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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 9: Starting Back Slowly

So I'm back from Columbus - more on that later. I'm ready to get back into my program with my girls. But not too quickly.

Yesterday was the epitome of lazy days. I don't know that I made it off my couch until I finally decided I needed to go to Target. At 5pm.

I did get out to the barn at nearly 9:00 last night. Not much time or energy for playing. But I fed everyone and just spent some quiet time with Bleu and some scratchy time with Cricket.

For Cricket, any time is a good time for me to focus solely on her needs. Would you expect less from a completely self-confident, totally left-brain introvert? I think not. Bleu, on the other hand, is more reserved and just a little guarded. Trying to groom her while she ate caused her to walk away from her food. Hmm, how interesting. I moved her food further from the door and retreated so she could finish her dinner.

I turned all the horses out and, as has become her custom, Cricket stayed back until she had me all to herself and then came in for her scratches. I'm finding it interesting how she is working a little harder for my attention now that "Big Sis" is in the picture.

Today I plan on getting back to more serious play. I learned some things this weekend that I think will help me with both horses. I promise to post on the tour event when I have a bit more time and my notes in front on me.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program

I've decided to take an official one week hiatus from my 30 day program. This would not be necessary if I could get an extra 4-6 hours crammed into each day. Funny how that's not exactly working out for me.

Something has to give. Unfortunately that's quality time with the ponies.

This sort of works out for me since I'm going out of town this weekend. To the Parelli Across America event and Gold Summit in Columbus, OH. And I promised my best friend I'd go to dinner with her Thursday before I leave on Friday. And I promised my co-worker Lauren I'd make her birthday lunch and cake for Thursday. Which means spending Wednesday making another damn cheesecake. What on earth was I thinking?

Everybody enjoy your weekend. I'm pretty sure, once the chaos dies down, I'll be enjoying mine.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 8: Mi Familia

So I have decided to keep Bleu.

Call me crazy. Whatever. Right after I published yesterday's post, I emailed Bleu's owner and said I was keeping her. I haven't second-guessed the decision. Not once. Good sign.

Clare asked a good question: Does Bleu meet my needs?

I don't really have a good answer. I don't actually feel I need another horse at all. Despite the occasional frustration, Cricket and I have been doing just fine.

So here is my happy little family. Minus the cat. I spent yesterday hand grazing my girls. For Bleu this is about finding comfort away from the barn. For Cricket, it's a chance to work on becoming as wide as she is tall. For me, it's just about enjoying a peaceful summer evening with my horses.

Does life get any better?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 5-7: Approach Avoidance

So it seems I'm a little conflicted. Nothing new.

This weekend I experienced some serious approach-avoidance issues with going to the barn. I've been great guns and all of a sudden Whoosh! there went my motivation.

Have I mentioned I suck at "middles"? Who knew Day 5 constituted the middle of a 30 day program. Apparently I also suck at math.

I need to make the decision to keep Bleu or give her back. While I appreciate the 2 month trial period, it just prolongs the agony of the actual decision. Just rip the damn band-aid right off. Please.

Because right now she's floating in that space of mine, but not quite. And I keep talking about future plans with her, always caveated by "assuming I keep her." Well, why the hell am I making plans for the winter if I'm not going to keep her?

My plan was to finish this 30 day program, the end of which coincides with the end of my trial period. Perfect time to make a decision. But I think I just need to bite the bullet. Sign on the dotted line. Resign myself to a life of blissful pony-poverty.

I didn't exactly meet my criteria of "10 minutes of something positive and progressive" this weekend. I just didn't feel up to it. And that's okay.

With Bleu, I did some "leave your stall and the world does not end" friendly game. One day we just hung out in the hallway and I let her eat off the hay bales. Another day, I just took her into the arena and hung out while other horses "worked."

Cricket - just friendly time. We had a big first - I rode her bareback and bridless out of the arena. On a whim, I hopped on her from the tailgate of my truck. I did have the sense to put a string around her neck and take a carrot stick with me. Little good it did. Let's just say it gave me the illusion of control. Oh well. Let's just say that as long as my idea was "go wherever and graze" then she was following my leadership. But it was fun and just a little reckless and it certainly wasn't over-thought. If anything it was under-thought. I'd say that's progress - for me.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 4: More and Better

Yesterday I focused on building on what we started the day before. I want to be diligent and focused about taking Bleu through the levels self-assessments and really using the Patterns with her. With Cricket, it's just whatever I can do to make our on-line sessions fun again.

