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The Walk: An often over looked gait

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So I was eating pie after work, yes pie. Delicious concord grape pie with ice cream I might add, Trying to center,  relax and calm myself. Work was a long day. I spent the majority of the day at the vets with my soon to be retired working dog (nothing serious I promise just a dental) and she had decided she’d rather sleep all day in the warm blankets then wake up and go back into the vehicle to go home.

The rest of the day I spent trying really hard not to let my tongue do the talking around my boss…I mean some days I do great and other days it’s all I can do to save myself a lot of grief for no real improvement one way or another. I was frustrated and frazzled when I got home.

That wonderful rich, handsome, loving, wanna be husband can show up ANY TIME so I can stop working to support my addicting horsey habits….ok back to the pie.

While I was eating my delicious and somewhat nutritious homemade pie, my mom messaged me a link about Walking: The queen of gaits from Dressage Today and as I was reading I was struck by a massive unavoidable thought…..I have been neglecting the walk. REALLY neglecting it and a lot of the issues I have, especially with Cash, could EASILY be avoided if I worked more at the walk.

Now why would I avoid the walk you might ask. Well first and foremost I apparently believe it is boring. If I’m walking it’s usually on the trail and having fun enjoying the sights but in the arena… ummmmmm well it never crossed my mind. I always walk for warm up and then immediately go into the trot. Many times I will work on walk-trot transitions or such but I never stay in the walk.

I also thought my horses would see it as boring. They are highly intelligent and I thought that maybe walking would get their pesky little mischievous brains working on not so happy ideals.

Oh how wrong I am! I jumped on Cash eager to test a theory. Was I just assuming I had good basics or were they actually there AND was Cash listening to them or just guessing at what I wanted and hoping it was right?

So I ask for walk (I’m bareback but with his bitless bridle on) and he starts down his normal path and I use my legs and seat for a turn to the left. He thinks about it a second and keeps going the direction HE wants to go. Not surprising he wants to go where he ‘knows’ he will get a treat and so I gave a tiny half halt on the left rein and I gave him the leg aids again. This time he turned his head and shoulders but decided he’d still rather go in the straight line towards his stall.(shoulder-in anyone?)  So I give a bump with my outside leg near his shoulder (I prefer Buck Brannaman’s way of turning instead of classical dressage style), I shift my weight slightly to the inside suddenly he turns and goes where I want. Hummmmm…..OK…. Was it me or was it him or a combination of both. What did I do differently the third time I didn’t do the first two?

To figure this out,  the rest of the lesson was us walking big figure 8’s around my “jumping” area.  Cash  kept trying to go over my experimental jump (post on that later) because he had gotten a treat for it earlier and just knew if he went over it he’d get another one. But over all as I began to ask again and again switching directions it became as if I could think what I wanted and he would start to turn.

What I found kind of eye-opening about working exclusively on the walk and truly focusing on it was how well I could time my aids. I could give the turning aid with my legs and then realized that my weight was being thrown to the outside and I could easily shift it and that would be the little push he needed to go the correct way. In fact most of the time I was asking for turns I was forgetting to give the seat aid and only giving the leg aid! The seat aid was the key to him turning and not just bending or completely ignoring it. It was in the subtitles like that we seemed to refine and I believe we started creating muscle memory. It wasn’t long before he truly understood exactly what was asking of him and if I was asking it correctly that he got the impression the first time instead of the second or third.

By working at the walk I was able to detect where I, as the rider, was going wrong and clarify exactly what I wanted. He’s a boy. His intuition is not the best (sorry to all the men reading this). How could I expect him to understand my aids in the trot or even in the canter when I wasn’t even giving them correctly in the walk?!

I think part of my mistakes with giving aids has been laziness and not really working on the refinement of the aids at all times. I have been more focused on my horse and not myself when it’s myself that has been causing some of the confusion. Could Cash have understood what I wanted without the refinement? Yes. Was he being a bit stubborn about it? Yes. But Cash is and probably always will be my teacher in many ways.  And for our walking session he was teaching me that I need to get my crap together in order for him to do it properly or he’d just blow me off.

I feel several more walking lessons in our future before we graduate back to trot and maybe even canter. If I can get him going 100% at the walk and I can get myself asking correctly the first time then I think our experiences in the faster gates are greatly going to improve! Now I gotta test it on Jack muh hahahahaha.

So if you have issues with the aids, your horses just are not listening or you’re getting an opposite reaction maybe try going back to the walk and seeing if it’s you who is giving the wrong aids or not enough of parts of the aids (like the seat). You can do almost every exercise at the walk! You and your horse will greatly improve in many aspects I do say so. I know we did here 😀

Until next time

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Going Treeless Part 2!!

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I am here to report my progress with going treeless. I must say it has taken some adjustment but not nearly as much as I expected. I believe that both horses are much more comfortable in my treeless then even my Stubben saddle and I am very comfortable it in as well. (If you didn’t see Part 1, check it out HERE)

I’ve had several nice rides in it now and I’ve tweaked it a bit to fit my boys and all I can say is WOW! The feeling in a treeless is so much….more, which is also a bad thing sometimes. Riding Jack, he’s young and inexperienced being out by himself and in my treeless I can feel the second he starts to tense his back muscles and think about doing something.

It’s wonderful in the fact that I can REALLY get ahead of him before he does something silly. It sucks in the fact that I feel him tense ALOT. Not all of it is “Bah I’m a baby” moments some of it’s just insecurity in a new situation or figuring out what I’m asking so I’m having to learn when the tensing I’m feeling is a spook or buck and when it’s just normal tensing at the unknown.

I’ve found the boys are much more forward in the saddle and I am able to keep my balance much, much better with them throughout all the moments and transitions. I feel like some of this is how the saddle sits me in the seat. Since I am able to adjust where my stirrup actually sits in relation to me I can get an actual shoulder, hip, heel alignment without having to force my leg back. It feels as if my leg is naturally sitting where it is supposed to without any huge thigh rolls. I feel I’m sitting much more correctly on my seat and pelvic bones so I’m able to quickly adjust myself to anything going on without falling out of balance or stabilizing myself with the reins. And biggest of all, I’m more relaxed over all.

Somehow I always ride more relaxed in my body while riding bareback. Since I get such similar feelings in my EZ Fit saddle I think the switch in my brain keeps me more loose. Being properly positioned and not having to fight for my alignment REALLY helps as well.

Now onto the comfort for the horses. Like I stated above both my horses seem to be much more relaxed in the treeless saddle! Cash’s strides are much more loose and forward and I can really feel him using his back and not running around on his forehand or working at the speed of molasses. I am actually tempted to try riding in a bit and see if a lot of his chewing was due to discomfort in the saddle. I get wonderful sweat patterns with him that shows even distribution and spinal clearance. He hasn’t had any back soreness that I have been able to detect. He’s much more excited to transition through his paces and over all just a better ride.

Jack no longer has bucking fits on the lunge line and he rarely throws in a little crow hop in the canter anymore. Jack has also stopped most of his dancing around while being saddled up. I think something must have been really uncomfortable for him even though the fit of my treed saddles seemed correct from all aspects. He actually sighs and stands when he realizes I’m putting the treeless on. I think Jack appreciates the feeling and the clear signals I send as well. Like  I mentioned I tend to get much more tense in a treed saddle when doing arena work and since he’s a young’n he really feeds off of me and the snowballs start rolling.

With the weight of the saddle being only 15 pounds I think it has also helped with my horses workability. My boys are in pretty decent shape but every pound you can shave off will always help them work longer and more comfortably.  Between the weight and not having and tree points potentially digging into their shoulders both boys seem to be giving me the rides of approval.

Now I mentioned adjusting the treeless so I figured I’d show you what the “inside” of the saddle looks like so you can see what pieces you can adjust and why I think it’s superior to other treeless saddles I’ve seen.
Treeless underside
The seat is movable. I actually had to move the seat back a bit so I wasn’t sitting on the cantle. These treeless saddles come with three adjustments. Mine is a medium so I can adjust it between 16 and 18.5′ english sizing. My seat is sitting about 17-17.5 right now and it’s just perfect for me. I could have probably used a small size just fine but beggars can’t be choosers.

The Stirrups are adjustable forward and back. As you can see one of the straps forms a D like shape crossed the back of the saddle and one goes over where the typical stirrup line is. This is a pice that really really helps distribute weight of your stirrup pressure, especially if you are a heavier rider. If you’re a petite person you could run them along the same line without much problem. The saddle includes a measuring tape on both sides so you can get the adjustments exactly the same on both sides!

Treeless underside 3That sliver ring in front of the stirrup straps is your front girth ring. You can move those forward and backwards depending on how it’s sitting in your horses girth grove. I find this saddles natural girth position is several inches back from a typical girth location but I find the horses are a lot more comfortable with it. If your horse is prone to galls on the back of their front lets this will help relieve that pressure and prevent more of them from forming.

Everything is secured using heavy duty velcro and then the seat is velcroed down onto the top. I haven’t had any issues with things slipping or coming undone. The seat folds back down and is secured with the buckles ounderside treen the back. The buckles are more of a failsafe on the chance that the velcro releases so I think you would be just fine without them but they don’t bother me at all so I leave them on.

