Monday 21 February 2022

Step Up to the Podium

The weather started to change on Friday night last week. Not much that night - the real temperature drop happened on Saturday. It was just enough that a person who was weary from the week and very much over this pending return to yet another winter didn't really want to do anything that would mean getting really cold. Which for me, would be tacking up and riding.

The fact that there was no one around didn't help. I just wasn't in the mood to have a crappy ride just before another week off. But I had a free arena, so I decided to take advantage of it, in the lowest effort on my part possible.

Cisco was popped in the ring first. It was probably a good decision to not ride as he was pretty sassy. We did some work with his mark to get him further down the arena, which worked until I got it past his comfort point around X. I don't know what set him off at that point, but he got a bit frantic and did that loud blow through his nose thing while staring at the end. Interestingly, once I moved the mat closer and got him to stop on it and he got his click/cookie, he settled right down and just walked the short end instead of the frantic trot/canter.

I had bigger plans though. I had dragged out the podium that someone had made a while ago and stored at the end of the ring. 

I think I've tried the podium once with Cisco a couple of years ago, and if I recall, it didn't go so well. Also, because I'm a sucker for punishment, I had set the podium up quite close to one of the scary corners of the arena. (Mostly because it was too heavy to roll too far out of the corner where it is stored.)

Once we got the chill walk, we made our way down to the podium. Sure enough, he wiggled his way all around it without actually stepping on it, all the while keeping an eye out for the hiding horse murderers in the corners.

Ever alert to potential hazards.

At one point I stepped up on and across the podium - that seemed to give him the idea that he could put his feet on it and he followed me across. Rather awkwardly though, as the podium is not quite wide enough for the horses to get their front feet and back feet on it at the same time, and the corners are cut off, so if they aren't totally straight, some limb ends up taking a step off the side while the opposite limb is on top. 

Once he went over the first time, Cisco figured it out quite quickly. We went straight across a few times (well, not straight, more like drunkenly across), and then I started asking him to halt with just the front feet on. He seemed to start enjoying it, and happily led me to podium upon approach.

The main reason I had dragged the podium out was for Phantom. The last time I rode her I angled her a bit too much towards the lower step of the mounting block, which is what I first used when she first learned to stand on the podium, and she made an attempt to put her foot on it. She's always loved showing this trick off to me, and I wanted to give her something to do that she really liked. 

Sure enough, she perked up on the approach to the podium, sniffed it, and immediately put her feet on it. And looked for her cookie. 

What she didn't like, was walking across it. She was not impressed with that feeling at all.

She was never bad, or refused to do it though. She just took a bit to figure out to slow down and let me guide her straight. 

At the end, I went back to having her stand with just her front feet on the podium. And I got a couple of my favourite ever pictures of her smiling for her cookie.

I need to see if I can Photoshop the background out of these and get them enlarged to put somewhere in my house where I'll see them every morning so that I can start my day with a smile. 

Thursday 17 February 2022

The Ice Capades

This winter has been tough to get any consistent rides in. After we got through the long cold spell of late December/early January, it's been a constant roller coaster of up and down temperatures - it's either above average warm or super freezing cold. Which, for riding, means 2 or 3 rides in one week, a week off, and try to start back with a very fresh horse again. 

The other issue that this has caused has been icy ground. Like, everywhere. 

Last week's four days of +9 Celsius temperatures got rid of a whole bunch of snow. And also left huge puddles everywhere as the ground is still frozen. And when the temperatures fell over the weekend, accompanied by some very strong wind, those large puddles turned into large, smooth ice rinks. 

I took my fancy Celeris boots out in the hopes I would get to ride in them on Thursday last week, but when I saw the lake path to the arena I left them in the car. Now imagine these puddles all over the yard, but completely frozen two days later, and you get an idea of what we've been dealing with.

The horses just haven't been moving around a whole lot out in their paddock. I mean, they're standing in a round bale of hay up to their knees, so they really don't have much incentive to walk too far from the buffet, which is conveniently located between their bedroom (shelter) and the wet bar (water trough). A full third of their paddock has had no hoof prints in the snow for weeks. 

The lack of movement, (and what little movement there is is likely all at a walk) has meant that horses have been very full of themselves when you try to ride. For Cisco, this means I've been trying to ride a spooky llama.

