Wednesday 31 July 2019

Good Boy

Monday I had one of those rides where I almost got off and finished it after 20 minutes in the tack. Not because the horse was a turd, but because he was being so awesome.

That whole right bend/dumping onto the right shoulder thing I've struggled with for the last two years?



No idea what changed over the last couple of rides. But every walk/trot transition was straight and we had tons of right bend. There was only one moment when I counter flexed him right and asked for his shoulder to go left at a walk and he totally ignored me and went right. Mr. Tappy tapped on the shoulder the next time and fixed that right up.

Then I decided to introduce an exercise called enlarging. Basically, you turn early at the end of the ring, have the horse bent to the inside, and basically leg yield them out as you are going around the short side of the arena. The trick is to make sure that you are asking the inside hind to step underneath and across into the outside rein connection, and not just opening the outside rein and letting the shoulder fall out. Just as you would in a proper leg-yield.

Cisco was really good to the left (good side) in the safe end of the arena, and not surprisingly, didn't really want to move out around the turn towards the scary bits in the other end. To the right we didn't get as much moving away from my leg but there were a few good steps.
I tried to fix his mane. There was a spot towards his withers that was partially grown back from being rubbed out, there's a spot higher up that's less partially grown back, then there's the part by his ears where I zipped too much bridle path with the clippers that's trying to grow back. Thankfully there are no braids in our future. 

I was really tempted to get off after the trot work because I was so happy with how it was all going. But our canter has a long way to go, so I had to do some work on it. I decided to work on some transitions on the circle. Our trot/canter transition are quite hit or miss - either immediate or running into tranter. It's not specific to one lead either - it changes from day-to-day. They need to be much sharper.

Today, the right ones sucked. Terrible tranter. The left ones were fantastic though! And he was also very good at a trot between the canter - not rushing or overly fussy.

There was a moment that caused great concern to Cisco. We were cantering on the left lead and something in the scary corner went "clunk clunk". At the time we were on the opposite corner of the circle from the noise. Cisco's head went straight up and to the left and he quickly came to a halt to stare at the noise. I almost slid off to the right when he quickly turned his body to stare.

A year ago, this noise would have left Cisco a mess and he wouldn't have been able to forget and forgive for a long while. This year, things have changed so much that by our fourth time through the corner after the noise I actually had to put outside leg on to push him out of the corner because he was going too deep into that turn.

That was where I ended that ride.
Tired pony post-ride. Thinking hard about things.
I'm going to try to drag Pony Grandma out with me later this week to get some video. I bought a new digital photo frame that plays video and I keep seeing video from this winter. I know he's going so much better now and can't wait to see the comparison.

Tuesday 30 July 2019

Making Progress

Since about the end of May, I've been making great progress with Cisco. Not that he's getting ridden much more consistently or anything - 3 days a week is still a good week. It's that he's trying his little heart out for me. And every ride just seems to build on the last one.

I haven't knowingly changed anything. Well, maybe it's the saddle - I started to notice better rides when I got the new Wow saddle back in about March. The only reason I could see that making a significant difference from the treeless I was using before would be possibly the lesser stability of the treeless saddle, or him feeling less of my movement in the Wow than the treeless. No idea, but that seemed to be when things started to change.
I had to spring for a new suit of armor fly sheet since he's made a mess of his last one. The mosquitos are terrible so I took pity on the ponies and finally blanketed them.
I tried him for a couple of rides recently in a Herm Sprenger Dynamic KK snaffle, but switched him back to his Bombers Happy Tongue. I think he's still more comfortable in the non-jointed bit at this point, and since he is still learning to trust and want the connection I don't want to really change things up at this point. He wasn't bad in the HS bit, but he was fussier. Considering the improvement in a jointed snaffle from when I started him to these couple of rides I have hope that I will eventually be able to put him in a jointed bit of some type. But if it never happens, it's definitely not the end of the world.

My focus during our rides has been on a few things as of late.

1) Forward. Cisco can be a bit dull to the leg. I need to sharpen up our upward transitions, as well as forward and back transitions within the gait. I haven't ridden him with spurs yet, but might for a couple of rides to see if they will help as he can be a little insensitive to the whip.
Although, he surprised me on a ride last week when I did the accordion exercise at a trot. We went for 8 strides of a lengthened trot, 8 strides working trot, 8 strides shortened trot, and repeated. A couple of times he shot off on me and left me behind with the lengthened trot with a very light aid. It's another one of these things that he understands, but chooses when to comply (like leg-yields).
72 hours in and no damage! It's a really pretty purple and blue colour, so hopefully he keeps this one in good shape. I'll not keep my fingers crossed though.
2) Bending. It's taken a while, but Cisco is trying really hard to stretch his head down and forward at a trot. Over-trying, in some cases. I've reined back allowing him to reach down too much, and am now trying to mostly keep him where I want him and asking him to just push to there and no more. The next step involves getting some bend and maintaining that reach for the bit. So we are doing lots of bendy stuff. Lots of changes of direction. Not a lot of straight lines.

3) Moving the shoulders - specifically, moving the shoulders left and not dumping them to the right. This has been an ongoing issue. Cisco really likes to push his shoulders and ribcage to the right. Especially through a walk/trot transition. I have to really think about setting him up straight, move him slightly off my right leg with a wee bit of right flexion, sit on my right seatbone, with my shoulders turned to the right, and hope that it doesn't fall apart through the transition. His other trick is to just push the shoulder in and barge through the turn, ignoring my half-halts.

