Archive for August, 2009

I’ve been a terrible blogger!

Yes, I’ve been just terrible with the updates.  In my defense, the past week and a half have been pretty busy for me.  Fortunately though, not so busy that I couldn’t ride!  Elvis has been doing very well, so I’ll hit the highlights.  Two weekends ago I was able to spend a long weekend with him.  That established a three day on, one day off training schedule that I’m enjoying.  Anyhow, those first three days were significant.  First, the first two days I worked Elvis in his current saddle, an Albion.  This was not purchased specifically for him, but we had it and it’s been working OK for us.  On a whim, I decided to try him in a fellow boarder’s Thornhill Germania Klasse.  I thought this saddle would dwarf him, as it sports a 36cm tree.. but surprisingly it fit him pretty nicely!

Elvis wears the huge saddle.
Elvis wears the huge saddle.

When we began our work on the lunge, I was just amazed at what I saw.  Elvis had started two days prior being very distracted.  In all honesty, he was going OK, but the day we changed the saddle I suddenly had a horse who was leaps ahead of where he was in terms of stretching, reaching, and stepping deeply under himself.  His back was up and he was just really nice looking!  To sweeten the deal, he was focusing more easily!  We worked on the lunge and worked under saddle.  The two previous days had shown some issues under saddle that I classify as “cranky pony behavior”.  Nothing major, just testing the limits when there were more interesting things to work on.  Steering and such became secondary, so I worked on using lateral movements to regain control over speed and direction.  I wish I had thought of this earlier, but I never claimed to be a professional.  Anyhow, I really enjoy the effect of these non confrontational corrections with Elvis.  He knows what I’m doing, that’s for sure, but apparently it doesn’t bother him enough to protest too much.  Yay!

Anyhow, because things were going swimmingly Elvis was given Monday off.  Tuesday was our lesson, and I was anxious to see what Barbara would have to say about things.  I’m pleased to report that she was very impressed with the improvement we had made!  She admitted to having been a little concerned, after the show Elvis had put on two weeks prior, but she was really happy to find a very nicely going horse.  She reminded me that I need to keep that clear line between us with little seemingly insignificant things, so that bigger issues will automatically be set in my favor.

Barbara also checked the saddle, agreeing that Elvis was going just wonderfully in it.  Since his lunging etiquette was so wonderful – and in the big ring none the less, without the support of the round pen – we really focused on long and low.  Every time Elvis would drop his head, he’d get a “GOOD BOY!” from both Barbara and I.  Lucky for me, Elvis is a bit of a peacock and really likes to strut his stuff when he knows people are pleased.  At one point, Barbara pointed out a distinct moment when you could see Elvis’ brain working, claiming that “he’s learning just now!  See?”.  I did see.  Just days before we had gone from a horse who would reach and lose it to a horse who would really stride around in a working trot, with his head very long and low, his back up, and with a nice overreach – for en entire circle!  The more we cooed over him, the more he’d stretch and reach.  At one point, we were both going on so heartily about his performance, I was sure the neighbors of the farm would hear us!

In addition to doing stellar trot work, Barbara felt it was time to introduce a “real canter”.  So, after remembering what a greenie needs in terms of preparation, I prepared him with a clear “Elvis. Caaan-ter!” and he moved into a decent canter for a few strides.  He fell out of it and had lots of praise.  So, a circle later once a good trot was re-established we repeated the process.  This time, he held it for half a circle, started to fade, I lifted the whip and asked “Canter On!” and he went for a few more strides until I asked for a “aaaaand Trot.”.  I’m including these verbal cues because I just find it amazing that he has learned his words, but also learned to rate himself to my intonation. Sometimes I find that people who don’t spend time in hand or on the lunge forget to teach verbal cues.  They make life so much easier in the beginning.

