best thing that could have happened. It helped me refocus on us and just go with her. Once she picked up the canter she was fantastic. I think we did two trot to canter and stop laps and then about six laps alternating between trot and canter. I actually let go with both hands and just rode my horse in a freestyle canter!

Things got a little rocky when I turned her around to work on the left lead. Historically we have more emotional brace to the left. As I reflect on it, I can see how I set her up for failure by anticipating it to be worse. I need to let those thoughts go and just ride whatever happens.

We started to the left the same way we've been doing the pattern to the right: at the walk and trot, checking her attentiveness and allowing dwell time in the box. When I moved to the canter, she picked it up the second or third time I asked. Oh, I felt all over the map. I wasn't relaxed and it felt slightly out of control. We stopped in the box and dwelled. The next time I asked for the canter the upward transition was better but I just wasn't with her and I brought her back down before we got back to the box.

I decided that was enough. I set out to trot some relaxed circles. She broke into the left lead canter and it actually became very soft and I decided to just relax into it and allow her to finish at the canter. We stopped and she licked and chewed. How could I possibly be upset with that?!

We dwelled inside one of the circles while someone else rode the pattern. Finally we dismounted and I untacked her, put her away and fed all the boarder horses.

I stayed to watch the other rider. On the surface it was good stuff. The horse was cantering around bridle-less with only a carrot stick and a neck string. He was hitting his leads about 95% of the time, cantering circles and doing some simple changes. I wondered if my little program of canter transitions was really the best approach. And then I realized how the rider was not pleased and the horse never licked and chewed. I thought about how on one of my canter circles Cricket actually shook her neck and blew out some adrenaline. And right then I knew that what I was doing was right, at least for me. Cricket is offering a relaxed canter and she's fully involved in the process. It is the transition work that will improve her canter, not the cantering itself.

Onward and upward!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Day 17 - Finally!

I started this thirty day program with Cricket to see what would happen if I spent time with her every day for thirty days. The primary focus is riding simply because that is where I need the most time. In my wildest dreams I never imagined the progress I would make with my darling Principessa.

Last night we picked up where we left off on Monday. I started with precision in transitions on the circle. Overall, she was much better. We struggled with the circle to the right. Cricket just wouldn't maintain the canter. So I changed tactics and asked for the canter at the cone and left her alone. If she dropped to the trot, I waited until she came around to the cone and asked again. I'm not sure how many times we did this but I had the attitude of "you know what I want, I'm going to patiently repeat my request until you can offer it to me." I don't know how many times I repeated the pattern but finally she got it. When she came around to the cone still cantering, I brought her down to the halt and allowed her to dwell.

I can nag her at the canter all I want. But that just makes cantering an unpleasant affair for both of us. I know she can maintain canter. I just need to present it so she chooses it. The very cool thing was, when it became our idea instead of just my idea, her canter was so much better. Hmm, how interesting.

Now the the riding. I've been thinking, since Sunday, about cantering. Pulling together lots of different experiences and thoughts, I came up with the following:
  • When it is Cricket's idea to canter, her transitions are so smooth you hardly know she's made a change.
  • Moving her from the walk to the trot takes just a thought, the energy and the commitment to ride the next gait.
  • The key to canter transitions is not making her canter, but asking and allowing her to respond until she feels the thought, energy and commitment.
  • If she understands what I want and is physically, mentally and emotionally capable of doing it, she will.
  • It's about a change of gait, not a change of speed.
So how do I roll all that up and create a situation where we can accomplish the canter? The answer, QUESTION BOX. Conveniently enough, there is one set up in our arena. The question box is just like what I was asking on-line.

I saddled up and after a brief warm-up on the rail, I took her into the question box. I reminded her this is the dwell spot. We started at a walk until she was on the pattern and then I offered her dwell time in the box. Next we moved to the trot until she was on the pattern. Repeat dwelling in the box. Now for the canter . . .

I started her at the trot and when we came back to the box, I asked for the canter. We repeated this pattern of asking for the canter until I got the thought, the energy and the commitment and my horse transitioned up to the canter. My first instinct was to be afraid. But I really wasn't. She went wide on the circle and I just used my right rein to guide her back around to the question box. She stopped when I asked and immediately licked and chewed.