I started with Bleu. The arena was set up with our same Touch It pattern and I "pre-loaded" the obstacles with cookies. When I squeezed her into the arena I noticed she became rather tense. I paused to play friendly game but she wasn't relaxing. I squeezed her out and re-played the squeeze allowing her to show me her thresholds. She finally relaxed and on the next send, walked confidently into the arena.

She was more confident with the Touch It pattern and I had to use less rope/stick to help direct her Zone 1. The tarp was still ultra-scary but in a new tactic, I walked right past it between two obstacles. When she sort of pushed into me, I just moved her shoulder out and said, "don't worry, it's not about the tarp but the next obstacle." Squeezing back past it, she didn't bat an eyelash.

When we finally approached the tarp, she was a little skeptical but more sure of herself. Before long, I couldn't get her off of it! I squeezed her over it in both directions and then walked away for dwell time. She had a big, yet soft, adrenaline release and then proceeded to lick my arm and my leg!

I asked her for sideways on the rail which confused her at first but she figured it out and was nice and soft. To the left is easier than the right. We finished with another squeeze on the tarp followed by retreat and another adrenaline release.

I put Bleu back in her stall and fed her and Dillon. I asked Cricket to come up to be caught and she did so, rather willingly.

We started with the Wendy Puzzle of sideways and backwards. She remembered and we moved on. I asked for some falling leaf and canter transitions. I failed to reward one big effort and she sort of petered out a little. Oh well, sometimes we learn what works by doing what doesn't work.

She was offering me decent energy with good mental connection. I don't really remember her pinning her ears or swishing her tail at all - something she often does when I try to play on-line. I sat on the big soccer ball and dwelled with her. She offered a nice adrenaline release and then proceeded to play with the nearby cones.

I finished with a little rope-stepping friendly game and she was awesome about giving to the pressure. I couldn't be more pleased.

I fed Cricket and Etruska their measly evening rations and before I had the buckets rinsed and ropes put up, they were both done. I turned the horses out, asking Bleu to walk with me down the run and keeping Dillon out of our space. It was funny to see the horses in the adjacent runs mirroring our starts and stops. Not one horse walked in front of me and Bleu. Hmm, how interesting! As is becoming her custom, Cricket hung back until she had me to herself and we had a scratch fest.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 3: Puzzles and Questions

Yesterday was all about puzzles and questions.

I wasn't sure I was going to get to play - right when I arrived at the barn, a big thunderstorm rolled in. I decided to review the self-assessments and see if I could wait it out. The storm finally moved on and I went ahead with my session.

I decided to start Bleu on the L1 on-line patterns, beginning at the beginning with Touch It. I set up the arena with obstacles and cookies and then went to fetch her. She caught me right away, walking up with confidence. Love it!

Going into the arena, Bleu can get pretty uptight. She's not used to arenas and as a RBI, gets pretty skeptical. Once in the arena, I decided to check her friendly game and just tossed the string over her back, around her legs - just a basic L1 friendly game. Just that soft rhythm helped her to relax. I need to make sure I make a program of relaxation first so we start off on the right note.

I started the pattern, driving her from Z2/3, asking her to touch obstacles with her nose. By about the third obstacles - after interrupting forward at times and redirecting Z1 - she sort of started to understand that touching yielded a cookie. Then we came to the tarp and Bleu showed me a major threshold.

Taking a strategy from Natural Solutions for Spooky Horses, I moved her between the tarp (big threshold) and pedestal (relative confidence). I didn't care how close she got to the tarp, as long as she didn't try to push past me to get away from it. I also wanted to prove to her that when she was worried, she could trust me to help her and not over-face her. Finally, when it was her idea to be brave and confident, she sniffed at the tarp and was rewarded with two cookies.

I moved on to playing with more friendly game and checking her forehand porcupine game. We finished with a little more touch it, revisiting the tarp. After some more approach and retreat, she offered to put her foot on it. TOUCHDOWN! I walked her away and tied her to the rail while I went and got Cricket.

With Cricket, I wanted a low energy session that really worked on her mind. Wendy Morgan, soon to be fully licensed 1* Parelli Instructor, helped me set up some puzzles for our partnership. It's about working on a task - like sideways from Zone 1 - but setting up a puzzle that causes you and the horse to work together using the skill rather than just pushing the horse by drilling the skill. I call them Wendy Puzzles.

