Saturday, April 14, 2012

Our Old Stomping Grounds with a Facelift

LeAnn Thacker picked me up from the apartment complex to take me to the barn, per my request. I was going to Durango and knew the only time I would be able to play with Blu would be prior to that trip.

As we pull in, LeAnn asks if I have seen what she did in the arena. The previous weekend, we had thrown all sorts of fun things in the arena. They came from her trip to Washington, where her home is. It looked like a some kind of battle ground where the barrels were trying to put down a revolution of logs, posts, and a sturdy corregated drain pipe. Judging by the exploded innards of log (it did not fair too well when LeAnn backed over the slightly rotted wood with her horse trailer), the barrels have the upperhand.

Now, LeAnn is quite pleased with herself because she spent hours at the barn yesterday cleaning up and setting up the arena. I follow her down and see what looks like what I have always dreamed of in playground: is one corner posts lay on the ground like sleeping soldiers, rhythmically set apart from one another; a square outlined by four logs awaits spins and bounces next to Norman the roping dummy; in the center of the arena, four standing barrels mark the corners of the Question Box; next to the Question Box, a pile of logs squeezes between two upright barrels like so many books between orderly bookends; off in another corner, the corrugated pipe shoots out from the base of a lone standing barrel, waiting for symmetry or completion; adjacent to the pipe's corner, three barrel musketeers lay head to foot, a happy trio supported by rocks that keep them from rolling off into the pile of logs; marking the midpoints of each of the sides of the arena, four barrels act as sentries to all the excitement going on in the various quadrants. The insides are, in fact, quadrants because this arena is set up to accommodate the Cloverleaf pattern and follow the rail, LeAnn explains. It is lovely. I am momentarily worried that there is no empty place to play the Circling Game on the 45' line, but the feeling withers away next to my excitement about this transformed space.

Blu has been standing between LeAnn and me this whole time; he puts his nose on LeAnn's neck or nuzzles my hand, seeming quite put out by our attention on something else. He follows me to the barn and reluctant goes inside as his eyes adjust to the dark. I get the 45, his halter, and stick and string from the tack room and we head off to try out the arena in all its splendor.

First, I let him trot around me in a moving circling game so he can see all the new fixtures. He is looking at Norman, playing with Koda (LeAnn's dog), offering the canter, and generally accepting this environment. So, we begin to play. His canter is there for me and we go around the arena, sometimes over a jump, sometimes around barrels. His canter is energetic, but not panicked, and he does not lean on the end of the rope or go along like he could break gait any moment. Instead, I completely trust that he will keep going. He has gone around me at least ten times without stopping (length of the rope varies due to obstacles, but we have had a full range from 12' to 45'). I ask him for a change of direction and he does a simple lead change with propper flexion, so I aim him to a little pile of hay that I don't know anything about in the way of how it got there. We go off again and the next time I ask for a change of direction, he does a clean flying lead change and that is when we end, once again, at the pile of hay.

I take off the 45' line to play with it while munches and catches his breath. I practice throwing it out with both hands and recoiling it, then I practice throwing it out behind me. It works out so well, I am quite surprised. Satisfied with my results, I touch Blu's forehead and climb over the fence to get my riding equipment.

I come back and climb the fence again. I ask Blu to step to me and he does. When I get on, he does not toss his head up, and as we leave the hay, he does not flick his tail. I sort of repeated the wandering practice to make sure he is not worried about the new toys with me on his back. When we begin the Question Box, he is offering the canter. I am riding with two Kidz sticks and quite pleased that he is so eager to go forward.

