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

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.

Step By Step

Every goal can be broken into mini goals. Mini goals should never be too difficult or too long. You don’t want to be overwhelmed by them.

Ask yourself: “What steps do I need to take to achieve my goal?"

- Goal Setting Course,
Step 6

I've been a bit remiss in following my goal setting journey.  No worries, getting back on track.

So this is the step that answers a lot of questions about the first step, setting the goal.  The goal, the pot of gold at the end of my rainbow, is achieved step by step.  Putting one foot in front of the other, doing one thing at a time.

My monthly goals will count as my mini-goals.  The actual things I need to do to progress me towards the ultimate goal of becoming excellent in my horsemanship.

I have pulled out my nice notebook.  I've not quite gotten to the stage of writing down on paper.  Things have been busy and topsy-turvy the last few days.  Things should be better this coming week.

More Natural than Natural Horsemanship?

Late last night I finished reading Karen Pryor's newest book, Reaching the Animal Mind.  I bought it as part of my renewed interest in clicker training.  I thought it would be a fun read and get me psyched up to fool around with CT and Cricket.

Boy howdy was I wrong!

If you've ever been even remotely curious about clicker training, read this book.

It starts out very anecdotal - Karen tells stories of her various experiences with clicker trained animals, weaving through out the stories the benefits of clicker training over conventional or traditional methods.

And just when you think this is a cute book about some cute animals, she introduces the science that simply blows your mind.

Clicker training accesses the deep, primitive structures of the brain: the amygdala, or "reptilian brain" and the hypothalamus, part of our emotional center.  Learning in these two structures is different than the more evolved cerebral cortex.  Clicker training taps into the more immediate, permanent learning of the amygdala and the hypothalamus.

Could it be that clicker training is more natural than even natural horsemanship?

I wish I could explain it as eloquently as Karen laid it all out in her book.  I simply cannot recommend this book enough.

I understand, now, the light in Cricket's eyes when I pull out the clicker and the treats.  It's not the food (read the book and you'll understand why!).  It's something so much more than that.  I cannot wait to get this started again!