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

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Good, Good, Not So Good

I struggle with making a plan for my play sessions.  And then I get frustrated when I find myself in the middle of a big pile of "going nowhere."  The other day, I decided to watch this month's Savvy Club DVD rather than continue my 10 day marathon of Clash of the Titans.  I'm so glad I did.

Basically what Linda offers is a 2 minute run-through on the 7 games to see where your horse is and what needs attention.  This is not new but it's an idea who's time has come - at least for me.

I brought Lilly out last night and did a quick run through on the 7 games.  In just about 2 minutes I had an idea of where we were - good friendly game, good driving game but weak on some porcupine and sideways.

We started with porcupine backwards.  Lilly has a bit of a dominant streak and a habit of pushing on people.  Backing is not her strong suit.  It took several repetitions before I felt like Lilly was responding to and respecting the pressure on her chest.  Then everything else just fell into place.

We did just a little "follow the feel" from a rope on her front leg.  I tried to minimize my draw so she'd listen to the rope.  I don't know if she truly moved from the porcupine game but she didn't oppose the feel so I'll take it and just keep working on it.

From there, her yo-yo backwards was so light and soft and straight!  Her circle game send improved and though she pulled in the allow she maintained a circle and then thought through the pressure and released herself by bringing slack into the line.

One of Lilly's biggest problems is that she's learned not to think through puzzles.  Her owner is a very sweet but timid person who would abandon ship at the first sign of trouble.  I've been working with Lilly to deal with issues that come up but keeping her focused on the task but allowing her time to sort things out for herself.

Yesterday she calmly and confidently put two feet on the pedestal and, with just a slight suggestion, offered and then placed a third foot.  I asked her to continue forward and with little fuss, she went right over the pedestal.  It was so cool to see her work through the puzzle instead of trying to get around it.

We finished with just a little bit of lateral flexion.  I think I've found someone to do Lilly's first rides so she'll be staying with me for quite some time.

Monday, March 21, 2011

On the Barefoot Bandwagon

I have finally committed my self to the barefoot bandwagon.

It's only taken seven years.

With Moose, I simply could not entertain the idea of a naturally barefoot horse.  I was too busy learning all the ins and outs of actually owning a horse.  The most pressing issue with him was keeping weight on him.  I swear, I have one picture that looks like the "before" shot on a rescue case.

Things changed when I got Cricket and I decided to try barefoot.  Not only was I more confident in my abilities but Cricket was a clean slate.  I fired my first farrier (an event shortly before Moose's death opened my eyes to just how incompetent he was).  I hooked up with a barefoot trimmer/farrier.  We kept Cricket barefoot for a few months before trying her in front shoes.  After about 9 months or so, we went back to barefoot.  I tried, for two years, to keep Cricket barefoot.  It just never worked right.

At the suggestion of Gene Ovnicek we put her in shoes on all four feet.  It made such a huge difference in her movement and her comfort.  I kept her in shoes until I had a falling out with my farrier (brilliant trimmer, crazy lady).  I found a decent trimmer and kept her barefoot.  I figured this would be the lesser of two evils, the worst being Jim Bob slapping shoes on her and ruining her feet completely.

Cricket never was that comfortable and after about a year I found another Natural Balance trimmer/farrier and put her back in shoes.  This continued until last year when I got Bleu and I decided to take Cricket back to barefoot.  I had noticed, in the cycles we'd leave her barefoot that each time she was moving a little better.  With Bleu to take up some of the slack, I thought just maybe we can try to get her fully transitioned to barefoot.

After my ride this weekend, I'm on the bandwagon.  100%.

Over the last year, I've been tweaking Cricket's nutrition.  She's always had good feet and it's been a bit of a mystery (to me, at least) why she was always tender footed.  I was introduced to the idea that maybe what she has is a weak laminar connection.  Each step exerts pressure that pulls on the laminae, much like trying to pry your fingernail from the nail bed.  Ouch!  So we've changed some things to support the strength of that connection.

Easyboot Glove
I have discovered the Easyboot Glove.  When I took Cricket out of front shoes around 2005, the newest boot on the market was the Easyboot Boa.  Easy to put on, easy to take off but horrible for my horse.  They were too clunky and Cricket didn't like them.

I've glanced at hoof boots over the years but not really paid attention to the advancements in material, design and technology.

I borrowed a pair of Gloves to ride in this weekend.  I had her walking, trotting and cantering in the paddock and didn't feel one iota of difference in her stride, balance or movement.  Out on the little trail ride, her first steps on the gravel were very tentative.  Almost like she expected it to hurt.  And then she evened out.

I absolutely loved the Easyboot Gloves!