After the beginning, Blu is attentive and does not need any prompting from the Kidz sticks to stop, go, or turn. He was so great! He was stopping nicely with his weight on his haunches from the canter in the question box (and his canter transitions were effortless and I just had to look up to get them); he walked to, jumped over, and walked away from the logs jump; we did spins without sticks; he did straight lines to leg yields to sidepass to leg yield to straight to sidepass etc. without too much trouble; he trotted over the cavalettis without knocking them, floating himself over nicely with only a few knocks; he held neutral lateral flexion without any sticks for 10 seconds. I was pleased with his performance and after a stop with a deep seat and little 3 foot slide marks (imagine if he has sliders on!), I dismounted, by sliding off  his rump and onto the ground. He followed me to the gate with a couple wistful attempts to go to the little hay pile, which I negated by lifting a Kidz Stick. He squeezed through the gate, turned, faced, and waited while I locked it, and followed me up to the little pen he would spend the day in.

I helped LeAnn clean up the paddock, cleaned and filled the water troughs, and dumped the wheel barrow out. It was such a nice time with Blu, I kept running it all through my head. I considered what we could do to progress. What could we do to improve on what I had today? Here is what I have come up with, now:

  • Spins at liberty in close circles
  • Refine (count strides, get particular) the sidepass, leg yield, straight exercise, maybe add half pass
  • Bullseye pattern with the canter
  • Be particular about the size and shape of the circles in the Question Box pattern
  • Ask for a change of direction from further away and without hay
What fun it is to have an inspiring playground. Our old stomping grounds, but with a much needed facelift and a little surgery for the gutted log!

Natural Horsewoman Out.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Tonight was my first session with Blu since Thursday. I have been working on a moving project that has taken considerable time and effort. Now it was back to the arena.

Blu did 2 very solid laps in both directions at the canter. It was just there. I set up a barrel squeeze for him to jump over, then I set up two with one on top. He went straight to it and changed his mind at the last minute. I don't remember how the barrels got knocked down, but they did and he went around a few times before he did a huge jump over the mess of the three barrels. Next time, I would like to focus on being more in control of his feet by sending him out to the barrels to jump them then turn, face, and wait to do it again.

I played with Blu at liberty for a bit. He did spins and ended up at one point running around and around the arena. I let him and waited for him to look at me. It was interesting because he was suddenly running around, seemingly unprovoked. In the end, though, he followed me around the whole arena while I picked up rocks and threw them out.

He was really stuck to me the rest of the night and I was actually really happy. His runabout the arena was just interesting.

Natural Horsewoman Out.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Today we did just what I said we should move on to when I posted yesterday--we did more transitions to encourage the canter.

On the way down to the arena where the halter and line were, I could tell that whatever keeps Blu stuck to me was kind of weak, so I stopped every 5 to 10 steps and gave him a cookie. By the time we got to the gate, he was connected really well and ready to go. I asked him to do a spin and then we put on his halter.

I asked for a little sideways using just my energy and hip. He could go away and come back without the stick and he stayed sideways. We got to about 6 feet.

Today, I found it really easy to know what it meant to be effective. When Blu was slow to leave the barrel, I spanked the spot after he had begun to slowly leave and the next time he went right off and didn't flick his tail.

The game tonight was as long as you are not cantering, you are going to be making lots of walk, trot, stop, and back up transitions and I will be micro managing those transitions all the way around the circle with no neutral. When I asked him to canter, I would immediately go to neutral. If he broke gait, which he only did twice, I went back to micromanaging. It worked superbly! He completed two laps in both directions.

Tomorrow, I would like to start thinking about asking for a change of direction at the canter applying the same principle of lots of transitions if he doesn't maintain the gait through the change.

I was so happy with where we left off. We did some liberty--two spins in a row and a clean cantering stick to me. Unfortunately, the clean canter was followed by a not clean one when Blu left. However, on the up side, we got it back together and when we went back through the gate, he waited for me to shut it and he cantered with me to the top of the corral.

It feels good to have something work like this.

Natural Horsewoman Out.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Contentedly Cantering

What a beautiful day it is when you can end it with a settled heart and quiet mind. I believe that everything is just fine and will continue to improve. Blu is doing so well with his cookies and transitions and sideways maneuvers that I can tell he is ready to go to the next step with it. He is increasing his positive reflexes to opposition reflexes ratio and he is getting stickier to me--usually.

