Archive for December, 2009

I’ve been away for the Christmas holiday, having adventures in the high desert of Arizona, so please excuse the recent quiet nature of the blog.  While away I really missed Elvis, but this was very much placated with all of the wonderful things I discovered about the desert – I had a blast!

Anyway, I hope that all of my readers had a wonderful Christmas; mine was very special.  Elvis will be pleased to know that I (read: He) received a gift certificate to Dover and a new full set of leather galloping boots.  Not to mention flashy riding duds that I can wear, which will accentuate his debonair style (as opposed to detract from it).

I also hope that you are all looking forward to the New Year, and feel hopeful about the possibilities it holds for you.  In the past, I’ve not been one for resolutions, but this year I do have a few.  I will share my horse related ones:

  • I’d like Elvis and I to be solid with a training level test by the end of the year, and perhaps catch a late season show.  Bonus if we start working towards first level aspects.
  • I’d like to continue working Elvis over fences on the lunge, and have him comfortable enough that a transition to under saddle jumping is smooth, and we can pop over low fences as needed or wanted, both in the ring and on the trail.  A bonus if I feel as though we can put together easy courses.
  • I’d like to do some great trail riding off property.
  • I’d like to focus on increasing Elvis’s fitness level.
  • I’d like to go to at least one show to “watch” with Elvis.
  • I’d like to get even more serious about my fitness level so that I can be more effective as we progress in our skills.
  • I’d like to look back at the end of 2010, and know that I influenced at least five people to eventually purchase a saddlebred for sport.
  • I’d like to increase content on the blog, as well as reader participation and viewership.

In the spirit of my last resolution, I’d like to hear your New Year resolutions.  What are your hopes and goals for 2010?  Also, what (if anything) would you like to see added or changed about this blog (and this goes for both non-saddlebred people as well as those within the industry)?  Feel free to post your thoughts, even if you run across this entry well into 2010.


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Elvis Begins His Formal Jump Training

Today I had a boatload of time up at the barn.  Seeing as how it was cold and wet, I had the place to myself.  So, I decided to shake things up and begin Elvis’s formal jump training.. as opposed to having him jump things whenever he wanted, whether I’m involved or not.

All in all, I’m very pleased.  He didn’t stop once, and was very relaxed.  I didn’t measure the height of the final jump, but I think it was around 3′.  The standards used were about 4′.  He was very attentive and listened like a champ.  At one point, he realized he could canter the jumps.  I let him three times in a row.  Concerned with him learning that he can rush jumps, I asked him to trot and he did so immediately.  Also, he adjusted himself after getting close or long.  I was really happy to see that!

Below is a video of the end of the session.  I think he looks so cute.

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Lasting Lessons

Today was a great day!  I really needed some horse-time and Elvis was more than obliged to give me the attention I needed.  Seeing as how he was extra muddy wherever the sheet wasn’t, I spent some extra time cleaning him up and was pleased with the shiny red pony that resulted.  So pleased, in fact, that I decided we should do an impromptu Christmas photo shoot!  It didn’t turn out too fantastic; how good can a horse-photo shoot go when you are by yourself and working with substandard props?

After his time behind the camera, I tacked Elvis up and headed over to the ring.  He was pretty spunky on the line when he realized another horse would be schooling with him, but generally speaking he was less rushy than before.  Also, I had done a series of hind leg stretches with him, and it affected his movement positively.

The best part of our day though was under saddle; I worked on everything we had covered in yesterday’s lesson.  I had some really nice and consistent work… probably the best yet in terms of working from the inside leg to outside rein while staying soft, round, and at a good speed!  I was needing this success, too.  We did some awesome figure eights and I could really feel Elvis balancing from back to front – especially when I’d cross at the mid-point and switch my diagonal.  So, yesterday was a good lesson.. but it was made better by how I could carry the teachings on into today’s work.

Mr. Handsome!

...and then I have to subject him to humiliation.

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Lesson Day!

Today was another lesson day – Yay!  Barbara drove up to find me in the center of the ring with Elvis’s head at my feet.  He was totally relaxed and comfortable, even with an approaching car; she gave me a thumbs up and a grin as she passed.  This was a good start to the lesson, and at her request, I showed what I had accomplished over the past few weeks in terms of my relationship with Elvis.  I think I made an A+!