The pads on the bottom of the saddle that create the spinal channel, and also make it possible to ride without the use of a specialized bareback pad are also held on by the heavy duty velcro. I haven’t had any issues with it slipping here either and I love that I can tweak it a bit as the boys grow or fill out/loose weight through out the season AND I didn’t have to spend another $300 on a good treeless pad. I have been using just a regular western pad with no issues so far!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this and if you have any questions on my journey treeless feel free to ask away 😀

Until next time

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Hey Lady, GET OUT OF MY FACE!!!

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He was giving me a stern lecture on how I’m supposed to use my hands.

Well Cash and I had not only a revolutionary moment in our riding, but I must admit I think we have had one of the best sessions I have EVER had with him yesterday.

We weren’t doing anything extravagant. In fact it was just big trot-walk-trot, circles around the big pasture in my new treeless saddle. I wanted a longer more true ride on him to check how everything is fitting and what else needed to be tweaked in the saddle.

The first few minuets Cash felt really fresh and I began to wonder if maybe I should have lunged him first….but I was already on him sooooooo why not give it a whirl? (and hope AND pray he didn’t decide to be a bronc today) Well we started out with just a quick warm up walk before I asked him to move into the trot. Since he was feeling a tad fresh I was making sure I had good contact on the reins “just in case” and a  deep seat. So Cash did what he does best in most situations.

He stuck his nose up in the air and tried his best camel impression! It was quite a glorious one. I could literally see his nose above his ears. I tried pushing him forward at tad and when I asked for that he just flung his head into the air, back down and the back into the air again. I was rather confused since Cash NEVER tosses his head.

He will pull, he will chomp his teeth but he never tosses his head when I’m on him. It was around that moment I realized that somehow I had gone from steady contact to a death grip on the reins and I do Mean DEATH GRIP! Those suckers weren’t moving in my hands. Cash was literally yelling at me in his horsey way “Hey lady,  Let go of my freaking face!!! I’m not gonna kill you I swear but your rubbing my face raw!!!”. Even though he’s in a bitless bidle that rawhide piece can get uncomfortable and probably down right painful if hauled on and he was letting me know I was right near painful!

So I aimed Cash for the far pasture fence and with a big sigh (and a small prayer to the horse gods)  I relaxed my hands and let the reins slide through my fingers until I was at the buckle. At this moment Cash immediately relaxed his head and dropped his neck. He pushed off from behind and for the first time that I can remember I felt him reach forward and lift his back! I could literally feel him engage his muscles and swing his back! His stride grew long and ground covering and I had the most giddy feeling in the world. Cash was in the first step of self carriage! His head was low but he was engaged, and listening. He was soft to my leg, listening to my seat and responsive on the reins. It was like he said “Finally woman! I can breathe!!! You just gotta have a little trust in me”

I didn’t want to breath in case the feeling disappeared. I stared down in stunned silence at his shoulders wondering if I was hallucinating or somehow in a day dream. Could Cash really be truly working on the flat???

To make sure I wasn’t in some weird alternate reality I brought him down to walk and asked for trot again. He did it again, and again. I wasn’t dreaming I really wasn’t!

The second I tightened up on the reins his stride became choppy and he threw his head back up. Then when I realized what I was doing and relaxed he went right back to being engaged and relaxed.  He gave me everything in a way I’ve never noticed before. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t have a tree in-between me and him or if for what ever reason I was just more in tune with him but I’ve never felt that engagement before with him. I’ve never felt the currents of power rolling through his back before. There was always a block somewhere either stress, pain, miscommunication, or  fear on mine or his part. But today that had disappeared into the most amazing ride!

I’m still on cloud 9! I can’t even begin to describe the giddy feeling coursing through me right now. This is the first time I’ve ever felt like we truly connected doing flat work. He was so in tune with me and I was relaxed and listening to him. Other than a few times he tried to dodge out of the pasture to his favorite apple tree (He can’t be completely perfect now.) We had the best ride we have ever had.  It was truly a gift today and an eye-opening moment. I swear he continues to have more and more to teach me and the moment I feel frustrated with him he turns around and gives me the world when I just relax and trust him!

Cash is both a friend and a tutor. He has taught me is how to over come my fears and to trust again. To learn to listen with more than just my ears. He has taught me how to speak with no words and to work in harmony and not against a horses nature. With out the lessons he has taught me I wouldn’t be having near the success I am with Jack or even in my professional world working with dogs and even people for that matter. I just have to remind myself to stop and look at whats going on and RELAX! (breathing helps to….ya know the whole staying conscious on your horse thing tends to vastly improve a ride)

Thank you Cash-man for the best ride! I do think my new saddle EZ fit saddle is worth every penny if my rides keep going the way they are going!

Until next time

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Horses and Gardens, What They Have Taught Me

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Someone found out his neck is long enough to check out whats in the garden!

Horses and gardens.Kind of an odd combination to have in one sentence, unless you’re feeding them from it (I would never do such a thing…*shifty eyes*). These two things have made me rethink a lot of ways I’ve been doing things and have really taught me some valuable lessons and been my anchor in some rocky moments these last few months.

I’ve been a bit quiet on the internet lately. It’s been a very emotionally trying month for me at work and at home so I haven’t truly sat down and wrote anything for ya’ll in a while.  I got to thinking a while back and that train of thought has been bumping around in my brain for a while so I finally found the time and the well, mental energy to write it out for you all.  So without further ado, lets get right into it.

1.) Patience: The number one thing my animals and my garden have taught me is patience. Do you know how hard it is to sit and wait for a plant to sprout and then get big enough that I can go steal food from it? It’s brutal I tell ya! And horses themselves are much the same way. When we begin teaching our horses it starts out kinda like a seed. It’s an idea, a notion to the horse that we want something different. We have to have the patience to not only effectively teach a horse but to also allow the horse to figure it out for themselves. If we force them and yell and beat them with a whip….well they may eventually get it but it’s lost being fun to them. now it’s just frustrating and possibly painful.

2.) Don’t give up even when you think you’ve really screwed up.  With my garden, I thought I compactly killed the first tomato and pepper plants I planted. So much so that I bought new ones and planted a whole new bed but I kept watering the old ones out of hope and amazingly enough they are coming back even better then the ones I bought on the second go round. I think sometimes we get so caught up in “instant gratification” that when we screw up we wash our hands of it and start with something different but we forget that we, as well as our horses, are thinking creatures. We often make mistakes but if we hold out long enough sometimes those mistakes can be fixed and the whole partnership blossoms into something even more amazing then before. The biggest thing is learning from those mistakes and finding a better way to do it! Sometimes it’s patience, sometimes it’s holding off on “planting” those seeds until it’s a little warmer, or waiting to teach your horse something new or unknown until it’s a better time.

3.) Sometimes the best are not the prettiest. Sometimes the best producers, or the best companions are not the most beautiful. Sometimes the ones that end up being the perfect match are the ones that we may first look over or shake our heads at because they aren’t the “ideal” of what we are looking for. Sometimes it’s color, sometimes its lack of ‘perfect’ conformation and sometimes it’s a horse of a totally different discipline or breed then we typically like.  Perfection doesn’t mean that they will succeed or that you will ‘mesh’ together. Just like watermelons sometimes the sweetest are the ‘scared up’ or the odd balls that really show us the joy in life. (but my horses are perfect I swear *ahem* yeah I promise hehe)

4. Water often! well this is an obvious one. Without water our gardens and horses would both perish in a matter of days but what I mean by this is take the time to water what you’ve sown. Don’t be afraid to go back to basics and work with something very simple. Go out and just groom your horses, Play with them and just give them that little bit of life that we can sometimes forget is just as important as working with them.

5.) Don’t forget to take the weeds out. Weeds can destroy a garden by slowly leaching nutrients and chocking out those plants that we want the most. With horses we have to weed out those negative emotions, and those people who  are constantly putting us down because we may not be following the conventional route (Even if it’s your trainer).

Don’t be a weed to yourself either. (I struggle with this). Don’t be the one who says “He’d do so much better with someone else to open up his potential…. I suck at dressage…. I can’t do this….. I’m a horrible rider….My horse hates me….I should never have even tried this….I should be showing novice by now but i’m still in beginner novice why can’t I be like sally…..I am ruining my horse…why arnt we further along?.

If you find yourself in this kind of negative loop begin pulling weeds. Spin those thoughts around and say  “well that didn’t go as planned. I better find a better way….We are progressing slowly but man we’ve come a long ways since we started….I’m learning just like he is. Sometimes we make mistakes…. You begin to ‘pull’ those weeds when you stop letting those negative thoughts and therefore actions take root in your mind. You begin watering those positive thoughts and eventually the weeds will die and your horses will be much appreciative of it!

