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

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Playing at Liberty

I had an amazing liberty session with Cricket last night.  To the casual observer, it probably looked chaotic and even pointless.

I have been having a problem with Cricket's liberty play.  Though she'll do most anything, when it comes to circle game, she bolts.  We've had this issue before but it's never been localized to the circle game.

One of my goals for the winter is to work on magnetism - increasing Cricket's desire to be with me.  It goes beyond physical draw; it's a mental connection.

Last night I played with "look at me; never mind."  I followed Zone 5 until Cricket turned her attention to me and then I would turn and walk away, ignoring her.  Cricket hates to be ignored.  Pretty soon she was in stride with me, asking questions about what was going on.

I wanted to experiment with the circle not to see if she would circle but to see if I could find what wasn't working.  It was so interesting to see every horsenality show up in this simple exercise.

The first time I offered the send, she braced against me by looking in the opposite direction.  Totally LBI.  I held the send without offering any additional pressure and she switched to her right brain, very unsure and even a little worried.  I changed the game and she wasn't ready for it.

I even saw flashes of RBE when she would bolt, though she quickly flipped LBE.

We finished when, after a soft send with soft support, she thought through the bolt and disengaged the moment I asked.  I think she went back to her right brain to process it all through.

Thinking through the bolt was pretty significant.  She's not scared, she just doesn't want to deal with the pressure.  I loved seeing her make a conscious choice to stay and see what might happen.  It was hard to quit on that note.  To see her really offering the connection that has been elusive in our liberty.

I remember something Carol told us about exuberance: until your horse greets you with exuberance, you quit when you get it.  The same for this magnetism.  Until Cricket is locking onto me from the start, we quit when we get it.

I think my decision to end the session came as a huge relief to Cricket.  I cannot explain it.  I think liberty worries her just a little.  She showed way more right brain than I'm used to seeing in her.  I need to let her know that she's right, no matter what.  Even when she bolted, I kept in mind the idea of "send, allow, bring back" and just kept my focus without criticizing how she executed any one part.  I just kept asking until she could offer something I liked better.

We finished with wonderful connection.  Again, it's hard to explain.  The energy from Cricket just felt like "yes ma'am."  When I opened the arena gate and indicated she should go to her stall, she did so with purpose.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Emergency Dismount

This past weekend, I survived my first true emergency dismount.  I was bareback and bridle-less and Cricket became a runaway . . . at the walk.  She was crossing the gravel road as I planned my dismount but as soon as she got off the gravel, she broke into a trot.  I vaulted off and landed on my feet.  Unfortunately, I was facing the wrong way and Cricket's momentum pulled me backwards and I softly toppled to the ground.

Since this event, I've been reflecting on a few things.

It didn't scare me.  At all.  It was my choice to get off.  The power of that decision preserved my confidence.  Later that day, I haltered her and rode her from the barn back to her turnout field.

I've also thought about when the runaway actually started.  Most people hear "runaway" and picture a horse at a full gallop and a rider hanging on for dear life.  In reality, a runaway occurs when your horse disconnects from your leadership.  When you don't control the brakes, it's a runaway.  But when you don't control the accelerator, it's also a runaway.  A horse can runaway in one step.  If you fix all the little runaways, you never get to the big one.

So when did Cricket runaway?  Honestly, before I ever go on her.  I asked her to pick me up at the mounting block and she didn't.  I had to coax her with the stick.  I thought, "Well, I'm just going to sit on her while she grazes.  We'll be fine."  I failed to establish my leadership and since nature abhors a void, someone had to step up.  It doesn't take much for Cricket to take over.

My last thought was about the actual emergency dismount.  I have never vaulted off a moving horse.  Ever.  I've become very fluid in my bareback dismount and it was that muscle memory that saved me on Saturday.  I also practice landing on soft knees and ankles, sinking further than necessary to ensure the shock is absorbed throughout my body.  It was that softness that allowed me to tumble backwards and prevent injury.

Since I often ride bareback in the winter, I think this is an excellent time to improve my emergency dismount.  I want to be able to vault off Cricket, from the walk or trot, and land safely on my feet.  I'm going to start at the halt so as to retrain myself to twist my hips and land facing the same direction as my horse.  When that gets good, we'll put it in motion.

As weird as it might sound, this is one of my best moments in my horsemanship journey.  I vaulted off a moving animal, landed on my feet and was just fine.  A year ago, I'd have fallen off, gotten hurt and taken months to rebuild my confidence.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I need to find a way to increase Cricket's magnetism.

It's different than draw. We have draw . . . most of the time. If we had magnetism, we'd have better draw.

A while I go I blogged about rapport being more than just handing out cookies; I realize that's part of my solution.

But first, the problem. Or rather the challenge.

How do I cause Cricket to understand the send on the circle in open area liberty? How do I keep that rubber band whereby even as she leaves, she's being pulled back?

This is isolated to open area liberty. In the round corral, she circles just fine. She'll even offer short-range circles and doesn't rely on the panels to "hold her in."

I'm not worried. I'm not taking it personally. I'm just pondering ways in which I can, in our daily play, begin to build the rubber band.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Like Coming Home

I was able to play with my pony tonight.

Simply wonderful.

I wasn't asking for much and I wasn't expecting much.  And in return she blew my socks off.

My normally introverted and sullen mare was so beautifully and openly extroverted.  Something I haven't seen in our on-line play in a very long time.

Things were good when she offered a little trot in our warm-up.  Things were better when she gave me a gorgeous forward trot in the circle game.  She gave me some easy, 3-beat canter and an exuberant flying lead change.  We played with some long distance, energetic touch-it - asking her to really hook onto my idea.  On a focused send, she went straight for the jump and cleared it with beautiful energy and intention.

And that was it.

I sat on the barrels, scratched her belly and then put her up and gave her dinner.

Like coming home.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Making it a Game

I have finally figured out how to make the phases into a game.

It's only taken 9 years, 3 horses, 13 clinics/workshops, 2 trips to the ISC, taking countless lessons, auditing numerous clinics and thousands of dollars to figure this out.

Yeah, I can be slow.

Here is my realization: You cannot avoid something that was never coming in the first place.

Let me translate that into Parelli-speak: If I never intend to offer my horse a phase 4 then she cannot play the "ha, ha you missed" me game because you cannot avoid something that was never coming in the first place.

Get it?

If you do not intend to go to phase 4, your horse cannot make a game out of moving first.

Get it?

I finally get it.

I noticed a huge change in Cricket after camp.  I started thinking about phase 4 before offering phase 1.  I got  very focused on phase 4 as I offered phase 1, 2 and 3.  And Cricket started offering more at lighter and lighter phases.

Sure, my intention and focus was better but the promise of phase 4 was now real.

And my phase 4 is not a "whack her, beat her, how hard can I hit her with the popper" kind of phase 4.  It was about delivering a kiss to the tip of the hair with a smile on my face.

The last time I played with Cricket, she offered me a soft, true canter at phase 1.  She offered me a soft flying lead change at phase 1 and she finally hooked onto my idea of cantering circles and settled into a beautiful forward canter.  It truly was a game.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Normal, Naturally

I have this thought gnawing at my brain and I want to see if I can get it out before it festers.

I read a Parelli Central blog post about "breaking horses."  It wasn't the actual post that got me thinking but rather some of the comments.  I don't want to pick on people but I want to explore an idea about normal vs. natural . . .

There is a pervasive idea that Parelli horses are "crazy."  You don't have to be a super-sleuth to find this out.  You simply have to Google Parelli and you'll find a host of anti-Parelli websites and people who wouldn't touch a Parelli-trained horse with a 10ft pole.

Parelli people don't always help this image.

It is possible to get so wrapped up in what we think is creating relationship and preserving dignity that we fail to realize our horses are brats.  Or worse, dangerous.

"He needs to move his feet."  Sure, he does.  But not while the farrier is up underneath him.  True story - a Parelli student allowed her horse to just walk off and wander around, leaving the farrier with a dumbfounded look.

"She's unconfident in new situations."  Sure, she is.  But that doesn't mean she gets to shoulder through the vet tech who's trying to hold her for x-rays.