I set up a sideways/backing puzzle and a squeeze with options puzzle. The first had me behind a pole and Cricket between two cones with the tarp behind her. The puzzle was sideways from Zone 1 between the cones, adding in a back up to stand on the tarp. By the end, I had her going sideways from one cone to the middle, backing up to stand on the tarp, coming forward and then asking the question to complete the sideways to the other cone.

The squeeze with options had me behind a pole with the pedestal and a cone. I had the option of squeezing her onto the pedestal or going between the pedestal and the cone. For Cricket his is hard because she makes a lot of assumptions about the pedestal. The first few sends, I had to be clear, tagging her shoulder to get her off the pedestal and do the squeeze I requested. She finally got it and gave me a few "yes ma'am" squeezes.

Then I changed my focus and asked her to cross the pedestal. She got it right away. Then I changed my focus and asked for the squeeze. She was absolutely convinced she needed to cross the pedestal. I had to come across my pole to reinforce the squeeze I wanted. When she came through that squeeze, she was licking and chewing and licking and chewing. After that, she just got it. I did a squeeze over the pedestal followed by a squeeze around the pedestal and she just got it.

I doctored her belly spot (which is finally healing) and put her back in her run. I got the stuff to doctor Bleu's latest hickey and then turned all the horses out. Cricket hung back in her run while everyone else left. Then she mosied right up to me. It's almost like she was waiting to have me to herself. I gave her scratches and a cookie and headed home.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 2: A Herd of Three

I decided on a low-key day for yesterday's session. I want to keep Cricket guessing when I ask her to catch me and I am still developing rapport with Bleu. The weather has been excruciatingly hot and sticky and the horses' coats are matted and dirty. I decided a good grooming was in order. As part of the session I wanted to work on building our herd of three.

Bleu is not sure about being caught. She loves the safety of her run and as a RBI isn't so sure leaving is all that good of a thing. I spent the time I needed to catch her attention and interest. At one point she walked up but couldn't touch me. I was able to use light pressure (i.e. let me halter your butt) and she turned, faced and allowed me to halter her.

With Bleu in tow, I headed towards Cricket's stall. Cricket, waiting out in her run, was interested but not wholly convinced she should come to me. I just called to her and she finally came to the door so I could halter her.

Cricket is the alpha of the herd and has the right to push Bleu around. Except when I'm there. And that was part of what last night was to enforce. Setting us up for success, I sent Cricket out in front, driving from Z3/4, and allowed Bleu to trail at whatever distance she felt comfortable. After all, she doesn't yet know that I can protect her from Cricket.

I hitched both girls to the arena rail - Cricket in a blocker tie ring and Bleu with her rope loosely wrapped around a post. I alternated grooming each horse. First Cricket, then Bleu then more Bleu and then back to Cricket.

Cricket loves a good grooming. You can dig and scratch and curry and she just gets into it. Bleu is a little more sensitive. I was pleased, however, with how well she accepted the currying and brushing. I take it as a small sign that her reserve is cracking and she's more accepting of me touching her.

After grooming it was doctoring. Cricket has a bad belly spot already. So I put some Swat on her mid-line. Bleu has another "hickey." This is the worst bite Dillon has given her. I swear I'm about to tie that gelding's mouth shut! I've toyed with putting Bleu in a run by herself but I feel the companionship is more important. When I drive up, Dillon and Bleu are nose-to-tail, swatting flies for each other. When I get her fly sheet back on her, it should offer her a little protection.

I led both mares out, side by side, to the pasture gate. Bleu was very close to Cricket's butt and my sweet girl just accepted it. I was so proud of how she accepted my leadership and didn't so much as flick an ear towards Bleu. I squeezed Bleu between Cricket and the gate and the allowed Cricket to follow.

I turned Cricket loose and she just put her head down to eat. I un-haltered Bleu and she headed straight for Dillon, nickering - the poster child for Battered Mare Syndrome. I turned everybody else out and turned to head home. My Principessa asked for more scratches so I spent a few more minutes loving on her.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 1: Here We Go Again

So here we go again. Another 30 day program. This time, with both horses, my goal is 60 sessions in 30 days. I'll need to be creative to make up the days I'll be gone to Columbus for the Parelli event. But there's the goal.

I have goals with this program. With Cricket, I want to rediscover her play drive. I want to have fun with her again. I want her to have fun with me. No small feat with my LB alpha mare. For Bleu, I need to be more structured. We are going to concentrate on on-line and freestyle so I'll use the self-assessment sheets to guide our sessions and measure our progress. Underlying this is the goal to balance her on-line canter leading to better under-saddle canter.

