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

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I have had some of the best sessions with Cricket over the last three days.  I've even started to rekindle my desire to play with Bleu.

The consistency has been good for me and it's been phenomenal for my Cricket.

On Sunday, as I blogged earlier, we just played at liberty and then a little on-line.

Monday I went out and brought out both girls.  I stripped off Bleu's blanket and put both horses at liberty in the arena.  Bleu was content to munch hay over the wall but Cricket wanted to be with me.  After brushing the mud off Cricket, I haltered Bleu and allowed Cricket to munch hay.

I played with some traveling circle games and obstacles.  Bleu gets skeptical and rather than address an obstacle, she tries to duck out of it.  With Cricket, I'd almost rather she ducked out and kept her forward.  But for Bleu, I'd almost rather she stopped to think about it rather than plowing forward.  I never made her feel wrong but kept adjusting the circles to "force" her to address the bridges, jumps, barrels, cones, etc.  She became much more fluid and I called it a win.  We did a little with her canter on-line and then I saddled her up.

It was my first ride on Bleu in my Natural Performer and my first ride on Bleu since my October camp.  She was a champ!  We walked and trotted around a little before we stumbled on a little game with Cricket.  Cricket, still at liberty, was bothering some of the other folks in the arena.  I grabbed a stick and when I went to drive Cricket away, she kind of startled at the stick and string. Hmm, how interesting.  I used Bleu to herd Cricket around the arena until Cricket would stand and accept the friendly game from Bleu's back.

At a win spot, I dismounted from Bleu and took both horses over to the rail.  I unsaddled Bleu and put her away with some hay and then saddled Cricket.  We did some FTR and corners game at the walk and trot and then some FTR at the canter.  I am getting more and more comfortable with a true freestyle canter, at least on the right lead.

Ed wanted to ride a passenger lesson on Honey so I picked up a CS to be able to defend Cricket's space.  We continued with some FTR at the trot and Cricket was pretty accepting of the stick.  It just felt right so I asked her to pick up the canter and we cantered, for the very first time with a CS in hand.  The second time, I even asked her for the downward transition with the CS.  WOO HOO!!!

Yesterday, I played with her on-line, at liberty and under saddle.  We had a long day with intermittent appointments  so everything kind of runs together.

She's becoming more consistent with liberty circle games at the canter.  We're missing just a few ingredients to get a FLC.

She's getting more solid with her "jump half way."

We're still struggling with left lead canter both on-line and under saddle.  She's tipping her nose out and leaning on her inside shoulder.  I tuned her up a bit at the trot and then tried to figure it out on a left hand circle.  Part of it is me and I think part of it is a habit Cricket has developed because of me.  I need to work on getting her more supple on a left bend.  Hmm . . .  might need to make some room for some serpentines and I might need to consider putting her back in a bridle for a little while.

Can't wait to get out there tonight . . .

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cricket's Gift to Me

Christmas Eve was perhaps one of the most beautiful days we'll have this winter.  I spent the majority of the day running like a mad-woman, trying to finish things up before heading to my Mum & Dad's house for Christmas.

The day after Christmas was miserable -cold, windy, snowing.  What do I do?  I head out to the barn to play with my horse.  It wasn't too bad as I had on all my clothes and the barn blocked the wind.

I gave all the horses a little hay to stoke the furnace and keep them warm.  I invited Cricket out of her stall and she clearly said, "No thanks, I'm good."  I left her stall door open and sat on the hay across from her.  Nothing doing.  I went in the arena to help someone and still Cricket stayed in her stall.  I finally tempted her out with the Carrot Stick and the promise of hay while I groomed.

We finished grooming and I asked her into the arena.  Though she was slightly reluctant to leave her hay, she obliged my request.

My plan was to play a little at liberty and then go on-line and maybe ride.  There were lots of folks there and Cricket has been a bit iffy at liberty lately.

We started with some simple "stick to me" and Cricket was ON.  She easily gave me the trot and then the canter and even maintained her canter while I walked a circle.  I stopped my feet, encouraged her on and she gave me the first canter circle we've had in ages.

She was jumping everything.  And I mean everything.  From a small barrel that was tipped on it's side to a straight rail to double down barrels.  She tried really hard to jump a single standing barrel but lost her confidence a little.  She even jumped a cone.  A little cone she could have stepped over or even on, she jumped it!

On the circle, she started offering canter so I took that and worked on some change of direction.  While we didn't get a flying change, we got some soft, obedient and relaxed simple changes.  We tried to do a full turn around the previously mentioned small barrel and she spun and then jumped it.

We played with sideways towards and she gave me a trot and almost a canter.

Everything was energetic and just full of spit and vinegar.  The only drawback to the whole thing was her headshaking.  I didn't let it bother me because I'm really at peace with this as "just a part of Cricket."  She was pretty emotional and a little RBE (awesome to see in a normally LBI) but very obedient.  The emotions, coupled with the snow blowing in her face was just a bit much for her.

We went out into the paddock, still at liberty, and played  friendly game with the little horse-drawn sled.  I put her on-line after she spooked which caused the horse pulling the sled to spook.  Nobody was hurt but I wanted Cricket to get over her skepticism.  I put her on the 22' and had her follow it much like we did the cow simulator at the Parelli Center.  The young girl on the sled offered Cricket a cookie and that sealed the deal.  Cricket's skepticism turned to curiosity and she followed, nosing the girl's boots and jacket.

What a fun day and what a beautiful gift from one of my beautiful girls.  We turned the horses out into the snow and I got to watch them all frolic, run, buck and play.  Bleu put on such a display, I laughed out loud.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What's Been Going On

I've been waxing a little poetic over my horsemanship journey lately.  I decided to post about what's prompted all this philosophical pondering.

And then you'll marvel at my ability to make mountains out of molehills.

On my third ride in my Natural Performer, Cricket gave me the ride of a lifetime.  At least our lifetime together so far.  She was so eager to canter and it was a wonderful feeling.

On my fourth ride in my Natural Performer she was even better.  The next day (Sunday, December 5) she was still free and forward and was giving me the most wonderful freestyle walk to canter transitions with just a smooch.  The weather was quite chilly that day and as we were walking around the short North wall of the arena, I sniffled and she cantered!

I wasn't able to ride the rest of the week but was determined to get out there the following weekend and have another ride.  And that's when everything went pear-shaped.  Well, sort of.

I got this crazy idea in my head that I was going to canter Cricket with a carrot stick.  Not necessarily using the stick but having it in hand.  I didn't do a thorough enough ground check to see where her "forward" was and when I got on, she bucked up a little going into the canter.  I know that my perception of the event is probably quite different from the reality of the event.  But the little black rain cloud had entered the ride.  I managed to finish on an acceptable note.

So I did some thinking.  I am, after all, a LBI and thinking is what I do best.

The worst times I have with Cricket are when I'm "working on something."  I get my blinders on and I don't adjust to the feedback I receive from my horse.  I get the best results when I take what she offers and shape it, quiting when it's good.

On Saturday I went out to ride.  My only goal was to see where she was at the beginning of the ride and do something that caused her to be better at the end of the ride.  Cricket was a little stuck in her feet so I decided to tune up her forward.  She offered the first canter and I rode it, totally freestyle.  I noticed we've established a pattern of transition to the halt after a canter.  I refined our "forward" goal to "forward through the downward transition."  I was pleased with each try she made.  I quit when she went willingly to the trot, willingly to the canter, forward into a trot out of the canter and then down to the walk and halt.

On Sunday I threw a saddle on her for a brief ride and focused on the same goal of "forward" and "forward through the downward transition."  She was awesome.  Still stuck in her feet but better overall.  It took less time to get the forward and she offered less "back-up avoidance."