On the line, Elvis was ok.  Our biggest problem is the rushing.  He’s so sensitive, and tends to act off of the smallest things I do: If I’m speaking to Barbara in anything but the most sedate manner, he’ll react; if I’m looking at his feet or hind quarters, he’ll get fast; if I’m loud he’s quick.  It’s no shocker that when he rushes, he goes on the forehand.  So, we worked on a slower canter.  Once he slowed, I’d get him to go on for as many strides as I could before he wanted to trot, and then I’d ask him to trot before he actually did it himself.  Slowly, he is getting to where he can hold his canter at a nice speed for longer and longer.

Under saddle, we mostly worked on getting Elvis to work deeper into the contact, and to do so while bending and staying soft.  This was a bit of a challenge because he seems to be really trying every trick in the bag to avoid going correctly, like all youngsters do.  It’s like they are just determined not to do things your way, and finally they (hopefully) submit to your suggestion on what “correct” is.  For Elvis, it’s like he’s in his “last hurrah” phase.  As of today, his favorite trick is to become really heavy in my hands.  This is very unusual for him, as he’s so light and sensitive by his nature.

Anyhow, he doesn’t really understand the outside rein, but he will respond to it if you use it.  Does that make sense?  I know he doesn’t understand it because he’ll lean on the inside rein and when you drop him off he won’t look for appropriate support on the outside rein.  This is hard for him going to the right, which is his weak side.  Plus, I kept having trouble isolating my hips.  Whenever I’d set him up by pushing my inside hip forward, keeping my shoulders straight and balanced, and bending his ribcage with my inside/outside leg, he’d be able to work correctly off of the outside rein.  Fortunately, I started doing it right enough (with Barbara’s eyes on the ground as help – it’s amazing how much progress you can make when you have real-time knowledgeable feedback!) so that I could drop him off with the inside rein and he’d a) have a opportunity to feel the correctness of his body and movement and b) learn to trust the bit a bit more.  We did a lot of this at the walk.  It’s harder for them at the walk, since they don’t have momentum, but it’s easier for me to get my timing right in terms of “teaching” and not sending mixed messages 🙂

Anyway, I had a really good lesson yesterday.  It wasn’t one of the lessons where everything falls into place, it was instead of the sort where you struggle with something and realize what exactly it is that you are doing wrong, and then your trainer gets excited because you finally did what they were asking and the horse immediately moves beautifully.  hahaha!  Do you have experience with that sort of lesson?  I sure do..

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Wing Commander Lines, Anyone?

Don’t miss the newest Saddlebred Super-Find, found here.

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Today was the barn Christmas celebration.  Carla, the BO, hosted a Christmas Brunch for her clients and boarders, and much fun was had by all!  Elvis was the center of conversation, many times, as there is always a story to tell.

Even though it was very cold, with promises of freezing rain, I planned on riding Elvis after the festivities.  Around noon, I headed over in the dreary cold.  Carla gave me a set of jingle bells for Elvis (to use on our next trail ride), and I thought this was a good time to “desensitize” him to their sound while loose in his paddock.  So, I grabbed a piece of bailing twine and tied them high around the base of his neck,.  The effect was very anti climactic, which was fine by me.  Elvis seemed more perturbed at any schemes I might be hatching with this new and strange behavior I was exhibiting.  Even though I didn’t have him tied or haltered (that would defeat the purpose), I kept close to him.  After a few minutes of uneventful happenings, I decided to snap a few photos of him in his silly get-up with my phone.

Then, we had a very “Elvis” moment.  In a split second, Elvis went from apparently barely registering these goofy bells on his neck to deciding that they were worth investigating.  Before I even had time to react, he tucked his chin to his chest, grabbed a bell, and yanked!  Instantly, every horrible thing that could result from this event flashed through my head.  I must have been showing my horror in my movement and body language, as well as my voice, because as I immediately approached him, hoping to rescue him from himself, he backed away.  The next minute consisted of me trying to act calm while he clearly thought that I had become a crazed and dangerous member of his herd, and he was certain that if I came too close he’d contract the same virus of insanity.