Shampoo, Rinse and Repeat. I moved her out at the trot and she started to speed up. I reminded her we were trotting a lap and she settled. When we came to the question box, I asked for the canter and she transitioned up and we rode another lap at the canter. Stop in the box and dwell. More lick and chew.

I know, well enough, it's not about surviving the canter. So adding a degree of difficulty, I decided to trot a lap, canter a lap, trot a lap. And so off we went. The trot was forward but controlled. The canter was soft and rhythmic, the downward transition was wonderful and when we came around, I just asked for the canter one more time. When we arrived back at the question box, I burst into tears.

I cannot believe it was that simple. We are going to practice this pattern until she is so spot on with her canter transitions. Part of me can hardly believe it. Part of me knows our time has come.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Day 16 - How Sweet it Is

I left work early yesterday to meet my farrier at the barn. I decided to grab my video camera and take advantage of the daylight to shoot some liberty footage. My hope was to get enough to submit an audition - even a rough draft - just to get some feedback. I may as well take advantage of the free auditions for Gold members.

Cricket and I have been having connection issues when we play at liberty. When she doesn't want to do something, she leaves. I called the Gold Hotline months ago and had a long talk with John Baar. He gave me some great suggestions. I haven't played much at liberty but when I do, I try to make sure I can influence Cricket no matter where she goes.

Yesterday, we had connection issues. I decided to deal with them. Since she wanted to leave, I simply sent her on, with energy, and decided to leave her alone until she decided to connect back with me. The following clip is what happened when she changed her mind . . .

Following this, everything was better. I continued to play with her. At one point I asked her for a simple trotting circle game. This is what happened . . . .

I know the video quality isn't as good as it could be. I had my camera on the tripod in my truck bed. I just wanted to film the session and see what happened. Maybe, just maybe, we're not too far from being able to pull together a good L3 Liberty Audition.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

It's Official

Day 15 - The Half Way Point

Yesterday was DAY 15 - the half way point of my thirty day commitment. It was also the sixth anniversary of my journey with Cricket. Six years ago I signed the bill of sale and bought a little dun QH filly. I've questioned my decision but never regretted it.

My whole goal for yesterday was to ride and breathe. I needed to see that our "bad" ride from last Monday was the fluke.

We started with Figure 8. I think yesterday was our last day on that pattern. I'm a little conflicted about our progress over this pattern. The change in Touch It was obvious. The Figure 8, not so much. But I'm going to trust the program and not try to improve the pattern. I need to focus on the weave and the next pattern in the line. Cricket was better yesterday than she has been the previous days but not quite as good as she was the first days. At least that's what I see right now. It may be that the subtle quality of her drive and draw is better, I'm just missing the improvements.

I moved on to some circle game. I should have worked on the Weave but there were too many folks in the arena so I opted to stay on one end and play as I could. I set up a "transition cone" and asked Cricket to make a lap at the trot, transition to the canter at the cone, canter a lap, transition down to the trot, trot a lap, etc. To the left, she'd drop out of the canter to a halt; to the right she wouldn't stop cantering. We started with the left and when she came down from the canter and maintained the trot, I disengaged her. To the right, she never quite got the downward transition into maintain gait. I found a spot to call it a win and allowed her to dwell at the cone.

I saddled her up and moved on to riding. We warmed up a little at the walk and then moved into the trot. I concentrated on breathing deep and rhytmically and she was relaxed and forward. I didn't feel as if I had to "control" her at all. After a few laps, I decided to take advantage of the question box that was already set up in the arena.

We started to the left and Cricket was nice and relaxed. The small circle doesn't encourage her to trot out and we're going to work on that in future sessions. For now, I just wanted her to follow the circle and ask questions in the box. At first, she took over and assumed stop in the box. When she offered to go through, I offered the stop. She took the halt and we dwelled. After that she was better. We repeated the online pattern with trot a circle, transition to the walk, walk a circle, up to the trot. She was giving me some great transitions. This may be a very useful pattern for our canter work as the transitions become predictable.

To the right she was drifting off the pattern but eventually we got it. We finished the pattern with some variety using the question box to change circles, change gait or maybe just maintain whatever we were doing.

The farrier is coming today. I was going to pull her shoes and give her a few rounds barefoot. But now my best friend and I have hit upon a plan to do some competitive trail riding. The first ride is in less than two weeks! So one more round of shoes and then some barefoot time off.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Day 14 - Breathe!