My new plan to get to my L3 Freestyle audition is just to ride and have fun.  In each ride, if I can practice some of the elements of the audition, shaping what Cricket offers, then we'll be okay.  Much like the organic nature of my Liberty audition, I think there will be a day when it just feels right, we'll grab a camera, roll some film and see what happens.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Perception and Progress

I have finally come to accept that, despite my perception to the contrary, I am actually making progress in my horsemanship.

Crazy talk, I know.

Perception is a funny thing.

The processes of perception routinely alter what humans see. When people view something with a preconceived concept about it, they tend to take those concepts and see them whether or not they are there. This problem stems from the fact that humans are unable to understand new information, without the inherent bias of their previous knowledge. A person’s knowledge creates his or her reality as much as the truth, because the human mind can only contemplate that to which it has been exposed. When objects are viewed without understanding, the mind will try to reach for something that it already recognizes, in order to process what it is viewing. That which most closely relates to the unfamiliar from our past experiences, makes up what we see when we look at things that we don’t comprehend. ~ Wikipedia: Perception
I create my reality with Cricket and with Bleu based on my past experiences and do not wholly entertain or understand the reality because I reach for what is familiar when faced with what I don't fully understand.

In and of itself, that is a powerful realization.  I think this is a particular challenge for "backyard horse owners."  Working with just one or two horses keeps you in a circle of particular knowledge and experience.  If "the human mind can only contemplate that to which it has been exposed" then the more limited exposure, the more narrow the contemplation.

What I have experienced with Cricket colors my ability to understand what she is doing now.  My perception inhibits my ability to be present in the moment.  My mind searches for a way to understand what's going on and draws conclusions and parallels from all that's happened before.

The only way to alter perception is to increase knowledge.  And not just more patterns, more techniques, etc.  Increase your knowledge of what YOUR horse is actually doing RIGHT NOW!  Don't rely on your perception.  Find ways to match your perception with reality.


Two weeks ago, when Ed filmed me cantering Cricket, I felt as if we were flying around the arena.  When I watched the tape, I couldn't believe how slow and relaxed Cricket appeared.  That alone has lessened my fear and insecurity about cantering.  Cricket's canter - the very same canter that felt like Mach 10 - now feels relaxed and slower.  The canter has not changed but my perception - now formed by new knowledge - is more accurate.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

For Every Up . . .

There Must Be a Down.

This is my journey.  No way around it.  No sense complaining about it.  Just keep working to make the up a little better, a little longer.  Keep working to make the down a little less like the vertical drop on the first hill of a massive roller coaster.

I do not like roller coasters.  I tried to like them but I really don't.  I didn't ride my first roller coaster until I was in high school.  I was so terrified I couldn't scream.  I sat, eyes clenched tight, mouth sealed shut.  I tried, for a few years, to like roller coasters.  All my friends loved them.  But not me.

I don't like the tumultuous nature of a roller coaster - climbing up, plummeting down; rocketing left, then right; flying upside down.  I like fairly even ground.  Rises and falls, but in a gentle undulating manner.

Cricket is my roller coaster.  The journey we are on is one of steep climbs, unpredictable turns and, often, steep drops.  Like the flat track before the sudden, invisible drop, I can have a ride on Cricket that causes me to feel we are finally over the "really steep climb."  And then the world falls away and the car plummets down the track.

But always, on every coaster, there's a final spot where everything levels out and you step out of the car, a little shaken but none-the-worse-for-wear.

I'm searching for that place with Cricket.  One day, I just might find it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

WOW! What a Weekend!

Video from the very tail end of my session with Cricket on Saturday.

By Sunday, we were cantering from the walk with just a smooch.

I almost hate how much I love my new saddle.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Round 2 with the Natural Performer

Last night was the second ride in my saddle.  It was better than the first.

We started out with some ground play.  Using the 45', I stood about 30' away and asked her to play Touch It with the bridges and the barrels.  She was not wholly confident and kept looking to me for clarification.  I was pleased with how much she checked in.

After that I played a little with half-circles and some sideways away and towards.  She's finally getting the hang of trotting sideways towards me.

Then onto circle game and the dreaded canter.  Ugh!  If I ever truly solve the puzzle of Cricket's canter, I'll know I have savvy!  Tried "go slower."  Didn't exactly work.  Tried falling leaf.  Didn't exactly work.  Tried transitions.  Didn't exactly work.  Tried tagging where she'd been.  Didn't exactly work.  Finally, I got fed up.  Not mean or mad, I'd just had enough.  It's like when you say to your kids, "I feed you, I clothe you, I put a roof over your head - I am not asking too much."

I switched to a snappy back-up.  I wasn't looking for speed but that little extra effort.  That moment where she turns loose and says, "yes ma'am."  When I we got that, I asked for some snappy squeeze.  And BAM! there was the canter.  Forward, true three-beat, jackpot!

On to saddling and riding.  Cricket's main interest in saddling was the cookies.  I'd used treats with her the previous night to surprise her and turn her negative thoughts to positive thoughts.  I forget that is a bit of a backfire with her because it almost "trains" her to be snotty.  She wasn't bad but it's not exactly easy to saddle a horse that puts her nose of her flank looking for a cookie.  But she was good.

Mounting - no problem; standing after mounting - small problem.  I realized I was sort of holding my breath and she was interpreting that as "do something."  We spent most of our ride at the trot but with a good bit of walking.

Cricket is really stretching down at the walk and the trot.  I like this because it indicates she is very free over her back.  I don't like this because it puts too much weight on the forehand and if she's set-up for a buck if she takes a sudden dislike to something I ask.

At one point she offered a very snarky canter.  I tried to ride it out but it wasn't pretty and I didn't feel secure.  I really felt Cricket was taking too much leadership. So I changed tactics to partial disengagement and that helped her relax a little.  Then we did "almost trot" transitions until she was relaxed enough to do actual walk-trot-walk transitions.

I played with concentrated rein turns on the HQ - which she executed with near perfection.  Ed asked if we did much of that Freestyle.  Not so much because it works best with a CS and Cricket bites the CS.  In the spirit of not setting up roadblocks, I decided to try it.

YOWZERS!  Cricket gave me some soft, relaxed FH yields with just the tiniest hint of stick to support.  Amazing what our horses can do if we just let them.

It wasn't, by any means perfect.  She bit at the stick a few times and I just did my best to work through it.  I'll have to say she was better than she's been in ages.

We finished with some concentrated rein trotting with some transitions and thrown in.  Our last transition, she was coming out of the halt into a walk.  I asked for the trot and she eased into the softest canter.  Rode it down the rail, stopped and called it a day.  I stayed on her as she processed through everything and then got off.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Think She Likes It!

I finally was able to ride in my Natural Performer last night.

I love it.

I do believe Cricket liked it.


I decided Cricket would be my guinea pig for testing the fit of the saddle.  My sweet tolerant Bleu would probably be okay with anything, regardless of how it made her feel.  Cricket, on the other hand, believes her opinion is law and has no problem letting me know when any little thing is amiss.

We started with a little ground play.  Some stick to me - one foot at a time and then some "snappy come with me."  Then on the 45' line we played with long-distance Touch-It and then some circles - one foot at at time and then some transitions trying to elicit a willing canter.  Not too bad, not too good but I'll take it.  Did a little extreme Friendly Game by running up to her and flopping against her.  She was a little concerned at first but when the lunacy was coupled with some belly scratches, she decided the craziness was perfectly acceptable.

