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

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.