The very coolest thing about the Gloves is that you can order, directly from EasyCare, a fit kit to assist you in getting the correct size boots.  The website includes instructions for measuring and ordering the fit kit.  The kit comes with the size boot you think you need plus the sizes on either side.  The total cost is about $9 and that includes return postage.  Can't beat that with a stick.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Not for the Faint of Heart

I swore up and down, after all the issues I've experienced with Cricket, that I would never start another horse.  It is not an undertaking for the faint of heart.  Yet here I am with LillyToo.  I maintain that what I'm doing with Lilly has more to do with establishing a foundation for "real" under saddle training than actually "starting" her.  Others disagree.

When I started Cricket, I didn't know enough to know what I didn't know.  I also failed to realize that what I didn't know was fairly critical.  I made mistakes, honest mistakes, that have taken years to undo.

I can be pretty hard on myself over Cricket's start but the truth is, years later, she's a pretty amazing horse.  Not because of anything I did but rather because I managed not to screw too much up.  And I know, despite what I did wrong, that the start I gave her was probably better than 95% of the professional predators colt starters.

For anyone, particularly my friend Tina for whom this post is intended, here are some of the lessons I've learned:
  • Know your limitations.  If you're a timid rider, don't put the first rides on a colt.  If you cannot afford a real professional, find a competent rider and work with them for the initial rides.
  • Understand the type of horsenality with which you're most compatible.  Many of the issues I had with Cricket were simple the result of a less-than-ideal horse/human match.  Let's face it, when you buy a horse because she's pretty and has a dent in her butt that looks just like the dent in the butt of the horse you just lost, it's not always going to be a match made in heaven.  Cricket is a strong willed, independent left-brain mare.  In the face of my uncertainty and limited knowledge, she often took over the leadership.  I would argue that a mild RBI would be the best candidate for a colt start.  Nothing too extreme but a horse that is looking for leadership is going to be much more compliant than a horse with an agenda of her own (i.e. Cricket).
  • Advance your savvy as much as possible before starting a horse.  It goes without saying that the more you know the better time you'll have.  Duh!  When I started Cricket I had just passed my L1 (old VHS system).  I had no idea how the progression of skills felt - what it took to turn sideways on the fence into sideways off the fence into leg yields and isolations.  The more you know the end product, the better you teach it in the beginning.
  • Every moment is a teaching moment so be aware of what you're teaching.  This is true for any horse but particularly important for an unstarted horse.  If your horse is high energy and you start every session by blowing off steam, the horse quickly learns to act a little crazy out of the gate.  If you never encourage a reserved horse to get out of her shell, she'll suck back further and you'll loose the impulsion.
  • Saddling and mounting are just a version of the extreme friendly game.  Before you ever put a leg over a horse, they should know that it's all just a big friendly game.  There is an excellent Savvy Club DVD where Linda works with Elizabeth.  Elizabeth has fear issues and the DVD focuses mainly on her thresholds.  The cool thing is that the techniques employed are the same as you would use for building confidence in the horse.
  • In the first rides, the most important things a horse can learn is that it's okay to go and it's okay to stop.  This is the most critical lesson.  Steering and controlling the energy come later.
  • Know when your out of your depth and get help.  After working with Cricket for just over a year, I sent her to a good friend and fellow PNH student for two months.  I finally realized that I was in way over my head and I searched out the best help I could afford.
So there's some of the most important things I learned from doing my own colt start.  It's a huge responsibility.  You don't realize how huge it is until you try it, screw it up a little, get help and swear you'll never do it again.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Whirlwind Weekend

What a phenomenally busy weekend!  Coming back to work on Monday has been more restful than getting off on Friday afternoon.

For Saturday, my plan was to take Cricket out for a trail walk and work a little more on her preparation for harness and hitching.  I convinced Kathy to come with me.

I had Cricket on two lines, though for a good part of the walk, I had the far side line up over her rump so as to carry both lines on one side.  I also had my carrot stick.  There were moments where both of us were a little wadded up but all in all it was good.

Down the first bit of dirt road I asked Cricket to yield across the road using a little direct rein and a little supporting/pushing rein.  She totally balked at the feel on her legs and ended up going backwards.  I did my level best to help her come out of it without really giving on the rope at her hocks.

I know she needed to feel release to go forward but I didn't want that release to come while she was backing.  I'm not sure how we sorted it out but we did and with just soft feel, I had her moving from one side of the road to the other, back and forth, with a nice forward walk.

Later, we used another road to practice stopping and putting slack in the line.  Cricket's first response was to back up to me.  I tapped her on the butt and she went forward, swung sideways, etc.  We just repeated it until she could respond to the feel by stopping and just shifting her weight back to find the slack.