Then cam the big moment.  Saddling her with the new saddle.  She was a little grumpy, pinning her hears and turning her head.  I just gave her cookies and she quickly decided it wasn't that big of a deal.  I have her pad shimmed with the basic "wide shoulder, downhill" shim pattern.  Figured that was as good a place to start as any.

Once I got the saddle on and relatively secure, I checked the front of the saddle.  Holy Shoulder Clearance, Batman!  I could fit my whole hand comfortable back to the stirrup bar area.  There was certainly enough space to invite her up into the saddle.

I moved her around a little and got things snugged up.  No resistance with mounting.  Another good sign.  We walked for a bit but my stirrups were really too long to do anything so I jumped down to shorten them.  Took her back to the mounting block; again, no resistance to mounting.

We walked and trotted around the arena.  She was stretching and pushing her back into the saddle.  She was forward and open in the trot.  She sort of offered the canter but I think I wasn't really ready.  My stirrups were still a hole or two too long and I didn't have my helmet on.  And there was just too much mental pressure for me.  All that translated into tension between Cricket and me and she was a bit snarky about even offering the canter.  No worries, there will be more rides.

She was very responsive to my leg and seat.  We played with turns, curves, circles, sideways, transitions, back-up, etc.  Everything felt great.

One thing I know - it takes more than the positive feedback from one ride to really evaluate a saddle.  A poor fitting saddle creates pressure points that may not be affected by a new saddle.  The first rides feel great because the already sore spots are getting relief and any new sore spots have not had time to develop.

Another thing I know - anything, and I mean anything, that remotely inhibits Cricket's movement causes her to bow up, buck, swish her tail, pin her ears, turn to bite, etc.  It's instant feedback on whether something feels good.  She has never once protested her ReactorPanel and we've been riding in that saddle for 2-3 years.

I'm pretty confident this is going to work for Cricket.  I'm pretty confident it's going to work for me.

Oh, I tried to get pictures but the lighting was terrible (for photos, anyway).  I'll take some better pictures and some video this weekend.  I may even ride Cricket in both saddles and see if I feel/see a difference in her attitude, movement, etc.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New Saddle & Renewed Determination!

image from http://www.parellisaddles.com/
For any who may have missed my subtle comments, I bought a super-wide Natural Performer.

It was one of those things that just happened.  I'd made the decision to purchase one through the layaway program but in the week before Thanksgiving, a few things converged and I was able to buy an in-stock saddle.  It took eleven days from when I ordered it to front-door delivery.

My biggest challenge in my riding is my confidence.  I've made great strides in the last year or so but when it comes to cantering, I still get all wadded up.

So while most folks progress to an English saddle to further develop their riding, I'm going the other way.  I'm moving from my beloved and phenomenal English saddle to a new western saddle.

Because my issue isn't how well I ride.  As it turns out, I'm a pretty darn good rider (when I get out of my head and out of my own way).  My issue is letting go and just riding.  And for that, I have the idea that a western saddle is better than an English saddle.  Valid or not, what's in my head matters because "in my head" is where most of my problems reside.

I am more determined than ever to get through my L3.  Not for any other reason than it's time.  I've been mucking about in L3 for three years.  That's long enough!  I've been stymied in my riding for longer than that and it's time.  It's time to be positive and progressive.  It's time to have some real fun with my horses.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Obstacles, Hang-Ups, Roadblocks and Sticky Spots

I've been challenged, by my friend Clare in her response to my comment on Nitty Gritty Plan.  The challenge - to outline some of the sticky spots I have in my horsemanship.  Specifically working towards my L4 Liberty and my L3 Freestyle.

When it comes to Freestyle riding my biggest obstacle is my fear of losing control.  Letting go of that rope and really trusting my horse is hard for me.  I suppose it's a bigger hang-up than just my issues because I'm sure it creates a roadblock for my horse.  If I cannot turn loose to her, how can I expect her to turn loose to me?

A specific problem - riding and guiding my horse with the carrot sticks.  I can ride with them and if Cricket listens to my body we're golden.  But if I have to use the stick it goes to hell in a hand-basket.  Rather than yielding to the stick, Cricket turns into it and bites it.  Why?  I have no idea.  She doesn't bite the stick when we play on the ground.  She yields to the stick on the ground, soft and easy.  Under saddle, major issue with her biting at the CS.  Not exactly the picture the assessors want to see in L3.

And then our perpetual Achilles heel - the canter.  We've come a long way, mostly in fits and starts but we've still got a ways to go.  I can canter Cricket on a Question Box pattern and I can do some Follow the Rail.  But it's not wholly confident on my part nor is it wholly relaxed on Cricket's end.

Roll those three things together and I have a particularly big sticky spot when it comes to passing my L3 Freestyle.  Of course I could try it with Bleu but I've yet to even try cantering her under saddle and she has no idea about responding to my body . . . yet.

My goal to progress towards Freestyle is just to ride more and have fun while I do it.  I'm going to work on Cricket and the CS and see if we can't figure out just what's going on - I have a feeling it's part dominance and part lack of confidence.  I'm going to ride Bleu more.  Even if she's not the one to actually ride for my audition, she's teaching me about courage, confidence and leadership.  All things I need if I'm to conquer the canter on Cricket.

My singular hang-up for my L4 Liberty is the required flying lead change.  The precursor to that issue is the maintain canter and draw at the canter.  Right now, even getting Cricket to canter takes an act of Congress.  So we're going back on-line and trying to fix her impulsion there.  It needs to be a puzzle and I need to be playful about it.  She's offered/attempted a FLC at liberty in the big arena.  She thought about it too late and tangled her feet and had to buck/kick her way out of it.  Since she's already better at liberty than on-line, if I can fix it on-line it should work even better at liberty.

So there it is - my issues in a nutshell.  I have a plan and I just need to put said plan into action.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pleased as Punch

I went out and played with both horses this evening.  I had a simple plan. I was bound and determined to be pleased.

I decided it was time to do something, anything to get out of the horsemanship slump. 

Since I've been remarkably unsuccessful having a plan of my own, I decided to take a different tack.  I took my on-line and freestyle patterns maps and taped them to the inside of the tack room door.  Now I have them right there, at the barn.  I also read through my task lists on Parelli Connect and took a few of those with me.  I'm following another blog that lists a new task each week and I'll be using that as well.

I played with both horses in about an hour.  I feel I accomplished more in that single hour than I have in all the times I've played since fall camp.  I checked out Bleu's extreme Friendly Game and started her on the F8 pattern.  I played with Cricket's "snappy" and started to re-build her on-line canter.

Nothing was perfect but it felt progressive.  When Bleu had trouble with the draw on the F8, I chunked it down until I got a willing 2E2E (two eyes, two ears) draw.  When Cricket was giving me low energy, I just matched it until she was mentally engaged enough to offer more.

Turns out that having a plan makes it easier to deviate when necessary.  By actually knowing what I was trying to accomplish, I was able to separate, isolate and recombine.  The times I've just wallered around the arena, I had no idea how to fix what wasn't working because I had no real idea what I was trying to accomplish in the first place.

Finally, I was reminded by my good friend and 1* Junior Parelli Instructor Wendy Morgan (or on Facebook) that it's about the relationship.  If you don't put the relationship first, what is the point?  So I decided to find ways to be pleased.  Pleased with my horses, pleased with myself.  Lo and behold, it worked!  Now I feel like I'm looking forward to playing and being with my horses.  Finally!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Progress? and Parelli Connect

My biggest challenge lately has been progress.  Or more aptly, lack of progress.

I just seem to be spinning my wheels, getting nowhere.  It's frustrating and seriously de-motivating.