I know the fix is that I need to ride him in shoulder-fore/shoulder-in to the right for the next decade. Ugh, so hard. Thankfully the right is my better side at shoulder-in (because I just can't to the left). I did some work on Friday with it at a walk. I could get one step with the shoulder to the inside, then he would just barge through my reins and turn instead of head down the track. So I moved onto ask for one step then halt.


On Sunday I actually tried it at a trot a bit off the track and had a really good effort of 5 or 6 strides. So maybe we'll just have to skip it at a walk.

I've also been working on turns on the haunches and moving the shoulders while counter-flexed. He's had some nice moments at a walk with some quarter turns on a square - a 180 turn is too much still. Counter flexing at a trot and staying on our line is hit or miss (mostly miss) so I need to do a bunch of work on that.

Our canter is coming along - he's much more relaxed and rhythmic. I am a much better trot rider than a canter rider, and I need to spend way more time in canter. I have to start giving myself a goal of how many minutes of canter per ride I need and make sure I meet it using my Equisense. The only way to get better at it is to do it.

I wish I could get Cisco out more to do stuff outside of the arena but between the inevitable daily rain, the horrendous evening mosquitos, and his flat feet that really should have shoes on them because he's owie on hard ground or gravel but I can't afford to shoe two horses so it's not happening, we're stuck inside. We'll continue to work on the basics of riding so that when we get to do new life things hopefully they won't be as dramatic.  Pretty sure they will be dramatic, but maybe only slightly less than full on drama llama.

Monday 29 July 2019

Ground Lessons

Phantom gave another beginner lesson this weekend. This time though, it wasn't for riding - it was for groundwork.

After being around horses for 30 years, it's easy for me to forget how hard it can be for beginners to learn how to control a horse on the ground. There is so much body language to figure out, and that doesn't come naturally to a lot of people.
Pretty sure that her fly mask isn't supposed to look like this. That's an ear hole, not an eye hole.
A lady at my barn just bought her first horse for her and her tween daughter. I had helped her a couple of nights earlier with treating his sunburned nose (we smeared it in zinc oxide cream) and she was looking for some more help. She found that he was pushy on the ground and didn't know what to do.

I had the daughter bring Phantom into the arena at the same time as their horse. I don't know much about this new horse, so I figured a second pony might allow him to relax a bit more in the arena. But mostly, I wanted to use Phantom as an example of how they should expect their horse to handle.

Phantom has always been quite well mannered on the ground. I've never needed to put a ton of work into her ground manners, just some simple fine-tuning. She also really watches your body language, especially while lunging, so she is great to use to teach people. If you are in the right position, she'll do things easily. Get yourself out of position, she'll turn and stare at you. She's also quite low energy so people who are unsure around her quickly get comfortable.
So sure of herself.
As I expected, Phantom was able to give a masterclass on how a horse should lead. Walk quickly, she jogs next to you. Walk slowly, she'll amble along. Turn towards her and walk into her neck, she bends away from you and moves her shoulders around. On both sides of her body, with a loopy lead shank.

She did a great job of explaining to the mother and daughter what they are looking for with their horse.

They were able to make some significant progress with their new horse. I think that he has had some good training in the past, but he's done nothing for the last three years while his previous owner pursued higher education. He remembers his manners very quickly if I have control of the lead shank, so now that his new owners have some tools and expectations, I think that they will quickly make progress.
The almost perfect pony.
Lunging might be a different story though. I find it difficult to teach people how to lunge - it's hard to stay out of the way, when things go wonky they have a hard time moving fast enough to reposition themselves, and newbies are just so awkward with the whip and lunge line. Learning to lunge is really a skill that takes a lot of practice, and again, it's easy to forget how difficult it is to a beginner.

We did a few minutes of lunging with Phantom. The mother had the right idea once the horse was out on the circle. Getting her out there was a bit of a problem. As anyone who knows how to lunge knows, the hard part of lunging is getting the horse to head out on the circle. If you aren't positioned properly, the horse can easily do the turn and stare at you and you have to finagle with the lunge line while trying to move your feet towards the back of the horse to try to get them moving in the desired direction.

I'm pretty sure we'll be working on this next week too. And maybe the week after.

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Finally, Outside!

Despite all of the rain that we've had, in most places the ground is pretty dry. The ditches are full of water, there are little lakes in the farmer's fields, and some muddy puddles in low lying areas. But the flat areas are nice and dry.

Sunday brought us a beautiful sunny sky. I was determined to take advantage of it and ride outside. A proper ride, not just a toodle down the driveway. Looking back over my posts, the last time I rode outside in the field was May 21st. Two full months ago.
Let the ladies through, Cisco.
I saturated Cisco and myself with fly spray to ward off the mosquitos. I got on inside and headed out to the field.

And he was super!

Really relaxed, not spooky (well, there was only one splat), and was listening really well. Plus he was trying to be really good and reach into the contact. We also did our first intentional canter out in the field - our steering sucked, but hey, it sucks inside too, so no big surprise there.

