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

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Becoming Particular

Something I learned from my play session with Etruska is the importance of being particular. You see, I know about the importance of being particular. But there is a difference between knowing and learning.

On-line has become my weakest savvy. I've used it too often to make Cricket do something. I need to concentrate on the line as communication rather than control. I need to feel the line as a link between my leadership and Cricket's mind. The key to this is particularity with out criticism.

Bringing her out for the farrier, she was no sooner out of her stall than she was diving for the loose hay in the hallway. Hmm, how interesting. When I ride her out of the arena, she quickly dives for the grass. Time to do something about it. I asked her to wait at the door to the tack room while I got a brush and pick to clean her muddy feet. She immediately headed for the grass right around the corner. I used the lead rope and gave her three sharp bumps with the snap. No emotion just a "nobody said you could eat." She licked and chewed and for the rest of the session, she stood without moving one foot towards the grass. Hmm, how intersting. After the farrier was done I lead her to the grass to allow her some out time. She followed me and I had to actually send her out to eat. Hmm, how interesting.

In my play session later that evening, I used the same particularity. We worked mainly on squeeze game in two different manifestations. I started by asking her to extend her squeeze line using cone markers along the fence. When we started with a 20' squeeze and everything was fine - send through the squeeze and disengage around the cone - until we stretched to 40'. Cricket cut in sharp in front of the cone. With a firm but non-emotional hand, I stopped her and pushed her past the cone and around it. She went completely internal. I told her she was okay and just allowed her to dwell. It took ages - or what seemed like ages - until she finally squared up. Then more waiting until she released the tension and licked her lips. I repositioned her and sent her the other way - the importance of both directions. She was hesitant in her send but went around the cone. More dwell time but a faster lick and chew. One more send, this time with impulsion. She went straight down the wall, passed the cone, disengage, turn, face and wait. I dropped to the ground, facing away from her. She licked and chewed and eventually came up beside me and put her head against my shoulder.

Our next squeeze was straddling a pole - a 4" x 4" timber we have in the arena. She was incredibly calm about putting her hind foot and then her front foot across the pole. Again, she went internal and I waited, asking her to maintain the straddle, until she licked and chewed. Two or three repetitions and she was soft and accepting.

We finished with some bareback riding, using the CS for downward transitions. I need to work more on bending her with the stick. She became upset and started biting the CS. Hmm, need to ponder that and figure out how I can help her.

I think this particularity may be the key to picking up the quality of our on-line. With any luck, by the time the good weather comes around and our fields dry up, I may have enough quality in my ingredients to get some good 45' line work out of her.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

And the Results Are In . . .

The email confirmation I received from Parelli indicated it would be 3-4 weeks before I would get the results of my Liberty audition.

It took a week. I opened my email yesterday and there, sitting in my Inbox, was a message from "Audtion" entitled "L3 Liberty Results." My heart skipped a beat.

I passed. With an overall score of 3++. I don't think I've stopped grinning.

Below is my scorecard:

In the comments section, the assesor wrote: Great audition Lisa, It was a pleasure to watch. You have great Rapport & an excellent connection with your horse. Nice close range spins . . . well done.

The assessor made a comment about Cricket's expression. I don't necessarily agree - I thought her expression was fine. But it's not big deal - the video quality wasn't the greatest and there were moments where Cricket had a bit of a grouchy attitude. I wasn't overly assertive with her because I was aware of the discomfort in her feet and the problems with her alignment. Overall, I don't know if I could be happier.

If you didn't see the video, here it is - just an impromptu shoot of a typical play session . . .

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gettin' Back in the Swing of Things

I am finally getting back into the swing of playing with my horse. We are still limited in what I can reasonably ask because she is still barefoot and I need to arrange a visit from the chiropractor.

Last night I decided to play with Etruska. Etruska is a big American Warmblood mare that belongs to my dear friend Becky. Etruska is a very RB, unconfident and emotional mare. She is heavily bonded to my mare. Unfortunately my mare isn't too fussed on super-clingy herd mates and it's beginning to wear on Cricket's nerves. To the point she's kicking. To the point she fired a warning shot at Etruska and caught the barn owner instead. It's time to do something.

I haltered both horses and lead them into the arena. I brushed one and then the other - working on helping them both feel where my energy was directed (Cricket stand still while I back Etruska, etc.). I looped Cricket's rope around a post and let her have a "patience lesson" while I played with Etruska.

All I wanted from E was relaxation and straightness. We started with some circle game since she wants to move her feet anyway. She is such a lovely, athletic mare. She tried so hard to offer me connection and was awesome about keeping the slack even though she was not really on the circle. Once she dropped her head and continued to trot, I asked her in. Lots of blowing and head shaking to release adrenaline; lots of licking and chewing. I noticed her yo-yo game is what Pat would call a "yo-nana" - straight on the back up, arced on the bring back. I had little luck keeping her straight in the open so I put her against the arena wall and helped her understand where her comfort was. She had some pretty intense RB hissy fits but I remained very clear and when she got it right, I got big lick and chew. We went back to circles and she was soft and relatively connected, if not arced and truly relaxed. As she came around, heading towards Cricket I would loose her attention. I added in some soft changes of direction and when she passed Cricket without loosing focus I called it a win.