Barbara felt it was time for ridden work.  Sadly, I hadn’t located an appropriate girth so we could only do work at the walk as my saddle was a smidgen too loose.  It’s amazing what things you can teach at the walk though, so I wasn’t disappointed.  We started out on the circle using just my inside rein.  Barbara corrected my position, and reminded me to ask with inside/inside as this was hard to misunderstand for a young horse.  On the circle Elvis got a bit cheeky with his right rein.  He’s been occasionally snatching it lately in response to contact.  Babara had me snatch it back and ask for forward with my inside leg.  I’m happy I was on the right track.  She then suggested the one  rein stop as not only a correction to this defiance, but as a good introduction to the verbal half halt under saddle.  So, when he’d snatch away from my right rein, I’d let my left rein go and say “aaaaand Halt.”, closing my thighs as I did so, and pulling his head around to my knee area until he’d release.  He’d hold softly for a moment, and then I’d give his head back.  We did this many times.  Elvis clearly began reacting to the verbal half halt, the connection between “halt” and stopping, and the implication of snatching away from my aids.  We did this in both directions, and then all at once I could feel that he “got it”.  I don’t know how to explain it beyond likening it to the pieces of a puzzle suddenly falling into place.  Barbara saw this too, and pronounced it a good time to end.  For that lesson, he had risen to the challenge and understood not only the basic tasks we were asking him to perform, but how they all fit together in a bigger way.  This understanding, of course, will come and go throughout the training process.. but it’s always a good thing when it happens.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday’s rides were spent reviewing what we had learned in Tuesday’s lesson.  We worked on all of our previous lunge work, added in praise for reaching as well as the canter command, and undersaddle work that was focused and without defiance.  Mundane tasks at first glance, but full of work from start to finish.  There is no way I can remember every moment where I had to head off an issue, clarify an issue, or define an issue.. but they are there.  These are the moments great rider/horse relationships are made from though.  Clarity now, means clarity in the future and I’m more than happy to invest my time at this stage of the game.  Plus, it’s not like I have an unpleasant horse to work with and enjoy!

Below are photos from before the lesson.  Of course, I had no photographer available during the lesson.  Anyway, these are just a random sampling.  They are with the Albion, not the Thornhill though.  I am still organizing the eight zillion photos taken by my young helper, and can’t remember if she was wielding the camera when I was using the Klasse.





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Push Push.. Release

Today was FANTASTIC.

The day started very early for me – I had plans to ride with my friend, Carla.  So, I arrived in time to actually feed Elvis.  I always enjoy feeding when I can, especially if I can hang around while he finishes his meal.  So, while he ate I leisurely groomed him.  I think he liked this: standing around and eating while getting a massage.  Not only did I groom him though, but I also rasped his hooves (while he was just standing there untied, no less).  This is the third time in less than five weeks that I’ve needed to rasp his hooves.  I really should make a “hoof” post, because his feet are really going through some interesting changes.

Anyway, after an appropriate time I tacked him up and started to make my way over to the round pen.  Once there, Elvis and I did our routine groundwork exercises.  Then, I hooked him up to his side reins and started to the right.  I’ve learned that the right is Elvis’ difficult side and it always helps to get him warmed up going in that direction.  Today was no exception.  He started off really, really stretching down.  He also listened to me from the start.  It was so nice to see him really trying and feeling the results.  So, after a few laps I asked for a trot and was sooo pleased to see that Elvis moved into and maintained a nice working trot, and was reaching!  Naturally he doesn’t reach/lift as much as at the walk, but this was a marked improvement from the past few days.  For a greenie, he was pretty nicely balanced.  Plus, he was truly listening.  In fact, he was doing so well that we were able to ‘end on a good note’ much sooner than normal and change directions.  To the left Elvis did start out quickly, but after controlling his pace he listened and moved into a really nice marching walk.  After our nice walk, we had an equally nice trot.

Time to get on!  So, after putting away our kit I climbed on board.  Elvis was the perfect gentleman and waited for me to get situated.  Once done, I asked for a walk with my voice and a small squeeze, and he moved right to action (yay for listening and learning!).  We worked at the walk in both directions and I was just asking for stretching.  Nice long and low stretches all the way to the ground.  Elvis was more than happy to oblige!  Then we worked on leg cues.  Again, right on form.  So, we moved to the trot.  At this gait he was  bit stiff to the left so I really worked on using my inside/outside aids to bend him.  He improved.  Actually, in both directions he was really stretching down and not evading my quiet contact.  He was doing so well, I considered what I wanted to do next.  I was concerned with asking for too much, but ended up following my gut and taking a chance.  So, I took him out to the arena.