A couple of riders finished up their ride inside, so we all went for a walk down the neighbours driveway. Cisco was even being the brave horse and led for a bit. It's somewhere he's been before, so he wasn't that brave, but I was happy that he was able to lead the way and didn't resort to needing his nose up someone else's butt.
I'm really hoping that Cisco's shedding is the "it's finally going to be warm and I need to be fully nekkid" type of shedding and not the "summer was last Tuesday so it's time to start getting fluffy" type of shedding. 
Next up was Phantom. I let her pick the direction at the beginning of our ride - she turned right down the driveway. That was our warmup, and returned to the field to do a quick real ride since it was her dinnertime.

Unfortunately, I was not happy with how her breathing sounded when we picked up the trot. She had had her dose of Ventipulmin a couple of hours earlier, so it should have been doing its job. This was the first warm day in a while, and it was pretty humid after the rain that we've had, so maybe that's why she wasn't great.

So Phantom really didn't do much more than walk. We'll try her again tomorrow and see how it goes.
There's like a 4" square completely missing on the shoulder of Cisco's fly sheet suit of armor. 
I'm going to have to put fly sheets on the ponies I think. I grabbed a horse for someone else and her neck was covered in bites - I actually thought she had hives at first. I put Cisco's suit of armor that he's been wearing over his other blankets all winter on - I don't know how much fly protection it's going to give him since it's got a bunch of big holes in it. I just ordered him a new Kensington that I found on a sweet deal to replace the dented one. Hopefully I can keep it as his summer fly sheet and get the other one patched up to go over his winter wear.

Monday 22 July 2019

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Back in May, I commented on how it was the driest spring we've ever had. We barely had any rainfall in May.

Yeah, that's changed now. It feels like we've had rain every day since the beginning of June. Well, maybe not every day. I think there's been a couple of 2 or 3 day stints that we had no rain or minimal rain.
Rainfall in June and July spiked up. We've had twice as much rain this month than last year - and the month isn't over yet. 
I was off last week. Guess what? It rained most of the week. And not just a sprinkle, either.
There's been only 4 days in the last two weeks that it didn't rain.
Friday was one of the stormy days. I arrived at the barn at about 1pm. I took Cisco's rainsheet off and hung it over the hitching post to dry (it was on overnight since it was going to rain and I was hoping to keep them a bit clean for once). About 20 minutes later, it dumped rain. Thankfully, Phantom and I were in the barn, thus nice and dry.

Once it stopped dumping liquid on the ground, I had a quick ride on her - she was feeling rather silly after not being ridden for a week, so I ended up hopping off when the arena emptied and let her run around.

It was thundering the whole time that we were in the arena. I rushed to get her done and back out before the rain started again. I dressed for rain, and promised Phantom that I would handgraze her until it started raining again.

Which was about 4 minutes after we went outside.

So I put her into her paddock, went back into the barn, and within a couple of minutes the heavens opened up again. It was a little after 3pm.

Thus, when I grabbed Cisco, he was wet and dirty. That's when I decided to do the groundwork that I showed in last Friday's post.

I kept my eye on the sky, because it was getting black yet again when we came out of the arena. I got him turned out and put my stuff away, and the rain started once more. At this point I was just done with it, so I ran to the car while the running was good and headed for home at 4:30. On the highway everyone had dropped their speed down to about half of what the speed limit was and put their 4-ways on because the rain was coming down so hard.
Found on Facebook. Seems appropriate.
No one has managed to cut hay this year in this area. It's getting really scarce.

There are puddles everywhere out in the farmer's fields. Which are breeding grounds for mosquitos. And the onslaught of biting insects will likely start this week when the weather warms up.

Yay, it's summer.

Friday 19 July 2019

TRT Groundwork

Earlier this year I signed up for a year of the TRT Method. It's a system developed by Tristan Tucker that uses groundwork patterns to teach the horse to seek relaxation. If you haven't heard of it yet, there are lots of videos on Youtube you can check out.

I was looking for help in getting Cisco to chill the fuck out. I had a lot of issues with tension under saddle in the arena. Actually, it wasn't only while being ridden - he was tense in-hand or when turned out loose in there too.

We were mostly past the point of him barging into me with his shoulder when he wanted to leave the scary corners, but he was almost always on high alert. And he has always been a fast walker when being led - I would feel like he was taking me for a walk, not the other way around. Not in a bad way - more he was always on a mission type of way.

I had watched some of the free videos and started on a couple of the ideas in them. One was regarding leading. The horse was supposed to maintain the same distance behind you - like at least 7 or 8 feet behind you. You stop, they are supposed to stop, maintaining that distance. If they didn't, you would stand in the same place, use a "ssssshhh" voice aid, and create energy with the lead at the ground in front of the horse - not at the horse. The idea is that you create energy where you don't want them to be.
The videos were all taken on a different day than the post was written about. There were some distractions on this day.

This exercise had a huge impact on Cisco. It really got him paying attention to me, instead of things around him. We had many a discussion about staying behind me, and not to the side of me when he was trying to leave out of the scary end. I would lead him in and out of his turnout using this method, and anytime I feel he is distracted when we enter the arena I spend a few minutes on this leading, and it does wonders to tune him in.

