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

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Glimpse of Things to Come

This weekend I caught a glimpse of things to come.

Our weather was gorgeous.  Saturday was sunny with a lovely breeze and our temperatures topped out in the low 60s.  It was a beautiful breath of the Spring that is waiting on the other side of Winter.

I started my play with Bleu and Cricket on-line, together.  After a little confusion, I managed a very cool circle game with Cricket cantering in front and Bleu trotting behind.  I finished our tandem play with sideways from Zone 1, asking Cricket to push Bleu and help her understand.  Both horses did very well and I'm excited to see the prospect of playing with them together.

I saddled Cricket and decided to ride with one rein and a stick.  It went well but I just wasn't feeling like I wanted to push my envelope.  I've cantered Cricket with a stick and the reins but I felt like I survived it more than enjoyed it.  I've allowed her to canter while I was "hands-off" the reins and holding a stick but that was her idea.  It's always good when it's her idea.  I just get a little queasy when I think about cantering with just the sticks.

I decided I just wanted to have fun so I exchanged my stick and lead for clip reins and off we went.

Cricket is becoming a bit of a canter-aholic.  It seems to be her favorite gait, almost as if she's making up for all the times I wouldn't let her canter.  I have to admit, I'm becoming a bit of a canter junkie myself.  As if I'm making up for all the times I wanted but just couldn't trust my horse.

We just sort of monkeyed around and then I got a wild idea: I decided to try out my spurs.  Just to play a little with my yield isolations.  I dont' fully trust the stability of my lower leg to do much else.  I strapped them on, hollered out, "hey, y'all hold my beer and watch this" and got on.

Holy Crap!  That little mare can MOVE!  Cricket did really well.  I knew she would.  She's ready for this and, to some degree, so am I.  We did some HQ yields, some sideways and some forehand yields.  We rode around a little but I was nervous about how much the spurs were touching her and that, more than anything else, was making her cranky.  I stopped and asked for a quality HQ yield to both sides and then took off the spurs.

Then we took off again.  By this time, Ed was in the arena, cantering Slingshot so I decided just to follow him.  Whatever he did, wherever he went - we followed.  It was so much fun and it gave enough purpose to make it a little more meaningful for Cricket.

At one point, we were on a left lead, doing circles at the back of the arena.  Cricket finally relaxed and just arced into the bend.  It was awesome.  I told her, "good girl" and she slammed on the brakes and damn near pitched me over her ears. I had to laugh, however, because I've apparently taught her that "good girl" means "get a cookie" so it's my own fault!

Next we did some weaves and I tried, oh how I tried, to do the weave at the trot but Cricket just kept breaking into the canter.  I think she would have done flying changes if I'd had the coordination to ask for them!  I'll admit I probably didn't try hard enough to enforce the trot.  Mostly because I was laughing so much at my little LBI Energizer Bunny.

I did, finally, manage some trotting on her but the minute I thought about the canter, BAM! we were off again.

The coolest thing was that I could see how far we can go together if I can just pull some things together on my end.  I rode Cricket for about 2 hours with some LONG stretches of canter and she was so ready to go.  By the end of the ride, she was pretty sweaty and was breathing heavy but even in her cool out she was ready to canter at the drop of a hat.

I have a list of things to work on:
  • First and foremost, either disassociate "good girl" with treats or find a different phrase to praise and encourage her while riding.  I don't like my "saddle turned ejector seat."
  • Get control over my body while I ride.  When we canter, I still feel a little like a marionette in the hands of an epileptic.  I seem to have lost all I gained from my Pilates training.  Maybe my break is over and I need to get my butt back in the studio.
  • As much fun as our canter is, I need to take control over the gas pedal.  Having her canter when she wants is no different than having her not go when I want.  It's all about who's foot is on the pedal and right now, it's not mine.  I'm fortunate that I can stop her with little more than a breath out but we need also to be able to transition from one gait to the next, up AND down.
All in all, though, I enjoyed just having some fun.  Just doing something with her and not "working" on anything.  I think we have good things in our future together and I'm excited to see more of what's down the road.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Yippie Yi Yea

Last night was a fan-damn-tastic ride.  There's just no other way to put it.