At around the :45 – minute mark, I started calling for Carla to come and help me because “ELVIS JUST ATE A JINGLE BELL!!!”.  Yes, as he was staying just out of my reach with a worried “Something is wrong with Mom!” look on his face, he was chewing his jingle bell.  At this point, I must have been white with fear.  What do you do with a horse who eats a jingle bell?  Certainly there is a special place in hell for horse owners who let their horses eat jingle bells.

Fortunately, at about the time Carla came running I was able to convince Elvis that I was not, in fact, rabid or dangerous; that I was instead trying to help him.  He let me come up to him and I immediately, without halter or rope, opened his mouth and shoved my arm in up to my elbow.

I have such a good horse.  He stood there for what must have been five minutes while I had my arm, up to my elbow, in his mouth.  Almost immediately I found the offending jingle bell.  It was flattened to a pancake; it will never jingle again.  It will also not lacerate my horse’s intestines, causing unfathomable amounts of damage.

Shortly after I found the jingle bell, I ran up to Carla while she frantically gathered an identical decoration (that she gave to another boarder) to count and compare bells.  The other decoration had five bells.  Mine had four, and one flattened.  My hands were shaking and I started to do the nervous dry cry that I do when I’m very frightened.

I ran back to Elvis to make sure we got everything.  As it turns out, there was a small cap to the bell made out of a plastic type material.  He was still chewing so the fear started again.  I subjected him to more up-to-the-elbow probing, and I removed more than half of what remained of that piece.  There is a chance he consumed the remainder, but it was only about the size of a grain of rice.

Still, he stood like a rock while I felt all over his teeth, gums, lips, and tongue.  Somewhere during my second excavation of his head, Carla ran to get a syringe flush.  I walked him over to her and we flushed out his mouth four times.  It smelled like peppermint.

So, the morals of this story (yes, there are many):

  • Never trust Elvis to not investigate with his mouth.
  • Never trust Elvis to not eat whatever he is investigating.
  • Never think “yeah, that should be out of his reach”.
  • Always teach your horse to (eventually, at least) come to you, even if they think you have lost your mind and might actually be planning on eating them.
  • and finally, regard jingle bells with a higher level of caution than before.

It’s funny now, in hindsight, but I was so terrified for those few minutes.  One example of this combination of hilarity and fear was when I turned to Carla and said “I don’t think the veterinary manual discusses what to do if your horse eats a jingle bell!”.  I know I couldn’t live under the burden of shame of harming Elvis with jingle bells.

After the fiasco in the paddock, there was no possible way I could conceive of schooling like I had planned.  So, I helped clean some stalls and then Carla had the best idea:  we’d ride our two 4yos bareback in the front paddock!  This isn’t a new thing for her, but I’ve never ridden Elvis bareback.  I figured now was as good of a time as any.

We both grabbed our ponies, bridled them, and didn’t even bother to remove their blankets.  I hopped on Elvis and immediately remembered what I loved about riding bareback; it’s been at least a decade since I did so!  Seeing as how he is the coolest horse ever, he didn’t even bat an eye at this new and crazy thing I was doing.  We marched out, and I just melted into the memory of horse-warmth in winter.

In the big field, we worked on all sorts of basic lateral exercises.  We did team leg yielding, shortening, lengthening, figure eights (in tandem!), squares (they were my favorite), rein backs, circles, and softening.  I could tell it was a bit harder for Elvis to soften in his back with me directly on him, as he still has a lot of top line building to do.  Both horses were so good though, and I really enjoyed this special time with Carla.  I think we both love horses in much the same way, and it’s wonderful to have a person who is up for enjoying her horse in many of the same ways that I like to enjoy mine.  This will be a good Christmas memory for me: riding Elvis bareback in the cold with my friend Carla and her lovely pony.

That's an anti-jingle bells smile right there! Elvis looks like he's practicing his "I'm tolerating you." expression. I just love my red pony!

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Elvis Hits the Streets Again

Today was another of our group trail rides.  I was looking forward to it all week; getting out is such a nice break for my mind as well as Elvis’s.  It’s certainly challenging, if not in the traditional way that ring work is challenging.