The next thing to work on is a set of patterns that form the basis for everything else to come, including the under saddle work. The first part involves moving the hind end - having the inside hind step under and across into the outside shoulder, with inside bend through the body. The second part involves moving the front end. The outside front steps out, the inside front steps either in front of or behind the outside (if you have a horse who always wants to barge forward, you have them step behind. If they suck back, you would ask them to step forward). Again, you are looking for them to bend in the direction they are moving, in this case to the outside.

The first part is the part that is more of a struggle for Cisco. He would like to drop his inside shoulder and push it into me instead of softly bending through the ribcage. If he has any tension in his body, this is where it's going to show up. However it's getting better - he might start by dropping the shoulder, but after a few steps he becomes more supple and them generally maintains it.

The front legs he actually figured out much quicker. In the beginning, there were many times he tried to go past me instead of slowing himself down to step out and behind with the front legs. But then he started to get it, and it got really interesting to watch him put it together and be very deliberate about his footwork. I think that this exercise is his stronger of the two.
We were having problems on this day when I was on his right side. He kept trying to push past me. He's usually better than this on that side. 

Instead of lunging before a ride if I sensed a bit of silliness, I started to spend some time on this groundwork before getting on. And it seemed to work - he would quickly relax and start to tune in. However I never really managed to get him to fully release and drop his head and neck. He wasn't full-on giraffe, but he never got to the point of his nose around his knees either.

Since this spring, there has been a marked difference in Cisco. He used to always enter the arena and immediately look down into the scary end and look for imaginary demons. That stopped. He stopped being overly reactive to noises, and has been coming into the barn, cocking a leg while tied up, and looking quite chill. He has also stopped being a pooping machine while I'm riding - previously we would have an average of 3 poops per ride. Now we are usually down to one.

I don't know if the relaxation in the arena is just a coincidence, or if it is due to the groundwork. In a very short period it has felt like a switch was turned and he just stopped being worried. So I haven't been doing the groundwork as much.

To do the groundwork adds precious time to my ride. Plus I have to haul a rope halter and lead over to the arena. Not to mention that I have to review the TRT Method modules online in my limited spare time to learn the next step.

But I'm paying for it. So I really need to use it.

This week I spent some time watching a few videos to work on the next steps. And it went much better than I anticipated. Cisco seems to learn best when you introduce something to him, make a bit of progress, then put him away. He needs to think about it and generally comes into the next session ready to try it.

On this night though, I threw a couple of new exercises at him. And it didn't take long before he was doing them really well.

The first one involved moving the hind end again. But this time, I would stand in front of him, and use the whip to move him. He would need to keep his head in front of me, and maintain inside bend.
Still a problem to the right, not bending through his ribcage. It got better when I left the whip on his right haunch to ask him to step more with it.

He figured this one out really quickly. I thought that he would be trying to get past me, and he did a couple of times, but then he got backed up (move the front legs out and behind) and he soon figured out his footwork.

The second part involved the monthly challenge. I am going to video it so that I can submit it, so I'll leave the description for now and post the link when I get it done. This one is a little tougher for me as I have to figure out my footwork and handwork, but again Cisco did really well with it. I thought it would be much tougher for him.

The best part about this night was that this was probably the first night that he really relaxed. Like ears consistently below his withers relaxed, and at one part through one of the exercises his nose was only a foot off the ground. The exercises seem to be working - he's becoming much more supple in his body, and is finding some awareness about his feet and his tension.

I haven't really worked on the under saddle stuff, but I think it's time to start. Off to watch more videos!

Wednesday 17 July 2019

(Mostly) Wordless Wednesday

This gelding was happy to have Phantom graze along his fenceline. And no, he doesn't have 5 legs.

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Trying to Build Confidence - Kid Edition

I have a kid that I started teaching to ride last summer. Let's call her K. She's either 11 or 12 years old. And riding terrifies her.

I think it took 4 lessons before she was able to touch the pony on the face. It was 3 lessons before I could unhook her from the leadline. Anytime the horse whinnied, flipped it's head due to a fly, took a slightly larger step, basically anything other than a quiet steady walk, K had a little panic.

She also gave up really easily. Picking up feet or doing up buckles, I heard many times "it's too hard". This also fell over into riding - she would give up very quickly if steering got a little wonky.
No pics that go with this post, so enjoy a few that I took with the DSLR this week. I was having fun playing with a wide angle lens - this one made me laugh.
For the first couple of months, every week I fully expected to get a call from her mom saying that she didn't want to do it anymore. But she kept showing up.

We started to make some progress under saddle. K actually liked trotting. Her rhythm and balance were fantastic, and her equitation was quite good for a beginner rider. I was optimistic that things were changing. She was still not overly comfortable on the ground around the horse, but was getting better.

Then this winter hit. We started back close to the beginning again but were able to progress quicker this time.

One day this spring, the pony spooked. And K fell off.

It wasn't a hard fall, she bounced up right away. I convinced her to get back on, just on the lunge line, because I knew that if she didn't the next time would be very difficult for her. Unfortunately, that month there were a bunch of events at the barn and most of our lessons were cancelled. So it was a couple of weeks before she rode again.

I always end up with a bunch of nose photos - I can't get my horses to stay away from me!
Ever since then, we have not been able to make much progress. Her position has deteriorated - she now leans forward, leg slips behind her, and hands rest on the neck. Her fear is quite significant.