Cricket had been standing fairly patient through all of this. She had pawed a few times, banged her foot against the wall a few times. She was calm when I unhooked her and she seem anxious to play.

I tried a few things on-line but was getting tangled in the rope so I just stripped the halter and we played at liberty. I'm working on strengthening her draw and motivation at liberty. We played with concepts from the L3 Liberty DVD - late and light and swing your hiney when I look over my shoulder. She was trying really hard to put energy into everything. Arcing around me was difficult with her current misalignment issues. We mixed in a few circles, stick to me and all four feet on the pedestal (one at a time) and then called it a day.

The farrier comes tomorrow so that will take care of the comfort in her feet. I'll call Dr. Jim and set up an appointment and then we should be off and running!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I am just not in the mood for anything lately. I just don't want to do anything.

I made the commitment to play with Cricket every day beginning on New Year's day. The cold weather derailed that plan and I've had a difficult time getting back on track. This is due, in part, to Cricket's lack of shoes and her need for chiropractic adjustment. The farrier comes next week and then I'll schedule Dr. Jim. Then maybe we'll get back on track, full steam.

I am playing with her. Just nothing terribly exciting.

Sunday I came out to the barn much later than I had anticipated. My intention was to ride but it didn't happen. I started Cricket's warm up at liberty and she was just fantastic - soft, forward, responsive, etc. I had Ed, barn owner, grab the video camera and we taped an impromptu liberty audition. Some of it was better before the camera started rolling but I really don't care. This is some of the best liberty Cricket has offered in months.

Let me know what you think:

Monday we played at liberty in the big field across from the barn. She ran away twice but came back quite easily. After that, I played "herd games" - asking her to come with me, yield her shoulder so I could move through, etc. I got some great connection from her and I stopped on a good note.

Last night it was just a little on-line play and then some bareback riding. She was doing good with follow my focus but got snarky when I asked for walk-trot transitions. I jumped off her and sent her sideways around the entire ring. This is something Kelly Sigler taught me. It's not about getting mean or mad but rather helping your horse figure out that s/he doesn't want you getting off. Cricket has some old ingrained habits about intimidating me when I'm on her. Sometimes it's easier to give her what she wants (me off) and help her realize that wasn't the best idea. Once I got back on, she was better but I kept things low key just in case she was a little uncomfortable. We are working on yielding the forehand and hindquarters without rein support and building to true freestyle sideways. I need to practice this with a saddle and two sticks but we're doing okay bareback with one stick.

So that's all for now . . .we shall see what the Parelli office thinks of the video and we will hope to get back on track once shoes and alignment are back in place.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Puttering About

So it seems my motivation is waning. There is a little turmoil in my life and so my time with Cricket is just about enjoying her and allowing our sessions to unfold as they will.

Coming out of our little freeze, yesterday's weather was positively fantastic. When I left work at 4:30 it was still 49 degrees.

Cricket and I played on the 12' line - circles, driving, stick to me, sideways, etc. Her sideways from Z1 was the best it's ever been. No forward drift to my left and only minimal drift going the other way. Her posture and flexion during circle and sideways confirms to me that she needs to see the chiropractor. I'm going to wait until I get her shoes back on before scheduling Dr. Jim.

I decided to put a bareback pad on her tonight. I wanted to work on more trot transitions and felt a little security would help me help her. We played with transitions on the rail as well as some question box circles. I became a little unbalanced coming back to the box at the trot. Cricket remembers this pattern from our canter work and her question was "Can we canter?" My answer was a resounding, "NO, not yet." I've just gotten comfortable with cantering under saddle and trotting bareback. I just don't think we're ready to plummet off that cliff, er I mean take that step.

I finished with some isolation yields. I'm working on our communication with leg=yield rather than go. She's getting better and better and we effected some nice yields with just body and no rein. Then we put it together and played a little with sideways, off the fence, no rein. I asked her to move from marker to marker and gave her a cookie at each end point. I think we need to work our isolations in a saddle to make sure I stay secure and balanced. Still, it was good fun.

Nothing that phenomenal but another good day with my precious girl.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Doing Things My Way

The exact lyrics are not particularly relevant but I cannot help but hear the crooning of My Way in my head. My journey with Cricket has been fraught with challenges but every now and then, I have moments where I just know that the way I've chosen is the right way for us.

Last night was one of those moments. From the outside, it may not have been particularly impressive. But standing on the other end of the line, it was magical.