Yesterday I spent nearly all day at the barn.  I met Becky at about 9:30 and we spent about 2 hours playing and riding.  I needed to retrieve the cookies from my truck so I asked Cricket to come out of her stall, pick me up at the picnic table and walk me the 50ft to the truck.  She was so obliging!  After a little grazing, a quick grooming and a brief warm-up, I saddled and got on.  Cricket was so good.  I haven't asked her for much in weeks and she gave me some great trotting and some relatively easy canter.  We had some hiccups in our right lead and some severe wonky-ness in our left lead. But it was almost all physical.  Little or no mental resistance at all.

After Becky left I ran home for lunch and then back to the barn to work on my saddle shimming for Bleu.  I'm not happy with it.  Either the shim pattern I'm using is wrong or it's the wrong shim pattern for my mare.  It worked fine when Carol Coppinger put it together but it's not working too well for me.  I had a brief ride and just felt the saddle was too low on her shoulder and too high in the back.  I'm ordering a felt pad from Jeffers so I can make some shims and play with it some more.  Bleu was so good.  So very, very good.  I don't think I've ridden her since Thanksgiving (when I first got my saddle!).  I'm looking forward to spending more time riding her this Spring.

Lilly's owners came out to see how she's doing so I put Bleu away and brought Lilly out.  My last session with Lilly was a serious event in which I started to address her pulling on the halter.  While her circle game was not perfect, there was much less pulling and much more thinking about the connection.  We played with sideways on the fence, backing over a pole and she even stood on the pedestal for the first time.  There were other horses in the arena and I used the opportunity to help Lilly understand energy and when it's about her and when it's not.

I decided to play with some mounting friendly.  When Lilly finally understood what I wanted, she was happy to comply by standing right with me at the pedestal.  I jumped up and down and she was not at all bothered.  I leaned over and scratched the opposite side and she was just fine.  I jumped up and draped myself over her - the first time a human has ever been on her back - and she acted like it happens every day.

I was so proud of Lilly.  So excited that her owners got to see that milestone.  And really, just honored that Lilly trusted me enough to accept what I was doing.  I laid over her a few times, swung my legs back and forth, hooked a knee over the opposite hip and even swung both legs up so I was laying down her spine.

So I can say I groomed all three horses, played with all three horses and got on all three horses.

Finished my day with iced coffee and Kahlua on the porch swing, followed up by homemade blackened shrimp Alfredo over whole wheat pasta and organic strawberries for dessert.  Not too shabby!

Friday, March 11, 2011


I seem to be stuck.  Better than one step forward and two back but not exactly the positive and progressive place in which I'd like to be.

I need a plan.  More than that, I need a realistic plan.

And then I need to put that plan into action.

Saturday night we spring forward and that gives me more usable daylight.  The weather is warming and the arena protects me from the rain and the perpetual wet.  The excuses for not getting things done are falling away . . .

Lilly is coming along nicely but we have two main issues: friendly game in motion and respect for the halter.  She's not a naturally spooky horse so I believe this is something she's learned.  Her owner is an incredibly sweet and soft woman and I believe Lilly has been inadvertently rewarded for "chicken little" behavior.

Last night we played with sideways and Lilly just couldn't think through the pressure on the halter to do half-circles on the wall.  She bounced back and forth not from the squeeze of approaching the wall but rather because she hit the halter pressure.  I played with being a post and repeating the request to stand, perpendicular to the wall.  Once she knew that was the right answer, she was wonderful.  The key is getting this generalized and replacing the pulling/bolting habit with a giving/yielding habit.

For Cricket, I want to work on her foundation for driving.  This is largely dependent upon good weather because we need to work primarily outside the arena.  Her motivation in the arena is pretty low.  We're doing good with some basic long-line work but need to add more; refine more.

I want to start riding Bleu.  There is no point keeping a second horse if I'm not doing something with her.  Lately all I've done is obsess about Bleu not wanting to eat.

So there you have it.  My goal is to play with Lilly and then work/ride one of the others, trying not to default to Cricket just because she's "easy" (ha! that's funny!)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Driving: Putting Principles to Purpose

It's time to get serious about learning to drive Cricket.  I know this can be dangerous but so can riding.  It's about education and preparation.  Even if I have to figure this out mostly on my own, I think it's achievable.

I see this as a way to take our ground play and communication to a whole new level.  I see this as a way to put to purpose what we've learned thus far.  I also see this as a way to give Cricket a job.

I'm beginning to understand that she needs something to do not just to be doing something.  The few times I've played with her and another horse, she takes on this attitude of responsibility.  I can really see her working through the situation and "doing what needs to be done."

Last night I took her out on long lines to practice some of what I learned from the Jonathan Field DVD.  The goal of his DVD is not to prepare a horse for harness but rather to increase communication through long lines as an aid for under saddle.  Regardless, he teaches some good rope handling skills and you have to start somewhere.