Once in the arena I began working in a circle at one end with a “there” sort of contact, which is more than what I have been using the past few days.  I asked for a walk with a bit of “push push.. release”.  How’s that for a technical term?  Basically, I asked with my leg aids (inside/outside/or a bit of both, depending on the moment) in a “pushpush” fashion.  He naturally moves into the bridle for a stride and then I reinforced with a release.  Yay!  He wasn’t evading when he felt the bit!  As we came around the side of the circle that wasn’t supported by the fence, going on the left rein, he started to fall out.  So, I used that outside leg and voila!  He responded!  God Bless that round pen!  Better still, I could combine the “push push, release” with the outside leg and keep a nice circle that had real contact, even if light.

At the trot, I just went with the crazy fast trot until he heard me again with the “push push, release”.  Once I felt him responding to contact then I really started to ask for a nice turn around the unsupported part of the circle.  Wow, were my inner thighs having to remember right away what a strong outside aid was!  To the left he was better, but to the right he was falling through my hand and over bending, even though I really wasn’t using my rein aids that much at all.  So, with high hopes I asked for a bit of a counter bend in the corner before that side of the circle.  He listened!  This sort of listening to my leg is a big deal!  We had some very nice circles with outside aids being used as support *that means contact without evasion!* and a pace that was adjusting to my seat.  This was the first time I was really -riding- Elvis, and it felt wonderful!  Not only was he responding to all of my requests, but he was dealing with them all at once and staying pretty balanced.  That is quite a feat for any youngster, but it’s really a big deal that after only a short week of going back to the basics, I can have some level of contact with hardly any evasion of the bit at all.  What a smarty pants!  I should also point out that all of this was done while other horses were being ridden, so he handled distraction like a champ as well.

We finished up with some steering at the walk to cool down, and then went out on the trail with Carla.  We probably trail rode around the property (including crossing the stream for the first time with me on board..twice!) for about 40 minutes, making another first as this is the longest we’ve worked in one day.  Elvis was relaxed and forward, and seemed to really enjoy himself.  After so much learning in the ring, I knew he’d benefit from some easy time out in the woods.

So, today was a major success.  I’m so proud of him!  I was really worried about the bit evasion last week, and wasn’t sure how learning new lessons would go.  Clearly, this is just one step forward, but it’s indicative of an lessons learned by Elvis.  I’m really, really proud of him.

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Working Together

Today we started out in the round pen, continuing with my plan to address Elvis’ contact and steering issues at the trot.  I hooked Elvis up with his side reins and put him on the lunge.  He was in a bit of a mood today and started off not wanting to listen: when I asked for the walk he just moved right into an inverted and fast paced trot.  That’s ok though.. So far I’ve been able to show him that even when he wants to control things, I am the one calling the shots.  So, we just did a faster trot.  What a surprise!  When you have to really move forward, it’s easier to do so if you work into the bridle a bit!  Plus, it’s not so fun going fast if someone is making you go fast.  So, Elvis quickly opted to listen to me.  I’m getting better at lunging and he is really getting better at listening to my voice and body language.

Once he was listening, he did pretty well.  His walk is fantastic.  When he reaches down and forward, lifts his back, and then steps under himself he overtracks six to eight inches.  I can’t wait to transfer that to the trot.  For now though, his trot is a bit disconnected.  When he does reach a bit and lifts, he looks lovely.

After lunging I decided to get on and work on the contact and steering issues.  I stayed in the round pen and mostly walked.  I’m happy to say that Elvis started connecting the dots with my leg aids!  We spent a lot of time walking bent, spiraling, and making big sweeping turns.  If he didn’t ‘hear’ my leg, I opened my rein more.  We had reaching and real contact.. I was pleased.  So, I decided to trot for a minute or two in either direction.  With the help of the roundpen in terms of steering, I was able to keep him moving forward.  He did seek the bit a number of times, and held a better contact for a few strides each time.

All in all, even though today didn’t seem to be a “big” day, we continued to make progress regarding contact and steering at the trot.  I believe that effective communication occurred and that questions I asked of him were met with appropriate answers.

I wish I had photos.. Most of our kit was at home in the wash, so Elvis sported around with a goofy green/red/yellow/blue saddle pad and a pair of retro red striped Ulster boots.  He made me smile.