I swapped to a different pony, who is generally much quieter to be around (as in no calling to buddies outside), but also bouncier. K had some decent moments, although she tended to be more tense at the end of the ride than the beginning. It's almost like her fear has built up through the ride and by the end it's just bottled over.

K has gotten much better on the ground with the horses. I showed her one day how some horses like their ears rubbed, and she loved giving that pony a good scrubbing on his ears. One day she decided by herself that she was going to try picking feet by herself, and has made great progress and no longer just says that it's too hard. If she doesn't get it the first time, she'll continue to try. A couple of weeks ago we did an unmounted lesson and cleaned a stall, then she brought Phantom in and washed and combed out her tail and stuffed her full of treats. Then she brought in Cisco for his food. She seemed quite comfortable around two horses she's never done anything with.
Haha - tied up in the barn means no nose close-ups!
I fully acknowledge her fear. I've told her that it's a very big deal that she keeps coming back and continues to try to ride despite her fear. Most people would have walked away ages ago. But my job is to push her just a little bit past her comfort zone. Which some rides, has meant only trotting 10 steps by herself.

K is not able to tell me what she is scared of. Her mother doesn't know where the fear comes from. But it's definitely there.

I've been struggling to figure out which horse to use for her. The lesson horses all have some quirk that worries her. I need a horse who doesn't whinny, doesn't stumble, doesn't spook, and isn't too tall.  Basically, Phantom.
Here's the glamour shot. But I wish I had put a better halter on him and combed his forelock!
So, this weekend, Phantom gave a beginner lesson.

She had the slowest, saddest walk in the world. But she steered.

There were plenty of mare glares in my direction. I ignored them and tried not to get too close to her so that she wouldn't veer towards me.

K trotted on the lunge line. I had picked up a lunge whip since it was going to be tough to get the trot from the slowest, saddest walk. It took K a bit to find her rhythm with Phantom's longer stride but by the end she was getting it.

K started off very worried - new horse, taller horse, and someone else riding in the arena. It took her a couple of minutes at the mounting block before she could swing a leg over, and the first half of the ride she was really tipped forward and I had to keep reminding her to sit back and put her leg forward.

But after the trot, we did a bit more steering at the walk. And she was sitting up nice and tall. Without reminders. This was the first ride in a long time that got better instead of worse as the ride progressed. Huge win.

So Phantom might have found a new job. Well, once a week. I don't think she'll be perfect - I'm a bit worried that she might trot too fast. She'll slow down to a walk easily, so we'll see. I also would like to try her in a sidepull hackamore rather than a bit since she doesn't like her mouth being pulled on, but I can't find the one I own. I'll figure something out.

I'm really hoping that Phantom is the confidence booster that K needs. The kid really wants to ride, so I'm more than happy to take the time she needs to get there.

Monday 15 July 2019

A Bit of a Change

When I started Cisco two years ago I had a hard time finding a bit that he deemed acceptable.

I tried a single jointed snaffle, a french link, the Neue Schule Verbindend, and a Neue Schule Tranz-Angled Lozenge baucher. All mild bits, of different thicknesses and different shapes to the mouthpieces.

With all of them, he rooted down, got his tongue over top, and had a mouth so slobbery that he drooled after only wearing it for a short period. All which led me to think that he didn't like tongue pressure.

He also was not inclined to take the bit into his mouth when bridling. A taller person may have made it happen easier, but since I am rather vertically challenged, it was a bit of a struggle. I used a ported solid mouth kimberwick that I own to teach him how to be bridled, with the curb chain wadded up in vetrap to keep it out of the way. It worked nicely for this.

When I started riding him I used a Myler Low-Port Comfort Snaffle. I didn't get the rooting down that the jointed snaffles had caused, but he was quite mouthy and fussy.

This one had space for his tongue, but I've not had much luck overall with this bit.
Last summer I bought a Bombers Happy Tongue loose ring for him. This made an immediate difference in the connection - he was far less fussy.
Tongue space, and pretty blue. Sadly the blue is now gunmetal gray.

At one point near the beginning, I had purchased a Herm Sprenger Dynamic KK Eggbutt snaffle for Cisco. Which of course, he didn't like. But I've been wondering of late if he would now be open to a jointed snaffle of some type.
The eggbutt that looks like a D-ring. Also the most expensive one.
I prefer to use a double jointed snaffle - I think it is easier to get softer flexion with this type of bit versus a bit with a solid mouthpiece. But it isn't going in my mouth, so ultimately, my horse has the final say on what type of bit they go in. I've been thinking of trying that Sprenger bit again. If he still hates it, we'll go back to the Bombers.

His birthday ride on Thursday seemed like a good time to swap bits. I wasn't really planning on doing much with him, so he could mostly just carry it in his mouth.

And you know what? It wasn't terrible.

He mouthed it a bit in a good way before I got on. He was maybe a bit fussier than normal in his mouth through the ride, but I don't know if I was being hyperaware of it or not. There was no rooting, no tongue over top, and his mouth was not super gooby.

Most importantly, during the couple of minutes of trot that we did, he gave me soft flexion, maybe better to the right than with the Bombers bit, and was pretty good about reaching forward and down.

I'm going to keep it on his bridle for a few rides and see how it goes. If he doesn't like it, I'll happily swap the Bombers back on. But I'll be keeping my eye out for something else to try. 