The bareback stuff with Cricket has been fun.  I know it's an indication that things are moving forward.  I remember one of my first bareback rides out at Ed & Bonnie's.  About four years ago, I couldn't even walk into the little paddock with out being afraid.  Every undulation of Cricket's back was enough to cause me to tense and panic.  Now we are cantering.  There have been little milestones along the way with Pilates and Centered Riding contributing the most.

Work has been stressful and demanding.  The days are shorter and growing colder.  And with two horses I seem to be getting nowhere twice as fast.

I found out, through Jessica's blog that the Parelli Connect site was up and running.  I'm sure this has been mentioned elsewhere but sometimes I'm a little slow on the up-take.

My first thought - great, one more social networking site.  Another thing to consume my precious time.  But I set up my account, added my horses and had a little look around.  It's a pretty neat site where you can follow and interact with other Parelli Savvy Club members.  So in that respect, it's more filtered than Facebook.

The one feature I really like is the tasks for you and your horse(s).  Based on the level you enter for your horse, you receive a list of tasks you can check off.  Also, on your horse's wall, you can post activity, savvy and duration - a very cool way to keep up with time spent on your horsemanship.

So as part of my goal for making some measurable progress, I am going to:
  • make a serious attempt to keep up with my Parelli Connect account, using the task lists to give me something to do with my horses
  • take my Patterns maps to the barn, post them on the wall and work in a more orderly fashion
Maybe, just maybe, I'll come out in the spring a little closer to that damnable green string . . .

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

When I went to the barn to feed on Monday, my intention was to pull Bleu out, groom her and then feed and leave.  My house has returned to it's "federal disaster area" state and I need to get things in order.

Ed came out and said that Jeanne and John were coming so I decided to stay - at least to visit.  Despite the fact that I live on Jeanne and John's farm, I rarely get to chat with them.

So I stayed.  And I ended up having a lovely session with Cricket.

I played with her at liberty.  She's still reluctant to maintain a canter.  As with most everything else, I'm 99.9% sure it's got more to do with me than it does with her.

I put a bareback pad on her and got on bridle-less.  Because there were other horses, I just rode her to the rail and put her halter on from there.  She was pretty reluctant to hold her head to the left - partially her opposition and partly I really think she needs to have her teeth done.

She was wonderful.  Only a few snarky faces to the other horses.  I've been diligent about leadership and confidence under saddle and it finally seems to be paying off.  We walked and trotted around with relaxation and flexion.  She carries herself so beautifully, so naturally.  One of these days I hope to have the skill and knowledge to take her to the next level.

We even cantered.  Yep, you read that right.  We cantered.  Just twice.

I put her on the pattern we used before and just opened the door to see if she was in the mood to go through it.  She was and we did.  The second time I just took her on the pattern and when I felt her connected to me, I asked and she obliged.

Again, this is only 2-5 strides.  But it's earth-shattering to think that I can even consider asking Cricket to canter bareback.

The end of our session I played with posting bareback.  Not something I've ever done before.  I think Cricket liked it and she even got to the point where she was gathering herself to offer the canter.  I brought her back down, thanked her and got off.

Fun.  It was just FUN!

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Little Catch Up

Fall is my favorite time of year.  I love the cool, crisp air and the delicious kaleidoscope of colors.  My house looks out on sweet rolling hills, occasionally dotted by cows and streaked with deer.  The world gets so sleepy, pulling the dark up over her shoulders, preparing for the winds of winter.

I love fall because even as the trees shed their leaves, the promise of spring grows.  Without the bleakness of winter, there is no glory of summer.

Much has been rolling through my mind since I returned from my camp at Carol's.  It was a bit of a hard learning experience for me.  As it turns out, I didn't so much "take Bleu to camp" as I "didn't take Cricket."  And there's where things fell apart for me.  It may seem a trivial change of words but the attitude inherent in each statement is significant.

I've been in a quandary about Bleu -wondering if she really is the right "second horse."  And in all that, maybe I've inadvertently put the strikes against her.  As Second Horse, she sits somewhere lower than Cricket, somewhere "other."  And that's not doing either of us any good.  I'm still not sure but I'm taking some time and being at peace with my uncertainty.

I played with Cricket the other night and it was okay.  She refuses to maintain a canter on-line and I just have no idea how to fix this.  I'm tired of fighting the same fight with her over and over and over.  At liberty she was better but still . . .  On-line she side-waysed (is that a word?) over four parallel poles, straddling each one.  Then she backed of the pole, keeping her feet on either side.  Pretty cool!  But she's always been good a the slow, thoughtful things - that's my precious LBI.

I jumped on her bareback and bridle-less.  We rode the halt while I worked on this weird issue with the carrot stick.  From the top of Zone 3, when the stick is in my left hand, if it comes towards her she bites at it.  Never on the ground; never when the stick is in my right hand.  'Splain that one to me!

My biggest, funnest news is that I bought a new saddle!  All the pieces just fell into place and I'll be getting a Natural Performer in about 3 weeks.  It will fit both horses and I'll have a western saddle again.  I can hardly wait.  I'm so hopeful that this will help me advance my riding in ways I just haven't been able to do with my English.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In the Moment

One day, in my Facebook News Feed, a blurb popped up about one of my friends "liking" Horses for LIFE - an on-line magazine devoted to horsemanship.  I've followed it through my news feed for a few months but never thought too much of it.

The other day, I hopped over to their website and totally fell in love with the magazine.  I plunked down the money for an annual subscription and have been perusing the archives ever since.

In one of the earliest issues of the magazine, there is an article called Where is He? and it was all about how we connect - in time - with our horse.

Two excerpts from the article:

[Your horse] is right here. Right now. He exists as a pure being, his consciousness completely in this moment. Not the last moment. Or the moment before. He really doesn't care what you did two moments ago, he cares about now. He exists in now.
Our mind is everywhere but in the now. If you want to talk to the horse, you have to find the ability to join him where he is. In this moment. This moment that is gone the next, to a new moment that you must be in, releasing the moment that came before and that you were just in. You begin by living in each moment, moment by moment, letting go of all the moments before . . .
The author goes on to say that by living, fully present in each moment, something amazing begins to happen.  Time begins to stand still, allowing each moment to stretch longer and longer.  We can then become aware of more because we find more time to observe.  We find the place where our horse lives.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Thinking, Thinking, Thinking

Man, this stuff is HARD!

I had my Centered Riding on Wednesday.  I opted to ride Cricket.  While Bleu is just lovely, I think she needs some time off so I can work on strengthening her back, independent of a rider.  I've been having jolly fun with Cricket so I assumed this would be a walk in the park . . . or arena.

Principle #2: Make no assumptions; teach no assumptions.

Cricket was great through the tacking up process, standing ground tied in the alley way.  No flags popped up during our brief warm-up and she was accepting of the mounting process.

And then it went south.  Thankfully not too far south but south, none-the-less.  She popped in a little buck.  No worries.  Another little buck.  Okay.  And then again.  Uh oh!  As she was only increasing frequency rather than intensity, I decided I was okay to stay on.  After her fourth mini-tantrum I stopped whatever my instructor was asking me to do and did some intense "yield the HQ."  Both directions, with some intention.  I was a little upset but not angry.

After that we kept everything at a walk and really made Cricket THINK!  Lots of curves, turns, circles, serpentines.  Doing what ever we could to keep her brain engaged.  And it worked!  Not once, for the rest of the lesson did Cricket act out.  She was only resistant when I became demanding, grabby or pull-y.

We concentrated on connecting her thoughts to her whole body and then connecting her hind legs to my hands.  I'm not sure how, exactly, we accomplished this but it worked.  I felt her energy coming into my hands and moving forward.