I used the "carpet of motivation" (i.e. the field of green grass across the drive) to help me out.  If it things went pear-shaped I could drop the lines and Cricket would just eat.  It also allowed me to go somewhere and give her a reward at the end.

We played with circles and flipping the ropes around her back and down to her hocks.  She got a little fussy at the bind created by the drag on her head from the rope around her hocks.  She didn't flip out but pulled a lot with her head.  She eventually sorted it out and I got some nicely shaped trot.  We played a little with going from a circle to a straight line.  When that was pretty good, I added changing sides to move from one eye to the other.  Cricket exploited every little rope foible by coming to a dead halt and eating as if she hadn't been fed for weeks.

After visiting with my friend while she was feeding, we headed back to the barn and before I put her away we got some lovely, and I mean lovely, outside change of direction with a little ask on one line and a little release on the other.  I would ask Cricket to walk past me and use a feel on the far line coupled with a release on the near line to get her to turn away from me and change directions.  She did it with relaxation and total flow.

I ordered Steve Bowers' book, Farming with Horses, from Amazon and it arrived yesterday.  Apparently this is the bible when it comes to harnessing and hitching a horse.  To put it mildly, I'm a little overwhelmed.  I've just paged through the book and I see that this undertaking may be more daunting than originally planned.  But I can see some cool things, too.  What if I could teach Cricket to pull the harrow?

But I've done so much with Cricket already.  If we just take our time and find help along the way, I think we'll be fine.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


It's the beginning of March.  Two full months into the year and that magical time, at least in the South, where hints of Spring can be seen everywhere.

It's a time when I look back on all my grand plans from the start of the year and see just how far I've come.  Or not come, as is usually the case.

My friend Michelle posted a bit of a ramble on her blog and I've read through it a couple of times, now.

I have to come clean with a few things.  Forgive me, Michelle.  I've been reading this blog since before I started my own blog.  In fact, Michelle's blog was part of what inspired me to start my own on-line journal and relative "me-fest."  Over the past 15 months or so, Michelle has been on a huge journey which has taken her from a place where she was dissatisfied with her health and fitness level to a place of amazing success.  She has been dedicated and honest about where she is at any given moment, celebrating her well-deserved/earned victories and confronting her set-backs.

What should serve as an inspiration for me has generally elicited a level of bitterness and vituperation of which I am not proud.

I don't like to discuss myself.  I don't like the harsh light of reality shed upon the carefully constructed illusions of my self-image.  I try to quickly brush under the rug those moments that shatter my delusions.  Much like a child tries to hide the fragments of a broken dish.

From a link posted in Michelle's recent blog post:
People who find it easy to be supportive and understanding to others, it turns out, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising....
Wow! Does that hit like a ton of bricks!  When I'm not ignoring reality, I am unbelievably brutal on myself.  I don't often say this out loud but I have this deep-seated belief that if people truly knew me they wouldn't like me.  I think the emotional barriers I've constructed have manifested as physical barriers.  It's much easier to believe that people dismiss me because of my physical self than my real self.

I have taken on a project of de-cluttering my life.  It has started with my physical dwelling.  The effects are amazing.  I feel so much more peace in my home.  I think, maybe, it's time to take some of the emotional clutter and free up some space to feel more at peace with myself.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Three Ring Circus

Yesterday I executed a circle game with Cricket, Bleu and Lilly.  And I lived to tell the tale.

It was sort of an impromptu thing.  I haven't done much with Bleu and I need to spend time with Lilly and I have a hard time ignoring Cricket.  So I hooked each horse to a 22' line and led them across the gravel drive to graze in the neighbor's field.

I got this wild thought in my head . . . it was almost one of those "hey, y'all, hold me beer and watch this" moments.  I figured if all hell broke loose not one of those mares would go too far before stopping to graze.  The advantage of bring a horse from a dry lot to a lush field.

I sent Cricket in front and allowed Lilly and Bleu to follow.  Cricket, though somewhat under-motivated, picked up a nice trotting circle and established the pattern for the other two.  Bleu wasn't to be left behind and Lilly wasn't wholly sure what the hell was going on.

The first go-round, we established a nice trotting circle game, though Lilly broke to canter a few times.

The second time, Bleu moved into a very nice canter and Lilly followed suit.  A little energy to Cricket and I had all three loping together.  Pretty cool!

Called it a win and allowed them to graze.

Bleu really surprised me with her canter.  Especially considering the histrionics we've had in the past.  I was proud of Cricket for "doing her job" and leaving the alpha mare attitude at the door.  Not once - NOT ONCE - did she play a dominance game with the other two.  Lilly is still learning that energy doesn't necessarily mean she has to do something.  She needs to pay attention to the direction of my energy, not just the energy itself.