I also suspect that it has caused some body-soreness in the ponies. Phantom has been stocking up pretty consistently in her hind legs this winter, but it comes down with about 30 minutes of easy activity. Cisco has been a bit resistant to soften in his poll, which seems to be his go-to when he's not feeling his best. 

We've been plugging away at things, but not necessarily having the best rides. Not terrible ones either, mind you. It just seems like the first ride is spent trying to get some sense of relaxation, the second ride we are able to get a little bit of something done by the end of the ride, and I might squeak in one more quick ride before another 7-10 days off due to cold/snow and we get to start all over again. 

There has been very little of note to my rides.

Well, except two things.

First - have you ever watched any videos of the pros doing Working Equitation, and marveled at the part where the horse, who is almost always a PRE, does a canter sidepass over a pole during the speed event?

Apparently, my horse can do that. 

You know the saying "impulsion is created by the spooky end of the arena"? Well, the canter sidepass is apparently created by asking for a canter leg-yield heading into the spooky end of the arena, up the quarter-line, off the outside leg. I was pretty impressed with how quickly Cisco was able to canter sideways, while staying pretty straight. Really wish I had a video of it.  

The second thing, was that on my last ride on Tuesday, I put my big girl panties on and cantered into some jumps.  They weren't necessarily pretty - I cannot see a distance to save my life and keep second-guessing my decisions, but I did the thing. 

We haven't popped over anything since September or October. I had to be quick to get it done between lessons, which meant a rushed warm-up on a horse who was behind my leg, but I didn't have much time to fix that before the next lesson started. 

Cisco was a very good boy and happily popped over all the teeny crosspoles without issue.

Cisco is modelling his new bridle, while keeping an eye out for the horse murderers hiding behind him.

Except once - we jumped into a diagonal line that took us into the scariest corner of the arena. This alone is usually cause for Cisco to back off just a wee bit, but on this occasion, his roommate, Lucy, who was warming up for the next lesson, picked up a rather enthusiastic canter out of said corner, which in Cisco's mind meant that Lucy was obviously escaping the horse murderer that lays in wait in the corner, and he yet again showed me his desire to try Working Equitation by cantering sideways away from the second jump in the line. The runout was all about the perceived threat in the corner and not the jump, so we just circled back around to the first jump and started again, this time going straight through and cantering around the corner to the next diagonal line. 

Continuing on this winter's pattern, I'll get one or two more rides in before the temperatures plummet again this weekend. Once the weather gets a bit more consistent I would like to take the ponies to a vet that does chiro that I've used in the past, but she's over an hour away and I don't like to trailer on iffy winter roads. In the meantime, we'll just keep plugging along. 

Thursday 10 February 2022

Hit Your Mark!

During the winter months, it's not uncommon for me to pop the ponies into the arena to have a chance to have a bit of a play. Our weather is erratic, the ground in their paddock can be icy (especially this year), and when I can't ride somewhat consistently it's just easier to give them a day to get the sillies out without me on their back.

Phantom knows the routine and once she gets warmed up, she pretty well keeps herself going. These days I usually have to stop her well before she has used up all her energy.

Cisco has never really gotten into it. Not because he doesn't have an excess of sass though - it's because he walks into the arena, looks into the scary far end, and immediately decides that he doesn't want to risk getting eaten by the land sharks that are lurking in the corners and that he must stay as close to the entrance gate as possible (just in case a quick getaway is needed).

If he comes off the track along the short end of the ring, he only uses about 15 meters of the arena. Tiny circles, usually back to the gate, or back and forth along the short end - if left to his own devices, that's the extent of his free lunging. 

This video is from last winter. He's a bit better than normal here, but you can see his desire to get back to the gate.

I suppose that I could chase him around with a bag on a whip and maybe he'll go a whole 20 meters away from the gate. But this is a horse who needs to learn how to relax - he's quite capable of running frantically around in a llama posture. As much as I want him to work through some sillies, he isn't a horse who gets too ridiculous, so really he just needs to move around for a bit and that's enough to make him rideable the next day. I'd prefer to have the arena be a place that he enjoys and is relaxed to be in, and not a place that he associates with stress and frantic running.

So, much like being under saddle, I try to put his brain to work, and have taught him how to go to a mark. 

Not the best video as I was trying to manage my phone, a whip, and cookies all at the same time, but I love how it shows you how he makes deliberate decisions to go to the spot, and how much different his posture is versus the first video.