Yesterday was day one. It was frickin' hot. Who's idea was it to settle this part of the country? We are actually under weather warnings for the heat and humidity - something we don't usually see until August. This does not bode well for a productive summer!

I started with Cricket. I'm setting a pretty strict time limit with her - a maximum of 15 minutes of activity. I need to get a timer to help me stick to my guns. If I want to play with her, then I need to use the best she has and be done with it. More than 15 minutes, at least at this stage, is going to get into drilling and drudgery.

I cannot remember exactly what we did. I just tried to feel of her and go with the flow. I tried to be mindful of my neutral and to just play. I used some backing and sideways from zone 1. I used a little bit of a deliberate falling leaf and then some stick to me with exuberant transitions. I tried to be intense without being stick & string slap happy. At the end, I felt her put more mental and physical energy into her response. I stopped, gave her a couple cookies, took the halter off and let her graze.

I went to get Bleu. Sunday she wouldn't come to me and we had to play a little catching game in the run. I prepared for that to be the extent of our session and headed in. She came most of the way and then just stopped. So I waited. She licked and chewed and just looked at me. I used a little approach and retreat and soon she willingly joined me in the stall to be caught. She seemed less anxious about leaving the barn and I took that as a good sign.

She gets a little up when we're out in the paddock so I decided not to push the issue of keeping her feet still. That will come. I decided to use the barrels to start a figure-8. We started just going around and coming back, trying to reinforce the draw more than the drive. She did really good and I managed one trip around both barrels before moving on.

Next was circle game with transitions. Bleu is so physically uncoordinated in her upward transitions. Using what Wendy and I worked on this past weekend, I did a traveling circle game, focusing on happy neutral and coming out of neutral. As soon as Bleu tried to canter, I disengaged her and let her dwell. We did this several time in both directions. It didn't take long for her to start getting more mentally connected and she offered an awesome try - more mental than just physical - and I called that a major win.

I decided to just lead her out the gate at the back of the paddock and open the runs from there. After we were through the gate, I removed her halter and gave her a cookie. We then played just a little "stick to me" with walk and halt transitions. This is our first liberty and I was tickled pink at her willingness to be with me. I turned all the horses loose and then went back to call Cricket from the paddock out to the pasture. She finally decided to come and offered a very animated trot towards me. I stopped her as she came through the gate - just with energy - and gave her some cookies before sending her the rest of the way out.

What a good start to my new program!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Whirlwind Weekend!

So here I am trying to recover from another busy weekend. My good friend and soon-to-be fully licensed 1* Parelli Instructor Wendy Morgan was here for a weekend of lessons. I have the incredibly fun job of watching Wendy's 2 1/2 yr old daughter, Stella, while Wendy teaches. I don't know who gets more exhausted - Wendy or me!

The Sunday lessons were unexpectedly cancelled due to some savvy decisions by the students. Their horses had trailer loading troubles and they wisely decided to stay safe and not push the issue. I have a feeling Wendy will be invited back for some special trailer loading sessions as soon as she gets her full 1* status.

With the cancellations, we had the opportunity to work with my horses.

For Bleu, I wanted some feedback on her on-line canter. I have only played once with her canter and it was pretty exciting. Wendy helped me with a couple of approaches - first using a marker to ask for the canter and then using a traveling circle game with some "mirror me". Both techniques worked but I think the "mirror me" worked better. We'll keep playing with that to help Bleu develop better balance and confidence.

One big thing Wendy pointed out is that my "neutral" has become very fuzzy. I don't have a true neutral and so "coming out of neutral" is rather ineffective. We worked a little on the idea of happy neutral and really bringing up my life to come of neutral. I need a TON of work on this idea.

Next we played with Cricket. Wendy showed me some new techniques for helping Cricket with her rope-stepping issue. I've tried so many different approaches and none of them have helped. Wendy took it a step further and I think, with lots of repetition, I can help Cricket re-program her automatic response when she steps on her rope.

Then we started playing with play drive and I went totally RB and it got very awkward and uncomfortable. Wendy and I had a bit of an emotional de-brief afterward and I'm glad we did. It's hard being such good friends with her and then switching roles to "instructor" and "student."

Wendy really pushed my assumptions about what Cricket could and couldn't do; what she would and wouldn't do. And I was incredibly resistant and just shut down. Eventually we talked through it and Wendy and I are fine.