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After lunging Elvis today, I made a point to ride him in the big field.  Friday, I had noticed some things about Elvis’ contact with the bit in the trot.  So, I decided to test him in a large area that would allow me to push him forward in a big space.  Shockingly, I had zero steering.  Worse still, he was extremely behind the vertical as a response to any contact.  Naturally, this truly concerns me.  So, with the information I had gained in this particular ride, I was able to consider the bigger picture:

  • Elvis does not go behind the vertical on the lunge and in side reins.
  • Elvis knows how to reach long and low at pressure, and into the bit.
  • Elvis steers beautifully, along with bending and softening at the poll in the walk.
  • At the trot, Elvis has gone nicely (twice- I haven’t trotted him much).
  • Now that it’s time to incorporate the trot regularly, Elvis has no steering.
  • He also goes behind the vertical.  A lot.
  • He doesn’t respond to the outside leg, or a big open rein.
  • Second ride after discovering this, I rode him in the field, hoping to use big straight lines as an opportunity to push him forward and into the bridle. It worked somewhat, proving that he does in fact know what I’m asking.
  • Elvis is very, very, very ( like everyone who meets him responds with an “uhh, Wow.”) smart. Unlike with other horses, with Elvis you need to get everything clear and correct the first time. Otherwise, you must be prepared to deal with a new learned behavior.

So, I’ve decided that at some point, for whatever reason, Elvis learned to avoid the bit in a false collection at the trot.  This is probably my least favorite training issue.  I’d much, much rather have a horse who leans into your hand.  At least you  have a horse in your hand.  When you have a horse who goes behind the vertical, they just *disappear*.  Then, you have many less tools at your disposal in terms of training.

I’d like to provide a description of Elvis’  “behind the vertical” and “false collection” to my readers who aren’t familiar with these terms.

These images are from http://www.SustainableDressage.com – where you can find wonderful descriptions of collection.

The first image shoes a horse ‘breaking at the third vertebrae’.  This is what Elvis is doing.  I’d much rather him allow contact and having a natural flexion to his neck as in the second vertebrae.  There are about eight zillion other things to consider in this picture, but they are beyond the scope of this blog entry.

As it stands now, I’m going to be working on this issue in the round pen.  I’ll lunge him as normal, and work on encouraging him to move forward and stretch down at the trot.  My ridden work will take place in the round pen as well.  I’ll have the fence to control our direction, and I’ll introduce the outside leg in conjunction with big and soft rein aids.

Fortunately Elvis is a genius.  So, if I get the training clear and have my timing down, I believe that we’ll be cruising along in no time.

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Learning to Listen

Today I started working on the homework we were assigned by Barbara.  Many, many times (out in the field, during tacking up, while leading, during work, during his bath, etc) we worked on dropping his head in response to slight pressure on the poll.  This level of trust is somewhat difficult for him, but fortunately by the end of the day just resting my hand on his forehead had him dropping his head tothe ground until I stepped away.  I won’t deny that a handful of peppermints helped to achieve this initially.

So we started out in the round pen.  I did basic body language groundwork exercises (like yield the hind quarters and fore quarters), then in an effort to encourage to Elvis to listen to me we did some free lunging.  I’m generally not a fan of free lunging .. but who am I kidding?  I generally dislike any lunging.  I suppose one day I’ll like it more, when it doesn’t feel so foreign to me (I consider it a natural talent for some people).. and let’s be honest, not all lunging is created equal.

Anyway, Elvis started out very sensitive.  He’s a sensitive horse in general, but there are some things he does that he had to have picked up in his earlier training.  These things I don’t like; they just don’t work for me or my goals.  So, we need to un-learn them.  Elvis worked on just that today.  I took him a long time, but finally he was listening to me and not being so reactive.  Finally he was reaching long and low, really stepping up under himself, and listening to my body and my voice.  Not long from now, I hope, he’ll feel confident with what I’m asking enough that he’ll start relaxed.

After working in the pen, I hopped on and we had a bit of a trail ride.  Guess what?  Elvis is getting fitter!   Yes, he’s building some muscle, and with that muscle there is a bit of zip!  Fortunately, he can contain himself enough to give me a nice ride on the buckle.  We used this time to cool down and enjoy the scenery.