I have not ridden much this week. When I rode on Monday, my confidence was rattled. Cricket was forward to the point of impulsive. I'm not used to this side of my little mare. The whole thing was made worse by the fact that I failed, as a leader, to address the horse that showed up and I just kept waiting for the horse I had on Saturday.

I've puttered with Cricket - keeping to my goal of 30 sessions in 30 days. I do feel that she is more connected to me so I'm pleased with our progress. But the primary reason for this program was to push our riding further.

I took a lesson from my best friend and fellow PNH student yesterday. I gained two wonderful insights from the lesson:
  1. When Cricket is "racing" around the arena, she is simply in a lovely forward working trot. This is not something I'm used to and it feels fast and slightly out of control.

  2. I'm not breathing.

The breathing thing was a big deal. Apparently in my apprehension over what Cricket was doing, I started holding my breath. When I took a circuit around the arena focused on the intake and release of air, my little mare dropped her head, eased her pace and blew out.

I am such a silly girl! I know, from my Pilates, the importance of the breath. I know, from my Parelli, that my horse is my mirror. No wonder she's racing around to find a stopping point - she's not breathing either!

The very cool thing that happened during the lesson - Cricket began offering canter under saddle. She hasn't done this in a long, long time. I know it's a sign that she's taking over the gas pedal. I know she's breaking her responsibility to maintain gait. I DON'T CARE! I love that my mare is freeing up and feeling comfortable with upward transitions. The first time she did it I rode the canter and couldn't figure out how exactly to react: get upset, stop her, encourage her, ride it until she stops. I was elated that she did it at all. The second time, I rode the canter and then eased her back to the trot. The third time I don't remember - I think we came down to the halt.

The challenge is to ask for those upward transitions and have her respond with the same softness.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Day 13 - Puzzlement

The plan today was on the fly and it was simple - try to figure out why our Figure 8 is broken. I don't know what it is but some part of this pattern is just not working for us. I think we are close to the end of our seven sessions for this particular pattern and I swear she's worse at the end than she was at the beginning.

To start, her draw will go out the window. She'll come around the cone and just stay on the circle rather than acknowledge the draw. Going to the left, she flattens the circle and will often miss the cone or come to a dead halt in front of it. There is no flow to the pattern. At all.

Today I started by checking her drive and draw - both were good so on to the pattern. She repeatedly cut in when going to the left. At one point I interrupted the pattern with quite a bit of intention. She screeched to a halt and immediately licked and chewed. She was still flat on the left. I decided to isolate out the shoulder so we switched over to a circle game and I used the CS and some energy to push her shoulder out on the circle. The first couple of times we did it, she came to a halt when I asked for the shoulder yield. We continued until she could offer the yield and maintain the trot. We finished with some sideways, again with the goal of getting her to carry that shoulder out.

Before I put her away, I jumped on her bareback with the halter and just walked a little and then asked her for a little trot. Nothing special but it was nice to be on her and nice to feel her trot and know I could ride it.

I have a riding lesson tomorrow so I should actually get some real saddle time in.

Day 12 - Takin' It Easy

I really do want to ride my horse again. It just seems that life intervenes and my plans are thwarted.

Last night was some crazy weather - strong winds, incoming storms. Just not the kind of environment that encourages me to saddle up in the arena all by my lonesome.

I decided just to pull Cricket out and groom her. She needs a good curry and brush session so I figured that would be my ten minutes. To incorporate some patience lessons, I brought out my friend Becky's mare and groomed both horses, alternating between the two.

It was just sweet bonding time with my horse. I found some itchy spots, doctored the little sore on her back and rubbed some ointment stuff into the scrapes on her legs. I brushed out her mane and curried the dirt off her face.

I left both mares tied while I prepped the evening feed. Cricket did just fine, as usual. I put the horses back in the stalls and trudged through the mud to open the runs. As I made my way up Cricket's run, she was standing looking at me. I spoke to her, just in case she was unsure of the figure approaching out of the dark. Even though she had hay in her stall and she had to cross the icky mud to get to me, she walked out of her stall and met me part way down the run. Then she walked back with me to her hay. That was incredibly precious.

Today the plan is to work a little on our Figure 8 and then to ride. I want to keep it low-key and just feel successful with her.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Day 11 - The Drudgery of Middles

I was not into my session yesterday. I'm sure Cricket felt it.