I'm becoming more comfortable with the sticks.  So much so that I wish I'd done this ages ago.  In fact, I wish I'd been riding with sticks from the very beginning.

It's not so much that pushing Cricket is better than pulling her or that the sticks reinforce other cues.  It's that riding with sticks has been such a catalyst for letting go.

Last night, while working on Follow the Rail at a trot (one stick, reins looped on the saddle horn), Cricket broke into a canter.  More than once.  I knew it was coming, I could feel her gather for the transition.  And I just allowed it and rode it back to the trot.  I rode the whole event without grabbing for the reins or the saddle horn or doing anything other than going with her.

I put down the sticks to work a little more on our canter and I was able to ride her left lead with more relaxation and flow than ever before.  We did a few runs through the Question Box and then some FTR at the canter.  I played with both leads and then played with some simple changes through the center.  Our downward transitions are a little awkward but our upward transitions are great.

For the first time, I was able to ride her left lead totally freestyle.  I still don't feel in total harmony with her but that will come.  That I can even think about my shoulders and hips and lower legs is a miracle.  A year ago I was still surviving her canter.  Now I'm relaxed enough to think about what my body is doing.  It's amazing how far we've come.

Yippie Yi Yea, in deed!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Chugging Right Along

We are movin' right along.

I've had about a half a dozen carrot stick rides on Cricket.  I've even started working with two sticks at the walk and the trot.

I've been mainly focused on FTR and Corners Game.  It gives me a focus and it gives me a frame of reference to see how well Cricket is following.

Last night we had more stick biting than we've had in the last two rides.  Only after I picked up the second stick, though.  I truly believe this is nothing more than feedback about her frustration with my communication.

I played more with our yields in isolation and the HQ is getting so much better.  The forehand yield is still rather sticky.  Not surprising, especially considering she feels a little dominant.

I'm still not ready to canter her with sticks.  Not quite yet.  But we're getting closer.

I put the sticks down to work a little on our canter.  The right lead was good and the left lead was better than it's been in a LONG time.  I've been using a soft contact rein on the left bend to help Cricket shape her body.  The element I was missing was alternating a lift with a give.  Inadvertently, I've probably been pulling her a little onto her inside shoulder.  Oops!  My friend Ann pointed this out and with a little lift and release, Cricket really set herself more on her hindquarters and gave me a kick-butt left circle with the softest downward transition.

Jumped off and called it a win.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Know Why the Dun Mare Bites

I figure it out.  I figured out why Cricket bites at the sticks.  It's me.  Go figure!

It's not because I'm rude with the sticks or even that she's upset when I touch her with the sticks.  It's that the sticks make me nervous and that degrades my leadership.  I offer her a ton of conflicting signals and it seriously pisses her off.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What I Learned Yesterday

We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters. ~ Robert E. Lee
I'll start out by saying I had a good ride on Cricket yesterday.  We had a short liberty warm-up and then onto saddling.

I've been saddling her at liberty.  This is one of my tasks on my Parelli Connect page.  The only problem with this scenario is that Cricket is such a pest that she has to keep turning her head to ask for a cookie or to see what I'm doing.  Oh well, at least she's involved in the process.

Our carrot stick riding is getting so much better.  We started with one stick and did some FTR and Corners Game at the walk and trot.  I'm feeling pretty confident with one stick and the trot.

I wanted to revisit our canter - something we haven't done in awhile.  I opted to put the stick down to set myself up for more success.  Cricket was a little snotty about it but basically obedient.  I rode her right lead freestyle but picked up the reins for the left lead.  I wanted to be able to help her with her bend.  She did really well - the best left lead we've had in ages.

I picked up one stick and we did a little sideways with a bridge rein and then I picked up a second stick.  We did some more FTR and Corners at the walk and trot.  We stood on the bridges (building up the nerve for the pedestal).  I asked her to step over a low jump and with one stick asked her for sideways off the pole.  She obliged and I opted to end the ride.

