Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Rough Ride on Joey

This post will be staccato style, forget the grammar...

Hustled to get a ride in on Joey tonight. Headed to my friend's place to ride in her good arena.

No problems trailer loading. Joey was very distracted though. Looking at other horses, ears everywhere but on me. Walk and trot no problem, but he was not "connected". I dismounted and longed for respect, but I could tell I still didn't have him all the way.

He was cantering well, but on his favorite lead, the left. I wanted to get his head in a good place, and so we cantered a bunch going left, but rather non-aggressively. Then I tried the right. He was reluctant to take the right lead again. I worked on half passes and side passes at the walk and trot. I wanted him really yielding, because then it's easier to start him in the correct lead. I watched a Craig Cameron episode on this very topic on Monday, and he really promoted this. He also reminded me that we should always tell our horse which lead we want when going into the canter. In other words, don't just canter off without a plan for which lead to be in.

I finally got him in a right lead, and we cantered. I goosed him a little bit to keep him from slowing to the trot, and he bucked. It was no small buck. If he had followed the first with a second and third, I'd have been off his back, because I was out of position after the first buck. I slowed him down with a one rein stop and IMMEDIATELY yielded his hindquarters in both directions, HARD and FAST. Then I cantered him off again. A few more laps, and he pulled another one, but this time I was ready and had a decent grasp of my night latch. It seems my leg asking him to keep up speed was the trigger, and going to the right was harder for him to do than the left.

OK all the bleeding hearts out there. I can hear it already. "Maybe he's hurt and you need to stop riding him so hard". Baloney. Look, I asked my vet how I should handle possible lameness issues. He said that mild degrees of lameness are hard to diagnose. He suggested I keep riding until the limb, part of limb, whatever is hurting, becomes more obvious and persists, and THEN bring him in.

I know Joey has an issue with taking the right lead. I also know I've been working on strengthening it. Today, thus far in this ride, he's been distracted and disconnected. I did NOT round pen him prior to riding, and I am definitely making him work. Unless he shows me some obvious lameness, I'm riding him through this.

I kept cantering him to left and right, with a good grasp of the night latch. I let my leg move him around while cantering, and while I could tell he didn't like it, I didn't care. He needs to be turning and yielding to my leg if I have any hope of good steering while at the canter. You have to control the hind end and the ribcage to have any hope of good circles. Without it, the horse will just push through your head direction and you'll be cantering without control. I did NOT have spurs on, and I was barely touching him, He was being over reactive and needed desensitization.

He quit bucking. I then made him yield front and rear, and when he was slow about it, I used my rein end to pop him where I was already applying pressure with my leg anyway. I got a VERY good response after that. He softened, and I could tell I had his full attention after that.

Look, I don't want a rodeo anymore than anyone else. But I'm not going to reward this behavior that I feel represents willful disobedience. He did much better after an attitude adjustment. Joey is a young horse. I feel he was looking around at the other horses for a herd and leadership. I didn't come down on him hard initially, but eventually, that's what it took. I knew the risks when I took on a youngster.

Like the Aaron Ralston show sings at the beginning of every show..Did you come to ride or did you come to hide?

I came to ride. I can't wait for the next ride, because I'm thinking what this horse needs now is some good hard riding for some extended canter sessions. And I plan on delivering.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Random Thoughts About the Canter

I'd like to preface this writing by reminding everyone that I am no horse expert. BUT, I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night, so...

I am now going to espouse my opinions, based on observation. Specifically, I want to address the issue of a horse's cantering, or rather their willingness or reluctance to do so.

Have you ever considered this test? What would your horse do if you caught him from the pasture or stall, picked his hooves and tacked him up, mounted him, and then proceeded to canter the horse away from the barn? This is without any warm up, absolutely "cold back" riding.

Now I'm sure some of you are starting to shudder at the mere thought of trying this test with your horse. And I'm not suggesting you try it. But I'd be interested to hear your response. And I'll tell you what each of my horses would do below.