I am not good with "middles." I may not have gotten much from the Stephanie Burns part of PNH but I did gain a better understanding of why I never finish anything. I hate middles. I hate the drudgery, the repetition, the seemingly never-ending same-ness. I love beginnings and endings are great because they often signify new beginnings. But getting from the start to the finish requires a level of commitment I don't often give.

So the real challenge of this "30 in 30" is to get through the middle and find a better appreciation for that particular part of my horsemanship endeavour.

Work has been keeping me a little busier these past few days so I've been arriving at the barn later than usual. My motivation has been fairly low so I've stuck to groundwork.

I brought Cricket out and did a quick friendly, HQ yield and FQ yield. I was pleased at her responsiveness. I set up the Figure 8 and moved on. She was all over the map - most likely a direct result of my lack of focus. Her draw was getting worse so we stopped and broke everything down. The first time took a long time to elicit a lick and chew. But each time after that, she would draw to me, look as if asking a question and then lick and chew when I indicated she'd done exactly what I wanted. We finished with a couple of good patterns. Nothing as good as previous attempts but better than we started.

I asked her for the weave pattern and we did a little bit of trotting. It wasn't spectacular but I was pleased with her responsiveness. Again, considering my focus, I'm surprised she listened to me at all!

While there was nothing super impressive about the session, I did notice she was better at coming straight to me and continuing to look at me as she processed her thoughts. Previously she's had a tendency to turn away from me. I've noticed it more, addressed it more and now it seems she's more interested in me than she has been. She also offered a canter on the F8.

Tonight the plan is to ride. We'll see how that goes.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Day 10 - Contentment

I am endeavoring to become more content with the pace of my journey with Cricket. Sometimes it is so hard because I want so much and I know my horse is incredibly capable. But we're not there . . . yet.

Last night my resolve to continue for thirty days was challenged. I was a little tired from a great Pilates session. It was dark. The arena was empty with the lights off. It would have been so easy to feed the horses, turn them out and just head home. But I made a promise to myself and so I decided for some groundwork and maybe bareback mounting friendly game. A simple plan with an excellent chance of success.

Cricket's Touch It on the 22' has gotten really good. We had some confusion last night but it was her making a little assumption between two objects that were very close together. As soon as I 'splained to her "not that one, but the other one," she said, "why didn't you say so?" Yesterday was day seven of that pattern so it will be somewhat laid to rest only to be pulled out occasionally until is start working it at L3 with the 45' line. It feels good to tuck that accomplishment in my belt.

We moved on to Figure 8 - I think this is day four, I'll have to go back and look at my journal. It started pretty sloppy and I had to remind Cricket that I did, in fact, have a plan. Once she hooked on, she started giving me better drive and draw responses. I think the pattern might have been a bit claustrophobic for cantering but she offered a little. When we quit, she offered me a good run on the pattern with me at the end of the 22'.

I moved on to the weave. I didn't have the energy to set out a big weave so we just had a small row of cones and I asked her to walk the pattern. I tried to stay as close to the end of the 22' as possible. She did really well, only missing about two cones in the four or five times we did the pattern. I need to work more on using my energy with her at greater distances. I don't want to have to rely on my stick to push her shoulder over.

As part of my program to get under saddle cantering better, I decided to throw in a couple of circles and ask for upward transitions. We started at the walk and moved to the trot and then to the canter. Both her trot-to-canter transitions were very smooth with no pop of her head. I allowed her to canter until she smoothed into a nice three beat rhythm. The right lead took longer but I just left her alone and when she relaxed, I disengaged her and brought her in. It was some of the best cantering she's done in a long time.

We finished at the pedestal with some bareback mounting friendly game. Cricket has taken to pinning her ears at bareback mounting. So with a pocket full of cookies, I started a friendly game of jumping up and down, flopping over her and eventually swinging my legs back and forth down her side. We did this from both sides. She was a complete angel. I was pleasantly surprised at how well she accepted it.

It was a good day and I am happy with how she is progressing with my consistent attention. I'm going to try and ride tonight but might not get back on her until tomorrow. Regardless, I will be pleased with whatever horse shows up.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Day 9 - Regrouping

Tuesday was an off day. The weather was dreary and overcast and I just felt pulled down by the world. I was still pretty bummed about Monday and I just didn't want to do anything with Cricket.