6.) Smile, laugh and just enjoy the moment. There’s something zen like about working with horses and working in a garden. You have to pay attention to what you’re doing in that moment, you have to release anger to be effective with your horse and all other things just melt away. If you’re having a bad day go give a hug to a horse, go pick some raspberries out of the patch and just smile and take a moment to enjoy the beauty around you. Horses don’t stay angry. Horses don’t hold a grudge. They may remember pain but they have an amazing talent for forgiveness. If we can learn to embrace that the whole world would be better off.  It’s amazing how fast those negative emotions can melt away if you just look for the good things.

Find those happy things in your life and embrace them with a whole heart. Happiness is a choice, and who can’t be happy when you’re nibbling on a freshly pulled carrot straight from the garden and sneaking the tops and pieces to those beasties begging so eagerly for more? 😀

Until next time

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Some Days Aren’t Good Days Working With Horses

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Do you ever have that feeling in your gut somedays that says “No I shouldn’t do that” and then you do it anyway for what ever reason and suddenly regret doing it? Yup yesterday was one of those days for me. (beware. Grab that cuppa coffee and maybe some chocolate, this ones a bit long)

Jacks toes had gotten long and needed to be trimmed. I do ALOT of my own farrier work to save on my pocket book and I have the farrier come out about once every 3-6 months to look at them and ensure there’s no issues going on that I haven’t noticed. Well it’s been pouring the last few days and as I got home from work there was a break and even sunshine out! So I decided “oh what the hell I’m gonna do Jacks feet”

Now hindsight is 20/20 as they say. And I should have worked Jack a good bit before I asked him to stand still a long while, while I trimmed his hooves. And because I’m not a professional farrier of course I’m not lightning quick yet. I mean who really is lightning fast unless you do it every day?

So Jack decided to test me with his feet. He’s pull his feet away, try to kick out…try to lay down. And I was good and calm for most of it. He is a youngster after all and I’ve been practicing yoga (oh yes yoga….and pilates….I am a zen master….apprentice….ok I have a lot yet to learn) .

For a farrier he stands perfectly. Probably because I’m holding his head and someone else is working on his feet…..But about the time I got half way done Jack began his melt down saying “Cash is Eating grass and I wanna and I’m DONE standing here.” (I’m beginning to think 4 year olds are akin to 2 year old humans) again I was fine. I just talked to him a bit, gave him a few “Stop its”…maybe a grumble or two and it was going good. Until he decided to loose his marbles and knock me completely over and jump over the top of me, cutting his leg in the process because he hit it on the nippers (only a minor cut, barely enough to break the skin) and knock his legs against the hoof stand.  Where he proceeded to stand there like I had just beaten the holy hell out of him, when in fact he had done it all to himself. But in his mind I had caused it all.

This is when I lost my temper a bit (I quite possibly had steam coming out my ears). He knows better then to do that. He can stand perfectly still for a good bit while a farrier trims his toes but when he needlessly “freaks out” over absolutely nothing, after a long day at work….I got mad. Now obviously I never beat a horse EVER I find it appalling and no matter how angry I get I’ll never needlessly smack a horse.  But Jack also lives with Cash who routinely gets him jumping out of his way so “angry face” makes him skittish.

Well Jack knew I was mad. I’m sure it was written all over my face and my body posture. I marched over and went to pick his feet up. His skin was twitching a bit and he was most assuredly nervous. He stood for a minuet and I began to relax and breath and tell him “good boy” in as positive voice as I could. He sighed and licked his lips and I thought we were good.

I gave him a treat for standing so still for me to finish clipping his foot. This was also a mistake because I’m coming to learn Jack turns everything into a “game” to see if he can earn another little delicious morsel. He began to lift the opposite back hoof in an odd game of teeter totter with himself, trying to get me to put his foot down and give him a treat…..I should have put his foot down….When his antics didn’t work he decided that yanking his hoof away and slamming it on my foot was the way to go. I smacked him with the small side of the rasp to get him off my screaming foot. Now I barely hit him hard enough to hear a thud. No skin was broken and in all honesty I didn’t hit him hard at all. Which is an amazing fact since my foot was screaming at me in agony asking me why in the hell I had decided this was a great thing to do after a 10 hour day of work. I was questioning this myself…but I had 1.25 feet left to go (oh yes a decimal. I can do math I swear!)

He jumped sideways and tried to panic and pull back on the halter. After a few deep, DEEP breaths I managed to calm myself down and talk Jack back into standing. I was almost done with this hoof. He decided that quietly standing there while I finished was a good idea and I made sure to give some nice belly scratches and “good boys” until I put his hoof back down.

I was excited. I only had 1 more hoof to go. I was ALMOST DONE!!!! Now did I mention that 4 year old horses are like 2 year old children?

I began nipping away….my legs were shaking a bit (ok they were exhausted but man I was on the last one I could make it!). How the hell do farrier do that to multiple horses a day? I had sweat dripping off me but by golly I was almost done and with the other three feet I quickly managed to nip all that was needed off his hoof in record time. I grabbed the Rasp and began rasping his hoof smooth. I was almost done. Like I could SEE the light at the end of the tunnel. I had about 2 more swipes left. Literally two swipes to get the last of hoof nice and smooth and level.
Jack Lost. His. Mind. He reared up and lunged forward and I barely managed to get out of the way before he took me with him.

I pulled the rope undone before he could damage my trailer and he ran backwards. I stepped back sent him in a circle and began to lunge him. I was furious. I was so, so close to the end and he decided that he was gonna melt down, arms and legs flailing and screaming in the middle of the grocery isle.

So he lunged in a circle until he decided standing was a good idea and until I could control the burning fury inside my chest. Deep breaths. More deep breaths. Ok. Lets try this again. I grabbed his front foot and bent over gently placing it between my knees. The second my knees were around it he went up again. Ok bucko two can play this game. I grabbed a spare lead rope and looped it around his hoof and tried again. This time I knew it was coming. So as soon as he reared I stepped to the side and pulled his leg up to his belly. Now this little Jack ass (oh yes his name for the rest of the night…rings nicely with Jack don’t ya think?)  is very, very athletic. He managed to run in a circle rearing and bucking with one leg held up.  And he rope burned my hands but I wasn’t giving up and letting go.   After a while he managed to get his foot down but I yanked it right back up until he stopped moving his feet. Then I gently set his hoof back down….as gently as I could anyways. He had a rope burn on his fetlock, I had one on my hands and we both stood there panting like we had just run a marathon. But ya know what. He happily stood there while I finished. He even kindly asked for some grass. (no joke. kindly touched my side then pleadingly looked at the grass) He didn’t get any until he was back in his pen, though again in hindsight I should have let him have a nibble.

Now when I put him back he went off and pouted. And I walked back to my truck, sat on the tail gate and bawled. Yup big heaving sobs with tears running down my face. I felt like I had just ruined my horse. I felt angry and sad and exhausted and just horrid…and above all guilty. Guilty for loosing my temper and pushing a young horse to stand when I probably should have taken a step back, hanged up what we were doing for a second and then asked him to stand still so I could finish.

Jack didn’t want anything to do with me, and I just wanted to hug him and say I was sorry, even though most of it wasn’t my fault. But I was sorry for loosing my temper. I’ve been working on calm. Calm and I are now great friends…patience and I are getting to be better friends. But sometimes I just can’t help getting angry and Jack can’t help being a somewhat spoiled 4 year old.

Some days are just days that don’t quite pan out with horses, but thats part of horses and part of life. Nothing perfect all the time. It’s how we deal with the situation at the moment, and how we come back from it. For now I have a new game plan in place so that situation doesn’t happen again. Each horse is vastly different then he next and I never thought Jack would do some of the things he did. I sometimes forget that a young horse can be very unpredictable. He’s trying to test as much as I’m trying to teach.

If you have one of those days where it just feels like it went horribly wrong don’t worry. Your horses will forgive you, you’ll forgive yourself and it’ll all work out because we each learn something new and eventually we learn to laugh at ourselves….after the fact….and maybe after a glass of wine or two, and a pint of ice cream.

Until Next Time

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Teaching lessons…and getting a few in return

These last few weeks have been quite a blur of activity both at work and with the horses and in-between all the craziness Cash has blown my socks off. I always wondered what I would find that he truly loves.  Well I can say I finally found it in the most unexpected of places and in finding it he  has suddenly given me back something that I have greatly missed.

One of my favorite things to do is teach. I love sharing with other people what I know about everything equine related and I especially love teaching beginners and children. There is something that is just so fun about seeing a kid who’s a little shy and insecure start working with horses and  become confident and sure of themselves and truly blossom. Cash has decided his lot in life is teaching children and I never would have thought he would excel here.

As Cash was growing up I had visions of jumping cross country and galloping through fields and all things adrenaline filled. But as Cash and I began working together we came a crossed hurdles that I didn’t expect. For a long time we clashed personality wise.  There was many a time I contemplated selling him. We are both alpha personalities and it took a very, VERY  long time for us to get on ground we both understood and accepted. I still have visions of competing him but as the days have gone by I’ve started to notice him not enjoying jumping as much,  and well he’s always abhorred dressage.

