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

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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Day 1 - Aren't Beginnings Exciting?

Yesterday was DAY ONE of my 30 day commitment to do something with my horse everyday. I have to say it went exceedingly well.

The idea is to have a plan - an blueprint of the session I would like to have with my horse. The plan can be adjusted based on the horse that shows up. But I have to start with a plan.

So here is the report for the first day:

Ground - L2 Online Patterns: Touch It; Z3 Driving walk-trot transitions
Riding -L1 Freestyle Patterns: Follow the Rail; Bowtie at a walk-trot; HQ disengagement with the CS

Cricket did not want to be caught. For her, that means not coming to me when I call her. I trudged out in the field and haltered her. I was not happy. It did not seem an auspicious start to my grand endeavour. I dragged her in. Literally. She is so bad about putting slack in the rope when I lead her. I gave her a long time to figure it out on her own before adding some driving to reinforce my request. This is something to go on my "Holes" list.

I kept the ground session brief. Cricket is very solid in her ground work and my goal for on-line is to bring back her enthusiasm. I played Touch It at the popper of the 22' line, using cookies on obstacles to motivate her to put forth effort. I tried to keep my "encouragement" to a minimum. After four or five touches, she offered a soft trot with just a hint from me. I consider that a win. Next we played with Z3 driving, using a single smooch for an upward transition and life down/CS in front of the drive line for a downward transition. I think I need to work on my energy. Cricket wants to match my feet and I don't want her dependent on me moving for her to move. To the left she was good but to the right she was ignoring my downward transition. I was pretty strong with the lead line and she quickly figured out that the stick was the best deal and gave me some lovely transitions.

I saddled her up. She's started ear-pinning during saddling and I'm not sure why. I've started treating her for ulcers. I also used lots of cookies during saddling. Her opinion changed rapidly. But the ear pinning returned at mounting. Hmm, something to work on in a future session. After a quick tune-up on "stand for mounting," she was happy to pick me up. After a quick check of our lateral flexion, we started with follow the rail at the walk.

Cricket has started equating my leg with "go forward." This is something we need to fix. Now. So Follow the Rail became Corners Game. I asked her to stop in the corner and I waited for the lick and chew. Then I moved either her forehand or her hindquarters and asked her to stay in the corner until she could relax into the halt. In one corner we got some amazing "follow the feel to shift the weight." That will come in handy later.

Then it got interesting. The barn owner's horses started running and that stirred up the boarder horses. Cricket became very concerned. I could feel her RB kick in but I could still feel her LB in control. First I turned her to face the thundering herd so she could see what was happening. When I was sure she wasn't going to blow, I started asking her for HQ disengagement. Then follow the rail with turns into the rail. Then some walk-trot transitions. I was exceedingly proud of myself for staying on her. Not out of silly bravado. I felt she was still with me and my thoughts about getting off were "if she escalates one iota, I need to get off." I never felt scared or unsafe, even though she was pretty "alert."

After some easy transitions on the rail, I asked her for a Bowtie Pattern. My plan is to build this to a point where I can safely ask her to canter and still feel in control. She was FANTASTIC! After a few repetitions she was giving me the softest trot and the sweetest downward transitions.

We ventured out of the arena to talk with the barn owner. I took her back in to unsaddle her but her brain was still outside. I decided to use some CS Lateral Flexion to HQ disengagement to refocus her. She is absolutely convinced leg = go forward. After a few attempts, she figured out it was not about forward. I dismounted and gave her a cookie.

She stood tied while I prepped the food and waited like such a lady until I took her to her stall to eat.

What an awesome session! I wonder what today's session will bring. The plan is more Touch It and some circle game followed by Follow the Rail and some CS riding at the walk and trot.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Leader Has A Plan

A leader has a plan. How many times have we heard that? How often does it fail to sink in and truly have an effect on our play sessions?

And it's not just about having a plan, but acting upon that plan. I'm pretty good at figuring out what I need to do - at least in broad strokes - to get where I want to be. I am not so good, however, about planning out the steps that take me through those intermediate milestones to the final goal.

I need a plan. I need a plan that is fairly consistent so I don't have to think too much. I need a plan that is consistent and gives me visual reference to my progress. I also need accountability for sticking to the plan so it becomes a positive habit.

So here is my grand plan: It's time to do something with my horse every day. The initial goal is going to be thirty sessions in thirty days. Weather is no excuse as I have a covered arena in which to play and ride. Some days will be designated undemanding time or just bonding sessions. Unfortunately the fluctuations in my workload will impact the amount of time I can reasonably spend with Cricket. Regardless, I will do something.

My basic plan includes the patterns, the self-assessment sheets and the Parelli 10-minute Tips. I'm also going to revisit the books that came with my Patterns program. If I remember correctly, in the very back they have an overview of what to do if you have 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 1 hour or more than 1 hour. I want a basic plan that can expand and contract but remain fairly consistent.