Tonight after work I played with Birdy for an hour. She is such a hoot. I built her a little fort and played with the kitty toys with her. She really enjoyed herself. Playing with Birdy helped me feel so happy. I wanted to get right back to her as I was leaving for the barns.

At the barn, I walked down to the arena with my equipment--right past all the horses. Blu was watching intently--somewhat surprised, I think. I put the cookies on the three barrels and waited for Blu. He came down from the top of the paddock, followed by Faith and Cheyenne. He put his head in his halter better than yesterday--still stretching toward it, first, but quickly deciding to put it all the way on.

Blu did circles at the walk, trot, and canter in both directions. I did a few transitions. I decided that tomorrow I will do more transitions to get things more exciting because tonight Blu was a little sticky sometimes. He did maintain the canter at 40' for a lap and a half. Tonight I also kicked one of the barrels out after a while. Time to get more for less!

We also played with sideways, but as I told myself yesterday, tonight we started close and then expanded to the full length of the rope rather than using the whole rope and halving as necessary. We got to 45' away and to with evenness and only a little forward stepping! Another thing, when Blu did not look at me from the barrel, I did not tug or pull--I just got a little closer. By the time we got to 45' he was giving me his attention just by the hinging of the carabiner clip. Oh, it was exciting!

I played with him at liberty for a while and enjoyed some Spanish walk lessons then we did some spins and stick to me. He did 2 spins in a row. It really started to click (we are kind of reminding him on those) with the spins.

He ran off during a stick to me when I asked him to canter. Then I ran with him and when I skidded to a halt, so did he. He then walked off, but it was  better connection he kept with me for a while. I trotted behind him until he began circling me at the trot. He even kept going while I sat down.

You would think that I would end it there, but I took him off and asked for a canter again, then the girls got all worked up and so did he. He gallopped and gallopped all over the place, even after the girls stopped. I just kept on going until he looked at me and trotted to me calmly. Then we went for a walk around the paddock to get him cooled down since he was so winded. I played with laying him down by crouching and tapping his hocks--I think we are on to something there. 

Everything ended so well--I can't wait to get back there. As Birdy sits on my legs, I think it is funny because just this afternoon, that's what I was thinking about her. How contented I must be to have to animal friends I am so ecstatic to be around.

Natural Horsewoman Out.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Maintain Gait and Maintain Direction: Simple

Learning when to do what and why you are doing that and how to deliver the message is much more complex a puzzle that one might think. The reason it is complex is that I made it so; the reason it is so complex is that it is so simple that I must come up with a convoluted wormhole of logic. I imagine the reason I do this is that I find it initially impossible to believe that it could be so stupidly simple. It would seem that life really is what you perceive it to be--and so are the puzzles that come along. How much more we could enjoy life--how much further we could go--if we allowed it to be simple and beautiful.

I am doing my thinking tonight. I did some yesterday, I believe, too. Blu is such a good teacher for me to learn about the simplicities of life and to learn how to have confidence in my decision making. When I stop believing in myself, things begin to slide a bit. I must have abruptly stopped believing in myself last summer. Looking back, I recall feeling that suspension of self-confidence. Quite simply put, that is when the web of complexities began. I no longer knew up from down or right from left. The good news is, that is also when I embarked (unknowingly) on my journey toward this understanding of allowing simplicity to rule.

Blu has not been too keen on holding up his end of the responsibilities of maintaining gait since we came to Colorado.  On Saturday, I was playing with Blu on a 45' line and my friend Maree was watching while waiting for her severely introverted horse to relax (Maree is an amazing horsewoman and does a phenomenal job with all the horses I see her with). I was feeling torn about what route to take with Blu because I projected complexity onto him. I didn't know how to get to the answer to the puzzle "How do I cause maintaining the canter at the end of the 45' line to be Blu's idea?" because there were so many ways to get there that I didn't know whether or not were working answers. Never mind the scientific process or even the very elementary process of elimination. Then Maree suggested I just put food on some barrels.