"He's food motivated."  Of course he is.  But that doesn't mean he gets to pull the hay out of the barn owner's hands while she's trying to put out hay for the boarder horses.

"She's dominant."  I get it.  But that doesn't mean she gets to charge and kick when another boarder comes to get her horse.

Here's a bit of a news flash: Your horse may not always be under your care.  But . . . but . . .  No buts.  It's reality, folks.

My mare spent four weeks at the teaching hospital at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  She had three major procedures and had to undergo daily sedation and nerve blocks.  While this may be an extreme case, it's an extreme example to illustrate my point.

I had ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL over the people handling my horse.  Worse, few vet students have large animal experience and some are very afraid of horses.

I remember handing Cricket's lead line to the vet student and simply saying, "Don't hold her close and trust her."  I couldn't explain the million things that had gone into her training and development.  I had to trust my horse and the preparation I'd given her thus far.

It is my responsibility to help Cricket get along in a normal world.  A world where horses are not seen as sensitive, emotional animals.  A world where they are expected to meekly obey every cue and command.  Where they are supposed to lead on a short line and stand tied and lead into a trailer and go into stocks and stand on scales.  A world that expects her to be "normal."

I train my horse to be normal, naturally.  I treat everything the normal horse world expects of her as a friendly game.  She will lead on a short line and stand tied and lead calmly through gates.  She'll back away from her feed bowl.  All the behaviors that make her an equine good citizen.

To make the world a better place for horses we need to spend some time making our horses better for this world.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

(Not) In the Mood

It's been ages since I've updated my blog.  Every time I start a blog post, I just sort of fizzle out.  What's up with that?  Maybe it's just a bit of the winter blahs . . . Who knows!

I've had several good play sessions with Cricket in the past weeks.  We continue to work on and refine what Carol taught us at camp.  In so many ways, my relationship with Cricket has never been better.

We've been playing with more intention on-line.  Using softer phases and stronger focus has my little mare offering more with me doing a whole lot less.  She's beginning to offer draw at speed, we've gotten some soft flying lead changes on the change of direction and she's offering canter more and more.  I need to remember that I turned groundwork in to drudgery and it's going to take some time to convince Cricket we are actually playing.

Under saddle, we're still having a ball!  I've been playing with steady rein and stretching into bit contact.  Cricket picked that up in no time and now I'm teaching her to follow the feel of the bit - forward and down or back up into my hands.  She totally gets it!  She can get a little resistant about holding frame so we're just going soft and slow.

I've been teaching her correct bend for lateral work and she can nail it on the right bend but we've been fighting (for lack of a better word) on her left bend.  Her lateral flexion is fine to both sides and her freestyle HQ disengagement is fine to both sides.  But for some reason, when we put them together, it all goes to hell.  Carol helped me break it down and Saturday, I asked for the bend and when I asked for the HQ she gave me the weight and body shift.  Loved it!

I want to start preparing Cricket to be able to ask for flying lead changes under saddle.  I never imagined this would be something I would do but I think we're ready.  At least for the ingredients.

We're starting to introduce speeds within the canter.  Unfortunately our arena isn't wholly conducive to this but we're making the best.  I've started asking her for more speed on the long side and then to slow on the short side and speed up down the long side.  It's a little hit or miss but I think that has more to do with Cricket trusting me than anything else.  When she figures out I really want her to turn it on, I think we'll have some fun.

I also got a wild hair to start asking for freestyle walk-canter transitions.  I saw it on a Mastery Lesson and thought, "why not?"  I can get a little rattled asking Cricket to canter freestyle, simply because I had this idea that going from the walk to the canter was a finesse thing.  Don't ask me where I got that idea.  So last Saturday I just started playing with it.  At first, Cricket gave me a racey-bracey trot.  I just brought her back down and asked again.  A few repetitions on the left lead and she got it and I rode one of her best freestyle canters EVER.  On the right lead, she nailed it on the first try.

Speaking of right lead canter, I think we've finally exorcised the Corner's Demon.  You know, the little devil on Cricket's shoulder that convinces her to run hell-bent for the corner every time we take the right lead.  She offered a right lead canter on Saturday and rather than say, "No." I opted for "Me Too!" and she gave me several circuits of the arena with no indication of running for the wall.  None!

And I have finally found the perfect bit.  Because sometimes equipment matters.  In the time I've been riding her in her new bit, she's come to the point where I hold out the headstall and she reaches for the bit and takes it up into her mouth.  Recently, when I went to remove her bridle, she continued to play with her bit and I stood, for about 10 minutes, holding her headstall while she played with the bit.  The past weekend, she tried to pick up her bit while the headstall was still on the wall and I was still saddling her.  I think we found a winner.

So there's the update.  In all of this, Cricket's attitude towards me is just amazing.  She nickers to me, comes to me with purpose and intention.  She's getting into the conversation more and more.  In a word, she's becoming willing.  It's beyond "I'll do what you say" obedience, it's "sure, that sounds great" willingness.  Not all the time but more and more.  Loving it!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sometimes the Answer is NO

One of the important lessons I learned from my camp experience is that it's okay to say no.

But wait, you say.  Doesn't this contradict everything we've been told?  The horse is always right.  Don't make him feel wrong.

Well, yes and no.

Allow me to digress . . . years and years ago I read about a study done with children and fenced yards.  The researchers found that children who played in fenced yards were more self-confident, less fearful and more exuberant than children who played in yards without defined boundaries.  Hmm, how interesting.

My interpretation of this . . . The fence provided a clear, consistent and unemotional NO.  On the other hand, the children in the open space might freely roam into the neighbor's yard one day but be scolded the next.  A frantic parent might grab the child inches from tumbling into the street but later pull them back 10 ft from the curb.  Inside the fence, you won't find children sobbing because the fence is there nor will you find them constantly running into the fence, expecting it to move.  No, what you will find is joyful, exuberant PLAY.  You'll find kids running from one end to the other, whooping and hollering.  In the open space, you might find the children are hesitant to run, unsure of where the real boundary lay. And should the parents encourage these children to play, you might see hesitation and refusal.

So how does that relate to horsemanship? I'm sure you've already figured out where I'm going with this . . .

Every time my horse asks a question, it involves the boundaries of our relationship.  It's a little more complicated than a simple fenced yard but the basic, underlying principle is the same.

One of the exercises we did at camp was to ask our horses to circle.  No big deal except that it was at liberty in the big arena with 11 other horses around.  Every horse left - even Carol's.  Every horse came back with the "Can I come to you?" look and every one of us said, "No."

You heard me.  We all said, "No."

Because the game was circles.  And the horses knew it.  When Cricket left and came back, her question to me was, "Can I come to you?"  And my answer was, "Thank you for asking but could you please find your circle."  I don't remember how many times she left but each time she headed towards me, I thanked her and reminded her we were playing circle game.  When she found her circle, I said, "YES!" and brought her in.

It's difficult to say, "No."  But establishing boundaries and creating an expectation of responsibilities is more liberating than saying "Yes" all the time.  In my last couple of ground sessions, I've raised the bar and Cricket has offered more exuberance than I've seen in ages.

Of course the key is how you say, "No."  It cannot be authoritarian or dictatorial or emotional.  It must be prefaced with, "thank you for asking but could you please . . ."  You must have a clear idea of what you are trying to accomplish and reward the moment - the absolute INSTANT - your horse hooks on to the idea even if you don't achieve the final product.

It's okay to say, "No" because often there's a much better YES! on the other side.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Endless Possibilities

Camp was an absolutely amazing experience.  Every year I say best camp EVER and this is no exception.

I don't usually take notes during camp but this year I did.  There was so much great stuff and I'm glad I took the time to write it down.