The Parelli Patterns are essentially a plan in a box or "play sessions for dummies." Not only does it give me something to do but a map to record my progress. I took my maps and laminated them and then mounted them on a a tri-fold presentation board. Turning the board lengthwise, so the sides fold up and down rather than out, I mounted each patterns map on the board. I can fold it closed, secured with binder clips, and put it anywhere I want. I started following the patterns a few months ago but it fell apart with Cricket's returned headshaking and my total emotional breakdown. But the slate is clean and we're starting over.

The self- assessment sheets, according to Carol, are supposed to be "living documents." Something you keep with you and utilise to measure your progress with your horse. It's not about sitting at the kitchen table thinking, "yep, I can do that . . . and that . . . and that . . ." So I'm going to print them off and put them in a binder that I can keep at the barn. Each session, I will pick a few tasks and see where we are on them.

Finally, I will have a repertoire of "ten minute quickies." When work or other commitments steal more time than I prefer, I will have something I can do to build my relationship with my horse.

I have some organizational things to do this weekend so I have the rest of my life ordered enough to spend the time I want with my horse. How does the saying go, "failing to plan is the same as planning to fail?"

So Monday is the start day. We're beginning with the L2 Online patterns but the goal is everything at the very end of the 22' line. This will better prepare me for the L3 and L4 patterns using the 45'. For riding, we're starting back with the L1 Freestyle patterns but the goal is to start using the Carrot Stick and weaning myself off the reins. My accountability will be right here. Except that I have no real Internet access on the weekends, I'll post each day's activities and results for the next thirty days.

Here's to having a plan!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Requiescat in Pace, My Beautiful Moose

As I started typing dates into a spreadsheet for work, I was struck by the date on the page. Today is the sixth anniversary of the death of my beloved Moose.

The photo above was taken just a week and a half before I lost him. I had taken the day off to give him a bath and get ready for a local fun show. The weather was a tad too cool so I decided just to hang out with him. I found a spot in a collapsing round bale and just lounged while he ate hay all around me.

Moose was my first horse. He was difficult and he is responsible for bringing me to Parelli. He was with me for only fourteen months. He brought me through Level 1 (back when it was a VHS pack). He loved me in a way no other horse will and I loved him in a way I will never love another horse.

I miss him terribly, at times. I have finally laid to rest the guilt of loving Cricket. I understand that Moose was here for a reason and nothing I have with Cricket would be the same if it weren't for him.

Six years ago I said good-bye to the love of my life. He waits for me across the Rainbow Bridge. It doesn't matter how many other people owned him for I know he belonged to me. Just as a part of me belongs only to him.

Be Pleased

We have been inundated with rain lately. Not that it matters too much as I have a covered arena at my boarding facility. But Cricket is still getting over her little cold. I've been spending lots of time reflecting on what I learned at camp. This might be a good thing - better than coming home all gung-ho and missing the finer points of what I learned.

Another major theme in our camp was "being pleased" with whatever the horse offered. Sit for a moment and feel pleased. Notice what it does to your body, to your emotions, to your face. Now be displeased. Feel the change from relaxation to tension, from happy to frustrated or angry. Our horses are masters at reading body language. The simple act of being pleased offers more positive feedback than we can possibly imagine.

It can be difficult - sometimes - to be pleased when things aren't going right. But remember what Pat says, "Horses are like computers - they may not do what you want but they always do what they are programmed to do." It goes along with something else I read, "If your horse were mentally, emotionally and physically capable and understood what you wanted, he would do it."

So no matter what your horse does, somehow you asked for it. Sometimes we ask by what we do - a misplaced cue or a poorly-timed release. Sometimes we ask for it by what we do not do - weak leadership allows for dominant behavior. No matter what, we asked for it.

But here's the fun part. Sometimes when we mess up, we get something amazing. I did something "wrong" asking Cricket for transitions within the trot and she offered me passage. I did something wrong in asking for trot yo-yos under saddle and she gave me walk to canter transitions. It wasn't what I wanted but somehow it's what I requested. You better believe I was pleased!

When we are pleased, our horses are free to offer things. And even when it's not exactly what we wanted at that moment, it might be something we want later. So don't cause your horse to feel wrong because you failed to effectively communicate what you wanted. Even if a horse bucks, that's the beginning of jumping and collection.

Go out and be pleased with your horse!

Friday, October 9, 2009

You Rang?

The overall theme of our camp was responding with relaxation. A big part of this is the lick and chew and asking questions.

Something I found with Cricket - she doesn't ask questions nearly as often as I think she does. Unless she looks at me, it's not a question. Hmm, how interesting.

We've done "get a scratch, come and get more." But she does this without looking at me. I wonder if this is all tied to her growing lack of confidence in my leadership? I've stopped paying attention to the small details and it's eroding my leadership.