I spent last night reflecting on what worked and what didn't and here are my BFOs from our session:
  • Cricket only started biting the stick with some dominance/aggression when I got nervous about trotting with two sticks.  Previously she only mouthed the stick out of playfulness, the same as she does on the ground.  How very interesting.
  • With sticks, leg suddenly always equals forward.  We've been working on "no rein" isolations of the FQ and HQ and she's pretty good.  But not with sticks.  I think this exposes a hole in our foundation.  I don't know how consistent I am with my leg as a cue for forward and so it's kind of confusing.  I cannot say I micro-manage her with the reins because we can do it with arms crossed and no forward.  What makes it different with the sticks?
My goal for our next ride is to do some two stick isolations and get better forehand and hind-quarter yields.  And to start working on consistency of my leg cues.

Monday, January 17, 2011


There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstances permit. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results. ~Art Turock

The above quote came to me by way of my friend Tina.  It makes me uncomfortable and I cannot get it out of my head.  It's like a splinter in my mind, a thorn of a thought that will not be ignored.

There is a difference between interest and commitment.

I can't shake it.

When you are committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.

I invest a great deal of time, energy and resources into keeping Cricket and Bleu.  And yet I seem to invent excuses for not spending time with them.  Faced with the cutting reality of the above quote, the reasons for not going to the barn evaporate like mist in the noon-day sun.

Something curious has happened since I first encountered this quote.  It's as if a word jumble, turned on its side, now suddenly spells something quite clear.  Packing my barn clothes in the morning is just part of the routine.  Planning for dinner at night is easier.  My little line of ducks looks less like a squiggly mark and more like a straight line.  How interesting.

I still have a long way to go and I'm sure there will be obstacles.  But I have a sneaking suspicion the manner in which I deal with them will be different.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Stepping It Up

True to my promise, I continue to ride Cricket with a Carrot Stick.  I'm even forcing myself to hold the stick while mounting.  No sideways to the fence to pick up the stick - every ride starts and ends with a stick in my hand.

We started yesterday with a little bit of liberty.  Cricket was offering to jump so I asked her to draw to me over two jumps and she easily did.

I asked her for a turn on the HQ with me standing still and she offered a lot of resistance to the stick and string pushing her Z1.  I played some extreme FG with the stick/string going over her head.  Kept it up until she could lick and chew.  I asked her for the spin again and finished with the same FG until she could relax.  A few repetitions and she had a better spin and quicker relaxation afterward.  This is something I need to keep in mind as I ask her for more - I need to give her LB time to think, process and relax.

I saddled her up and we worked some more on FTR and Corners Game.  I'm trying to work the patterns and find a moment where she offers obedience and quit on that note.  So far it seems to be working as each ride gets better.

The only time she offered to bite the stick was right after mounting when I asked for lateral flexion.  And it wasn't aggressive but rather more playful.  I just rubbed her mouth and asked for the flexion.

Being in a saddle I was more willing to go to a firmer phase 4.  This is what we both needed.  I need to be able to touch her and insist that she respond.  She needs to know that I say what I mean and I mean what I say.

At one point she pulled out pretty far instead of going to the corner.  I didn't fuss but opted to put her in the corner before allowing total rest.  She resisted the stick and I ended up touching her on Z1.  She spun out a little and I just continued to ask her to move to the corner.  When I got her lined up, I allowed her to dwell and play with the barrel and cones that were there.

The next time around, I put my focus on the corner and with just a tiny bit of support from the stick, Cricket went right for it.  I jumped off and called it a win.

I don't know if I've ever been this forceful with her under saddle.  I never got mean or mad but I just said, "this is what we're doing, get on board."  And lo and behold, she did.

I finally feel like I'm ready to move my riding to the next level.  To start holding Cricket more accountable and being the leader she needs.  She's going to be a bit grumpy about this at first but I know, once we get through the initial transition, she'll be happier and more relaxed under saddle.

Friday, January 14, 2011

There's Snow Pony Like My Pony

I did it.  I rode my horse in the snow.

I managed to leave work a little early today and arrived at the barn with little time to spare before sunset.  I brought out my saddle and hackamore and headed to get Cricket.

I pulled her out, stripped her blanket off and threw the saddle on.  Get to, got to.  I cleaned out her feet and put on Bleu's Renegade hoof boots.  I mounted up from the back of my truck and off we went.

And we had a blast!  Cricket was really forward in her walk.  She was interested in what was around.  A few times she hit a bit of a threshold and we either waited, retreated or just went somewhere else.