Please remember that my notes are my interpretation, taken through the filter of my experience.  Nothing in this post is to be construed as the definitive way something should be done.
  • It really is about playing a game.  Until you evoke the game, it's just "make" and you'll constantly be doing more and getting less.
  • Phases, at this level, are about stealth.  Carol gave us the analogy of a hunter going through the woods.  If he crashes through the brush, calling "Any deer around here?" by the time he gets to the clearing, he's going to think there are no deer in the entire county.  You have to sneak up on Phase 4 so you cause your horse to really pay attention.
  • Phases are about intention, not motion and commotion.  Phase 4 should be delivered with a smile and you should aim to kiss the hair on the top of zone 5 with the popper.
  • When your horse knows your phases and is counting on the consistency, start mixing things up.  But don't just go to phase 4 every time.  It's got to be a game!
  • Until you have a consistent canter at phase 1, you are working on snappy departs and not maintain gait.
  • There is a big difference between a phase 1 canter and a phase 4 canter.
  • You cannot hide behind your tools, thinking the CS alone will get you a canter depart.  You must have intention.
  • Using the slingshot to invoke the game - slow draw towards and a speedy redirect, aiming the popper at the belly, just behind the elbow.
  • Level 4 is about accessing the athleticism of the right brain with the left brain in control.  In the early levels, it's all about safety but in L3/4 you need to unlock the right brain and clear out the cobwebs.
  • Getting to the right brain can get a little unfriendly - your LB horse, who thinks she knows everything about you, needs to learn your less predictable than she thought.  It's okay for your horse to be a little frightened.
  • Put purpose to everything you do.  Don't do a falling leaf "just because" - use it to invoke the game or get more snappy or as a "consequence" for not upholding a responsibility.  Don't just go from one end of the arena "doing a falling leaf."
  • Have a clear idea of what your looking for and how to reward it.  Stop when you get what you want.
  • Once your horse hooks onto the idea, reward it and stop.  At least for a little while.
  • Forget the horse you had yesterday, this morning, five minutes ago or even five seconds ago.  That horse no longer exists.  What horse do you have in this moment?
  • Asking a worried horse to calm down only adds more pressure.
  • Retreat doesn't have to mean going away completely.  In a new environment, retreat from one object by going away to another and another and another.  When you return to the first object, it's suddenly familiar.
  • FORWARD IS THE KEY.  If you don't have forward, do what it takes to get it.
  • Can you use your tools independent of everything else? Can your horse yield to the CS without your body?  Can he yield to the bit without your seat?  The key is intention.
  • The horse must learn to uphold his responsibilities.
  • Can you cause your horse to stretch forward into contact?  Can you cause him to stretch into contact and offer forward into that contact?  This is the key to real finesse riding.  It's not just about the headset or the frame but rather about the horse really understanding contact.
  • The more your horsemanship develops, the less overtly evaluating horsenality matters.  You just know where to be, why to be and what to do when you get there.
I'm sure there's more but this is the nuts and bolts of what we covered during camp.  As I moved through the four days, I realized that I do not play with Cricket.  On the last day, during our individual liberty session, I found the play, not just in me but in her.  And it was fabulous.

Prior to camp, I had this idea the level 3 meant we were done.  As I think about invoking the game and causing Cricket to want to offer more, suddenly I see door opening everywhere and the possibilities are endless.  Here's to dwelling in the world of possibility.

I Did It!

There it is.  My green string.  I can hardly believe it.


This means more to me than I can ever explain.

I set out to achieve L3 and somewhere in the middle, I realized that what I wanted was the horsemanship and not the string.  After my liberty audition, I was determined that my freestyle would flow naturally out of my progress with Cricket.  I was not going to "try for my freestyle."

So I just went about playing and riding.  And things got better and better.  I had folks telling me to just video it and get it done.  I didn't want to - not because I was afraid of failing but because I didn't want to turn everything into something artificial.

My goal, as I prepared for camp, was simply to go and just let things unfold.  If nothing else, Carol would give me feedback on what I needed to achieve L3.

On the second day of camp, Carol asked us to ride a figure-8 with 1 or 2 sticks.  When it was my turn, I just started at the walk, asking Cricket to find the pattern.  We moved to a trot and then just flowed into the canter.  It was a little helter-skelter but it was okay.  We worked it out.  I could hear the strains of "Barbie Girl" over the loudspeaker and just started to have FUN!

And then I heard it.  Carol's voice.  "That's solid level 3 riding."  And I knew we had it.

As we wrapped up camp on Tuesday, Carol asked us for our highlights.  I told her my biggest highlight was not necessarily my green string.  It was that I came to camp and for the first time, I wasn't the one saying, "I'll just trot" or "I'm not going to canter."  It was that I made this journey with my horse.  Truthfully, the string was just gravy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Camp Day 4: Wrapping it All Up

The last day of camp is always a little bittersweet.  The longing for more is all jumbled up with the fatigue and brain-fry that comes from spending 10-12 hours a day in a pretty intense learning environment.  So we don't do a whole lot of new stuff.

Almost half the private sessions for the morning consisted of chatting at the picnic table.  It was so cool to have that one-on-one with Carol and interesting that so many of us came to the same idea.  I think I got something out of each conversation - maybe even more than I got out of my own.

We had individual liberty sessions in the round corral for our morning ground work.  I was a little nervous, this kind of spotlight can send me a little right-brain.  I decided just to focus on the skills I needed to get Cricket more responsive.  I was really pleased with our session.  Carol coached me through my phases and I actually felt playful with my horse.  Nothing earth-shattering but I started to get some nice upward transitions at phase 1 and that's part of what we need to have even a hope of maintain gait.

The weather was a little non-cooperative but we were able to ride for about an hour before we wrapped up.  I think I have some better insights into getting Cricket to stretch and come into contact and once we get some of these basics, I think our riding is going to get really good.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Camp Day 3: Rise and Fall

My private session this morning was a bit of a fall from glory.  After ending on such a high yesterday, it was bound to happen.

I wanted to work on maintain gait on-line.  At the canter.  It wasn't pretty.  At least to me.  I felt uncoordinated with my tools, my horse was unenthusiastic about my efforts and I felt as if we did a whole lot of something for a whole lot of nothing.

I'm sure that's just my perspective.

In our ground session we did long line driving.  My frustration from my private session spilled over into our group session.  I was way too hard on Cricket, probably as a reflection of being too hard on myself.  Cricket got just a little scared of me.  While I'm thrilled to see her access a little of her right brain, I'm not proud about how it happened.

We wrapped up driving and did some liberty.  Of course Carol calls on us to do our liberty circle game right as Cricket and I are in this uncertain place in our relationship.  It was okay but I could tell Cricket wasn't so sure about it.

As we played at liberty for the session, Cricket tried so hard to please me but I think my confusion made that very hard for her.  While I was asking her for a figure 8, she left me and went to the middle of the arena and offered a circle game.  By herself, complete with change of direction.  Around no one.

Later she went out from my figure 8 and offered a figure 8 on the other side of the arena.  By herself, completely alone.

She hooked up with my friend Margenia's horse and they proceeded to take a casual stroll on the wild side.  Carol had Genia and I meet up in the middle of the arena and ask them to circle us.  It was pretty cool as both mares worked out a circle together.  When they hooked onto the game, we disengaged them and they came right up to us.

Our mounted session was better.  A review and extension of the previous day.  We also introduced some lateral work, building the blocks towards half-pass, side-pass, haunches in and shoulders in.  I really struggled with Cricket's bend to the left.  I asked Carol about it and she helped me to separate each element and figure out what was confusing Cricket.  I'm not sure how long I played with this but I finally started making some progress and called it a day.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Camp Day 2: Fun Fun Fun

Just when I thought it couldn't get better . . .

We had another mind-blowing private session about the circle game.  It's amazing how such a simple concept has so many layers and facets.  Our ground session was a bit of a review of the previous day and then expanding on the liberty we started on day one.  Carol is asking us to stretch our idea of how the horse takes responsibility and it's pretty intense.

Under saddle, we started with a review of day one and then did some CS riding using a F8.  Carol had half the riders at one end, half at the other and the goal was to do a F8 using CS and neck string.  As always, it was up to us how to approach it for safety and confidence.  When it was my turn, I was pretty nervous about it.  But it's a pattern Cricket knows and likes so I felt that we could work through it.  I started at a walk to get Cricket on the pattern and then we moved to a trot and then a canter.

I cantered my horse with just a carrot stick.

It wasn't perfect, it wasn't all that pretty (at least in my mind) but dammit, I did it.

And then I cried.  Happy tears.  I've waited so long for that moment.