While I was over in Greece Cash was at home with my family and was mostly a couch potato but he did do some lunge lessons for my mom. I didn’t think twice about it until I got a working student to help me with the chores around the barn…because who doesn’t need an extra hand or five for all the chores?
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On a whim I decided to teach her lunging since she’s never learned how to do it on a lunge line. Cash was an angel. He didn’t put a hoof wrong and in fact took the time to teach her how to do it right.  He was calm and quiet. A gentleman in every sense of the word. If I had been lunging him he would have bucked and galloped and tugged on the rope and yet with my working student he just calmly trotted and cantered in a circle. As she was testing out what I was telling her I could almost hear him going “Now child that’s not right” every time she cued wrong and he’d continue doing what he was doing until  she got it right. Then he’d get this look like  “ah yes there we go,” and do what she asked. It was a heart melting sight and one that kind of humbled me. For once Cash truly said “Trust me” and I really listened and I’ve been payed back ten fold by it.

As he has continued his role of teacher to several people now  he has reminded me that though we have plans in life, they don’t always work out how we envisioned. In fact, many of my plans rarely work out how I planned. But when those plans go awry sometimes what becomes of them is even better then the original outcome.  He’s taught me to laugh and to relax and most of all to trust him. He knows what he’s doing with kids and under my watchful eye and directions he’s slowly teaching a new generation the love of horses. Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 7.00.01 AM

Sometimes a horses perfect place is someplace unexpected and a wondrous surprise.  THANK YOU to my amazing horse Cash for not only giving me back one of my passions but also reminding me that trust and happiness is not far away, we just have to be willing to try something new in order to find it.

Until Next time.

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Taking Lessons Once More


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Due to living in Greece for a few years  and then getting settled into life here in Washington it’s been almost 4 years since I’ve taken any serious lessons.  I mean I wasn’t just a bump on a log plodding along on any horse I could find. (ok not entirely)  I ensured I was still reading good books, I was riding dressage and jumping horses and I felt I was doing a great job.

Well as the summer is drawing closer on glorious Whidbey Island, I decided that I really wanted to work on jumping again but my boys are not quite ready yet. They are out of shape. They haven’t worked on much of anything and I didn’t want to jump them right into doing some jumping so I decided to take a few lessons on a lesson horse so I could focus solely on me and not my horse.

Boy oh boy was it a wake up call! I quickly found out 5 things.

1.) I have been riding dressage length way to long. Jumping length is a whole different story now. Talk about thighs burning after only a few minuets in the posting trot! Don’t even get me started on sitting trot.
2.) My right foot wants to point in not out and ends up throwing my whole body off balance and it becomes VERY apparent when asking  for trot to canter transitions as I loose my balance I also stiffen my entire body and narrow my hands to brace to stay in the saddle.
3.) I have forgotten what it’s like to ride with good contact on the reins. My boys are ridden either in a side pull or very very light contact. Having a horse that needs more contact to work properly I end up pulling and almost balancing on the reins.
4.) I need to focus on using more abs and less hands when riding in contact.

5.) I need to work on my cardio and strength sessions. I’m getting lazy and as I got tired I would start the dreaded knee pinching to stay balanced!!

So I most assuredly have a few things to work on now. Sometimes I’m like “I’ve been riding for 20 some odd years. I got this figured out. I don’t need no stinking lessons!” And it goes great for a while. I’m saving money. I’m feeling confidant in my riding and I get comfortable but then I start getting compliant. I start creating bad habits for myself, like letting my right leg  point inwards instead of pointing my toe out and keeping my calf against my horses sides for better aids.

Then as I get compliant I start to wonder why I’m having issues getting stuff like the left canter lead. Well it’s because I’m out of balance, and I’m not cueing correctly but I feel correct so I get confused and frustrated with my horse. Now enter a second set of eyes from the ground and SHAZAM immediately some problems become instantly apparent. And as I work to improve them suddenly some of the issues with my horses start going away.

The key is finding that good instructor you click with. Once you and the instructor are on the same page it’s a wonderful feeling. Each day I look forward to improving myself and each lesson I’m curious of what she’s going to come up with this time. I’m over here like “Here!!! Here!!! TAKE MY MONEY!!! LETS GO!!!”

I have to hold my excitement down because even in 1 hour I feel great improvements. I get frustrated, I get tired and then something clicks and there goes the excited feeling going off all over again…….And then I watch the next lesson and see someone do something perfectly that I struggled for 30 minuets to do just once and that competitive side comes out in me.

“Oh yeah. Little miss perfect with your awesome little horse. I’m gonna beat you.” And I set a plan for working with my boys and perfecting what I just learned. Who says you need actual competitions to show you what you need to work on. Just pay close attention to you lesson and then watch the next one and aim to make yourself better to “beat” the rider after you. Of course all in good fun now. No getting snippy with the other people!

No matter what your age or experience level never be afraid to take a lesson! If nothing else it’ll nip those bad habits in the bud and keep you in peak form AND you might just have a great time 😀

Until next time!

 

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Dealing With A Young Horse’s Antics….Oh Jack

Jack riding

It’s not often that Jack shows his age. Most of the time he’s my little angel of a (now)4 year old that outshines his uncle in manners and his ability to remain calm. However our latest ride this was not the case. Every bit of his 4 years showed up! If you saw the video of jack lunging on my Facebook page then you saw his first two days of work after about a week off. Now he was amazing in the lunge but decided that having to listen to me in the saddle was not very fun!  (The video’s below if you want to watch here as well)

Now I want to point out that with Jack, even his worst day doesn’t compare to Cash AT ALL. Cash can make a bronc master proud and a racehorse weep when he wants to. Jack on the other hand, while he tries his hardest, really can’t get much of a rebellion going.  Even in an english saddle he as to really, really, REALLY try to get me even slightly unseated.

Jack has had the majority of the winter off. I won’t lie, Cash is my favorite(I’ve had him longer AND his mom was m BFF growing up) so when time is scrunched and I can only work one I always choose Cash. Now I’m trying to change my ways. I can’t take the “me next” looks anymore from Jack so I’ve started switching off working horses. One day I work Cash and the next I work Jack so they both feel properly loved and looked after. If I have a really good day I might get to work them both!

So it was Jacks turn. The first day I lunged him and he did his best “I’ve never had a saddle on” bronc imitation but it didn’t take long for him to settle back down and remember that he had to listen and that the saddle really wasn’t going to kill him.  His bucks are much worse on the lunge line then they are when you’re on him. They are maybe a little under half has big under saddle. I decided that it was NOT the right time to ride him and that another day  or two of work to get those brain cells functioning was probably a really good idea. After another day of lunging (the bottom picture in the video) I decided that it was finally time to ride Jack.

Now I didn’t feel like trailering out to the arena and I figured that the ground was probably dry enough in the pasture for a little ride.  So I gathered up my helmet and reins and headed off to the second pasture. Now he was a little snorty about the trees and the manure bucket but nothing way out of the ordinary. I got on and he stared out really good. He even paused long enough for me to get a picture. Then I asked him to walk away from Cash and into the more muddy( his hooves sink a little more it’s not really that muddy) part of the pasture.

*Insert Baby melt down here*

He didn’t wanna, so he thought rearing would be a good idea. Now jacks idea of a rear is probably no more then a foot or two off the ground. Just enough to know he went up. I rolled my eyes and asked him to move forward again and he did. I praised him when he halted like I asked. I asked him to walk forward again and I praised I’m for that. Then he decided he REALLY wanted to go next to Cash, who was calmly standing in the corner watching us.

Jack is apparently buddy sour after hanging with Cash all winter and he seemed to be saying “OH my god i’m 100 feet from cash! There might be a lion hiding behind this tiny bit of grass! I need the herd!” And he proceeded to try to rip the reins out of my hands and walk towards cash (high speed is NOT in Jacks vocabulary thankfully).

Oh no no no. That’s not allowed! So I calmly asked him to turn. Well he thought that THIS was just the most RUDE thing I could ask him and began to do his imitation of a bronc. I pulled his head up a tad and asked him to go forward. I mean really it’s more of an excited rocking horse motion, or maybe one of those old time merry go round in high speed. I almost laughed at him but he was trying so hard I figured I wouldn’t tempt karma or fate and held it in.

Now Cash can get those heels up above his head and spin and put a bronc to shame. (He’s got multiple areas of talent ) and Jack was just kinda humping his back and hopping with all four feet off the ground in a smaller version of his excited lunging. He was very displeased with how I responded to it. He thought I should be shaking in terror and ready to do as HE wished.  Silly boy gets a break from riding and think that he’s the alpha now. So I waited for him to finish his tantrum and just asked him to walk forward again. If I could have seen his face from the ground I’m sure he had the frumpy kid face when his plan was foiled. I’m sure he was thinking “But this would work for Cash! Why is she still on my back? grrrrr” If only he knew what Cash has put me through.

I kept asking for simple walk and halt transitions and praising when he did what I wanted and ignoring all his temper tantrums, other then just doing a correction to stop the action like bucking. But I never kicked him, I never yanked on the bit. I pulled his head up if he was bucking but as soon as he stopped I released everything. I kept my reins long with little contact until he pulled a temper tantrum. And you know what. It wasn’t long before he was sighing, licking his lips and doing what I asked! Once he realized that he wasn’t going to win he quietly submitted and realized it was futile to fight. And I never once had to truly punish him for any of his antics.