I know pulling her out and saddling her was a bit rude.  I didn't ask permission, I didn't play with her beforehand and I didn't do much but allow her to breathe between cinchings.  But I've had this mare for over seven years and I've ridden every mood and attitude she has to offer.  The fact that she stood at her door asking for my attention was enough to know that we would be fine.

Sometimes we all need a little get to, got to.  Sometimes we just need to say, "here's what we're doing, I know you're ready and we'll be fine."  Sometimes we just have to get on and ride.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Two In A Row

Got in another ride tonight.

When I arrived at the barn, Ed was measuring out hay and we chatted through my brief warm-up.  My goal is to do just enough on-line to get Cricket mentally connected and offering to do things.  Ed needed to go in but he promised to come back out.

I decided to do all the feed prep while waiting for Ed to return.  I removed Cricket's halter (she still had her bareback pad on) and set her up in the aisle with a bucket of hay.

All I have to say is that feed time with a LBI on the loose takes far longer than normal.  In truth, she was very good.  She strayed to the hay bales a few times and I just put her back on her bucket.  She tried to visit me a few times and I backed her back to her bucket.  She wandered over to investigate things and pester Bleu and I just left her alone.

She became a little emotional when I started feeding the other horses.  I don't blame her.  But she handled it well and was very willing to come back with me and go into the arena.  Once I got ready to get on her, she was just fine.

We continued our FTR and mixed in some turns and Figure 8.  Ed was in the arena with me and that created some draw and distraction.  I played just a little bit with 2 sticks but the lack of "control" brought up just enough fear that I decided to save that for when we are in a saddle.  I started playing with some sideways and Cricket was offering some lovely turns on the HQ.  We struggled with sideways to the right and when she softened and offered some flowing steps, I called it a win and dismounted.

Overall, I'm very pleased.  She was a little resistant but I don't think there was much biting at the stick at all.  With time, I think that will just fade away.  I really feel that her negative reactions are a little bit of baggage from my ineptitude and a whole lot of resistance to my leadership.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Just Do It

After whining on my Facebook page about motivation and my deserted barn, several friends chimed in with some strategies for playing with my horses when I arrive at a dark, uninviting barn.

I have to go out every evening and feed.  When it's cold and miserable, it's harder to get in the mood to play when I'm all by my lonesome.

For safety reasons, I don't ride when there's no one else on the premise.

Wendy Morgan, my good friend and Licensed 1* Junior Parelli Instructor, suggested that I plan out my ride during lunch and then think about it all day so I'm more excited when I arrive.  I think this would work better if my day were more errands and hum-drum.  Unfortunately I work in an often fast-paced and erratic environment.  My train of thought jumps around like a nervous bunny - not conducive to building momentum through the day.

But I adapted and started thinking about my ride as I drove to the barn.  It takes about 40 minutes on a good day and upwards of an hour if I get stuck in rush hour traffic.

When I arrived at the barn, I plugged my iPod into the barn speaker dock to see if it would work.  Voila!  Just having my own music was motivational.  I'm more motivated to pull together a play list of my favorite music.

I just brushed Cricket and put my bareback pad on her in her stall.  We warmed up for about 15 minutes with some slow groundwork.  I mounted up - with my Carrot Stick - and we had a short, 15 minute ride.

My BFO for the evening - I accidentally popped Cricket on Z1 with the stick.  Truthfully, she ran into the energy.  I was thrown an little off balance as she kind of spun away from the stick.  She immediately licked her lips and was much more responsive to the stick afterward.  I jumped off when she responded to just some body cues for moving around some different obstacles in the arena.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Riding with Carrot Sticks

That's my goal.  Every ride until I can execute my simple lead changes on the Question Box with just two sticks.

My biggest hang-up to passing L3 is cantering with carrot sticks.  The only way to get through that is to actually start riding with sticks.  Duh!

I don't often ride with a stick.  I have a couple of reasons:
  1. Cricket bites at the sticks.
  2. I have a difficult time maneuvering the stick with my left hand due to an old injury.
  3. Using the sticks brings up fear and control issues.
That said, it's time to address said issues:

Cricket bites the sticks.  I think this is a mixture of dominance and OR.  I probably released her at the wrong time and may have taught her that biting makes the sticks go away.  The few times I've ridden with sticks recently, I've played friendly game at a halt and in motion.  When she bites, I get more energetic and when she relaxes, so do I.