The second time around was better.

My private session was the first of the afternoon and I decided, just for fun, to ride bridle-less.  Crazy, right?

Crazy fun!  Cricket was so freakin' amazing.  We did all gaits, simple changes through the walk, sideways, yields . . . Oh my gosh it was a blast.

At the end, all I could do was thank Carol for all she's done over the course of my journey with Cricket.

So I wonder what day three holds?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Camp Day 1: Exceeding Expectations

The first day of camp was amazing.  Every part of the day exceeded any expectations I had coming in.

I have to admit to some trepidation.  Cricket and I have a bit of a rocky history with camp.  As hard as I try not to carry that particular baggage with us, it's hard.  I have so much time and emotion invested in this horse and we can crash pretty hard.

Almost every moment of the first day was just knock-your-socks-off kick-butt.

Each day of camp starts with private sessions.  Then we usually do some sort of simulations before starting our ground session.  After a lunch break we have a riding session and then finish the day with some more private sessions.

One of the early morning private sessions was focused on the circle game.  And that was the key, it's a GAME.  I think I got enough out of that 15 minutes to make the entire camp fee worth it.  Our simulations focused on steady rein and weight aids and that was cool.  Our ground session focused on the game of the circle and building the ingredients for on-line flying changes.  My favorite part of the morning was when Carol demonstrated with Cricket.  I had questions about how to ask for more without being critical of what she's doing now.  In riding, we did steady rein and stretching, asking the horse to move forward into contact.  In my private session I wanted to work on maintain gait at the canter and Carol put me on a reining pattern of fast and slow circles throwing in some lead changes.

I have more detailed notes and will probably post more once I get back home and can process everything.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Final Countdown

I've said it before but this time I mean it.

I'm not ready.

And not in that "I haven't done enough with my horse this past year" kind of way.  Rather in the "holy crap, I leave tomorrow and I've only done a handful of the million things I need to do."

I had already decided on a minimalist approach to preparing for camp.  Even with that, there are certain things that need to be done:  feet, feed, tack and clothes.

My world got tossed around last week when, through a serious of strange and unforeseen events, my sweet kitty was killed.  I never considered myself a cat person and imagined that life would somehow be easier without him.  I miss him more than I could ever have imagined.

So to say I'm behind is the understatement of the century.

All that being said, beyond the stress and anxiety I am super excited about camp this year.  I feel like Cricket and I are the best we've ever been.  The last several days she's met me at the gate, going so far as to mosey over when she saw my truck approaching the barn.  I'm determined to just take her wherever she is and just have fun.

I'm going to take notes and maybe try to blog a little during camp. We'll see how that goes.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Afterall, It's Supposed to Be Fun

At the heart of Parelli is the idea of playing games with your horse.  You'd think I would have figured that out by now.  Apparently not.

I scheduled a lesson with our local 2* Junior Instructor, Robin Harris, as a tune-up for camp.  I've been struggling with Cricket's on-line canter and nothing I'm doing is terribly effective.  Rather than count on camp to fix things, I set up a lesson.  After Cricket's little buck-up last week, I decided to include some riding in the lesson.

We started by just running through the games.  As I applied steady pressure to Cricket's shoulder, Robin asked, "Is that how you always check your porcupine?"  "Yes."  "Do it differently."

Huh?  I stood there, with a completely blank expression.

"How is your 'lead by'?"

So we did lead by the mane and lead by the leg.  Robin suggested incorporating more of this into our daily routine and to use grooming for checking basic yields.  The same basic challenge was issued regarding driving game so we did driving from Z3 and dwell only came when Cricket matched the energy I wanted.

The rest of the games were good and we deliberately omitted circles.

For the circle game, I showed Robin what we had and just how well it wasn't working.

We did a little on the circle but it wasn't working so Robin had me do a short range circle.  The idea was a 2 second lead it/energy cue followed up with a deliberate but quick phase 4.  Cricket gave me some great energy so we took that to the regular circle.

When I finally got the play dynamic right, Cricket gave me some beautiful canter.  Simply beautiful.  The first time I stopped her, I did so with a disengage.  Robin encouraged me to use more draw so we could both become more comfortable with that energy coming towards me.  The first time I asked, off a left circle, Cricket came in and jumped right, jumped left, reared a little and finally straightened up towards me.  I swear, with a lift of my arm to the right, I would have gotten the most beautiful FLC.  Going the other direction, she was much straighter.

Instead of wearing that out, we called it a win and moved onto riding.  We adjusted my shim pattern in an effort to alleviate the back pain I've been feeling lately.  I think it worked because I didn't feel a twinge or spasm during the entire ride!

Robin introduced me to the steady rein and using weight aids to move your horse.  The weight aids comes from Colleen Kelly and it's something with which I'm already familiar.  My dear friend Kathy has been certified by Colleen to teach her methods and we've played with it off and on over the years.  We played a little with canter and Robin helped me adjust my request so I could stay with Cricket during the transition and canter rather than falling behind and inadvertently driving with my seat.

What I need to remember:
  • Be more creative.  Cricket knows her basic yields so check those during grooming, haltering, etc.  Use play time to expand on those basic yields.
  • The key to Cricket's play drive is mental intensity.
  • She needs to understand the consequences for breaking gait and I need to follow through when she does.  If there's no repercussions for dropping to the trot, why should she exert the energy to canter?
  • More draw to bring back, less disengage.  Keep the energy flowing and forward.
  • If she offers her crappy 4-beat canter, do some transitions until she can move into a forward, correct canter.  Don't punish the crappy canter but find a way to let her know that's not what I wanted.
  • If she pins her ears, don't make her feel wrong but do something about it - change something to effect a change in her.  Foster the happy ears without criticizing the driving ears.
  • Stop making excuses for her.
  • Ask for the canter by riding the transition UP.  Literally.  Lift the inside hip a little and get up with her.  When Cricket offers a true transition, she's very up in her front end and I need to be ready for that on the first beat.
  • Be more particular on the small things - straightness through the transition, up or down; go when I say; whoa when I say.
All in all it was a great lesson.  Now I have camp in just under two weeks and then Wendy comes back in November.  I should be rockin' and rollin' just in time for winter to come in and shut everything down!  Ain't that the way it goes?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Dream, My Journey

My dream is my own dream.

My journey is my own path which follows my own dream.

My dream is my own and it is not concerned with your dreams.  My journey does not follow your path.

I am competitive by nature.  I don't like being left behind and I don't like being left out. As such, I struggle with holding onto my my dream and following my path.

I have started by defining what my dream is not.  I do not dream of becoming an equine professional.  I do not dream of entering the competition arena.  I do not dream of adventures in trail riding.

I am an introvert.  I want things to be intimate and close to home.  I want to reserve my energy and emotion for my passion.

So if I know what my dream is not, can I then define what my dream is?

My dream is partnership and willingness and joy and fun.  My dream is enjoying the time I spend with my horse, regardless of what happens in that time.

I want simply to be in the moment with my horse and have my horse in the moment with me.  When the day seems to call for lazy, undemanding time to just spend that time together and not waiting for something better to come along.  When the day calls for a spontaneous ride in the snow, we are together in our mini-adventure.

My dream does not preclude progress and improvement but strives to balance that with acceptance and peace.

I am delighted for my friends who are pursuing professional goals.  I am excited for my friends who are entering the competition arena.  I am happy for those weekend trail-riders.

But that is not my dream; not my journey.

My dream is my own dream.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Playing in the Dirt

Cricket and I got to play in the dirt yesterday.  It was so much fun!

The owners of my barn are having some major earth work done around the boarding barn.  The result of Sunday's work was two big piles of dirt where one of the terraces used to be.

When the bulldozer guy took a break, I asked if I could play on the dirt with my horse.  He grinned and said, "Have at it."  I'm not sure he really understood what I wanted but was happy to oblige.  I ran off to get my boots, giddy as a school-girl.

I brought Cricket out, hooked her to my 45' and off we went.  The dirt was in two piles, a smaller one down away from the barn and a pretty large one in the paddock.