When Carol started pushing me on this issue, I began to see how much Cricket insists upon affection or expects scratches but doesn't actually engage in a conversation with me. I've truly become STAFF.

I don't know if they were related, but the day I really started to see this, I had the most amazing Liberty session with Cricket.

Sometimes we need to sweat the small stuff because the devil is in the details.

Elaborating on the Circle Game

Cricket is laid up with a mild upper respiratory infection. She came home from camp with a cold. Apparently she's feeling better as she jumped (or climbed?) out of her stall this morning. It may be awhile before we can play again!

I've been thinking a lot about Circle Game since I returned from camp. Not only did we do quite a bit during our group sessions but it became a major theme in the private sessions as well.

In my first private session I asked for help with transitions into the canter. Cricket has become grumpy and either refuses to maintain the canter or goes around in a choppy four beat canter. I knew the issue was in the send but I didn't know what I was missing so I had no idea how to fix it.

My prerequisites were rhythm, relaxation and connection at the trot and a snappy back-up. I had the trot circle going well so we checked the back-up. Here was a major BFO. I could get Cricket to move out of my way but it was with tension and brace. There was no softness because I was yelling at her. Once we got that sorted out, it was time to move on. Except not so fast . . .

When I had Cricket back to where I needed her, she turned away from me. I have been reading this as unconfidence and I've been retreating and waiting until she turned back. Wrong approach! Yes, she is unconfident and turns. But it's not a fear based lack of confidence. Cricket doesn't respect my leadership and turns because she's frankly not interested in anything I have to say. Hmm, how incredibly interesting!!!!

I used three short, sharp bumps on the lead rope to ask Cricket to give me two eyes and two ears. It rocked her little world and it changed our circle game. Once I insisted she look at me, we started getting better departs. Once the departs were better, the canter was better.

It was also here that I learned how ingredients should be separated out in order to be fixed. Cricket has gotten lazy on her disengage and I tried to perfect it in the circle game. Nope. I need to accept her bring back and tighten the disengage outside the circle game. Oddly enough, as my send and allow improved, so did my disengage.

It was in another private session, not mine, that I had another BFO about the circle game. As Pat Parelli tells us over and over, horses are masters at judging distance. Not depth perception but relational distance. My friend was having trouble with her horse staying out and not getting tangled in the tail end of the 22' line. She was instructed to back the horse out to the circle she wanted her to maintain. If you want a 20' circle, send your horse from 20' away. Same for a 6' circle. Don't send them and expect them to go out further. You didn't ask for it. It was amazing the difference it made in the horse's understanding of the circle game.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What an Experience!

I have just returned from my four day Level 2/3 camp with Carol Coppinger. In the five years I've been going to clinics, camps and courses this was the absolute best. Hands down. No contest.

This is my fourth year in this particular camp. There has been little turnover in participants so I get to see the same wonderful group of people year after year. Not only is it fun to see everybody progress but it becomes an ultra-safe learning environment.

One of my favorite parts of camp is the private sessions. I received some fantastic feedback on my progress with Cricket. It's very hard to share observations from camp. What Carol does is so specific to the situation presented and the personality/horsenality of the pair.

Some things I learned:
  • There comes a time to demand two eyes and two ears. Trust the relationship and get the respect.
  • If you need to fix an ingredient, separate it out and fix it. Don't fix it inside the game.
  • Don't forsake soft for snappy.
  • Keep an eye out for a "runaway at the walk."
  • There is power in patterns and just about everything can be a pattern.
  • The moment you lift the rope, your horse knows you want something. What is his initial response? Yield or Brace?
  • Liberty is about the confidence to leave and the confidence to come back.
  • Send your horse back to the circle you want them to maintain.
  • There is a difference between acceptance and tolerance. Acceptance lasts but tolerance eventually wears thin.
  • Invoking play drive is about short sparring and keeping the relaxation.
  • Before you can look for collection and finesse you need a balance between go and whoa and basic yields.
  • You have to know what you are doing or what you are asking for if you have ANY hope of causing the desired outcome. HAVE A CLEAR PLAN!
One of my personal highlights came on day two. We were riding in the indoor arena and the afternoon session was over. I decided to stay on Cricket and ride until the afternoon private sessions started. She was offering me some of the most perfect trotting EVER. She was relaxed and forward and completely amazing. In six years of riding this horse I've never felt so free on her. I actually began to feel her footfalls at the trot and I got to play with my diagonals. The amazing thing is that once I started to feel them, I never lost that feel.

My last private session was about play drive but it ended up giving me some pretty deep insights about friendly game, confidence and tolerance vs. acceptance. It was fascinating to see how much Cricket tolerates things but fails to truly accept them.

All in all it was the most amazing camp I've ever attended. My confidence has come so far. Cricket was amazing under saddle. We made some significant changes in our ground work and I feel as if the sky is the limit.