I don't fully understand why I became so internally emotional about the whole thing. I've had bad days with Cricket. I've had instructors become very blunt with me. I've been pushed out of my complacency. While I don't always enjoy it, I'm rarely so RB emotional about it.

I realized, in my reflective moments, that I'm just in a vulnerable space when it comes to my Cricket. Bringing Bleu into the "family" is redefining my relationship with Cricket. And I'm struggling with how I feel about it. Cricket has been the center of my equine universe for seven years. Bleu is rocking the order of our world.

We finished yesterday's session with an impromptu bareback and bridle-less ride. I just slid onto Cricket from the arena wall. She was sticky and grimy so it wasn't so slippery. We wandered around - no stick, no neck string, just her halter for a little driving game. I asked her for a trot - crazy damn thing to do - and she sort of took off down the arena wall. I thought she'd stop where Wendy was on the observation deck. Nope. I started thinking about the best place to bail. And then she eased and slowed in the corner. Not too bad.

I turned her back and we went to the observation deck and had a major wallering & scratching session. I crawled all over her, scratching and just loving her. It was the most fun I've had with her in months. And it's the first time I've been on her since the beginning of May!

It's alright that Bleu is here. She takes nothing away from what I have with Cricket. She brings something new to the mix. She has her own gifts and talents and she has something new to teach me. What I've learned with Cricket will benefit Bleu and what Bleu has to teach me will take my time with Cricket to the next level. I just need to let down my guard, release the emotion and go with the flow.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

So Much For Horse Time!

Well so much for getting in more horse time. Life, or more accurately work, intervened and the best I've managed is scratches, treats and kisses.

I did ride Bleu early last week. We started with some simple passenger lesson and worked our way up to more leadership. I asked her for some sustained trotting. She wasn't so sure about that and it took lots of repeated requests. Finally, she gave me the trot and maintained it long enough for me to ask her to transition to the halt. I jumped off and called it a day.

I'm trying to balance my time with Cricket. When Bleu first arrived, Cricket would bang on her stall door, demanding my attention. Then she started just watching me. Finally, last week, she just stood -looking entirely too dejected - out in her run. My plan had been to take Bleu for a trail walk but I decided to leave her graze and spend some quality time with my Principessa. I grabbed a brush and curry and called her up and went to town. I tell you, nobody appreciates a good "elbow grease grooming" like my Cricket.

For the last several days it's been little more than a pat and a cookie for either of them. Work has been busy and hectic and I just want to crash at the end of the day. This weekend Wendy Morgan returns for another weekend of lessons. Starting Monday, I want to get Bleu out of the arena and start working with Cricket some more. We'll see how the next set of plans goes . . .

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Catching Up

It's been ages, or so it seems, since I've posted anything. This is due in large part to the fact I haven't been doing anything.

Well, that's not entirely true. But what I have been doing is rather unremarkable. Nevertheless, here it goes.

I believe I mentioned that Cricket came back from camp "sore." No real idea what's bothering her but something just ain't doin' right. Friday I had my farrier pull her shoes and hoof test her right front. Nothing. She's got a touch of separation around her white line and maybe that's all it was.

Leading up to her farrier appointment, I had her on a course of anti-inflammatory meds. I played with her on Monday and she was short-striding but not off. She's always a little short out of shoes so maybe it's nothing major. And when we opened the gates to let them all out, she tore off at a mad gallop. Oh yeah, she's sore!

I've been spending the last week or so getting to know Bleu. She arrived at the barn last Sunday. I have her on trial until mid-July.

For the first few days, we did some pretty low-key stuff in the arena. She's a little worried about everything - the arena, the other horses, the whole change in her world. I've been playing a lot of "me & my shadow" and she really digs the game. We start out standing stock still and eventually her breathing deepens, she lets out a big sigh, followed by a big lick & chew. And then we're off.

I'm working on some circles with her. I want to build her confidence and balance so I can start introducing canter work. We'll get there.

Saturday I rode her for the first time since she arrived. She did great, all things considered. My plan was to extend "me & my shadow" into passenger game under saddle. Excellent plan! She was pretty concerned about being away from the herd and the passenger game allowed her to go back when she needed it. Eventually we walked up the middle of the arena and I dismounted and called it a day.

Monday I gave her a bath. Turns out her previous owner was big into "My Pretty Pony" - Bleu stood like an old pro. She's a bit touchy about her teats but she doesn't trust me all that well so it's no surprise.

My plan is to ride more this week and see how things go. I've already learned a lot about my own horsemanship in the brief time I've had Bleu. I promise to post something more introspective soon.