She was pretty easy going and we started with some friendly game of just moving around near the dirt.  Cricket was pretty nonplussed about the whole thing.  I asked her to head up the big hill and up she went.  She got to the top and looked around as if to say, "well, this is different."

The front of the hill, where she went up, was pretty well packed from the bulldozer.  The steeper back side was all loose dirt.  I asked her to crest the hill and come down the steep side.  Over she went and down she scootched as if she it were an every day occurrence.

From the ground, we played with both dirt hills.  I asked her to go up and over or go up and wait before turning around and going down the way she came.  I stood on the smaller hill and had her circle around me.  She was a little confused but eventually figured it out, even jumping part of the dirt pile as she traveled around.  I played with yo-yo, standing at the top of the hill and asking her to back at the bottom and then run up to me.  That was fun.  I even asked her to back down the hill from Z5 while I stood at the bottom.

Everything was going so well, I saddled up and decided to ride on the hills.  Going down hills on horseback scares the begeezus out of me.  Cricket and I nearly somersaulted down a hill during our one ACTHA ride.  But I figured this was a good opportunity to practice.

My Crickie-Monster was an absolute champ!  She took me around, up and down.  The little hill was okay - the top had a good platform to turn around and walk back down the packed side.  The big hill was a little narrower at the top.  Our first attempt was a little nerve-wracking.  Cricket tried to go down the loose dirt but I was able to clarify my request and face her down the "ramp."  Where she stopped dead in her tracks.  I encouraged her forward and she walked calmly, straight down the hill.  Where she got lots of cookies at the bottom.  We finished our dirt play by riding up the small hill and then backing all the way down.  I took her out into one of the open fields and we did a little trot and canter before ending our ride.
My view from the top of the smaller dirt pile.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What It's All About

I made the choice to play with my horse last night.  To actually play with her.  Not "do stuff with her" or "work on her on-line canter".  PLAY.

I invited Cricket to come play with me.  She accepted and so we began . . . with haltering.  Just the softest touch to ask her to keep her head lowered and towards me.  Just the softest reminder to please bring her head back.

My idea was to squeeze out of the stall and head to the arena.  Her idea was to squeeze out of the stall and grab hay from the bales stacked across the aisle.  We went with her idea . . . why not?  After the initial, frantic bites, I asked her to yield her HQ in a half turn followed by her shoulder in a half turn, all with a "hurry up and get back to the hay" attitude.  Suffice it to say, she didn't believe me.  At least not at first.  I repeated the pattern so she understood that I loved her idea and could she please consider my idea.  I also added in some sideways away, sideways towards, hurry up and get back to the hay.

In the arena, there was a 3-barrel pattern set up and my plan was to use that to do some free-form change of direction.  I decided to keep everything at the walk or trot.  She doesn't want to canter and I'm tired of telling her she's wrong.

I started slow, just using the barrels as objects and asking her a series of "can you" questions.  We played with all three barrels before I asked her to circle.

At a walk, she made it past the first barrel and at the second barrel, I wanted her to go around and draw back to me.  She wanted to jump.  But only half way.  I wish I had a picture of the expression on her face.  She was so proud of herself.  This is something we've been working on and she knows I like it and she knows it almost always yields a cookie.  She was right - I loved it and gave her a cookie.  It took more effort to do what she did than what I wanted.

She showed me she wanted to jump so I changed my plan to "go around or go over."  As we approached each barrel on the circle, I asked her to either go around (and maybe draw and redirect or draw and stop) or go over (maybe half way, maybe all the way, maybe jump and stop or maybe jump and keep going).

It was so far from perfect but it was so much fun.  She started asking questions and participating.  Her energy never really came up, except for the jumping, and that's okay.

We finished with some upward transitions following a change of direction.  It's a pattern my friend taught me to help the horse prepare for FLC.  I asked Cricket to change direction at the walk and then immediately move into the trot.  I don't know if I really set us up for success but on the last one, Cricket put in an energetic trot and held it through the change.  I figured that was enough and told her how wonderful she was.

Leaving the arena, I sent her back to the hay and we played some more with her idea.  I opened her stall door and asked her to back into her stall and quickly come forward for more hay.  She liked that a fair bit and it was a little bit of a challenge to get her to stay in her stall.

Last night made me aware of how I have drained the fun out of being with my horse.  Up until now, it's been about what we need to do or worse, what we cannot do.  It's not been about what we can do or better still what we want to do.

This is supposed to be fun.  It's supposed to be recreation for both of us.  So what if she's not perfectly bio-mechanically correct, so what if I ride a bit like a drunk monkey, so what if she doesn't canter on line.  We'll get there . . . when we're both ready.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Different Take on Yes and No

In a recent issue of the Savvy Times, Linda Parelli wrote an article on the Minister of No vs. the Ambassador of Yes.  This theme has come up, in different ways, in various aspects of my life.

I've been reflecting on this and have come to the decision that, in order to say YES to the parts of my life I most want to embrace, it's time to say NO to some other parts.

I have no energy, no joy in my play sessions with Cricket.  All my "yes" has been used up and all I'm left with is "no."

I started saying "no" when I gave Bleu back.  It was a hard decision but the right one.  Bleu is doing so well back in her old home.  It's hard to read the Facebook updates and not feel like a failure but I know I did the right thing for me and ultimately the right thing for Bleu.

I need to say "no" some more.

I need to say "no" to some of the things that waste my time.  Like spending way too much time on Facebook or other meaningless games on my laptop.

I need to say "no" to some things that do not constitute good use of my time.  I may decide to let go of trimming Cricket's feet.  It's not that I cannot do it but rather I don't want to have the pressure of maintaining her feet.

I need to say "no" so I can free myself to say "yes."

I want to feel more joy and connection in my play time with Cricket.  I want to get out from under the pressure of finishing my L3 and I want to forget about L4.

I want to feel more peace and serenity in my house.

I want to use my time to get things done rather than waste my time and scramble at the last minute.

So forgive me as I put on my Minister of No hat.  Forgive me if I'm just not as available or flexible as I once was.  Forgive me if I don't please you as I've often done in the past.  Forgive me as I learn to say "no."  But if you are patient and forgiving, I promise that when I can once again become the Ambassador of Yes, I will be a more true and authentic person.  I will bring more light and joy and our interactions will be richer because of it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Concerning Circles

I have this idea that if could ever achieve even a modicum of mastery of circles with Cricket I would be somewhat of a horseman.

And not just will she send, will she stay out, will she come back.  I mean rhythm, cadence, tempo, impulsion, obedience, flexion and maybe a little exuberance.

Cricket on a circle is the picture of resignation.  She puts forth only as much energy as it takes to create motion in a sort of forward direction.

Nothing I have done has produced consistent results.  I've tried psychology - do less to try and cause her to want to do more.  After awhile she realizes she can just do less.  I've tried playing a game - come here so I can tag you.  That will get her energy up but only in short bursts and it's pretty easy to cross the line into offending her.  I've tried leaving her alone and rewarding her when she offers more.  I've tried a driving circle game.

But fundamentally, I saw no purpose in the circle game.  And neither did Cricket.

Sunday night, I asked my friend Kathy to watch our circle game.  At best she might see something I was missing; at worst she could at least commiserate with me.

So I just played while Kathy watched.  Cricket did her poky little trot.  Her canter was barely a canter.  It was more of an "un-trot" - four beat, stilted and just crap.  Her walk was not easily distinguished from her halt.

Kathy and I chatted about it.  She has some similar issues with her LBI TWH mare.  Kathy suggested using raised poles on opposite sides of the circle to see if the pattern itself could cause Cricket to move better.

I put two ground poles on Rail Razers and sent Cricket on the circle.

It's almost embarrassing how un-athletic she was about these little poles.

To clear the poles in stride, Cricket needed to be straight on the circle.  Which she wasn't.  Hmm, how interesting!

So I left her alone and she started to figure it out.  And she started to move forward in a lovely energetic trot.  All without me asking.  I rewarded the trot and then asked her to go again.

On the right circle, she offered the canter and after a few laps, she adjusted her stride and balance and was doing the most beautiful free, flowing canter.  She was taking the poles in stride and she was just relaxed.  I cannot count how many circles she did - isn't that cool in and of itself?!