Our play last Saturday was not good. Cricket was headshaking to beat the band. Nothing I tried with her seemed to settle her down. I ditched my plan to ride and just allowed her to hand graze for as long as I could stand the cold.

Yesterday it was almost pleasant (mid 30s with little or no wind) so I decided to play with her before feeding. I started with the 12' line and some stick to me. That went well so I asked her to back and she did so with good impulsion. Sending her on the circle she picked up the most amazing walk. It had impulsion and rhythm. I've never seen Cricket walk so well on the circle. I had her walk in both directions before asking for some trot transitions. Then I asked her just to try the canter. She was so willing - trying to canter and keeping total slack in the 12' line. She managed half a lap in both directions and I decided the connection was worth so much more than the duration. I asked her to jump double down single barrels. She fudged it a few times. I repeated my request and when she put in the effort, I rewarded her with dwell time and pumpkin spice granola bars (we split them but I think she manages to weasel more than her fair share). We moved on to sideways and she was putting good effort into staying straight but also trotting sideways. Normally she leads/leaves with Z1 but not last night.

I pulled out her bag of crushed cans and we played some touch it games. I really want to teach her to retrieve. After a little touch it, I hooked her on the 22' and the cans on the 12' and we played with following the bag. I tossed it over her back and had her circling, carrying the cans and allowing them to bounce and drop and move with her. She was so relaxed about it. I circled her with it over her butt, coming down to her hocks. Never phased her.

I clipped reins to her halter and jumped on bareback (no pad). She was so light and responsive to my focus and weight shift. We played with some transitions and then some yields - FH, HQ and sideways. I'm working on her understanding of freestyle sideways. She likes to creep forward and I've allowed it so long that she thinks it's right. We're going back and politely re-defining the rules of sideways and she's beginning to understand.

After I dismounted, I played a little at liberty. She did a beautiful close - and I mean close as she was within arm's reach of me - walking circle. I pushed her out and asked her to trot. She tried hard to get really close to me and kept breaking gait. After a couple of decent trot steps, I disengaged her and called it all a win.

My plan to play every day from New Year's through spring camp has been somewhat derailed by the intense cold snap. I know most Northerners would scoff at our winter weather but we're just not used to this. Actually, I'm okay with the cold but when the NW winds blow through, there's just no way to stay warm. Even in a partially enclosed arena. So I'm going to do the best I can and as soon as the weather gets a little better, redouble my efforts.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pursuing Magic

This past Saturday a friend invited me to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert. I'm only familiar with their music as it is played on the radio during the holiday season. I didn't realize they tell a Christmas story with poetry and music. At one point the narrator spoke these words: We are all pursuing magic.

This struck a chord with me not only in my personal life but in my horsemanship. How beautiful, how simple. Pursuing Magic. This is what I seek in my journey and my relationship with Cricket. Those moments that transcend explanation; those moments when the ultimate prey animal seeks partnership with the ultimate predator. Magic.

I have begun my new program with Cricket. Despite the bitter cold and the arctic north wind, I braved the elements on New Year's Day to play with my pony. I started with some rapport by taking her to the field across from the barn for grazing time. I played with her on the 22' interspersing her grazing time with yo-yos, circles and sideways games. We are working on improving change of direction using the techniques Pat teaches in the new L3. I intended to stop with just our online but after feeding all the horses, Cricket was asking for more. I took her in the arena and we played at liberty. Her open area circle game is getting weaker - no sure why. I just concentrated on draw and stick to me. I was able to send her over a jump and she remained connected. I decided to get on and we did some riding, bareback and bridless, around the arena. I even asked her to trot and she was very soft and responsive. Not a bad way to start the new year.

Saturday was rushed because of the aforementioned concert. I prepped feed for later in the day and just spent some time asking Cricket to stretch for cookies. The hardest part of this is getting her not to mug me while I'm shifting positions to ask for a different stretch.

Sunday was just some on-line play. Again, I took her to the big field. This time, however, I let my ego and "you know this, we've done it before" get in the way. Her circle game was not so good. Worse was her yo-yo. I decided to reframe everything and find a way to end the session better than I started. I concentrated on her yo-yo game - asking her to go straight back and then come to me despite the tantalizing grass. I had to get pretty strong with her. I always started with a soft suggestion but I escalated to an intense phase 4 when she ignored me. She wouldn't tolerate this from an underling in her herd so I've decided not to tolerate it from her. We worked on this until she understood I meant business. Of course she lost her confidence a little so I made sure to play lots of friendly game and keep all emotion out of it.

Monday was a sick day. I need to make up my cards to keep track of each day off. I didn't go to work - just felt so cruddy. I took feed out to the barn and fed all the critters but that was as much energy as I could muster. The rest of the week is cold (at least for N. Alabama/S. Tennessee) so I may not do more than just hang with her and spend some friendly time.