But I made a commitment and it is very important that I see it through. I need to prove to myself that progress is possible and that is going to be a test of my resolve.

When I'm not feeling up to par, it's very easy for Cricket to see through any facade I might offer. It's not worth the battle of wills that results in me getting mad and her getting offended. So another day of relative undemanding time.

I decided to take on of the 10-minute tips and just do some carrot stretches with her. Cricket is pretty flexible already but I figured this would be a constructive way to love on her and give her cookies. I don't know if I spent a full 10 minutes with her or not. It doesn't matter. I enjoyed her company and she enjoyed mine.

When I let the horses out for the night, part of my plan to keep one horse up went badly astray and all the mares were out together. I debated about just leaving her but I knew her owner was coming out to ride and I wanted the mare to be up. Revising my plan, I decided to prepare the stall next to Cricket's so the owner could easily turn the mare back out and not have to wade through the muck and mud in the dark.

Cricket was on her way out of the run when I opened the other stall door to clean the area for the other mare. She turned and came back to me. How precious! She finally realized I was busy and she headed out. The mares were milling in the catch pen part of the pasture and I figured as soon as I was done with the stall I could head out and catch the other mare.

Just as that thought ran through my mind I heard thundering hooves. All four horses were tearing around the field, headed for the back corner. Great! There wasn't anything I could do so I kept cleaning the stall. More thundering hooves as all four mares ran up the run where I was cleaning the stall. Blowing, tails flagged, prancing. And my precious Cricket in the lead.

I walked out of the stall and offered Cricket a cookie and then another horse and then I approached the horse I wanted. Nothing doing. Cricket turned them all and out they went again. As pretty as it was to see my beautiful girl galloping around the field, I was trying to figure out how to catch the mare I wanted.

Finally they settled in to the catch pen area and I went out to halter the mare. Cricket came right up to me and wanted to follow me around. When she realized I wasn't there for her, she went off to graze.

It was a good day to reconnect with my mare and see that despite a not-so-good day on Monday, we're still all good.

Day 8 - The Inevitable

My journey with Cricket has been a lot like trying to assemble a puzzle bought at a yard sale. The pieces are in a plastic bag and there's no guarantee that I even have all the pieces.

It's frustrating when I cannot figure out how to put things together but it's incredibly triumphant when the picture begins to come together.

Monday was one of those days when none of the pieces seemed to fit anymore. After a week of fabulosity, I had a challenging session with Cricket and I began to doubt everything.

The plan was more Touch It and Figure 8 and quickly moving on to riding. Cricket is really getting the Touch It. When I put that feel and thought into my body, she stood stock still while I moved out to the end of the 22'. We had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: Let's play Touch It.

Cricket: Okay, where would you like me to go?

Me: To the pedestal.

Cricket: Great! There might be cookies. Hey, there are no cookies! No worries, would you like me to do something besides put my nose on it?

Me: Sure. How 'bout two feet?

Cricket: Absolutely. Anything else?

Can you ask much more? We moved to the Figure 8 and she was very good. She's getting the pattern and starting to draw and redirect with less and less motion from me. We are about 2/3 of the way down the 22' most of the time.

Then we moved on to riding. At about the time I was mounting up, someone else came into the arena. I don't know what happened. His energy, my ego, the weather - I don't know. Cricket was extremely forward. To the point we were playing impulsion control games. I asked too much from her when she wasn't even listening to my "go and whoa" cues.

I stopped being pleased with her and was upset that she wasn't doing what I wanted her to do. I forgot to address the horse that showed up and instead kept asking her to be the horse she was on Saturday. I finally realized I wasn't being fair to her and I started asking her for little things I could reward. After some soft transitions I dismounted, told her how much I loved her and called it a day.

In the past, this would be the beginning of a long stretch of doing nothing with my horse. But I committed to "30 in 30" and I've made myself accountable on two public forums. So we'll carry on. I think the biggest beneficiary of this whole thing is going to be my emotional fitness.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Day 7 - Simplicity

Sunday I opted for a day of simplicity with Cricket. On Saturday, as I was wrapping things up and chatting with a friend, we hit upon an impromptu plan to go trail riding on Sunday. The plan was to go for a long walk - Cricket is still green when it comes to trail riding and she hasn't ridden her horse in about a month.