My 17 year old gelding, Woody, would canter off easily. He might get high-headed for a bit, but there would be no tail swishing, no cow kicks, and no bucking. I consider this the gold standard. This horse is truly good and broke. He side passes both directions, trailer loads and unloads without difficulty, leads well and will trot while led, yields his hindquarters, will cross over his front legs, stops with my seat, rides collected, neck reins, and rides best in a curb bit. He picks up his feet for picking like no horse I've ever seen. His only fault is that he can get high-headed until reminded to flex at the poll, and he has no cow in him. But by every measure, he is a completely broke horse. He has NEVER in the time I have owned him, bucked, cow kicked, or reared when asked to do anything. Enough said.

Now for the another end of the spectrum, my newly acquired, 4 year old gelding Joey. He is a good horse. But if I were to canter him off cold backed, and I hadn't worked him in several days, I would be grabbing for my night latch just in case he might buck. He's not a bad horse, but he isn't completely broke. He might buck, he might not. But I don't have the confidence in him that I do in Woody. Joey is only fair (but getting better) at trailer loading. But I can't say that I've successfully loaded him in every kind of trailer. He picks up his feet well, without any tail swishing. He side passes well. But he still has trouble with lead departures and he tends to lift his head when changing gaits. In other words, he has great potential, but he still has a lot to learn, and therefore I don't consider him completely broke.

My other two horses are in the middle of the spectrum, but closer to truly broke.

My point is that too often I hear people making excuses for why their horse cow kicks going into the canter. Or a horse that bucks when asked to canter. Or is reluctant to canter. I'll bet you good money that those same horses don't do a LOT of things well. It would be a rare horse that can do everything that my horse Woody can do AND still cow kicks or bucks going into the canter. To me, showing tail swishing, cow kicking, bucking going into the canter, are all just signs of willful disobedience (assuming always that health issues have been eliminated).

Now don't get me wrong; it's not that I think the horse that shows reluctance to canter is a "bad" horse. In the case of my horse Joey, he's just young. He sometimes goes too long between riding, and he has to have the "fresh" worked off him before he performs at his best and gets "right in his head" and submits to my leadership. But I do NOT imagine for one second that he isn't a potentially dangerous horse, or that he is safe as my bed at home and a truly broke horse. He is NOT.

And just because a horse is older does NOT mean they are truly broke. Older horses can be as dangerous as young ones. But I DO think even the best of young horses cannot be considered truly broke until they have some age and miles on them. It's just that they don't have enough experience. A 4 year old that shows great temperament MIGHT be a future Woody, but I can't say that at 4 years of age. Too much can still go wrong, there are too many new experiences that might overwhelm a younger horse.

So if your horse can't do all the things that Woody can do, if you can't jump on your horse cold back and canter away from the barn, then stop fooling yourself that you have a dead broke, safe as your bed at home horse. What you have is a horse that is still dangerous, and needs your work and attention.

So what are you going to do to make your horse super broke? Do you even care if your horse does the occasional cow kick or buck going into the canter? Have you given up on cantering because you fear what will come next? Have you become satisfied with walking and trotting only?

Like I warned at the beginning of this post, I am not a horse expert. But I am stating firmly, in my opinion, unless your horse canters without any expression of reluctance, you have work to do with your horse.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Better Adventures With a 4 Year Old

What a difference a day makes.

I read up a little on how to train a horse to pony, now that I realized that a horse does indeed have to be trained to pony, and it's not some inborn skill.

This is the article that came up on a google search.

I encourage you to read it and then come back to this post...

Are you back? Did you find it as intimidating as I did? I mean, I'm supposed to handle my horse, handle my split reins, handle a lead line, and control another horse with a stick in my hand. How many hands does this guy think humans have anyway? And should I be whistling Waltzing Matilda at the same time? That Aussie is nuts!

I trailered Woody and Joey over to my friend's place this morning. I gathered all the tools described in the article, and made ready in the arena. First, I longed Joey to get him listening and focused. Check.

Then I tried to just walk Joey in the manner Clinton Anderson described. I did NOT like the lead line across Woody's chest. I imagined that if Joey balked, there would be a rope burn across Woody's chest and a sizeable vet bill. I was not going to do that. I wanted to be able to get out of trouble immediately if needed. No sense in turning this training session into a wreck.

Well, I got it figured out after a bit. Left hand held the reins and the lead line. Right hand held the training stick, the nice long variety. Woody is an experienced horse that neck reins well. I positioned Joey's head at my right foot while mounted. We started walking. I could then reach back and tap Joey on the hind end if he showed any signs of slowing or balking. IT WORKS!