Thursday 11 July 2019

Happy Birthday, Cisco!

My baby boy turned 8 years old on Thursday!
Day 1, eight years ago!
As per our tradition, they celebrated with pony popsicles.

As per usual, Phantom slowly licked her popsicle, and Cisco got frustrated when he couldn't gobble it down.

Then Cisco had to go for a ride. It was just a toodle ride though, he didn't have to work hard.

At the age of 8, he's a big boy now. After seeing him stand next to Phantom on the trailer, I was pretty sure that he's grown since I got him two years ago. I've actually been thinking for a while that he seems taller. So I sticked him - 15 hh and 1/2". That's 1 1/2" taller than he was two years ago! We'll see if he makes a full 15.1hh by his 9th birthday!

Wednesday 10 July 2019

Car Ride

I think Cisco is a little bit claustrophobic. He had never been inside anything larger than a 3-sided shelter until I got him just before he turned 6.

Well, there was that time that I tried to teach him how to load onto a trailer when he was about 4. It started off well - over a few days I was able to get him to load and stand on the trailer. Then I shut the ramp. And he panicked. And managed to scoot himself under the butt bar and come flying out.

Thankfully he only lost a bit of hair on his withers. There was no significant physical damage done.
My Boeckmann Big Master. Wonderful trailer. 
When I bought him and moved him I knew that I was not going to be able to use my 2-horse straight load. I borrowed a friend and her 4 horse slant that we could leave him loose inside of to move him. It took us over two hours to get him on to the step-up trailer - I think a big part of it was him not understanding the step up part. But once he was on, we took him off and put him back on a couple of times.

Then we shut the door and drove him away.

He arrived soaking wet with sweat.

Later that year, I had to move Phantom and Cisco to a new location. I had worked lots on loading him onto my trailer, mostly with Phantom babysitting. When the time came, he loaded well, I shut the ramp with no issue, and we drove away. The drive was about 25 minutes (I got lost) and he arrived outwardly calm - but soaking wet with sweat. Phantom was fine, so it wasn't due to the heat.
Two years ago. Note the height difference - he definitely looked shorter. 
I think those have been his only trailer rides. I've spent time working on loading, but haven't really done any driving with him.

Getting him comfortable with trailering is a big goal for the year. I'll use Phantom to babysit for the first while, but he does need to be able to travel solo.

Wednesday night I was able to borrow my parent's truck that I haul with and Pony Grandma. I haven't pulled the trailer out this year, and if I want to be able to meet my trailer goals with Cisco I need to get going with it.

I grabbed Phantom and Pony Grandma opted to grab Cisco. He's a little further away, so by the time they arrived Phantom had already self-loaded and was standing happily in her spot. I didn't know if she would since she hasn't been on in almost a year, but she was a superstar yet again.
This year, they almost look like they are the same height. I guess I need to measure him one day! 
Cisco was cautious, but not super worried. He got his front feet on the ramp, but then wouldn't really come forward. The good thing was that he wasn't going backward either. I used a dressage whip to tap him forward, and after a couple of single steps, he came right on up to the front. He didn't seem to be in a rush to come off, so Pony Grandma did him up behind, I did him up in front, and he was on. I was quite happy with that as there were no backward steps.

They got to munch on some hay, then I gave them their regular grain meal, which I totally realize as I'm typing this that I forgot to check if they cleaned it up. Oops. I'll have to remember to check next time I'm out in case the buckets need to be rinsed out.
He looks bigger than her here because his butt is scrunched up against the butt bar.
Then I shut everything up and we went for a drive around the block.

I drove like a grandma most of the way. The roads around the barn are dirt and can be rather bumpy. My trailer has great shocks, but I also want to make sure that Cisco doesn't have any additional reasons to be worried.

The drive was about 15 minutes. I heard Cisco whinnying a couple of times so I know that he wasn't settled, despite having Phantom standing next to him. He also called out to his buddies as we drove past the barn on the way home.

Once parked I made them wait for a few minutes before unloading. When I opened the people door, poor Cisco was yet again covered in sweat. I could feet the heat he was radiating off. Phantom was perfectly dry, so again, I knew this was just nerves on his part.
That dark patch on his neck and side is all sweat. Also dripping down his front legs.
He backed very civilly off. Phantom self-unloaded pretty nicely. Then they both got to graze for about 15 minutes before I covered them in bug spray and put them back out so that I could clean the trailer out and park. Phantom had continued her tradition of peeing in the trailer, as I'm sure she's done on every trailer ride ever. Unless she pees on the ramp as I'm trying to load her. In which case I always forget to move my feet from under the side of the ramp and they end up covered in horse pee that drains from the ramp. So I guess on the trailer is better.
Phantom said that the best part of the car ride was the snacks when she got home.
Overall, I was very happy with how it went. Cisco is obviously still very nervous about trailer rides, so considering that I was pleased with how he loaded and unloaded.

I plan to try to get some more of these short drives with both horses in over the next little bit. Hopefully, Cisco will get more comfortable and stop breaking into a nervous sweat. I need to be able to have him travel alone, but at this point, I think he would be a bit of a basket case should I try. Once he comes off the trailer dry we'll start working on solo rides. And then maybe we can go do some exciting (cheap) things!