Putting food on barrels is what I did with Blu to help him decide that jumping things was fun and a great idea. Of course. The worst thing that could happen is it didn't work.

The next morning was Sunday and I took some honey dew rinds and put them on the barrels while Blu stood obediently in the center. When I started out, it looked promising, but then Blu got to a barrel and shut right down. I wasn't sure if he was going introverted or if he was just something else.

Later that morning, I asked a Parelli Professional named Molly Sanders about what Blu had done that morning. Molly suggested being more provocative by doing lots of transitions. "But he tends to get worried when I do that." Simple. The answer is: ADJUST TO FIT THE SITUATION. Be provocative, then, if it gets too much for him, ADJUST to being more consistent.

I played with that concept, mixing it together with food rewards. It worked because I adjusted when I had to--I did whatever Blu needed. If he needed a rest, I let him rest. If he needed me to become more of a sweet spot, I became more of a sweet spot. If he needed me to be more provocative--get the picture.

It is difficult to explain the kind of helplessness I got caught in by projecting complications onto situations that were simple by nature. The feeling I had froze me up and made me think that it was better to do nothing than to try something new.

Tonight, I got to feel softness with Blu. We even broached that is quite difficult for him to get near--change of direction at the canter! I will tell you:

I was on the phone with my gramma when I walked into the paddock with Blu's halter, 45' line and carrot stick. He came up to me and stood by me. Then, after I kept talking and sort of ignored him, he turned around and backed his butt up to my back. When I hung up with Gramma, I turned and was surprised to see his butt. He looked back at me when I scratched his butt and brought his head back to me. I offered the halter and he stretched toward it. I clucked and he stepped toward it, but not all the way. We played that game a little bit--it was fun.

He is much more responsive now on the circle and I had him jog a small circle around me on our way to the arena. I tried something different by asking him to change from circling to driving from zone 5. It actually worked well and I think it is something I want to pursue with him.

The circling game is going really well. I am careful to the right at the canter because it is weaker side and I don't want it to become sore. We don't ignore it completely and tonight we worked that side more than any of the nights so far and he did not get upset about that. He is so agreeable when I ask him to canter! I love it. In the beginning, he offered a canter and I asked him to come in.

Later, I was wanting him to maintain the gait on a longer line. First, I aimed for the canter from a stand still. Every time he left at a jog or a walk, I immediately yielded him and started over--no pets, no cookies, no rest, just straight back and out again. He got it on the 4th time and that time I asked him to come in, but I gave him a cookie and let him rest. The went out and was cantering around. The circle got bigger and bigger and then he took off--as in started charging around. I let him slide then power positioned him to a stop and we got into interesting thing about the whole charging deal. I was completely clearminded and consistent. We did changes of direction until he could do it calmly. Then he cantered around calmly. I grew the circle and asked him to stop at the barrel.

It felt like the right place to end the circling game so we played the sideways game to the barrel. The first one was sloppy, but the second was better. The first one we did 45'. The second, I halved the distance. On that, I think what I learned was to prepare him for that distance better. Start out with it being halved--don't even allow the sloppy to happen. Yes, that would be a wise decision for next time.

We did some more with his Spanish walk--wouldn't you know Maree can take credit for our growth on that fun trick.

We spent the rest of our time together at liberty. He circled me in the paddock and the arena. It was a nice circling at the walk.

May your day be simple and thoughtful.

Natural Horsewoman Out.

About Me

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I am a young horsewoman with a million things on my mind. I have been a student of the horse all my life. As a little girl, I had a desire to understand horses on deeper levels. I believed that there was no such thing as a bad horse, and I believed that all horses were beautiful. One might say that I was a naive child, but I guess I don't have an excuse anymore, because I still believe all of that, and Parelli Natural Horsemanship is helping expand on this perspective.

What We Are Currently Playing With

  • Moving Close Circles at Liberty
  • Soft, Balanced Canter on 45' Line
  • Zone 5 Driving