This whole session probably lasted 15 minuets (If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you may start seeing a trend here) but when he continually and calmly did what I asked I halted praised and then got off. It was a great note to end on and a high point for me. It’s the first time I’ve managed to react so calmly to a horses temper tantrum. With Cash I think I know what he’s capable of and fear makes me act more heavy handed with him when he acts up. I KNOW Cash can unseat me and hurt me if he gets it in his mind he’s not gonna. I’ve learned that the hard way a time or two so I try to hard to stop the action before it progress to something worthy of a winning 8 second ride.

Now waiting out a tantrum is not always safe to do on a horse, depending on the horse BUT if you can I feel it is well worth the effort with a horse like Jack, and even Cash’s smaller antics. I find that sometimes horses are trying to get you to act up and start a fight (*ahem* Cash). Sometimes the best thing to do is make a quick correction to stop the action and then carry on like nothing happened. Each horse is different on what corrections work but after the episode is over try your hardest to let go of any anger or fear that accompanied it (I know it’s much harder said then done)

The biggest thing Cash ever taught me was how to take a deep breath and release my anger. He WANTED that fight and manipulated me to get it. He wanted to prove he was alpha and if I gave him to opportunity he would take it. Once I learned to anticipate when he was going do something and then how to release my anger at his antics afterwards, our bond has really became strong. That ability to release my strong negative emotions is paying off ten fold now with Jack. It took me AGES to finally figure it out so give it a try when you seem to be having a bad ride! It may just end up being a great one if you can get passed YOUR emotions.

While I didn’t get a chance to Go Pro my episode with Jack. It died as I was getting on (One of these days I will remember to charge it BEFORE I ride)  I hope you got a little laugh at his antics and maybe just a slight insight on working with babies.

Until next time!

 

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Best New Grooming Tool: Hands On Gloves

It isn’t very often that I come a crossed a new type of grooming tool  that I like. Most ideas have been tried and done before with just a slightly different shape or material. Well, I just found my newest most favorite grooming tool ever. Cash AND Jack both enthusiastically agree. They are called Hands On Gloves and they are AMAZING! (I do have a video using them on Cash’s muddy butt, but for some reason my phone and computer refuse to talk to each other. One of these days I’ll invest in an iPhone so all my electronics will all talk to each other!)
hands on gloves
You put on these gloves and they have all the grippies of normal plastic groomers but they are on your fingers and palms. I can groom the boys in the most odd of places that I can’t reach normally with a brush or a good scrubber. (Like cash’s favorite of right between the chest muscles or the crease of the leg and chest)  I can carefully get around the boys eyes, ears and all around those weird places on the face and the boys just LOVE IT!  I haven’t seen my horses give me the “oh oh right there….oh please don’t stop scratching” looks so much before. The fact that they are shedding right now probably really helps them love these gloves. And I have drenched them in water and used them just to see. They still work great they just don’t wipe off the hair as easily as dry but they are very good. I’m not sure how long they will last with enthusiastic brushing but if it lasts the shedding season i’ll be happy. I’m really pleased with how much of the dead skin and dirt it pulls up as well. The boys will be gleaming in no time!

*Note* These gloves are a tad expensive at $25 a pop BUT you horses will seriously say thank you! Both Cash and Jack love them and they have two very different tastes for what and how I groom them!

My work schedule has been ridiculous lately and I won’t lie, my time with my horses has suffered because it. (hence my very few posts these last few weeks) and I love just going out to hang with the boys and give them some brushings to get my horse hair therapy going.  These gloves have really helped it for sure! 😀

I think time on the ground just hanging out with the horses is also just as important as riding the horses. I’ve found that when I do work in hand, or I just relax and hang out drinking a cup of tea (or wine) and sit near them while they are grazing really has drastically improved my relationship with my horses. I think in a way it builds their trust with me, and of course great grooming sessions always help, especially when you reach those really, really hard to reach places for them!  Any who I just wanted to jump in and say a quick hello before having to head off to find me some dinner and a really really hot shower before getting ready for my day tomorrow.

Good news! The sun has been shining and I think possibly that summer is almost here! That means a lot more work with the boys since it’s staying lighter much longer! So as long as work doesn’t put me on the crazy schedule I’ve been on the last few weeks I’ll be back to blogging again like crazy!

Until next time!

 

**This is not a sponsored post. I just seriously love these gloves and had to share! Click on the link above or check them out here at handsongloves.com**

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Dressage Just Got Real Part 2


So if you’ve read part one (Check it out HERE if you haven’t) have I blown your mind yet?Well let me show you why lifting the head was essential and how it really helps this second part.

So your horse now understands that when given upward pressure on the bit he has to hold his head up. Remember when I said Carol put her finger in the snaffle ring and gently lifted up and Cash turned his head???  Now you see where we are going.

So once your horses head is up, stand in front (or slightly to the side for safety) and gently lift one side of the bit up and do a little vibration/wiggle by lifting up and down a few centimeters. The horse should turn it’s head. If not Ask, wait a moment, praise or ask again.

Now as they turn their head watch their front legs. Most horses will lean the majority of their weight towards the direction their head is going. They may also have a preferred side that they tend to keep weight on. For instance if the horse is turning its head left they pop their right shoulder out and lean to the right instead of following the head to the left. (IE. Cash popping his shoulder out  and going right to go see the horses BUT I had him turned and bent to go left).

So as you observe them do they transfer their weight left and right to follow their head? or do they move their head but keep most of their weight on one side?

If you have a horse that leans all its weight on one leg, say the right front leg, that’s great for the left leg because it frees of weight and can move any way it needs to.  However, the moment you ask them to move the right leg they literally can not move that leg because there is too much weight on it.

posted leg free legIt’s like leaning against the wall using your right arm to hold your weight.  Your left arm is free to do what ever you want but you can’t move your right arm for fear of loosing your balance and falling.

Now to understand why they do this, a horses head weighs approximately 50 pounds! So when they are moving forward and they’re looking forward it’s easy for them to move that direction but if they swing their head one way or another they compensate with their “strong” side to keep in balance.  Horses have a preferred side just like we do so that it’ s typically the side that takes the majority of the weight when they more their heads left to right.  Some horses will shift their weight to both sides easily but the majority of horses will pick one side over the other.

This brings us to the next exercise:

You’re going to need your reins and a training whip long enough to reach their butts.

Take the reins and put them over the horses head like you normally would to mount. Then grab the outside rein and ensure you have a nice light contact with the bit but are not pulling on it. It’s there to keep the bit steady. You will put the outside rein in your hand closest to the butt,with your training whip also in that hand, and position your hand on the meaty part of the shoulder.

You can see how i'm holding the bit and the reins here.
You can see how I’m holding the bit and the reins here and where I’m holding my hand on the shoulder. Sorry about the sun glare!

The best way to grip the bit  is going to be gripping the top part of the snaffle ring ensuring you only pull up not back and/or down. You can hold it any way thats comfortable but this ensures you are only pulling up.  Don’t be afraid to use the noseband to help make sure you don’t pull down on the bit until you get the feel for it.
holding bit
So once you’re all situated you are going to ask for walk.

Ask, wait for response.  Praise if they did it right. If they didn’t move  ask again while simultaneously using the whip to tap at their side to get them to move forward  and cease all aids as soon as they do and praise.

Then ask for whoa by pulling up slightly with both reins and releasing the upward movement. The release is MANDATORY!  This is your wait for their response moment. If you continue to hold the horse will resist. Give them the opportunity to respond! Then either ask again or praise depending on the response (seeing a theme here?)

When you’re sure you have go and whoa you can move on to the next step. 

Ask the horse to move forward. Now just like when the horse was standing and you asked him to turn his head,  wiggle the inside ring up and down several centimeters. Once you have the bend in his neck praise!  As you move forward walk on a large 20 to 40 meter circle. If needed walk down the rail but it is usually easier to do on a circle. As you do this a lot of horses will fall in with the shoulder. Don’t worry we will fix that next.

Take your hand holding the whip and outside rein and watch the inside leg. As the inside leg ( or the shoulder you’re standing next to) begins to raise off the ground. Push on their shoulder and then release the pressure before it strikes the ground.

Crossing front legThis should cause the horse to step across their outside leg and move their shoulders away from you.  This does take a bit of timing practice and you MUST release. If you do not it causes what is known as opposition reflex. This means the horse will lean into your pressure instead of away. It’s a natural response. Even you will do it if someone pushes steadily against your shoulder.

Make sure to praise praise praise when they gets it right.  Don’t reprimand if they do it wrong or don’t do anything.  Let them stumble on to the right answer. If timed right they understand what your asking very quickly. Don’t over do it. Once they have done it several times repeat the steps on the other side.

You are teaching your horse that they are mobile in the shoulders as well as  how to shift their weight left and right evenly while maintaining bend. That is why having their head up in these beginning steps is really nessicary.  If they have all their weight on the forehand it is a lot harder for them to move their shoulders.