Maneuverability.  Almost six years ago I broke my left arm and I have some limitations in the mobility in my wrist.  It can be a little awkward and a little painful to hold and use two sticks for an extended period of time.  I do, however, have two "little sticks."  They may be similar to the "kid's stick" Parelli is now selling and they are lighter weight, a little shorter and easier to manage.  This may be an option - at least in the beginning.

Fear and control.  I have a hard time letting go.  I'm sure you've noticed this theme if you've been reading my posts for any length of time.  I'm sure this ties back to why Cricket bites the sticks.  I get nervous, she feels the void and takes over, she pushes back on the stick and I get afraid and too quick with the sticks.  Cricket biting at the sticks just reinforces my fear.

What I've discovered in my last few CS rides is that if I direct more energy to her shoulder, rather than her head, she responds with a yield rather than turning to bite.  She is less reactive even if I have to touch her.  I'm sure this is tied to the LBI "don't touch my face" thing.  Something to keep in mind.

So that's the plan.  Stick in hand EVERY ride - no excuses!

Oh, and isn't it funny that I have no issues riding Bleu with a carrot stick.  None.  Hmm, how interesting.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Bendy, Bendy, Twisty, Turny

I have a feeling Cricket is out of whack.  Again.  But having just paid for both horses to see the equine dentist, I'm not sure there's anything left for the equine chiropractor.  Unless I sell a kidney.

The last couple of days have been groundwork only.  I've been feeling a bit out of sorts myself so I've taken the opportunity to just have some down time with Cricket and Bleu.

Part of my focus with Cricket has been trying to sort out her left lead canter.  As Becky observed on Tuesday, Cricket is relaxed and correctly arced on her right lead but she tips her nose out and falls on her inside shoulder on the left lead.

I played with some shaping her on the circle and after a few repetitions, she was able to keep herself relatively straight on the circle and transition from the trot to the canter.  I've also started working on some of Karen Rohlf's mobility exercises from her Results in Harmony DVD series.  Basically, just taking Cricket on the circle and then asking her to yield her HQ while maintaining forward motion.

This is definitely outside my comfort zone.  I got frustrated with Cricket yesterday.  I know she was trying but unfortunately she was also trying my patience.  I took a moment to calm down and we started again.  I tried to maintain my posture and to ask her for what I wanted.  I'm not sure I was getting it but it was getting better and I managed to stop on a good note.

I don't think I'll get to play today.  I want to continue our progress but need to honor how my body feels and not push myself.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A New Year and a New Resolution

The tradition of New Year's Resolutions originates before the birth of Christ.  When Julius Caesar developed a solar calendar, the first month was named for the Roman god Janus.  Janus possessed two faces and  it was said that one looked back on the old year and the other forward into the coming year.  It became a tradition to seek forgiveness and exchange gifts of good fortune at the start of each year.

And so, over the centuries, the tradition has become to make a self-promise of life changes at the start of the new year.

I'm not so sure about this, personally.  I've never had much luck with resolutions, always blaming my lack of will power for my lack of success.  Cruising around the internet, I stumbled across the following article from The Wall Street Journal.  Turns out will power has little or nothing to do with follow-through.

With a new perspective, maybe it's time to make a New Year's resolution.

My goal for the coming year is better balance.  Especially in the last several months, I've felt as if my life were spiraling somewhat out of control.  I have a slightly manic personality and it means high highs, low lows and some pretty scary shifts from one to the other.  It also results in a tendency to be gung-ho in the beginning and then become completely derailed by the most minor of hiccups.  It's not fun.

What I want is balance.  To be able to balance working full time with playing with my horses.  To be able to balance the time I want to spend with my horses with the time required to keep my house running smoothly.  To be able to spend time with family and friends and time alone to recharge.  To have what I need now and a way towards what I want later.  To take care of myself and still give to others.

It seems a lot considering that I've never managed to carry a resolution past the first week of the new year.  But like coins dropped into a piggy bank, a little change here and another little change there soon adds up.