This has worked really well. I'm usually able to slowly move the mark further down the arena, and more often than not, Cisco will continue to seek it out. I can often get him to about 2/3's the way down the approximately 100-meter arena - much better than 15 meters by the gate!

The other thing that this work does is change his posture. Instead of going around like a llama, he is much more relaxed in his frame. I'd rather not strengthen any llama muscles!

We do not need to encourage this posture!

A tarp is the preferred option for a mark, but as I don't always have one handy, I've also used a lead shank on the ground in a circle shape (which is what I am using in this video). I think that the tarp is far more visible - when I move the lead shank down the arena he doesn't seem to find it right away (maybe if I used a clean shank it might help!).

Depending on how worried he is about the scary end he is, we have had some success with clicking for a treat when he gets a little bit braver and goes a little further than normal from the gate. Once he gets the first click he will incrementally go a little further, for which he gets a click and a treat.  But this totally depends on the perceived imminence of the land shark invasion. Today, it was quite windy, and the land shark threat was high, so my attempts to get him to be brave with just a click didn't pay off and I had to use a visual mark.

Who knows, maybe this will develop into a film career for Cisco. He takes a great headshot!

Friday 4 February 2022

I'm A Sucker

The nice thing about my Andalusian /paint cross gelding is that he is inherently quite lazy. He's no TB that has an endless supply of energy and is fit after a week of riding. No sir. He's of the 15 minutes of work generally brings the fresh horse level down from a 7 to a 2. And two rides in a row is pretty guaranteed to mean a pretty chill second ride.

The downside to this is that I tend to have a horse who is either over-responsive and extra sensitive to my legs or very much non-responsive and exhausting to ride. I much prefer a slightly hot reactive ride over a kick ride.

This look does not usually mean a quiet ride is forthcoming.

I did a bunch of work on getting Cisco sharper off of a very soft leg aid last fall when I was managing to ride with some consistency. It was going pretty well. But, then he got his vacation, and, well, we all know how how much we eat on vacation, and what it does to our waistline and desire to exercise once vacation is over.

It hasn't been too bad so far on our return to work - the lack of consistency due to the up and down weather has meant that Cisco has mostly had lots of energy and been spooky enough in the arena that I kind of wanted a lazy ride.

We got those lazy rides over the weekend when he was ridden 3 out of 4 days.

The first one was on Friday night, the day after he lost his brain upon seeing the water truck wheels in the crack under the overhead door in the scary end of the arena. He was completely chill right from the get-go. The ride was short, simple, and we threw in a bit of fun with a couple of attempts at cantering through some bending poles (well, pylons). Much different from the previous ride.

Totally unrelated to this post, but this was my prize bag from a 12 Days of Christmas contest that my vet clinic ran.

He had Saturday off and we tacked up again on Sunday. There were a bunch of horses in the arena, which immediately sets Cisco's chill level to a "having a beer on the porch with my buds" type of chill level.

So we putzed around for a few minutes of trot. He was being pretty good, no spooking or anything. But after about 5 minutes, I was pooped. 

Yep, he'd suckered me into working too hard again, and him not working at all. 

Cue repetitive transitions again. Walk/trot/walk/trot. I wanted a shouted response from a whispered aid.

And honestly, he gave it to me. Neither of us could maintain it for laps around the ring or anything, but he stepped up to the plate and got the hind end activated. This even applied to the canter - we had a fantastic lengthened canter down the long side each way, and was able to come back to a nice canter on a circle at the end without too much drama. Tracking left his shoulders even stayed in the appropriate alignment!

After the canter? 

We found a new gear at trot.

This was my sports car ride of a horse that I like. Powerful, forward, up in front. I completely had to change my position to match what he was offering me. 

Of course, we couldn't keep it for very long. And by no means did Cisco magically turn into Valegro. His neck was shorter than I would like and we had lost all semblance of straightness, but hey, you've gotta start somewhere, right? He offered, and I said I'll take whatever you will give me, but had to make sure I didn't get greedy.

Post-ride I gave Cisco a chance to stand on the Sure Foot Pads. He had a good session and really seemed to relax into it.

Cisco seldom stands with his ears lower than his withers, so it's a bit of a big deal when relaxes like this while standing on the pads. 

Since then, he's had another week off, as we got a bit of a blizzard that night and it brought some frosty air in with it. This weekend will be nice, but there is a clinic at the barn and I can't use the arena. So I'll be back to the over-reactive horse for my next ride next week!