The Final Exercise: 

crossed hind legsNow once they have mastered both the right and left shoulders moving away from the pressure, while still circling at a walk,  take the whip, hold it horizontally a crossed their body  and tap their haunches lightly as the rear inside leg (hind leg closest to you) is lifting off the ground.  This should cause them to step under and a-crossed moving their hind end to the outside. Ask with a tap or two, Wait for a response and ask again or praise. (The pic is a horse at a stand still but it gives you an idea of the moment you are looking for)

Now when asking for this exercise the first time horses will usually try to go faster instead of over. Cash tried to trot forward the first time he was asked.  Just hold them steady. If needed give that slight upwards pressure on both reins and ask for walk. Be patient. This can make some horses a bit nervous to start.  Once they even take a tiny step a crossed to the outside with the back leg praise, praise, praise!  It usually only takes a few tries and praises for them to understand it typically if you’re timing your aids right. I mean if Cash picked it up in about three tries I think a calmer horse would pick it up faster.

The hardest thing is ensuring you’re not pulling on the bit while asking for the aid and having the correct timing when giving the tap to the haunches to move.  This final exercise teaches a young or inexperienced horse that while they have more weight on the haunches then normal they are still able to move their legs laterally and it begins to teach the engagement of the hocks.

That’s it for my first lesson. A very simple and yet profound exercise. I do ask please keep the sessions short! Carol only worked with me and a Cash a grand total of 10 minuets out of the hour lesson. The rest of the hour was spent just talking and explaining. There is absolutely no reason you can’t stop after five minuets if your horse is understanding it. In fact it is much more beneficial to the to stop after a short but great session.

What blew away was the response in Cash at the end of the lesson. He started out nervously chomping the bit. By the end of the lesson he was still chomping but it was relaxed and much slower. He was calmly standing next to me. Which was AMAZING given the fact it was about 40 degrees with about a 15-20 mile an hour gusts of cold wind. At the beginning I couldn’t get him to stand still to save my life!

Repeat this exercise every day for 1 week or if you can’t do it ever day of week do it as many times as you can for two weeks. Don’t ride your horse at all until the end of the week and let me know how your horse responded. You do not need any arenas to do this exercise either! I do it in my pastures and front yard (yup hoof prints everywhere!)

HERE’S a great little video showing exactly what you need to do once your walking! The young lady is doing the work and Carol is talking to the girl as she’s doing it. I have tried taping my personal sessions since my lesson but my camera decided to hate me( I do think it’s my memory card…hopefully) , but I can’t seem to get the right angle to show you or longer then about 15 seconds to record. I need my own camera crew haha.

If you have any question let me know and I will get you the answers! I hope you’ve enjoyed this 😀

Until next time!

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Dressage Just Got Real Part 1

Dressage arena set up with letters Tower Letters are molded using 100% UV-stabilized HDPE. White with large black letters molded onto all three sides. Letters are stackable with anti-suction tabs to prevent sticking. 10-017 10-018 Wellington Dressage Arena 2-023 2-024 2-025 2-123 920PW 920PWC Wellington Arena Package Wellington Arena Tower Letter Package WATowerp1 WATowerP2

My mind = blown. I never knew such a short lesson could bring about such revelations! Where has this amazing trainer been hiding all my life?!! Now it’s taken me almost an entire week to digest and understand exactly what she told me throughout my lesson. The information I learned will also be broken up into several posts because it’s so much I don’t want to overload  and confuse you.

The camera we were using for the lesson decided to hate my memory card so I didn’t get it on video and I’m attempting to re-create it with my go pro but like all thing technological it seems to never want to work when I need it to…. or I fried the memory card.

Before we begin I want to point out that I put Cash back in a bit for the lesson. I figured that since I was riding with Carol McArdle who has an extensive background in not only dressage but eventing as well, (Check out her bio HERE)  that maybe she would see something that I’m doing or have ideas on how to make him happier with the bit.  I was right!

To start our lesson I got on and started walking around in warm up. Carol wanted to see my typical warm ups and how we worked together on a normal basis. As we were going around the arena Cash saw two horses just chilling on the other side of the rail and decided he REALLY wanted to meet those horses. He did his classic “I wanna go THIS way” move while I was telling him “No go this way” and we were arguing over which direction we were going.

This was literally about 2 minuets into the lesson. It was at this point Carol stepped in. She said

“You have a communication issue. Your horse doesn’t understand what your asking with the reins.”

Now the next bit is gonna sound weird. It goes against almost everything I have been taught but hold out on me. I promise it’ll get a bit clearer.

She then grabbed the right bit ring with one finger and lifted gently straight up and gave a tiny vibration and Cash instantly turned his head to the right.

“The key to a horse is not pulling down and back like you were doing. It’s pulling straight up on the bit. Your horse has never done this before and see what he did? He automatically turned his head.” and  then proceeded to tell me to get off my horse.

Wait…What?!…I froze….What did she just say? Get off my horse??!  Pull straight up???  HUH?

This is the FIRST time in my entire life that I’ve been at a lesson and I was kicked off my horse. I thought maybe she wanted to get on him and show me something. I kinda prayed she had insurance and jumped off.

As I hopped off she put my stirrups up. So I waited even more confused. Did I screw up that badly that we were ending the lesson already? Then she told me we are starting at the very beginning basics.I was still confused. I thought I was at those basics with Cash but she was not talking about the basics in the saddle.She meant starting at the basics on the ground by doing in hand work!

Now in hand work is something I have always attempted/wanted to do. I have about three books on it and I’ve watched countless videos but I never quite understood what they were doing. So she grabbed the reins and began to show me.

I was blown away and secretly grateful that she did this.

The information she told me has completely changed the way I handle a horse with a bridle. So for the next bit I’m gonna break it down to help explain why you do this first evolution by pulling UP on the bit.

All right a little tid bit on some basics of how bits work in a horses mouth varying on how you pull on the reins. This was how Carol explained it to me. I added some pictures to help clarify.

Pulling straight back with the reins: This pulls down on the tongue and possibly the bars of the mouth causing intense discomfort. Think of it this way. When you’re at the dentist and he puts his finger on the back of your tongue and pushes what happens? It creates gag reflex. The same is true in your horse. The pressure is not comfortable in any way so they try to evade it one way or another or brace against it.

Bit pulled straight back best

Pulling down: Puts INTESE pressure on the bars of the mouth and possibly the pallet as well. The bars of the mouth are extremely sharp and narrow. It’s very easy to cause stress fractures as well as bony spurs on the bars with constant downward pressure and severe bruising to the tissue of the bars of the mouth and the roof of the horses mouth. Just ask a vet or dentist if you don’t believe me.

runningmartingale

Pulling straight up: Puts pressure only on the corners of the horses mouth. As the bit moves up it tickles or strokes the tongue causing the horse to lift his tongue and swallow releasing pressure in the poll. It has no effect on the bars or pressure on the tongue and is much easier on the horse. And for horses like Cash doesn’t invoke a fight response to pain. In the picture below you can see the action of the bit as due to the angle of the horses head. The bit is being pulled up along the tongue not down.
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The best thing she told me to remember was “Ask. Wait a moment. Give the horse a chance to respond to what you’re asking. If they give the wrong answer or don’t respond at all ask again! Once you get the right answer praise praise praise!”

DO NOT PUNISH a horse for giving a wrong response. This just adds unnecessary stress and confusion for no reason.  PRAISE is mandatory for a horse to know when he has done something correctly.

As Cash was standing there he was nervously chewing on the bit. She calmly took both bit rings and gently moved them up in his mouth until he RAISED his head just a little bit.Cash went to walk forward and turn but Carol calmly walked with him until he stopped. She lifted the bit again then he lifted his head a tad and lots of praise followed. It didn’t take him long to figure out when she pushed up on the bit he had to raise and hold his head up.

Now if you’re like me you’ve been taught to put the horses head down. That’s why side reins, draw reins and even martingales are used. It is commonly taught that we want the horse’s head round and down and taking contact on the bit for a young horse. But there is a very good reason to teach the horse to raise his head in the beginning stages.

I’m going to explain the biomechanics of the motion and how using a horses natural biomechanics to help train is really beneficial. And why wouldn’t we want to use what’s already given to us to make our lives easier? and easier on our horses? After all the goal of dressage is to teach a horse to carry a rider as naturally as possible and to build the strength in the horse to do the movements we are asking of them. Dressage is nothing but continual training of the horses mind and body.

shift weight picSo in nature as a horse hears or sees something unknown they immediately raise their head. When they do this it causes the horse to automatically shift its weight back to its haunches in case that sound happens to be a predator. This frees up the forehand and allows them to make a rapid movement should escape be necessary. Putting their head up also switches their vision for distance so they can see if a predator is near. How does this help dressage?

When asking a horse to raise his head, I’m not saying raise it to the point where if it rains he drowns.  I’m talking mere inches here. Not even as high as the horse in the picture.  He will naturally raise his head much higher to check something out like above. You want him only to raise his head high enough where you see the small shift of weight from front to rear. And it’s subtle so it’s very easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.