Mimi had me work on leg yields - coming into the quarter line off a circle and then yielding her towards the rail.  Out of the dozen time we tried it, I really got it once or twice.  Some pieces would fall into place, others would fall out of place but a few times it all came together.  On the last yield, I asked Cricket into the trot as we came to the wall and she picked up a lovely collected (as in not scattered and strung out) trot down the rail and to the center line.  We finished with a near-perfect square halt (front AND hind) and called it a day.

My biggest struggle in all of this is really understanding rein connection.  What Mimi is teaching runs counter to some of what I learned in Parelli.  Maybe not to Parelli itself but at least to how I've learned and understood it over the years.  I am trying to wrap my head around how the inside rein and outside rein work in concert to set-up and guide/control the horse.  I can feel it work.  I can feel my horse understanding it and responding to it.  But I'm not making the connection between what I'm doing and how/why that's influencing Cricket the way it does.

Time for a little LBI research . . .

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Giant Leap

There comes a point - well, truthfully, it happens several times along the journey - where you experience a quantum leap.  Something shifts, something changes and nothing is the same ever again.

I believe I have experienced one of those moments.  Whether it is just a crack in the damn or the opening of the floodgates, only time will tell.

I cantered Cricket bareback.

Each word of that statement is so significant.  It is almost magical just to consider the impact of what happened.

For the past several sessions, I've ridden Cricket bareback.  It started with a quick ride right before camp.  I just wanted to put my leg over a horse.  I slapped the bareback pad on Cricket and we had one of the best rides ever.  Since then, I've just been riding the wave, so to speak.  Taking it while it's good and enjoying each moment.

Yesterday I met Becky out at the barn.  We groomed the girls, played a little and then hopped on bareback.  Before I even got on, I had a feeling.  Just a little inkling that maybe, just maybe.

Cricket was a little forward and a little snarky and I decided that now wasn't the time.  No worries.  And then it just sort of happened.

Circling a barrel at the end of the arena, she stepped up into the canter for a few strides.  The next time around, I opened the door for her to canter.  Just a few strides.  And then, as we came around the circle (which was rather tight), I just straightened her out and we went about five strides across the arena.

Just like that.

And things will never be the same again.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Back from Camp

So I'm back from camp.  Well, I've been back for a few days but it's taking some time to settle back into the real world.

I took Bleu to camp.  My intent was to spend four days getting to know her and building a relationship with her.  That was just the tip of the iceberg.

What I discovered is a great deal of buried angst about having two horses.  For the first two days I was just so so.  Bleu was doing well but I'd find myself getting frustrated or angry with her.  I kept thinking, "this is not that difficult, what is the problem?"  Monday it boiled over.  I second-guessed my decision to keep Bleu and I just kept wondering if this whole idea wasn't a big mistake.

Towards the end of the riding session things calmed down a little.  Tuesday morning I used my private session to talk things over with Carol.  Carol gave me some good perspective and I realized my feelings of doubt and confusion were perfectly natural.  So I spent Tuesday being more present to Bleu and we had an awesome day.

In truth, all of camp was wonderful.  Bleu tried her heart out, despite the garbage I kept offering her.  Carol told me, on several occasions, that she was a good horse.  She was so right.

The camp was a L2/3 when we started but mid-way through Sunday, Carol changed it to a L3/4.  Wow!  What a compliment to all of us.

I cannot remember everything we did.  I know it pushed my envelope on several levels.  I'm proud that I tried more things that I normally would have - especially considering that I've done little with Bleu since the early days of our relationship.

On the ground we worked on snappy departures - with backwards and towards; from Zone 3 all the way out to behind Zone 5.  We did sideways without a fence; from Zone 1; away and towards.  We did backing from Zone 3 and by the tail.  We played at liberty each day, beginning with simple stick to me, progressing to circle at liberty and finishing with "can you" challenges.

Under saddle we rode more in four days than I probably have in the past four months!  Carol numbered us off and while we took turns doing certain maneuvers or patterns in the center, the rest of us rode the rail working on lots of different things.

We did a lot of carrot stick riding.  I had never ridden Bleu with a stick and was pretty pleased with how she responded.  We stayed in the hackamore and didn't go above the trot but we tried just about everything the rest of the class did.

I don't have detailed notes from the clinic.  I find that I just get on overload and cannot take notes like I once did.  I'm also finding that it's just a few little things that seem to make the biggest impact.

Here's what I'm taking from camp this year:
  • Before you can really engage the HQ, you need to own them through disengagement.  Without this, you're creating a more powerful runaway.
  • Snappy is not about moving fast - it's an attitude, it's the "yes, ma'am."
  • Commotion doesn't always produce motion; focus and clear intent have more to do with producing what you want than flapping ropes and sticks.
  • It's time to get down to feel - technique only gets you so far.
  • If you're having issues with the Figure 8, try it without markers - get your drive and draw flowing.
  • Planting the seeds of L4 early give you an idea of where you might be going.
  • If your leg = forward, spend time getting your yields isolated.
  • Build in relaxation by addressing brace the moment you notice it.
I'm sure there's more but it's not coming to me right now.  I have a greater appreciation for my skill and how far I've come over the years.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Light as a Feather

Despite all I have to do to get ready for camp, I squeezed in a little time to ride last night.

I'm introducing new feeders to Bleu and Cricket and it's taking some time to rework the routine and figure out how much to feed and how to incorporate their supplements.  Last night I decided to feed Bleu and, while she was eating, monkey about with Cricket.

In her stall, at liberty (while Bleu and Dillon were eating), I put my bareback pad on and then slipped the halter on.  I grabbed a CS as we entered the arena.  Our warm-up consisted of 2 HQ yields, 2 FQ yields, 2 back-ups and handful of circles in each direction, a little at the walk and a little at the trot.

I tied the 12' into reins and got on.  And I had one of the best rides.

Cricket was amazing.  She was soft in her trot and so responsive to my focus and leg.  I used the rein - light contact through the weight of the rein/snap - to shape her a little.  We had beautiful turns, relaxed forward and just general lightness.

She got a little forward and Ed helped me use some lateral work to soften and slow her.  It took me out of my comfort zone - allowing her to be forward and shaping it rather than shutting her down.  On the curves, I pushed her ribs so she floated out on the curve, taking her inside hind and stepping deeper.  I could really feel her power up from the back but at the same time, she took that energy over her back and softened through her neck.

Almost all of our "work" was at the trot.  I don't usually trot turns bareback.  But last night, I just let go.  And it was fun.  I was relaxed; Cricket was relaxed.

Standing still, I did some isolation yields, mainly the HQ, and with no input from me (i.e. totally slack rein) she responded with no forward motion.

I am so pleased with Cricket and with myself.  It's time I stopped being so critical - of myself, of Cricket of everything.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

We all know how the saying goes . . .  Apparently this is yet another rule to which I am not an exception.

Work is still a bit of a mess.  It eased up for awhile.  Just enough to make me think there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

The good news is that I still get my vacation time to go to camp.  This will be an opportunity to spend dedicated time with Bleu.  I really like this horse.  But it's hard, especially for me, to move out of my comfort zone.  And in this case, my comfort zone is dun and slightly chubby and answers to anything when there's a cookie involved.