My group consisted of the same riders, but today my BO decided to swap her “steady eddy” for her 4yo connemara pony.  It was to be his first time riding off the property.  Elvis started the day very lethargic (it always worries me when he’s not boisterous, but I think he’s just not a morning horse) but after tacking up I went to the ring to do groundwork and lunge him a bit to loosen him up.  It was soooo cold, at around freezing.  Elvis was great on the ground and attentive on the line.  However, once he realized “his buddy” was going, he became excited.  In fact, that typical young horse dynamic was happening, where both youngsters feed off of one another.  Elvis, who had been the leader of the pack last week was suddenly looking at things he had seen many times before, because his friend was.  I guess I’m not that patient, because it was driving me crazy!  He would be marching along, but then would slam on the breaks because he caught the tiniest hesitation in his friend’s body language.  So, then his friend would stop and look, too, and neither would move!  Even more frustrating is when Elvis would do his best saddle seat impression, and jack his neck up perpendicular.  All semblance of a working contact disappeared.  Not surprisingly, the progress was like this for the first few miles.  If Elvis was ahead of the group, he was fine, as he couldn’t read off of the other 4yo.  If he could see him though, he’d likely stop and look at *nothing*.

Thankfully though, we saw steady progress.  We also took some actual trails that branched off of the road.  Unfortunately, our time on them was cut short.  We knew there was a small stream to cross, but we didn’t know that said stream was currently suffering from all of the rains we have had.  Elvis and I went first and what appeared to be solid ground was actually sucking mud that took him up to his hocks and knees.  He struggled to regain footing, and did so, but we were trapped on a small horse-sized patch of less sucking mud.  It was a less than ideal crossing point, with an exposed culvert to redirect water (obviously unsuccessfully), as small space to get to the next trail, and loads of the very deep mud.  The mud had me very concerned about hidden trash, etc.  At this point, we felt as though we could still cross on what appeared to be the rocky stream bed, so my BO piloted her pony in that direction.  He, however, sunk nearly as deeply as Elvis did and was frightened by the experience as he scrambled back to dry land.  At this point, I thought it wise to just blast through the mud and head back the way we came, which we did.

Elvis’s reaction to the mud was interesting enough to note.  While his connemara friend was startled and wanted to get away from it, Elvis was the exact opposite.  Once he found his footing on our less-muddy island, he looked around him, saw a path he thought might work and tried to go (I stopped him though as I knew it was muddy), and then realizing that our options were limited, he became very frustrated and started pawing at the ground.  I thought this was so weird!  He wasn’t being dangerous or hard to handle, but he was definitely thinking about the situation and having direct feelings associated with it.  I didn’t sense that he was worried, more that he was frustrated.  After turning back, we joked that he was severely disappointed in the groundskeepers, who clearly weren’t doing their job.

Another highlight included our first spotting of a llama.  I had always thought this would be a true experience for a horse.  As it turns out, it a non event.  I don’t even know if Elvis even registered that it wasn’t a horse, and it was not thirty feet away.  Boy, do those things look stupid!

At another point, the older trail horse moved beyond the BO and I, up and out of sight.  This was a good chance to show the youngsters that things are fine without your herd.  Elvis handled it very well, but the connemara pony didn’t.  I, personally, think this is part of their personality differences.  Both were raised in family herd units.  However, Elvis is a horse that I’d describe as a loner.  In a herd environment he gets along with other horses, but he doesn’t seem to need the other horses.  The pony on the other hand really milks any opportunity to have a say in the herd dynamic.  He will pursue any chance to make a point, while Elvis can’t be bothered to have much of an opinion on any aspect of hierarchy, or his place in it.  So, to keep the pony listening we did some basic lateral movements up the hill.  Elvis was really good, and I was pleased that he wasn’t using this as an opportunity to be silly.

All in all, the day went well.  Even though he wasn’t as good as last Friday, he was still very good for a young horse.  While it wasn’t a super relaxing ride, it did have it’s moments, and most importantly both Carla (BO) and I got to see our horses in new circumstances.  Now, we know things that need to be worked on, and we just have more information about their personalities.

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