To the left, she was a bit of a hot mess.  She kept falling in on the circle and loosing the arc.  She was bunny-hopping on her hind legs instead of reaching into her stride.  I had to use some driving on the circle to encourage her and help her understand what I wanted.  Physically, she never got it as well on the left as on the right but mentally she was trying her heart out.  I rewarded her for a good try and called it a day.

So now my quest is to find ways to turn the circle into a "maintain gait" puzzle and build her both mentally and physically.  I was so pleased with how well she worked to figure out the game and this might be a way forward.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

If It's Not One Thing . . .

I mentioned it in passing but feel it deserves a little more attention . . . Cricket has borderline anemia.

Cricket has been lethargic for the past month or so.  By nature she's a conservationist but something told me there was more to the picture.  I'd seen her nibbling some weeds in her pasture and became concerned about possible toxicity.  I made an appointment and had my vet draw blood to run a full check on her.

The good news is - no liver or kidney damage.  In fact Dr. Harry said her levels and ratios couldn't be more perfect.  The one anomaly is her low red blood cell count and low hemoglobin.*  Her red blood cells are perfectly healthy but there just aren't enough of them.

That would explain the lethargy. But what explains the anemia?

There are three main causes for anemia in horses: blood loss, increased blood cell destruction and inadequate blood cell production.  My gut feeling is Cricket is suffering from inadequate blood cell production.

The most obvious sign of blood loss would be acute injury.  That one's easy to rule out.  Other sources of blood loss can be gastric ulcers and parasite infestations.  Symptoms of gastric ulcers and parasite infestations can include, among other things, poor appetite, poor hair coat, mild colic and weight loss.  Cricket shows none of these signs.  Outwardly, she appears to be the picture of health.  Minus the whole "I'm not moving" thing.

Blood cell destruction is often accompanied by fever, yellowish mucous membranes and, in more severe cases, dark reddish urine.  Possible causes are toxicity (red maple leaves or certain classes of drugs) or infection (EIA).  Another cause could be increased exposure to wild onions or garlic, resulting in Heinz body anemia.  As Cricket's blood cells appeared perfectly health, it is unlikely cell destruction is a the root of her problem.

So by process of elimination, we have inadequate blood cell production.  And of course this is the hardest to resolve.  Go figure.  Just my luck.

Inadequate blood cell production can result from prolonged disease, stress, environment, nutrition and probably the alignment of the planets.  Okay, maybe not the last one but still . . . .

Since her blood work showed no signs of infection, I can rule out one cause.

I'm going to look at stress, nutrition and environment and see if we cannot iron out the kinks.  She's been on limited pasture forage and I think her run-mate is bullying her out of her food.  When horses lack access to adequate forage, it can increase stress.  Horses have evolved to graze slowly over long periods of time.  Unfortunately modern horse-keeping doesn't always honor that instinct.  Different horses have different levels of tolerance.  Apparently Cricket's is pretty low.  Go figure.  Just my luck.

* this is the diagnosis as I recall from my phone conversation with my vet.
† Please note the information in this blog post is based on my internet research following Cricket's diagnosis.  It is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.  If you suspect your horse is anemic, please contact your veterinarian and discuss your concerns.

Monday, August 29, 2011

And Then Again, Maybe Not

Well as it often happens, the best laid plans have gone astray.  But it's all good.

I've decided not to move Cricket.  I don't know who's more relieved - me, the barn owners or all the other folks who come to the barn.

I've worked out an arrangement where Cricket will have 24/7 pasture access and I will be able to offer free access to hay in a slow-feed environment. This set-up will be shared with another boarder - a sweet, goofy gelding named Dillon.  Dillon's owner is 100% on board with this and I think it is going to work out just fine.

It's funny how things just seem to be working all towards the good lately.  The stress and the anxiety seems to be melting away and I see the sunshine more and more these days.

Cricket is still lethargic and I think it's going to take some time to work out the anemia issue.  Fixing her forage will be a major first step and then we can go from there.

This will be a fun adventure and I'm still looking it as a learning opportunity to begin taking ownership for the care and stewardship of my horse in preparation for the day I bring her to my own farm.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Taking the Next Step

The decision was made to let go of Bleu.  She will be leaving on Tuesday to return to Mobile this coming weekend.  One difficult choice made.

Now onto the next steps.

I've decided to move Cricket from her current facility.

This is another one of those choices that was easier to make than to execute.  I've been at my current boarding barn for five years.  The owners are good friends.  They have been there when I needed them and gone out of their way to accommodate me.

I have come to believe that a dry lot situation is not in the best interest of the overall health of my horse.  My current boarding facility uses dry lots during the day with turnout at night.  It is unreasonable to even ask for the entire operation to be turned upside down at the whim and request of one boarder.

I am going to find a a pasture board situation where I can create an environment that balances Cricket as an easy keeper with her need for constant access to forage.  I've been researching paddock paradise and slow-feeding and I think it's the way to go, especially for Cricket.  It may be a lot of work at first but I feel the health benefits will far outweigh the effort.

I'm also looking at this as an opportunity to develop my skills at managing Cricket for the day I move her to my own place.  It will be like having training wheels!

I am nervous and excited.  I am fortunate that my barn owner is trying to understand and has told me I'm always welcome to come back.  I know I have a safety net and I'm forever grateful for all they have done for me.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Making Decisions

I have made the incredibly difficult decision to send Bleu back to her guardian.

I am so fortunate to have had her in my life.  She is an amazing mare and she deserves more than I can give her at this time in my life.

It's hard to put into words what I'm thinking and feeling right now.  The past several months have been unbelievably stressful for a variety of reasons.  In trying to keep all the plates spinning, I'm running myself into the ground.  The time has come to make some difficult choices.

In her short time with me, Bleu taught me so much.  She helped me see that being a leader is far more effective than trying to be a leader.  She taught me to see myself more clearly, both my strengths and weaknesses.  She graced me with her gentle spirit and her sweet kindness.

Though this ends in a way I never imagined, I am forever grateful she came into my life.  Every aspect of my life has been affected by her and I thank her for the gifts she gave me.

I thank God she has a soft place to land and I hope, with all my heart, she finds the place she belongs.  She deserves it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What Would Happen If?

What would happen to your horses (or other pets) if something happened to you?

Do you have a plan or are you hoping the good will of your family will suffice?

This has been bothering me for several days, ever since I engaged in a small discussion following a status post on Facebook.  The comment thread took the general tone that it is up to the surviving members of the family to ensure the safety of surviving pets.

I just don't agree.

What would you think of parents who failed to name suitable guardians for their children, choosing to rely, instead, on the surviving family to decide what was best?

For my horses, I choose to be more proactive.  I choose to make sure they have a soft place to land, no matter what.  I am fortunate that Bleu, through her original owner, already has that safety net.  I owe it to Cricket to give her the same.

I have mapped out several options for Cricket should something happen to me.  I have a good friend and Parelli Professional who has agreed to take her.  As a last resort, she has a place with an amazing equine sanctuary where she can live out the rest of her life, in peace, just being a horse.

Not only have I planned where she will go, I'm working on providing for her care as well.  Partly because she's a bit of a special case and partly because it will ensure she receives the care she needs, she has an inheritance, so to speak.  At present, it's simply a bequest in my will.  As soon as I can get the details worked out, I will set up a pet trust.  For some basic information on Pet Trusts, including states with currently enacted Pet Trust laws, and alternative options, check out the Pet Trust Primer from the ASPCA.

This is not a commitment I made for my lifetime but rather one I made for the lifetime of my horses.

Many have forgotten this truth, but you must never forget it.
You become responsible forever for what you have tamed.
~ The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Snakes and Ladders

Did you ever play Snakes and Ladders?

Here in America, I think it's more common to see Chutes and Ladders but I grew up with snakes.  I guess that's a little more appropriate for the Australian Outback.

My horsemanship journey has become like one giant game of Snakes and Ladders.  And I think I've just landed on a snake.

If you were raised by wolves and are not familiar with the game, the premise is simple. You roll the dice, move the designated number of squares and the first person to reach the finish line wins.  If you land on a ladder, you advance to the top; hitting a snake takes you backwards.