Here are some photos I snapped.  I did work on the lunge, but only for the second half of our time in the round pen.

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This Worries Me

This ad came to me this morning via an email list.. it worries me.  This is just one of the many, many examples of the plight of the saddlebred.

I bet this guy could be a fun project in the very least.

Saddlebred Gelding for Quick Sale.

Saddlebred Gelding for Sale in North Carolina

Expires: 11/07/2009 Page Views: 355 Last Update: 08/09/2009
Sunny — Chestnut Saddlebred Gelding
Albemarle, North Carolina, 28001 $300
Name: sunny Breed: Saddlebred
Color: Chestnut Sex: Gelding
Birth Date: Jan 1, 2004 Markings: white on face
Height: 16.0 hh Weight: 900.0 lbs
Registry: N/A Reg. #: N/A
Additional Comments:
Saddlebred gelding for sale. he is not broke to ride, he has had ground work and been saddled and bridled several times, just not ridden as of yet. For the experienced owner only. Spunky and very flashy, very pretty, needs someone to finish him. Very friendly and very smart. My husband got the horse of his dreams tonight and we need to move some horses quickly, so he is priced for a quick sale. Would be great project horse for someone. call 704-983-7904

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The School of Hard Knocks

Today we had our first lesson with our new instructor.  Barbra is a certified USDF instructor who came highly recommended.  I must say, I really love her… even after only one lesson.  She reminds me of my most influential horsmanship mentor;  She is very exacting and clear with horses and riders.  To sweeten the package, she’s very warm and friendly.

I don’t think she had her attention turned to Elvis for more than a minute before she had an accurate read on him.  I am ashamed to say she pointed out immediately that I let him crowd me and display disrespectful behaviors.  This kills me.  I tow such a hard line with other horses, but apparently I didn’t hold myself to the same standards when it comes to simple things with Elvis.  Sure, I stop big behaviors.. but the subversive behaviors are just as bad, and they’ve gone unchecked.

Anyhow, we worked on lunging the entire lesson.  Elvis began pulling some of his occasional tricks, but this time in full force.  His stopping behavior materialized again.  I’m still not sure what the trigger is.  I can see when he is about to do it, but I found myself in a tough spot decision wise.  Should I really get after him and have the reactive behavior that I know he is capable of?  Or should I try to press him through it?  My indecision led to him repeating the behavior twice, maybe three times.  That was enough for Barbara.  I explained my issue, and I think she understood my concern.  She took him from me and proceeded to show me that it didn’t matter how big his reaction was, he needed to learn who was boss.  Thus began Elvis’ enrollment in the School of Hard Knocks.  With fairness and firmness, Barbara made her intentions clear.  He learned pretty quickly that from now on, he’s going to be expected to walk the straight and narrow.  I think he was shocked!  My favorite thing that Barbara said was that “he’s too smart.  You need to give him something to do, before he gives you something to do.”  Wise woman.  This is the same conclusion I had come to, but she helped me to act on things.   We worked entirely on the lunge, focusing on gaits and long and low.  She also revamped our groundwork.

After the lesson, Barbara hit on a number of things of importance.  After mentioning (and marveling at) his intelligence, she described him as being on either ends of a spectrum.  He is either equating love with disrespectful behaviors or he is equating fear with firmness.  He needs to learn that life is best when he marries the two extremes, and understands that firmness comes with fairness and love.  To work on building trust, she suggested working on lots of poll flexion, ie: asking Elvis to drop his head with me standing in front of him and applying minor poll pressure.  Even though this is a common technique, we’ve not utilized it thus far.  This also will work to address the second important observation Barbara made: that Elvis needs specific attention given to conditioning his nuchal/supraspinus ligament.  She believes that he will be prone to breaking at the third vertebrae in collection if we don’t teach him to flex now, at the poll.  I knew this, as his conformation presents a naturally high headset, but I hadn’t though so far as to look for specific poll flexion.  Finally, Barbara pronounced Elvis a very athletic horse who is “more than capable of being trained to a very high level”.  The question, she stated, is whether he will remain sound as that is always a variable with any horse moving up the levels.

Afterward, I considered this one of the most informative lessons I’ve ever had.  I look forward to working on our homework (we received a lot of lessons), and to our next lesson.

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