Now that the weight is more towards the rear it is much easier to ask a horse to more his shoulders left and right.

I’m going stop this post here. Part 2 will be coming soon but just let this idea sit in your mind for a bit. Part 2 will show you how this first step will make everything much easier and how it helps your horses suppleness without anything crazy.….Intrigued yet???

If you want to read part 2 check it out HERE. In part 2 you will understand why lifting the head really helps the next exercises 😀

 

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A Whirlwind Of A Weekend And It’s Only Saturday!

This weekend has been a crazy whirlwind of activity and I’m only half way though it! Cash has blown my expectations out of the water already. (Knock on wood and throw salt over my shoulder!)

Cash trying bitlessI trailered him out to the covered arena and got to try his new bitless bridle thanks to an amazing surprise from my mom! He LOVES it. He relaxes, listens to subtle aids and just seems so happy in it. I don’t even know how to explain how well he feels in it. He was even reaching down into the light contact I had on the reins! No fighting of the turning aids, no wrenching the reins out of my hands!!! It is bliss and I hope it continues. I will eventually re-introduce the bit to him so we can show but for now I’ll take what I’m getting and run!!

I also pissed off Jack today by just trailering out Cash. We have a dressage lesson tomorrow with Carol Lynn Mc ardle!! (Eke!!! so excited can’t even adult!!!) and I wanted to see how he would handle trailering and being ridden without Jack anywhere near. Needless to say he was a tad bit of a space case to start. On the lunge he wanted to pay attention to everything outside the arena. He would listen to my commands but wasn’t really listening if you get my drift. It’s when I got in the saddle that he absolutely blew me away! We probably only rode for a total of 20 minuets but it was an amazing 20 minuets. He was responsive to all my aids! Leg seat and hand!!! It was a huge moment. We even did side pass at the walk and some turn on the forehand left and right!!!

He has decided that the far end of the arena is scary due to a tarped mound of dirt BUT when I asked him to trot towards it he actually picked up the trot and kept a great rhythm throughout the whole length of the arena. He got a little lookie loo at the very end but he circled a decent 20 meter circle and settled down and happily went a crossed the diagonal to the other side and repeated it. He was happy to do walk-trot transitions and only put a fuss up once when he was getting a tad tired! I think what helped is I ensured to praise loudly in a happy voice each and every time he did something well or gave an attempt to do it. He’s a horse that needs re-assurance  that he’s doing something right. He needs verbal praise and lots of scratches (not slaps!) to boost his confidence! If he keep going this way man I can only envision the possibilities!

I mean I’m still so excited about it that I am probably babbling away. The only thing we had issues on was the canter transitions and holding the canter. I think part of our problem is he’s super tight from not moving much in his pen due to the mud and probably a little sore as well. It will be very interesting to see how he does in our lesson tomorrow!!

Jack NappingNow I did mention Jack was mad at me…well I did make it up to him by allowing both him and Cash some time under the orchard trees to graze and Jack took full advantage of the semi-dry ground to take a lengthy nap (seriously I walked out to make sure he was still alive) He even seemed to be dreaming.  I felt bad that I had woken him up!

finish road fenceMy mom also sent me some Wellington boots since my other boots are no longer water proof. (You can read that story here)  I was able to finish ripping out that stretch of barbed wire (Nasty evil shit!) and I’ll begin the other side tomorrow. It won’t be long before I have the new fence up and the grounds dry enough to let the boys graze until their hearts content! The grass is already 6 inches tall out there! If it would ever stop raining I could graze it!!!

Now I did get the death glare from the boys when I had to put them back in their pens and Jack even jumped the electric fence (oh yes jumped!)as I was putting it back where it normal is. I had to run around with treats and a halter and finally corner him to get the halter on. Then he drug his hooves all the way back to the gate. I’ve never known a horse to walk so slow. Poor cash was pouting as well but he’s easily consoled by giving him a flake of alfalfa. Jack on the other hand is probably currently plotting my death.

So I apologize for this post being kind of a ramble. I’m still so shocked and excited and empowered by everything I managed to accomplish today (and I even left some stuff out!) and I wanted to share it so badly that well I couldn’t help myself! Tomorrow’s gonna be even better. A full rundown of my first lesson in over 2 years and my first ever on Cash will be written (and video hopefully)

Until Next time!

P.S. oh and If you haven’t gotten the news the boys and I are now on INSTAGRAM! Check us out if you get a chance 😀  (oh and please do me a favor and ensure you have “turn on notifications” once your following so you can stay up to date with the boys and I!)

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The Water Dragons Got Me!

Do you ever have those moments where you suddenly realize why your horse has issues with something say….water? Yep yesterday was one of those rides. It was a moment that clarified that though Cash may be almost 8 now (gosh I can’t believe that!) He is still very much green broke and VERY opinionated.

A friend asked if I wanted to go riding and of course I did. It was a pretty gorgeous day though the wind kicked up about the time I was hooking up the trailer….I should have realized right there this was a bad idea…But hey I’m stubborn and I had people waiting on me so by golly I was freaking going! So I loaded up Cash, swung around and grabbed my friend and headed to the beach where one of her friends met us.

Now the last time Cash has seen the ocean was when we were in California and that has been at least 5 years. Now the key difference between California and here is California’s are not rocky beaches and the surf is WAY stronger. Needless to say the beach was not his most favorite ride there. I conveniently forgot about this. So we start our ride and it’s going pretty well. And then the ocean comes into view and we start walking towards it.

Why did I think I had to put my horses feet in the water….I dunno… It seemed like a great idea at the time. And he had two lead horses to follow so… off we go towards the waves. We actually get in the waves when in Cash’s mind a HUGE wave starts heading his way.  Cash takes this as his cue that the elusive water dragons are trying to eat him and starts jumping waves and water for all he’s worth! (oh yes there is a video below)

Now I’m gonna pause here… You ever have those moments where your watching a train wreck and you just can’t look away? Well I was having one of those moments except I was the train…And it felt a lot longer then about 3 seconds! As Cash was jumping the water he and I parted ways and I hit the water and the rocks. Luckily there was about a foot or two of water between me and said rocks.

The water dragon has swallowed me whole and Cash headed to the closest thing he can…safety in numbers! He goes to the other horses! While I’m fighting for my life, in his eyes, the nice cowboy riding with us grabbed his reins and kept him in the water while I re-emerge from the gloomy depths trying to get as much salt out of my mouth as I possibly can. Needless to say I was drenched to the bone.

Now Cash didn’t freak out any more in the water. I think he figured out he was taller than it and while the water dragon had swallowed me… it had spit me back out so it was alright for the moment.

Of course I couldn’t leave the ride like that. I really do want Cash to get over his fear of the waves and I didn’t want to have confidence issues. So I got back on, shivering n all and with a cringe for the cleaning I was gonna have to do with my saddle off we go down the beach again.

Cash has decided that the water is still scary though it’s not terrifying and we slowly gain confidence in the footing. He still wants to lag behind and in all honesty if I’d have given him the reins he’d have probably happily walked back to the trailer no questions asked. We finally start to trot and then get to a slow lope. Yup he was doing an amazing lope down the beach.

Well of course the riders with me want to lope as well (that’s what you go to the beach at low tide for). Here is where I made a mistake. I let that mare get ahead of us. Anyone who knows Cash knows he HAS to be in the lead. I dunno what it is about him but he just has to win. (I seriously should have raced him. I’d have probably won a shit ton of money)And the race was on. Now the cowboy dropped a water bottle and riding on a cow horse he can quickly stop and turn around. Cash did not like this idea of stopping and decided that he would show his unpleasantness by bucking. Oh yes bucking. And I’m not talking crow hopping… OH NO…I’m talking full on all four feet off the ground bucks!

Now I want to praise myself here. I was smart enough to ride my western saddle though a tad big for me (ok it was my dads that I stole… sorry dad) I managed to keep myself on between sheer power of will and essentially curling around the horn and hanging on for all I was worth. (I did mention I was soaked in water right before this right? Soaked clothes+ wind= lack of fine motor skills…or really any skills at all)Though it didn’t take long before Cash calmed down and all was right…again… in the world. We did ride calmly back to the trailer. Ok I walked the last half mile because the two I was with wanted to gallop the beach and I was just too cold to deal with any of Cash’s tantrums. Walking to the trailer really warmed me up considering I had about ten more pounds added to my feet with all the water and sand in my boots.

Now I also want to add one tiny detail. You know I was soaked to the bone when I got back to my truck I had the sudden realization that I was soaking wet and I had to drive home. Now I get shit from the guys at work (and my family) all the time because my truck looks like a mobile tackroom, minus a saddle (usually). My truck has cloth seats. Wet clothes and cloth seats do not get along! That’s just what I needed to end the day. So with a quick rummage in the back seat I emerged victorious! Cash’s rain sheet was sitting in the back. Rain sheets are water proof! Huzzah!!

So I cranked the heater and off we went to go home. I can say taking my clothes off and sitting in a nice hot bath has never ever felt better! With a glass of wine and a slice of stuffed crust pizza all was well in the world once more!

