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.