Monday 8 July 2019

It's Not You, It's Me

Have you ever ridden a different horse and discovered that the problems that you have on your regular horse also happen on the new horse? Thus the problem is you, and not the horse as you hoped thought?

Yeah, so apparently I can't see a distance when cantering on the left lead.

I've had this problem on Phantom for a long time. I thought it might be her as she prefers her right lead and will land right lead 90% of the time - well, she will until I start getting super worried that she's about to go permanently lame. Then she'll land left lead.
There was a pile of feathers in the arena - I think a pigeon flew into one of the ceiling fans again. This guy was hunkered down outside the arena after my ride, so I'm guessing it was him. I couldn't really generate any sympathy for the feathered rat. He wasn't there in the morning - not sure if he became someone's snack.
Surprise, surprise. I have the same problem on Cisco. So it looks like it's all me.

I set up a pole on the center line on Saturday's ride for Cisco. We haven't really done it at a canter yet, so I wasn't sure how it would go.

I went to the right first. Nailed it. Perfect distance 3 or 4 times in a row.
I left Cisco loose to graze after our ride. When I went out to check on him about 10 minutes later he had wandered down the laneway to hang out next to his buddy Blue.
Then we went to the left.

Split the front legs the first time and came back to trot. I thought he was going to go long the second time, but nope, he went short. Swapped leads on the landing and ping-ponged because I couldn't decide which way to turn.

At this point, I realized that the problem was the monkey flopping around on the back of the horse. Crap.
Blue's forelock got pushed back when he stuck his head through the fence. So much cute.
I decided that I just needed to ride forward to the pole. See if that got me out of trouble. Stop trying to make the distance happen.

Third time was better - I was at least with the horse. Still not good on the landing side. Cisco landed on the right lead, and I should have just let him canter to the right instead of using the wall to stop.  Apparently, I also can't think fast enough anymore when doing jump work.

Fourth time - nailed it. I consciously thought about not pulling on the inside rein and not locking my inside elbow on the approach. We also landed on the correct lead so we were able to have a lovely canter away from the pole.

Apparently, the horse is not going to mask all my issues and I have to learn how to ride properly.

Or I just jump off the right lead for the rest of my life. That sounds way easier.

Friday 5 July 2019

Trying New Things

Tuesday night's ride on Cisco was a bit of a mixed bag of things happening. There were lessons going on, so I had to ride around the intermediate riders.

Cisco again started pretty good, with some try in reaching into the bridle. No complaints there.

Then I asked for a leg yield off the right leg. And got nothing. Nada. So we went back to the walk to reinforce what I was asking for.
Absolutely no new media, so enjoy some cute pony pictures.
The first attempt wasn't much better. Mr. Tappy had to make his presence known. We came around again to the open side of the arena. This time he made an effort. So I halted him, and gave him a treat.

I've not done that before. I've done some clicker training on the ground with him, but despite his general love for food, the clicker training has never seemed to be something that really engaged him. I wasn't really sure how this was going to work while under saddle.

Our next leg yield attempt was at a trot. It was a really good attempt, so I clicked, halted, and dug out another treat for him. Next try - you better believe that he moved his body over when I put on my leg. I clicked again. He tried to slam on the brakes. I made him trot another few steps before allowing him to come back to a walk. I wasn't planning on using treats during work, so I only had a couple in my pocket. It looks like this might be a useful trick though, so I might have to start loading up!

Next, for mostly shits and giggles, I figured I'd try to ask for a walk/canter transition. I didn't really think we'd get it, but whatevs.

Sure enough, we didn't get it. There were a lot of trot steps between walk and canter. The good things were that he didn't get upset about it, and that he got the correct lead each time. That part was surprising.

Since I couldn't do as much canter as I was hoping (trying to stay out of the way of the lesson) I figured I might as well push things even more. I had someone drop a crosspole down to the weeniest crosspole in the world and trotted Cisco over it. That went well - he didn't have to actually jump it.

We moved onto a different crosspole. Slightly less weenie than the previous one, but not by much. It was also part of a gymnastic line (1 stride to 1 stride) with the other 2 jumps just poles on the ground.

This was slightly more worrisome to Cisco. We haven't actually jumped since I fell off over his head about a month ago. I figured he would still be worried about it, thus the weenie jumps.

We did the line a few times. He didn't really have to jump it - he mostly just trotted over it. He was a bit worried and thought about exiting over the middle ground pole, but it got a bit better at the end.

I think my goal before moving the jumps up will be to be able to aim him at the weenie crosspole and be able to go over it on a loosish rein. This is definitely where taking my time to allow him to gain confidence will pay off.  I'd like to set up a few tiny jumps and do the thing where you pop over a couple and then do something else for a few rides. But I refuse to jump if no one is around, so it just hasn't been happening lately. I might have to start bringing Pony Grandma out with me so I can make some progress this year.

Thursday 4 July 2019

Phantom Toodles

Phantom has been living the easy life as of late. She gets ridden, so it's not like she's retired and just sitting in a field. But her rides are pretty easy. She usually gets ridden second so that her Ventipulmin can kick in, and I often don't get on her until 9:30 at night. Those nights she gets a quick 30-minute spin so that I can get home (and have supper) ideally before 11pm.