It's been a bit hectic, the last two weeks.  The latest drama has been the mysterious leg swelling.  On my two horses.  Go figure.  My farrier came out Wednesday to put shoes on Bleu and trim Cricket.  I received multiple phone calls from Robin - my good friend and stand-in horse handler - saying that both Bleu and Cricket were warm to the touch and swollen on their back legs and that Bleu was uncooperative with handling their back legs.  Unable to reach me, Robin and my farrier decided to trim Bleu and post-pone shoeing just in case this was something serious.  By the time I got there, the swelling was only obvious if you were looking for it and their legs were warm but not hot.  Great!

We changed their pasture and that didn't solve the problem.  But we did notice that their legs were fine when they came in but puffy and warm by afternoon/evening.  We changed the hay and the problem disappeared.  The weird thing - all the hay is the same (just different cutting) and it's all been baled from the property.

So now Bleu has an appointment to get shoes the day before we leave for camp.  Please, dear Lord, let this be okay!

In the midst of things just not quite going right, I've done little - if anything - to get ready for camp.  Bleu got a bath yesterday but I have no illusions that my grey horse will remain clean for five days.  I'm going to wipe down my saddle to get the surface dust off, but that's about it.  Oh well . . .

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fun Stuff, New Stuff

At the end of my lesson on Wednesday, my instructor mentioned that she was going to see a vaulting demonstration this weekend.  As it turns out, a few of the vaulting teams going to the WEG are training in Tennessee, just outside Nashville.  This Saturday, they are putting on a free demonstration before heading to Lexington for the competition.

I am so there.

What an opportunity to see such an amazing sport.

In searching for information about the demonstration, I browsed through the Central Tennessee Dressage Association website.  There I found out about a Mary Wanless clinic that will be held in December.  I've been intrigued by what I've read about her approach of riding with your mind and it would be fun to see her in person.  I'm waiting to hear back from the clinic organizer to get more details on auditing.

I'm also starting to make serious inquiries about learning to drive.  I want to train Cricket to drive and I want to learn how to drive.

It's about having fun.  And if it's not fun, what's the point?  It doesn't mean every moment will be fun but if I'm not enjoying what I'm doing and learning, why on earth am I spending the time and money to keep my horses?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Arcs and Straight Lines

Take a dressage whip and curve it, making an arc.  The arc is strong and flexible.  It can bear pressure without collapsing.  Straighten the whip and discover that the straight line is flexible but weak.  It cannot bear pressure without collapsing.

Now consider your horse's back.  Something I was given to ponder while watching some demos at the WEG.

The desire to have the horse in a natural posture is only good when his back is in a natural state, unencumbered by the weight of a rider.

No matter how natural we want to be, the act of riding a horse is unnatural.  They are designed to pull, not carry.

To effectively carry a rider, a horse must lower his croup, step under with his hind legs, lift his abdomen and round over the neck, flex at the poll and bring his head just in front of the vertical.

In this position the horse is rounded from croup to poll and his back lifts to carry the weight of his rider.

This is not a forced position.  It's not about pulling in the head and driving up the hindquarters.

The clinician we saw was riding a gorgeous Andalusian stallion.  He had a double bridle and was being ridden on contact.  Yet when the rider moved his hands forward, the horse maintained his frame and his cadence.  A beautiful example of self carriage.

I don't know that I have what it takes - either by my skill or the ability of my horses - to achieve such magnificence.  But more and more I'm convinced that ignoring the physical - failure to help the horse move in a bio-mechanically correct manner - is just as detrimental as ignoring the mental and emotional.

Getting Connection

I am going to try and be more active in updating my blog.  It seems to help me be active with my horses.

Last night I had my third centered riding lesson.  The first was way back in the spring and at the beginning of September we started a regular engagement at my boarding barn.

I've ridden Bleu in the last two lessons and I'm beginning to make some connections.  Literally.

For the first time I felt what contact means.  I wish I could come up with the right word to describe it.  It was strong without force, firm without grip and solid without being rigid.  It was soft without being weak and relaxed without being floppy.  It was perfect . . . and fleeting.

Bleu is wonderful for learning.  She has none of the assumptions I've built into Cricket.  She is looking for leadership so she appreciates all my efforts.  She is willing and honest.  Not that Cricket isn't.  But I've long since learned Cricket is not the appropriate horse for my learning journey.  Especially when it comes to concepts that result in smoke coming from my ears.

Things we worked on: seat connection, rein connection, the proper way to turn my horse, speeds within the walk and fluidity in two-point.

It was a great lesson and I'm looking forward to my next adventure.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Back from the World Equestrian Games

So I'm back from my weekend at the World Equestrian Games in Lexington.  We didn't see any of the competition - we went for the shopping.  And to soak in the atmosphere.  This is the first time the Games have been on US soil and even if they come back, who's to say they'd be close enough to visit.

The vendors and exhibitors were amazing.  I learned quite a bit and I saw more than I could have imagined.  And I spent more than I had planned.  But oh well . . .

One of my highlights was the opportunity to Ride a Reiner.  Yep, I can honestly say I rode at the World Equestrian Games!  As we were walking around on Saturday, we came past a pen where they had kids on some horses.  At first I thought it was cute that they had pony rides.  Then we found out it was the chance to ride a Reining horse.  Three of us signed up.

When we entered the pen, they asked us how much riding experience we had.  I knew the three of us could ride and the fourth girl was a rider as well.  So after we mounted up, they sort of turned us loose. 

I had a sweet buckskin gelding named Nugget.  At first he was pretty annoyed and swished his tail a lot.  I tried to ride as confidently and securely as I could and soon he settled.  He picked up a little jog and and I eased him back down, thinking we weren't supposed to go above a walk.  But when the other girl rode by at a jog, the announcer said that since this group was more advanced, we'd be doing a little more.

And we did.  After jogging around the arena, the other girl came by at a lope and off we went.  I had a blast.  We walked, jogged and loped around that entire arena.  Both directions, both leads.  It was amazing.

So it begs the question: why can I get on a horse I've never met, wearing the wrong shoes and no helmet and canter like I've done it all my life?  It's worth pondering

More Odds and Ends

Time just keeps slipping away from me.  Work remains busy but it seems to be tapering off.  My partner in pricing has returned, though not full strength.

Of course now that work is slowing down, everything else is ramping up.

This coming weekend I'm taking a chic-trip to Lexington to soak in the atmosphere of the World Equestrian Games.  We aren't going to see any of the competition, at least not really.  Sunday the Endurance ride will cover the whole park and our tickets include that but what we're really there for is . . . the shopping.

Since my Centered Riding lesson earlier this month, I've done nothing with Bleu.  After I come back from the WEG I'm going to get more time with her.  When things are rushed I just default to my Cricket.  Not for any other reason than I know her.

And not that Bleu is missing out on anything - I think I've played with Cricket twice since my last blog post.  Our constant Achilles heel is CS riding and I'm going to make a better attempt to help her understand what I want and why I carry the stick.  The other night I did tons of friendly - just rubbing her with the stick while she walked around.  Then I used leg and rein and a light stick and she seemed more accepting (i.e. she didn't reach around and BITE the stick).  I think this is going to be our program for the times that I do ride.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Life Intervening

I'm not dead, I promise.

Life is currently haywire.  I work in the defense industry as a pricing analyst (it sounds much fancier than it really is, trust me).  In my company there are two pricing analysts.  One went to Vegas and ended up in the emergency room with a perforated colon.  One stayed home and now has to do all the work.  Guess which one is me?

I've been spending a little time with the ponies.

Last week I finally did some work on shimming my saddle - got in just under the wire on that part of my August goals!  It's not perfect but I think it lifts my saddle more off Bleu's shoulder.  My saddle is build for my brick-house QH mare.  While the spring of Bleu's ribs is enough to support the middle and back, her narrow, rotated shoulders are trapped by the super-wide gullet that fits Cricket's linebacker build.