Cricket and I have hit some good ladders over the past several months.  We moved from a relative fear and apprehension to confident cantering.  We hit a big ladder when I started cantering with one and then two carrot sticks.

We hit a decent snake when she started running for the wall.

I don't mind the snakes.  Not really.  I've been playing this game with Cricket since the day she came into my life.  Sometimes we make steady progress, avoiding the pitfalls and staying a relatively steady course.  At times, every toss of the dice resulted in a backwards slide, often going all the way back to the very beginning.  Other times it's been one quantum leap after another.  I guess that's the nature of the game.

It's not necessarily what happens when you roll the dice but having the courage to stay in the game, even when things aren't working quite as you would like.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More of What's Been Going On

I never did get around to posting about my lesson with Wendy.  Or any of the other stuff I've been doing this summer.

In early July, we hosted Wendy Morgan, 2* Junior Parelli Instructor, for a day of lessons.  I took advantage of being the coordinator and scheduled two sessions for myself.

We started with an easy session on saddle shimming with Bleu.  I had ridden shortly before the lesson and felt I was fighting my saddle the whole time.  The experimentation that comes with shimming is very much outside my comfort zone so I wanted Wendy to hold my hand a little while we played with some changes.

Here's what I learned:
  • There are three main points to evaluate for saddle shimming: scapula clearance, muscle atrophy and rider balance.
  • Evaluate your horse in motion, free from the saddle.  Observe carriage, head position, stride length, etc.  This is the baseline for anything else you do.  It works best with at least one observer but if you're alone, use a video camera to help you observe.
  • If you already have a saddle and pad set-up, saddle the horse and repeat the circle game.  Notice if anything changes from the "nekkid" circle game.
  • Take a good look at your horse's back.  Use a carrot stick to evaluate uphill vs. downhill and attach a savvy string (one that contrasts well with your horse's color works best) and drape it along your horse's spine.  This gives you a very clear picture of the shape of the back.
  • There are only three basic backs: uphill, downhill and atrophied.  Yeah, it's almost that simple.
  • Make a guess and pick the basic shim pattern. Nothing says you cannot change it.
  • Observe the horse on the circle with the new set-up.  Is it better? Worse?  Remember, if your horse is introverted, it may take some time for her to relax enough to tell you what she really thinks.
  • Experiment until you feel you have a good shim pattern.  Mount up and see if you feel better, worse or whatever.
  • Once you've found a pattern that works . . . KEEP EXPERIMENTING.  This is the hardest part for me but it helps the pendulum really settle in the middle.
This was an awesome session and I'm so glad I did it.  First, we had some huge positive changes in Bleu's back.  I had initially shimmed her for an atrophied back but we just didn't see that this time.  When I changed her to a downhill, A-frame shoulder, everything just looked and felt better.  When I rode, I felt more in balance and less pitched forward.  I need to play with it some more but I'm not in a big hurry.  I feel more savvy and confident with saddle shims now.

Later in the day, I rode Cricket in a 2 hour Freestyle lesson with my friend Shari and her teenage daughter, Kim.  While we all had a slightly different focus, the main theme of the lesson was carrot stick riding with greater control and even a little precision.

I have to say, I was so nervous going into the lesson.  Cricket had been doing great but it was in controlled environments and with familiar horses.  I had no idea what to expect and I was just a little worried my expectations and ego would ruin everything.

We started just warming the horses up.  Cricket was doing well and I asked her for a canter.  She gave me three beautiful laps on the left lead, no hands on the rein, stick on the outside.  It was wonderful!

The actual lesson started with tuning up the disengage - making sure leg = yield rather than leg = forward.  This is something I've been working on and Cricket was very good.  Then we put it in motion, asking for a disengage to a downward transition.  We took this onto FTR and did some great CS disengage.  Even from the canter!

Once this was working relatively well, we did some loose figure-8, disengaging to the halt in the center.  The idea was to create a sweet spot in preparation for simple changes through the center.  During this exercise, Cricket got very snarky about the sticks.  I know part of the reason was me getting focused on the task and probably forgetting my phases.  At one point we abandoned the plan and trotted around the arena, swinging the stick in a high-level friendly game.

Wendy put us back on the rail and we did a "jump friendly game" by approaching low jumps and going sideways around them to continue on the rail.  This was great for me since I get very nervous about jumping.  We changed it up again by adding in yo-yo - either up to or after the jump.

To further incorporate sideways without drilling it, Wendy set up a sideways weave.  I opted to dismount to get my spurs.  We did the pattern a few times and Cricket was doing well.

By this time, I think Cricket and I were both a little tired and frustrated with carrot stick riding.  I decided to ditch the stick and just have some free-for-all fun.  Since it was the last 10 minutes of the lesson, Wendy just turned us loose to decompress.

Cricket gave me some great canter and some very soft simple changes.  Wendy snapped a little video of our ride and it was so nice to see how well we were doing.  Cricket is almost to the point where she'll pick up the canter from the walk and that makes everything smoother and more balanced.

Things have unraveled a little since the lesson but that's a subject for another post and something I'm not too worried about.  We'll work it out . . . just like we have everything else.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Summertime and the Livin' is . . . SWEATY

Summer time in the South is not for the faint of heart.  Walking out the front door is like hitting a wall of humidity so thick you need a machete to get from your porch to your car door.  I know the rest of the nation is suffering a stifling heat wave but triple digit heat indices are a way of life down here.

I don't like the heat.  I like the cold.  I can put on more clothes but there is a socially acceptable limit to what I can remove.

Even if I had the energy to ride, the look on Cricket's face clearly says, "Don't even think of putting your butt on my back."  And frankly, the idea of sitting on her hot body isn't so appealing either.

But camp is coming up.  Less than three months until my L3/4 camp with Carol Coppinger.  I need to get moving.

Cricket is shaking things up . . . again.  God forbid that mare give me more than a few days of thinking I've got everything working.  All our progress with cantering, freestyle and CS riding has hit a wall.  Literally.  Cricket has taken to running, at a good canter, straight into the wall.  But only when I have 2 sticks.  Hmm, how interesting.  Of course she's not so stupid to actually hit the wall and she's not so right-brain that she's doing this out of fear or lack of confidence.  Her sole purpose is to scare the sh*t out of me.  It's not working and I think that's pissing her off even more.

This has nothing to do with cantering or carrot sticks and everything to do with the balance of leadership between my horse and me.  I'm not sure how to convince her to fully turn loose to me.  If nothing else, I'm sure Carol can help us when we get to camp.

Despite the heat and humidity, I need to start a plan to get some things tuned up before camp.  I'm so excited to be able to show Carol how far we've come since she last saw us together.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Back to Basics

I need to go back to some basics with Cricket.

Particularly when it comes to her back-up.

When we play in the arena - at liberty or on-line - she's got a pretty good back-up. For a generally under-motivated LBI.

In her stall when I'm feeding, it's as if her feet suddenly become glued to the ground directly in front of her stall door.

I like all the horses to back away from me when I enter with their feed.  Bleu and Dillon do so with a little wave of my hand, at most.  They know the routine and are happy to comply.  Etruska about has an aneurysm but will back-up and calm down once I approach her stall.

Cricket is the unmovable object.  And when she does, she walks a forward circle in which she ends up further away from me but doesn't actually back-up.

I had a bit of a come-to-Jesus meeting with her the other night.  While it worked that one time, it wasn't effective because the very next night she was just as staid in her position at the door.

I know the real key is psychology but I'm out of arrows on this one.

Cricket is food motivated but she's also self-confident and independent.  It's a bit of a stand-off and unfortunately she's winning.  And she knows it.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Let's Catch Up

It's been awhile.  Let's sit and chat.

The six weeks have been busy but thankfully not too hectic.  It's not that I've been so wrapped up that I haven't had time to write.  I just haven't been in a place to put it all down in words.

I have a lot of changes going on.  Some extremely positive and some that are causing some discomfort in my life.  Still positive but not all good things are comfortable.

Things with Cricket continue to improve.  Our cantering is become much more comfortable and I've progressed to cantering her with one stick and even two sticks.  We've had some great rides and an absolutely awesome lesson with Wendy Morgan, 2* Junior Instructor.