We decided to head to the local Rails to Trails. This is Cricket's third "official" trail ride. I'd love to get her out more but I have neither a trailer nor a truck with which to pull one so we don't get out nearly as much as I would like.

My friend arrived at noon and we loaded Cricket and headed off. As we were saddling the horses, I reminded my friend that the most important thing to me was my horse's confidence and my own. Though not a PNH student, my friend was very respectful and agreed the ride was just for fun, no goals and we'd stay out as long (or as little) as necessary.

We headed out. Her horse is a half-Arab and while he's older, he's much more "nervous" than Cricket. He had a lot of "what was that?" starts and Cricket would react to him with "huh?" It was good, in a way, because I got to ride lots of mini-startles and develop a feel for what happens before what happens happens.

We encountered two kids on bikes. They were so polite and followed our directions so we could safely familiarize the horses with these strange beings. Later, another cyclist came up behind us and before he could announce his presence, my friend's horse spooked into Cricket which caused her to spook. The cyclist was apologetic and was really good at picking a slow but steady pace and talking to the horses as he went by. We also came across some folks walking dogs and they were polite and courteous towards the horses. We only passed two other groups riding and Cricket was calm but a little disconcerted by the wonky-walking horses. She seemed convinced something was wrong with their legs.

The trail is marked every half mile with distance markers. It's so funny - this is the third time we've been on this trail and every time we pass a mile marker, Cricket turns as if to read it. I know she's saying, "Dammit, we've only gone half a mile. How much further is this place?"

We only rode about 2 miles. Cricket was getting a little nervous and at one point she refused to go forward. I turned her around and she was more relaxed. We decided that was good enough and by the time we were back at the trailer, both horses were soft and relaxed.

When we returned to the barn, I decided to let Cricket graze and I laid in the sun for about an hour just enjoying my horse. We ended the day with some ground driving on the neighbor's property. She is so much more responsive when we are out "going somewhere."

All and all, a very good day!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Day 6 - Pushing the Envelope

I feel like my relationship with Cricket has become a long road stretching for miles in front of me. There is simply no end to what we can accomplish.

As I headed out to the barn I started thinking about cantering. I'm not trying to psych myself up to do something for which I'm truly not prepared. I am trying very hard to get out of my head and to trust my seat and my horse. I'm not in a rush but I am tired of dragging my feet.

Today my plan was to continue our Touch It and Figure 8 and move quickly on to riding. Cricket was much more in-tune with Touch It so I kept it very short with only two touches. I moved to the Figure 8 and asked Cricket to put some energy into it. She offered some fantastic cantering and two FLC from right to left. She was sassy and energetic but quick to relax and offer a L&C when I turned the game off.

Riding was a little more aimless than I would have liked. There were too many people in the arena and not everyone has what I call "arena etiquette." So we moseyed around doing some CS riding at the walk and trot. We followed the rail a bit and did a bit of Figure 8. She pooped in the arena and I used that as an exercise in "we have a job to do." When that was finished I decided to ride with reins - still freestyle but sans stick.

I picked up the bowtie pattern and she was a little rushy but relatively responsive. With a bit of a "now or never" thought, I asked for the canter. She pinned her ears and gave me a rushy trot. No worries, stick to the pattern and ask again. We went through it several times and WE CANTERED. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't anything to win awards. But it was canter and it was freestyle. She gave me two or three decent canters to the right but only some jumpy steps to the left.

That pretty much ended the session. What more could I ask? We finished with some liberty grazing in the lush field.

An unexpected bonus from our riding sessions is she seems more connected to me at liberty. Hmm, how intersting!

Day 5 - On Top of the World

I had to plan on the fly yesterday. I realized as I headed to the barn that I hadn't taken the time to draw out my plan for my session with Cricket.

Because Wednesday's groundwork was unbelievably mediocre, I decided we needed a different direction to our online sessions. Since I'm trying very hard to adhere to the Patterns, I decided to go back to that for my groundwork. No more circle game until I reach that pattern in my progression. I decided to stay with Touch It and introduce Figure 8. For the riding, I wanted to continue with CS riding.

Cricket started asking some good questions on the Touch It. Not solid but good. My influence from farther distances is becoming more solid. I'm trying hard to be pleased and to be patient. After about five touches, we moved to the Figure 8. She was sloppy but I just presented the pattern and she started to respond. She gave me some nice trotting and good draw. I kept it short and ended on a positive note for both of us.