I took a Centered Riding lesson on Bleu last week.  She did fantastic.  It was only the third time I'd ridden her in a bit and the first time I'd done anything with real contact.  I think she liked it . . . a lot.  We worked on balancing Bleu and getting her to move her body with more nose-to-tail connection.  She is very strung out and Mimi gave me some ideas for helping her use her body better.

I've not been following a regimented clicker program with Cricket.  I'm just not focused enough.  But I have been playing with it.  We've been doing some liberty in the arena and having a blast.  The other night, I had Cricket in a lovely canter circle game - all her idea.  Did I mention the arena gate was open?  And that she actually spiraled in towards me rather than heading for the great wide open?  Love that mare!  She tried to give me a FLC on a change of direction but got tangled up (she made the choice too late) and ended up bucking up to sort out her feet.  She also did some lovely trot sideways towards.

So for now it's hit or miss with getting horse time and, unfortunately, hit or miss with getting to blog about it.  Maybe in the coming weeks it will settle down.  As it's Government Fiscal Year end, I highly doubt it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sibling Rivalry

My newest adventure with Cricket and Bleu is teaching one to pony the other and thereby teaching the other to be ponied.

Mind you I'm not a professional nor have I ever played one on TV.  I'm just sort of making this up as I go along.

It's funny to see them together - they are like two kids in a car on a long trip.  Bleu reaches towards Cricket, Cricket swishes her tail.  My girls . . .

Wednesday, following my farrier appointment, I had the girls turned out in the open paddock near the barn.  I decided to saddle up Cricket and start teaching her to pony Bleu.

With Cricket saddled and ready, I figured I'd start with trying to pick up Bleu's leadline from Cricket's back.  The idea was that if I couldn't get them to stand next to each other without the hassle of lines and reins, maybe ponying wasn't such a good idea.

I managed to get Bleu's lines with minimal pinned ears from Cricket and only a few "mosey offs" from Bleu.  All in all, it went well.  I think Cricket started to understand her "job."  Bleu, while she wanted to be near Cricket, was also respectful of Cricket's "stay back" energy and was a little laggy.  The other thing Bleu missed was "synchronize with the herd."  She totally didn't get that she needed to go when Cricket started moving off.  By the end of the session she was much better.  I dropped her line to allow her to graze and trotted around with Cricket for a little while.

Last night we had another short session in the arena.  I put my bareback pad on Cricket and got on her while holding Bleu's line.  I was so proud of my Cricket.  Yes, she was ugly and swished her tail and pinned her ears and snarked a little.  But I was on her bareback (not her favorite thing) Bleu was too close (another not-favorite-thing) and there were four other horses in the arena.  Six horses in a 60' x120' arena is fairly close quarters for Cricket.  Not once did she actually kick or bite or even open her teeth.

I think this is going to be a good adventure for us.  In trying to manage both horses, I don't over-think what I'm doing and I have to be in charge to stop any of us from being hurt.  I think I assert my leadership better without getting dictatorial and it seems to put purpose to even aimless wandering in the arena.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bits and Pieces, Here and There

Wow!  It's been awhile since I've posted anything.  Work is so super busy and by the time I get home, I'm just drained.  It doesn't help that I stayed up until almost 4am Sunday night (well, Monday morning, really) finishing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  But I digress . . .

I have been doing something with the horses, honest!  But not much of anything that seems to warrant a blog post.

I rode Bleu the other day, finally getting around to shimming my saddle.  This is new territory for me.  I view shimming with slightly less distaste than I used to view trimming.  I paid what I paid for my saddle so I had tack that fit my horse.  I swore, up and down, that when I got a second horse, the first requirement would be that my current saddle would fit.  I guess, like every other "new horse" requirement, that went out the window when I laid eyes on Bleu.

It's not that bad, really.  It fits the spring of her ribs but it's too wide at the shoulder.  Partly because Bleu has some forward rotation of her shoulder and partly because Cricket has shoulders a pro-football linebacker would envy.  The Skito pad I have helps fill in some of the "too wide" but I need to lift the stirrup bar to free room for her shoulder to come back.

Rather than invest a lot of money, I rigged something up with materials we had lying around.  It wasn't perfect but I did feel that Bleu was more free and forward than before.  I need to sit down and cut out some shims to fit in the Skito so I can come up with a more custom, long-term solution.

Tonight I rode Cricket.  Just for fun around the paddock.  Bleu was out grazing and I managed to side-pass Cricket up to her and lift the rope off her back.  I started teaching Cricket to pony Bleu and Bleu to be ponied by Cricket.  Bleu totally missed the idea of "synchronize with the herd" but Cricket totally loved the "I have a job to do."  I had some ugly ears from Cricket but I tried to 'splain to her that next to Bleu was where the grazing happened.  I'm pretty proud of my Principessa.  Every time I had to wiggle the rope to get Bleu back, Cricket stood like a rock.  The few times I moved Cricket around with a little energy, Bleu seemed not to mind.  So this scenario looks promising!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Night with Cricket

It's been a rough week at work and it looks like it's not going to get better any time soon.  On the bright side, it's  a great opportunity for me to gain more experience and help out my boss - never a bad thing as evaluation time rolls around.

Unfortunately it means not much time or energy for the horses.  A total bummer as I have camp with Carol right around the corner.  Oh well, it is what it is and I'll have fun regardless.

Thursday I wanted to play with Bleu and work on some saddle shimming.  She was reluctant to approach and then Dilbert, with a horsefly firmly attached to his butt, began chasing her up and down the run.  I think he wanted her to help him but charging at her like a bull in a china shop was not convincing my sweet Bleu that he was anything other than a raving lunatic.

So if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with - I haltered Cricket and took her out to graze in the paddock.  I did eventually catch Bleu and opted for a grazing session to "reward" her.  But back to Cricket . . .

I pulled up a chair and proceed to cut cookies - using my very expensive shoe pullers to nip cookies into small niblets for clicker training.  At the sound of the first cookie hitting the bottom of the bucket, a big dun mare lifted her head and made a beeline for me.

I had to laugh.  The cookie pieces are smaller than a penny.  And Cricket was standing on a lush carpet of relatively ungrazed, recently mowed grass.  Throughout the evening she'd practically crawl in my lap and then wander off but make a wide sweep and land right back at my feet.  I loved it.  I don't care if it was the cookies, it's been so long since I've seen that look on her face and I'll take it however I can get.

I packed everything up and tried to send Cricket back out to the paddock while I prepped feed.  Nothing doing.  She tried to get into the tack room, to Ed's cookies.  Then, while I was in the farthest stall retrieving feed buckets, she slipped into the barn to the picnic table where my cookies where.  So I sent her to her room until dinner time!

She makes me laugh and I love that I am able to find joy in her antics and that she is finding pleasure in my company.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Having A Little Fun

So I haven't been doing much with the horses other than routine care.  Chaos reigns in my little universe and I seem to be struggling against the tide of disorder.  But I have found a little time to just have fun with Cricket.

One day last week, I pulled her out to groom her and have a look at her feet.  I incorporated the clicker for picking up and holding her foot.  I would have been more successful without the added task of picking and spraying her feet.  As such, I didn't reward her honest efforts even when they failed to meet my needs for the husbandry tasks I was trying to perform.

Of course Cricket knows to pick up her feet, so why add the clicker.  Because I can.  Because it seems to cause her to become a willing participant in whatever I'm doing.  And it's not as much for the treats as some (even I) might think.  It's because she knows she's right.  And if there is one trait she gets from her two-legged mother, it's a deep love of being right.