I have some mighty impressive bruises today that just keep getting better and better as the day has gone on and I’m sure they will be looking like I got jumped in a back alley soon. But hey in the end it was a lesson learned, and now a good story and it was filmed to boot!

Also I had a helmet on and for that I am very,very thankful. While I did land in water I also landed on rocks and my lower back a crossed my spine has the cut and bruise to prove it. It could have been a whole different ride had I not had my helmet on!  Plus it makes a great spot to GoPro from! 😀

Until Next time.

 

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A Weekend Of Bliss

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Cash and Jack think the same part of the property is scary when we were lunging.

Oh man this has been an amazing weekend. The boys have absolutely blown me away. On Saturday, due to having to go into work, I ran out of time to ride so I ended up just lunging the boys and HOLY COW! Jack can trot!

I have no idea where this trot came from. The Jack I know likes to do the pokey halter horse trot, dragging feet and everything but BAM there was a jaw dropping beautiful trot! So there is hope yet that he may think he likes english sports! And it wasn’t a one and done kind of thing he kept it up for the whole time I lunged him! Geesh maybe off time really was the best thing for him! He found his spit-fire! I was amazed by it and the even better thing was I haven’t really worked with him in over a month and he still listened! He did his transitions when asked and was calm minus a few bucks to start.

Cash was his normal crazy self haha. It proves that Jack is the brains of the family and Cash was the brawns because Cash ran for most of the time hahaha.

Today is where they really got it going though. We went for an awesome trail ride! The ladies who live around me and one of their husbands invited me to go riding with them. Now I decided to tempt fate and took both boys out! Poor Jack had some swelling in his right hind fetlock( I think Cash kicked him but I could be wrong) but he wasn’t really off on it and I figured that the movement would be good to get the fluids going.  So I grabbed my western saddle (I’m not completely suicidal now) and headed out with the boys.

The single most terrifying thing on the whole ride…. A tiny little ditch with water in it! Oh yes this little ditch (perfect for a cross-country course) must have seemed like it was full of water dragons because both boys were firmly against going over and in fact did their best mule impressions while I was trying to persuade them from the other side. Regardless that little two-legged me could easily hop over it. But still that water dragon was present so it was a huge no-go.

I finally had to bust out my secret weapon! What is that you may ask?? Why treats of course!! It’s amazing how something as little as a treat can motivate a 1200 pound animal to do something but oh it did! Cash went first with a GIGANTIC leap over it! He was determined to ensure those dragons couldn’t grab his hooves and drag him down to his doom even though I highly doubt he could have fit into the creek with his whole body even if he tried.

Jack still wasn’t convinced that the Dragons couldn’t get him and it took a lot of begging to get him over. I swear he knew exactly what I was saying because I could literally see him pondering it and puffing up at my praise. I seriously think they just play dumb sometimes to get treats. With one last final step he launched himself over and came to a surprisingly graceful stop right in front of me demanding his treat for somewhat calmly waiting for his nephew. (The video of the ditch is down below!)

But boy did they make me proud. They may have done flying leaps but they did go over it! And let me get back on without running off with me:D  Now they were quite a handful on the road to start. Both wanted to be in front and going faster than a walk and once we met the other riders it became a tad bit of a war between the two of who could talk the other into going faster.I did more than a little bit of cussing at the boys. They were seriously trying my patience!

It wasn’t for a good fifteen or twenty minuets before I let them get in front of the group that I realized that’s where they wanted to be. apparently the other horses were walking to slowly….and ya know what? After that Cash even kept Jack in line from running in front of him. huh funny how Cash uses Jack when he wants something and Jack plays all innocent young horse….I feel mischievous plans being plotted between those two.

After a while though Jack started getting stiff on his leg again so I figured we had done enough and decided to cut our ride short. I’m sure the boys probably would have been fine but I’d rather be safe then sorry when it comes to them.  They are what keeps me calm and from injuring the mass amounts of idiots I have to deal with on a fairly daily basis. My work schedule is ramping up lately so I’m really taking every moment I can to just hang out with my boys!

They really proved their worth today and I couldn’t be prouder of those two. I don’t care if I ever make it to an advanced 3 day event or not they make every day worth it! (though I do hope we at least get to novice :D)  I just had to have a little faith and a lot of courage  with those two and they gave it back ten fold!

Until Next Time!

 

 

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It’s All About The Personality

A little while ago I was having a conversation with one of my friends and it’s really kind of stuck with me. We were talking about our horses and the different things we do with them and it morphed into talking about preserving a horses personality.

I am a huge advocate to horse health…I mean if you truely have horses at heart you do everything you can for them even if it means eating ramen noodles for a month…but I think alot of people overlook a horses mental health while riding. In alot of disaplines we want that horse to be calm and quiet and do the movements asked but where do we draw the line from calm and quiet to drone? I see so many horses become drones as soon as you put a saddle on. Thats spark goes out of their eyes and they do exactly what they are told because thats the way we are trained to work with horses. They HAVE to do what we ask or we punish them.

At what point to we ignore a horses personality? I agree that a horse should be willing and obedient. But what about happy? I mean truely happy about his work. Where he has confidence and excitment to go out and do his job. When do we take that willingness to please just a tad to far?

I love my two boys and they have very similar but also complete opposite personalities. When I ride I don’t mind those occasional little bucks or the head tossing of an excited horse. I don’t punish them when they are having an exubriant moment because they are expressing their feelings! (This is going to sound a little odd I know but hold out for me just a bit)

Now when I say this if either one of them when bucking down the ring like a bronc I’d get after them but that crow hop of annoyance at doing another canter transition? Meh I might give a verbal “hey quite that” and push him forward a bit to stop it but most of the time I’ll use that to my advantage. If he’s showing his annoyance at what we are doing I might transition into something else I know he enjoys before attempting to go back to what was annoying him. Maybe I’ve riden that circle one to many times and he’s bored, or confused at what I’m asking. Maybe he’s not understanding how I’m asking it or maybe he’s just being a 3 year old and having an “I don’t wanna moment” . I might need to step back a moment and re-evaluate how I was asking and what I was asking him to do and see if I can do it in a different manner to get him to understand. I’ll see if it’s just him being a youngster or if there could be something I’m doing thats causing confusion.

Cash loves to do celebratory head shakes occasionally and sometimes a hop or little buck. He’s expressing his enthusiasm and his pride at completing something he enjoys. I don’t want to correct that and tell him “No you can’t be happy!” I want to take that and praise it (ok maybe not the buck but I’ll just ignore that mostly) . I want him to enjoy what we are doing. I want to build his confidence and his pride in himself. If I want him to trust me I have to let him know how good he’s been and when he’s pleased me. It HAS to be more then a single pat by the way. That doesn’t get anything a crossed. I find telling him he’s doing good and giving him scratches is the best.

If we are jumping he might have knocked the rail down but he tried his hardest and he gave a great effort. We will do it again and if he clears it I will do all the praise I can. Petting and telling him “Good boy oh you’re such a good Cash-man!” He puffs up so big when I do that. I can’t help but do it when he’s done such good things.

Cash will also let me know when he is done with something. And sometimes I’ll ask for just one more of what ever we are doing, but many times I have to realize that I’ve hit his limit for that particular aspect and going any further will just prove frustrating and counter productive and start a fight. I’m not saying let your horses walk all over you and dictate the ride either though. Some days they just want to be stubborn and not leave their buddy (*ahem* Cash this is you like 55% of the time) but know your horse and watch for those signs of confusion, frustration and shutting down.
I’ve seen so many trainers tell riders to get after their horses for the slightest miss step. What if that miss step was your horse saying “Hey this hurts” or “Yo lady. Your leg is blocking my side pass” Just because a horse does something doesn’t always mean it’s malicious. In fact with most horses it’s not malicious at all they are just expressing themselves. Would you want to be yelled at every time you smiled and laughed at work? Or if your back was hurting and your doctor just told you to suck it up and go back to work?

I’m not saying all trainers are bad, that’s far from the truth. And I’m not saying all structured programs are bad. Again thats far from the truth. I just want to point out that taking a step back and really looking at your horse and how they are reacting to the training is a good thing. Do they have that spark in their eye? Do they show their personality in the saddle, or are they dull. Boring. Doing a perfect job with no “Umph” or bounce in their steps.

I find that the more I let my horses relax and enjoy the ride and the more I tailor my riding program to each horse the more willing they become. They are happier when I take them out and the more honest my horses are with me. They definally let me know when they don’t enjoy something and you know what? It may not be what I want to do but in the end it builds an even better bond with my horse and those days when I ask either of them to do that stuff they don’t like they usually conced. (like Cash and dressage haha) I can also tell when something is off to. When he’s not as forward or excited to do his favorite moves. I can sometimes catch things in time before it becomes a huge issue and treat it before it becomes a major injury.

Sometimes we get so focused on reaching our goals and getting to those shows that we loose the bigger picture of the bond and trust with our horses. Don’t be afraid to slow down and let your horse enjoy the ride as much as you!

 

Until Next time!