I feel very, very close to being able to assess my L3 Freestyle.  The only thing holding me back is the feeling that Cricket hasn't quite turned loose to me under saddle.  I want to feel that she's more "yes ma'am" than "let me get back to you on that one." Early in our relationship, I convinced Cricket that I had no leadership from atop Zone 3.  I lacked confidence and was fearful, anxious and inconsistent.  I allowed her to set direction, speed and even control the duration of our ride.  My confidence has taken a quantum leap in the last year and I'm ready to be the leader.  Cricket isn't so sure . . . yet.

On the ground, she rarely challenges me.  Sure, she'll have her "I don't wanna and you can't make me" moments but we figure it out and move on.  That has more to do with her left-brain, introvert nature and my developing savvy than it does with who is actually in charge.

I'm not too worried about it because it's improving with every ride.  Even when she questions me or asserts her dominance over my direction, I'm learning to be patient and persistent.

Life outside my horses is going well.  I applied for and was accepted to graduate school.  I registered for classes and I start this fall.  I'm nervous about going back to school.  I've always been a good student and I loved college and graduate school.  But that was when I was a carefree liberal arts major.  I'm going back to get my MS in Management with a concentration in Acquisition and Contract Management.  Nowhere near as fun as Theological Studies.  But, as I discovered, there isn't much money in liberal arts and a degree in Management, coupled with my years of experience, should be a very good thing for future prospects.

The uncomfortable, yet positive, change is in my very personal life.  I am taking steps to become healthier and to lose weight.  Not an easy topic for me to discuss.  I'm intensely personal and introverted.  I've made some great strides but am going through a stage of self-sabotage.  I totally recognize it, know it needs to stop but am still sliding down that slope.  Why is it so hard to love/like myself enough to do what is best and right?

So there's my life in a nutshell.  I promise to blog specifically on my lesson with Wendy because it was just that awesome that it needs its own post.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Happy Birthday, Principessa

Today is my Crickie-Monster's 10th birthday.  She came into my life almost 8 years ago and proceeded to turn my world upside down.

Everything I thought I knew about horses and horsemanship has been passed under the microscope and little has survived.

She has pushed me to the very limits but never over the edge, beyond recovery.

In her stubborn nature, she's taught me patience and perseverance.  In her willfulness and dominance, she's taught me to be an assertive and fair leader.  In her disobedience, she has taught me to look beyond the surface and find out what is really going wrong.  In her mischief, she has taught me to be more playful.

And then when she softly yields, she gives me the gift of submission.  When she moves out under me and we fly through the fields, she helps me taste joy and freedom.  When she leaves her herd or her food or whatever she was doing when I call to her, she shows the bond of our partnership.

She demands perfection but accepts my flaws.

I love her in a way no person should love another mortal creature.  I am blessed to have her in my life and I am so thankful for all she's taught me.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pure. Unadulterated. Joy.

This weekend was simply amazing.  Better than any ride at any amusement park.  Ever.

Other than feeding, I've done little with my horses in weeks.  It's been unseasonably hot and muggy and just the act of toting feed pans and filling hay nets was enough to have me drenched in sweat.  At 9 o'clock at night.

On Thursday I noticed the air seemed less thick and Cricket wasn't sweating from just standing in her stall.  I decided if Friday held the same, I was getting on my horse.

Well the weather was beautiful - hot but not humid - all weekend and I rode all three days.

On Friday, we just rode in the paddock.  I didn't want to bother with anything too specific, so I just put a bareback pad on her and asked her to move around a little.  We did mostly walk but a fair amount of trotting - at least considering my trepidation about bareback and the fact we were "outside."  I actually had fun trotting her up the small rises in the paddock.  We played approach and retreat, stepping up onto my new pedestal.  It scares me to no end when she steps up there.  Twice I asked her up and just scratched her and that was enough.

Saturday, I brought Cricket and her BFF, Etruska, out to play a little.  We did a little stick to me and some tandem circle game.  I find it interesting that Cricket will offer and maintain a canter on this type of circle game but it's like pulling teeth to get her to canter any other time.  How interesting!  I put my bareback pad on Cricket and ponied Etruska around for a little.  There were a lot of other horses and Cricket and Etruska were very good.  On a whim, I parked Cricket and asked Etruska to circle around us.  It was a little challenging to get Etruska to understand what I wanted but once she got it, she gave me a beautiful trotting circle game.  Then I asked Cricket for a yield on the hindquarters to follow Etruska around the circle.  That was incredible!  Cricket had a harder time to the left but to the right she gave me a full turn and Etruska maintained her trot.

But all of that pales in comparison to Sunday.  I've decided it's time to push my boundaries again and start riding Cricket out of the arena more.  When I audited Carol's Super Camp, I was so jealous of the folks out cantering in the field.  And I thought, as I watched, "I can do that."  So it's time to put action to thought and get out there.

Our pasture for the boarder is about 6 acres, cross-fenced to make three larger fields and one smaller "catch paddock."  After saddling Cricket, I walked her out to open the gate between two of the fields.  At the back of the top field I used a ditch to mount up and we rode back towards the barn to meet up with the other two riders.  Cricket showed no signs of spookiness or nervousness and I was pleased.

We started with some trotting, following the fence line.  The entire field is terraced and so we had the fun of going up and down some gentle rises.  I was happy to feel Cricket work to maintain the trot but not rush as the terrain undulated.  We rode out to the back field and did some free-form trotting.  Cricket was pretty attentive and pretty relaxed so I was feeling good about our ride.

I don't know when we started cantering.  I want to say I asked for it but maybe she offered and I agreed.  Who cares!  The point is we started cantering out in the field.  It was a little helter-skelter for awhile but it didn't take long to introduce some discipline to our ride.

I think Cricket enjoyed cantering up the terraces.  It was a total rush to feel her power up the incline, even the small swells of the terraces.

I had two separate sessions of working some circles and simple lead changes.  In the second session, I was able to let go of the rein and really ride her freestyle.  That was cool to feel the trust and communication.

When we were ready to wrap up, the barn owner cantered off to the gate between the fields to close off the upper field.  I followed and urged Cricket into the canter.  My intent was to head down the long fence line, all the way to the corner of the second field.  Cricket slowed at the gate and broke gait one other time but I just urged her to turn loose and she did.  The last stretch of fence line, it felt like she was flying.  I could feel the wind in my face and I was probably grinning like an idiot.

As we approached the corner, I rated her back down to the walk and turned and headed back to the other riders at the gate.  I just dropped the reins over the saddle horn and let her walk.  When I met up with the others, we turned to the barn and I walked Cricket all the way back.  Not once did I need my reins, not once did she dive for grass.  Come to think of it, I don't think she dove for grass the entire ride.  How interesting!

I have waited years for that ride.  It was worth it.

Friday, June 3, 2011


I've been mulling some things around and it came to me, today, that I lack discipline.  That is, I lack impulse control.  Not just in my approach to my horsemanship but in almost every aspect of my life.  I live in a state of perpetual damage control.  Always trying to get the house tidied up, always struggling to get my weight under control, always floundering for direction and progress with my horses, always racing against a forgotten deadline at work.

It's not healthy and it's not fun.  And I don't want to be like this anymore.

Recently the Parelli Central Blog featured a guest post by Dachia Arritola.  In addition to her website, Dachia writes a blog and I skipped on over and started reading.  I was particularly struck by an entry titled How do you become something you aren't?  At the end of the post, Dachia writes the following:
The point to all this is that while it is important to ask the question "how did I get here," it is more important to move to the next question, "now what?"
I find myself at the now what? stage.  I know things need to change but what path do I take?

And maybe the path I choose is not so important as actually making the choice and doing something.  In choosing, I am doing and in doing I am going somewhere that's not here.  If the path is wrong or if I discover a better way, I can change my mind.  But I've got to start somewhere.

And while all this is rolling around my mind, a link from Dachia's website caught my eye and took me to this site.  And on this site I found the following quote:

Discipline: Few things enable our horses to say yes to us like our ability to say no to ourselves.

Wow! I love it when the universe conspires for my benefit.