Saturday I decided to just play with her.  No plan, no idea - just a loose horse, an arena with stuff in it and a bag of treats with a clicker.  I had my carrot stick to help guide her but tried, as best as I could, to just offer enough pressure to indicate what I might want.

She played with the barrels, the cones and the big bridge.  She offered close range circles at the walk, trot and canter.  She jumped the small cross rail and a single down barrel.  We just played and had fun.  No stress, no worries.  Just having fun together.

And isn't that what this is supposed to be about?

Oh, I did jump on her bareback and bridleless.  We meandered around for awhile and I introduced some C/T for lateral flexion.  That was interesting.  But it was fun.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Expanding My Comfort Zone to Include Feet

I have finally accepted the idea that I need to trim my own horses' feet.  I have resisted this for years.  But the reality dawns on me that it's much cheaper to keep two barefoot horses and since I want sound barefoot horses, I need to have some idea of how to maintain balance in their feet.  So with quiet resignation, I've begun the journey into hoof care.

As a dedicated learn-aholic I can't just do something and hope it turns out right.  I need to know.

My first couple swipes across horse feet was more about getting this new endeavour somewhere in the vicinity of my comfort zone.  Once that was achieved, I knew I needed more information so I could be effective.

I called on my good friend Leitha.  She trims professionally and she also teaches folks how to trim their own horses.  She has a ton of good information on her website - HOOF-smart.com.

Sunday she spent time with me, helping me understand Bleu's feet and walking me through rasping the toe back and taking down the flares.  We took pictures of different things so I could review what Leitha taught me and practice stabilizing a hoof on the hoofjack and holding the rasp and knife.

I think I did a pretty decent job and later that night I applied a little of what she taught me and did some maintenance on Cricket's feet.  Cricket's feet hold their basic shape better than Bleu's so she was pretty easy to manage.

So now I can start adding another skill to my repertoire and another dimension to my horse care.  And that's translated as "one more thing to do instead of ride!".

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Winds of Change

I did it.  I took the plunge.  I cancelled my Gold Savvy Club membership.

I'm still in the Savvy Club . . . for now.  We'll just see how it goes.

I'm frankly a little disappointed in the response, or lack thereof, when I requested the change.  No request for feedback on why I was changing.  You'd think an organization might like some information on why its customer base is choosing or not choosing a particular product.  Oh well . . .

The truth is, I'm disappointed.  Overall, I was disappointed in Cricket's Horsenality Report.  I'm disappointed that there is still no word on the Personality and Match reports.  I was disappointed in the Gold Summit - there is no way the Columbus Summit would have been worth the $1500 ticket price.  The best part of the whole event was the Keith Dane from the Humane Society.

I'm disappointed in the repeat information on the Savvy Club DVDs.  The July issue marked the third time this year that Savvy Club DVD material was a reissue of other educational material.  Apparently there is something "exciting" coming down the pipeline.  But if it's like every other promise, it might be next year when we see it.

So it's time for a change.  I'm not ready to give up entirely but I am tired of spending my hard-earned money waiting for the fulfillment of promises that have been empty for too long.

Monday, August 9, 2010

August Goals Update

Okay, I'll admit it - I've not been as diligent with my goal setting as I had initially hoped and planned.

I have a severe problem with chaos in my life right now, stemming from the emotional upheaval I feel at the change in my journey and manifested by a paralyzing inability to clean my house.  So I'm mucking about as best I can.

I have been progressing towards my goals for August.

I've put in eleven clicker sessions with Cricket over the past three days.  We started with targeting and quickly incorporated standing on her mat.  Yesterday was our first day with distractions - the barn owner came up while I was working on a more square stance.  Cricket quickly lost the game so I dialed back all the criteria until she could once again stand on her mat.  With the stall door open.  And the stall chain detached.  And the barn owner and dogs in the opening.

For feet, I've actually been working more with Bleu.  Cricket is a bit too wiggly and Bleu is just so sweet and compliant.  I've rasped Bleu twice and Cricket once.  It's not as daunting as I thought.  Now I just need more education so I feel a little more sure of what I'm actually doing to their feet.

As far as riding and shimming my saddle - little progress there.  It's been so hot and everyone (okay, mostly me but whatever) is miserable.  We are supposed to catch a break in the weather next week and that will give me a chance to get back on track.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Something Clicked!

Two days of clicker play with Cricket and I'm wondering why I never stuck with this before.

I started with targeting a small plastic cone and also introduced standing on a mat.  Cricket picked up targeting after a few clicks.  Almost like, "Hey! I remember this!"  The mat took her a moment but it wasn't long before she was doing something with it.

I did four short sessions on Friday and four sessions yesterday.  By the time we were done last night, she had just about figured out the idea was to put both feet on the mat.  In clicking her for duration, I started to select for a "pretty girl pose" - eyes forward, chin slightly tucked.  I can't get her ears forward because she ends up standing sideways to me and one ear is always on me!  Eventually we'll get it.

This is the beginning of a major change.  I need to process some more before I post.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Behavior as Information

It has, to be quite honest, been too bloody hot to do anything with the horses.  Even thinking about going outside makes me break out in a clammy sweat.

We have had record heat this summer.  With actual temperatures hovering between 98-105 degrees and humidity enough to create heat indices of 108-112, it really is too hot.

So I've been reading and thinking.

I started Mark Rashid's Whole Heart, Whole Horse.  I was browsing somewhere and a description for this book popped up.  Something about it intrigued me and I wanted to read more.  Mark Rashid is easy to read and he has a talent for telling stories and weaving lessons into the stories.

He has a chapter entitled, "Information" and in it he says the following:
A lot of folks look at unwanted behavior . . . as bad behavior.  But if we understand that horses can't separate the way they feel from the way they act, then we can start to see that unwanted behavior isn't bad behavior at all.  More times than not, it's just the horse expressing the way he feels at that particular moment in time.  He's just giving us information, that's all.  How we perceive that information dictates how we respond to it.
I don't know, but there's something about that passage that creates a paradigm shift in how I view everything my horses do.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My Precious Ponies

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my horses?

Almost from the moment I laid eyes on her, Cricket has held my heart and soul.  Bleu is softly stealing her way in and claiming her own space.

Friday was one of those days in which I was simply in awe of the spirit and heart of both my girls.

Whenever my brother and his family come to town, there is always a pilgrimage to the barn to see Cricket.  It's a highlight of the visit and one of the few things that is always on the agenda when they are in town.  Which is once or twice a year.

I was a little nervous about this visit.  Cricket has been just a little off, mentally rather than physically, and Bleu is as yet untested, at least in my experience.  I decided to let my sister-in-law cruise around the arena on Bleu while I led the kids around on Cricket.  With a little coaching, I felt Candace would be safe with Bleu and Cricket is generally well behaved when I have the lead line.

Both my girls just blew me away!  Bleu and Candace walked all over the arena, relaxed and calm.  Cricket took her job of carrying Jacob and Sarah with absolute care.  Bleu was confident and at ease; Cricket was motivated and interested.  Wow!

The kids even took turns leading Cricket around, putting her through her paces of crossing the tarp, pushing the ball and standing on the pedestal.  Cricket acted like she's been doing this her whole life.  She was simply amazing.

My sister joined us.  Jenn wants to ride but she's quite anxious about being on a horse.  She carefully climbed on Bleu and I led her around, giving her soft instructions to relax her knees and shoulders.  Bleu walked with calm, cadenced steps, giving Jenn the chance to relax and become comfortable.

I was so unbelievably pleased with Bleu's attitude of calm and Cricket's attitude of tolerance.  I spent the day just grinning every time I thought about it.