Saddling is still evoking ear-pinning. I'm still treating her GI tract and offering her cookies to help adjust her attitude. Everything else about her under saddle work is GREAT so I'm not going to get hung up on one thing. I'll just take note and see how it plays out.

We did just a bit of freestyle warm-up - walk and trot in both directions and a few bowties - before I picked up my CS. Again, I secured the reins and rode the rest of the session "hands off."

We are pushing the envelope of our CS riding - asking for turns, transitions, sideways, lateral flexion, bend to a stop, disengage, back-up. Last night was the first time we've ridden with other people in the arena. Even with nothing but my CS, Cricket did great.

The session ended with some short and sweet liberty play. One of the other boarders was riding and I don't like to feed while some one is riding if I can avoid it. So I hung out with Cricket in the arena, giving her scratches and cookies. I took her to the mounting block and played with FG from above Z3. She was relaxed and happy to be scratched all over. When her nose became interested in the cookies, I asked for a send around me. She gave a couple of quarter laps, stopping for cookies. I was pleased. I asked for a little more and she offered me her close range, jog trot circle game. First time we've gotten that in AGES!

What I took away from last night:
  • I need to work more on my body cues. The stick is great because I think it causes her to tune into my seat better than she was reinforcing my butt with the reins. But there are times I'm too quick with the stick. I need to be confident enough to stay soft and give her time to yield.
  • Cricket's liberty confidence is returning and I just need to be more aware and not screw it up again.
  • My confidence has been our main limiting factor. I need to trust my mare and allow her to trust me.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Day 4 - Undemanding Time

For a variety of reasons, yesterday was a "no play" day. At about 3:30 I realized I hadn't had lunch and at 4:23 I realized I still hadn't done anything about it and it was time to go. All the way out to the barn, I hemmed and hawed about what to do with Cricket. Storms were blowing in and my tummy was rumbling like thunder. As I pulled up to the barn, I made my decision.

I grabbed the 22' line and brought Cricket out of her day dry lot and headed across from the arena to the ungrazed field. For 30 minutes, I sat on the tailgate of my truck and just enjoyed watching my horse feast on fabulous grass. I knew, as hungry as I was, there was no point in trying anything focused. So undemanding time, it was.

I discovered something interesting. Cricket has a strong aversion to stepping on her rope. I've been wondering if it's RB or LB or what is going on. She is unbelievably aware of her rope and is very skilled about maneuvering around it. As she was grazin, I piled the excess rope in front of her feet. She stepped on the rope and when she moved her head for new grass, she popped it up and did a "soft" pull-back. The catch? Her head wasn't caught. Her foot was on the rope but she had oodles of slack. Twice she moved backwards to free herself when she was never really caught in the first place. Hmm, how interesting! Gives me some things to consider in addressing this issue.

So even my day of undemanding time turned out to be very enlightening

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Day 3 - Doing the Happy Dance

Doing the Happy Dance. Walking on Sunshine. On Cloud Nine. I'm still smiling about my session from yesterday.

The plan was to work on catching and if that went well to go back to Touch It at the popper of the 22' and then some circle game. Under saddle, I wanted to continue Follow the Rail and begin some CS riding at the trot.

The horses were up in the runs so no need to work on catching game. Cricket was nickering to see me. Of course I'm also the one who feeds so I won't read too much into it.

I put the cookies out and Cricket was pretty good about going to the obstacles and getting her treat. I'm using the same three obstacles in no particular order. I'd like to see her asking, "which one?" before I increase the complexity. That went fine and we did some Z3 close range circle game working on transitions. She was completely unfocused, trying to return to the obstacles for treats. And then I got mad. I moved to the middle of the arena and asked her for circling on the 22', walk-trot-canter. She was pissy in the send, sloppy in the transitions and unmotivated to maintain gait. It wasn't a total disaster but it wasn't good. I quit before it got too bad.

I saddled her up, using tons of cookies to change her tacking up behavior. Knowing her as I do, it's not a saddle fit issue. I've also started a homeopathic treatment for "tummy trouble" and that may be part of the solution. Her attitude for mounting was much improved. After checking lateral flexion, a habit I'm trying to rebuild, we started with follow the rail. We're having some trouble with leg = forward so I focused as much as I could on solid halts and clear FQ/HQ yields. She was better.