The reality is, that by that time of night, I'm tired and sore, and don't have much incentive to really school. A lot of our rides lately have been more of the 5 minutes of arena work and then head outside to toodle.

Phantom likes toodling.
The late night indoor toodle.
This week she had a late evening ride on Tuesday. I actually did a bit of schooling - some counter canter and transitions into a bouncy trot within the gait. I thought she was going to be silly based on her mood as I was tacking up, but she was super and quite relaxed.

On Wednesday Phantom was my priority ride. And I put myself to work. Me, not her.

My lower back has been getting quite sore and tight after riding lately. I used to have this problem all the time, but I took some lessons with someone who is into biomechanics and everything got better. The lessons aren't an option at this point (I'm broke, and she moved further away) so I've got to figure out what changed and change it back if possible.

I think it's likely one of these scenarios - 1) riding Cisco (greener, wigglier, doesn't give me a place to sit yet) 2) riding Cisco in a treed saddle, or 3) I'm not engaging my core as much (definitely do this on Cisco, usually better on Phantom).

I have a feeling that it's mostly 3.
Substitute tacos for anything with sugar in it.
So on Wednesday's ride, I decided that I would concentrate on me while riding Phantom.

Lemme just say, engaging your core is exhausting. Using my thighs hurts.  And the muscle relaxant I took before riding didn't seem to help my hips move.

I did some trot and canter and focused on not clenching my butt when I tightened my middle. I've felt that happening lately - this is an old habit I thought I had mostly gotten rid of. I also used to initiate the up part of a post with my butt muscles. I used to have a very sore (but super tight) butt.

I did 15 whole minutes of work on Phantom and decided that was enough. Walking on a loose rein down the road sounded way easier.

Phantom was happy to head out. Phantom was not happy that I would not let her go through the drive-thru and eat the almost shoulder high grass that was along the side of the road. I wasn't against her grabbing a bite on the go, but I was pretty sure she'd fall on her face while eating and walking and drag me down into the ditch if I gave in. So she was forced to starve.
I wanted to get Phantom and Cisco in the picture. But I couldn't operate my phone while trying to get Phantom to stand still and not yank her head down to eat grass, so it was mostly a fail.
We didn't go all that far. We turned around at the intersection - Phantom was looking down the roads at all her options and would have likely been happy to continue. However, it was getting close to her dinnertime and she can get a little squirrely if she misses her seat at the table.

I was getting squirrely too - the corner of the field just before the intersection has a whole bunch of beehive boxes. Last year they showed up but stayed empty. This year they are active. And I could hear the buzzing as we walked down the road.

I hate bees. The buzzing gives me the willies.
My grandparents kept bees. I would not voluntarily go near that area. 
So I was also happy to turn around.

Phantom's happy with her current situation (except the whole not being allowed to graze on the go thing). We'll just keep toodling along when the weather cooperates - it's far too hard to do this in the winter months, which is coming all too soon in the north.

Monday 1 July 2019

Forward Progress

I'm so sick of rain at this point.

It's not raining to the point that we have floods or anything. We just keep getting these sudden thunderstorms at inconvenient times. Like when I am thinking of heading out to the barn.
Nice to see that Phantom has one spot on her that is clean.
So the ponies had another few days off late last week. Sunday had me teaching some beginners for about 5 hours (so much more exhausting than it should be) but I was determined to get a ride in afterwards. And I am so glad that I did!

I was really happy with the pony. He had a bit of extra energy, but still tried hard. And there were a lot of things going on for a Sunday evening. When we entered the arena, someone was pounding posts outside the arena. Cisco was a little worried about this, and was trying to get some moral support from his friends outside. Thankfully the posts were pounded pretty quickly and that distraction ended.
Screenshots from the video camera parked in the corner. Better than nothing!
But then the next one began. Someone was doing a bunch of cleaning and was making quite a bit of noise dragging garbage bags, moving chairs, and dropping random things, sometimes in the dark part of the entryway where even I struggled to see them.

At one point a dog ran past the open door. And then someone started weed whacking around the exterior of the arena.
Getting somewhere...
A year ago, these distractions would have set Cisco off and we would not have been able to recover. He was not able to forget what had happened. As of late, this has changed. First time past something he might need to give it a wide berth. Next time around, he's cool with it. The only thing that really phased him on this ride was when the dog ran past the door. Cisco dove to the inside, but stayed at the same gait. Next time around, he looked at the door, but went nicely into the corner. Big change over a year ago.
A little tight in his neck, but he's trying!
He didn't have as steady a feel through this ride as he did for the previous ride, but he was trying his little heart out to be good. We had our best canter transitions so far - 4 out of 5 were prompt and on the correct lead. The canter was a bit zoomy, since it was his first ride in 5 days that was no big deal.
A little far away, but his neck felt much longer and lower than proved in the video. Still, I'll take it!
I had set up the video camera at one end of the arena to see the nice trot that he's been giving me. It's not the best, but it gives me an idea.

I'm pretty sure we had way more moments of stretching forward than what the video showed. When we d get those moments, they look nice. He's not fully honest into the connection, but he's trying to figure it out.

Also - what are my hands doing!?!? Shorten my frickin' reins and get my thumbs on top dammit!And I really need to soften my elbows at canter. 30 years of riding, and I still can't get it right!