We started some transitions in the walk and trot. While at the walk, I asked her for a totally freestyle sideways on the rail and she gave me two or three great steps sideways. We actually managed to trot three continuous circuits around the arena with no change of gait. Oh, and we were totally freestyle. I picked up the CS and with a bit of a "do or die" attitude, asked for the trot. Cricket and I have some emotional baggage about CS riding and this is a huge release of "control" for me.


We did a couple of bowties with the stick, again still at the walk and trot. Not perfect but it's the first time and she was relatively responsive. I'll take it!

Then I got brave. I secured the rein and asked for the trot with nothing but the CS. I don't know how many trips around the arena or how many transitions we rode. I was totally hands free on my horse and I was ecstatic. Even when she got a little fast in her trot, I was able to post with her, stroke her neck and ease her back to a slower trot.

When we turned to go to the left, my PF (pucker factor) went up. I'm less confident in this direction - goes back to my broken arm. Cricket was rushy and non-responsive to my seat. I used the CS to push her nose into the rail for downward transitions. Even when it got a little wild, I stayed off the reins. During a dwell period, I realized I'd set us both up for failure by not trusting her and assuming things would be worse. I started off again with a "no worries" attitude and she was right with me. After a soft trot and a soft halt, I dismounted.

I don't think my feet have touched the ground yet. I just cannot believe this is my horse. I cannot believe how far my confidence has come. I feel so balanced in my body and my seat - thank you Tina and Pilates! I feel cantering is not too far off. Still some emotional bridges to cross but we're on the way.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day 2 - It Starts When Your Horse First Notices You

Any session with your horse starts the moment he first notices you. Linda Parelli advised us, during the 2005 Freestyle course, to use a unique call when getting your horse's attention from the pasture. So when Cricket is out grazing, I use a sing-song voice to call "Pretty Girl." This is the only time I use this call phrase.

After Monday's session when I had to drag her in from the field, I decided I needed to take a moment to check in with her. Where she was, not where I wanted her to be.

As I walked up to the barn I called to her. She lifted her head, looked at me and almost immediately returned to grazing. Okay, today's plan for playing and riding went out the window. I armed myself with treats and a curry comb and headed out to the field.

I found a dry place to sit and spent about 15-20 minutes watching my horse graze. She drifted closer to me but never actually approached me. One of the other horses - a more RB mare - came up to investigate. I gave her a few cookies and brushed her with the curry, hoping this might pique Cricket's interest. Nope. Nothing.

I found a new place to sit and spent five more minutes watching my horse. Okay, I thought, maybe it's turned into a friendly game. So I started wandering around, trying to avoid the marshy spots (she's grazing in the absolute lowest part of the field) but still get close enough to her so she feels my intention. Still nothing.

So I stood and talked to her, calling her "Pretty Girl" and waiting. Nothing.

And then the opportunity came. She reached back to try and scratch under her belly, a very itchy spot that she simply cannot reach. I called to her again and asked her to come to me so I could get the spot. She approached and smelled cookies and tried to nudge me for treats. I held my focus of scratching her belly. Once I found the itchy spot she was enraptured. Of course once Cricket was interested in me, the rest of the herd came up. I defended her space and gave her a cookie and proceeded to groom her, finding more itchy spots.

Just as she was at the height of enjoying it, I walked off. She followed. As Carol would say, "Shampoo, Rinse and Repeat." Cricket wasn't putting much effort into it so about the third time, just as she was about to get to me, I took off again. That was the ticket. She trotted after me with a "hey, where are you going?" attitude. We did this about three times, each time her trotting after me.

When her attention wandered, I just turned and left. I really didn't care if she followed me or not. I kind of figured she would but decided not to be emotionally vested in her decision. Without looking back, I walked up one of the runs and when I got to the gate, I turned and saw Cricket leading the entire herd up to the barn.

I prepped the feed and moved everybody around so they could eat dinner in relative peace.

I'm not really upset that Cricket won't come to me in the field. It's not that she doesn't enjoy our time together. She is a strong, self-confident independent mare. It takes an awful lot to be the alpha for that kind of horse.

Tonight's plan - more of the same. If she comes to me then we can play and ride but if she doesn't, more taking time.