In fact, Joey even got going too fast and I had to check him with the lead line to keep his head where I wanted it. But getting him to trot and walk lively was no longer an issue.

In retrospect, I wish I had started out this way, because it might be a problem that Joey learned a couple of times that he could get away from me. He still has a tendency to back up when pressured, and that's something that a more experienced horse will not do. If I had started this training correctly, he would never have experienced that release for the wrong action. But overall, I was very pleased with our progress.

I also trotted him from the ground with me jogging ahead, and he was moving more freely. He still wants to act like he doesn't want to move with me, however. But a few taps with the training stick and some longeing to free up his "stuck feet", corrected that quickly.

Both horses got a well-deserved hosing down and some extra alfalfa for their efforts. It proved to be a big step in the right direction. I think I just caught myself whistling a few bars of "Waltzing Matilda".

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Adventures With a 4 Year Old

I had the brilliant idea of exercising two horses today. Why not use Woody to pony Joey? What could go wrong? Horses naturally pony, don't they?

Wrong. Bad idea. So I get another adventure out of it.

I trailer to a friend's place, with a nice arena. I had the place to myself. Which also meant if I got hurt, no one would be there to call EMS. Alex's injury was fresh on my mind.

I used Woody, my steady Eddie. I ponied Joey to the arena and we walked around. So far so good.

I increased to a trot. Not so good. Joey stopped, would not go forward, and the lead rope had no choice but to leave my hand, quickly. He immediately started eating grass when free of my grasp. Great...Now he's been rewarded for getting loose. This is going to have to be undone. The lesson is going badly.

I dismount. Woody stays ground tied. Thank God at least I have one steady horse during this adventure. I pick up Joey's lead line and start him longeing. Like hell I'm letting him think he can escape me and eat grass!

I try again. Walking is fine. I put Woody in a trot, and Joey doesn't keep up. Despite a half dally, Joey's strength and mass is easily able to escape my grasp. More grass eating until I can catch up with him from the ground. This is not going to work. Think! More longeing for respect. Get his feet moving. He's good and sweaty now.

I start walking on ground with him on lead line; then I jog. He shows resistance. IMMEDIATE longeing! Jog him out as he's trotting from the longeing. Now, it's working. He's trotting behind me. More work transitioning from walk to trot as I lead him. I'm not in shape for this. I won't be able to do this for long.

Mount up again and try again. Maybe he's getting the idea that the release is to move forward. Better results. He's trotting while ponied. But he stops after a bit, and he's almost escaped me. But I'm circling now with Woody when I feel him start to balk.

Another dismount and more longeing for respect. But I'm getting steamed, probably not a good thing. I leave him tied. He paws and tries to reach grass, but I've tied him well, so he's just going to have to stand there.

Ride Woody and work on lead departures and cantering. Need some relief from this 4 year old. Woody is a dream.

Try again with Joey, and slightly more success. OK. End on a good note. Walks back ponied to trailer, where he loads VERY well. The longeing has helped, I suppose.

Arrive home. Leave Woody saddled and tied. Take Joey to round pen and work on trot and canter, since he hadn't cantered today up to this point. He transitions very well. Not even a cow kick. Again, the longeing for respect has worked to take a lot of the fresh off. Make Joey do more right leads than left. He has to be corrected for wanting to take the left lead when circling right a few times, but mostly picks up the right lead well. Stays in gait very well. Again, that's the longeing, I think, paying off. Working off my verbal cues. No change in energy really required. He is remembering.

Good join up. Work on walk and trot from ground as I lead him back to barn. He's still a little slow to pick this up.

Shower, then bed. I'll try again tomorrow. Lots to think about tonight. Already googling how to train a horse to pony. Have new ideas from Clinton Anderson. I think I'll have more success tomorrow.

4 year old horses...they really have a lot to teach me.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friend's Accident On a Horse.

This has been a hard one to write. A few of you may remember that I rode at a place in Blanco, TX recently. During that ride, I rode with a friend, Alex. He had recently purchased a beautiful, palomino mare. The story was this: 6 year old mare, neglected recently by being underfed, allegedly well trained, good temperament, etc. The fellow he bought the horse from was willing to accept payments for the horse, bring Alex along in his riding, and help to put weight on the horse. I had no role in this purchase except to support my friend.

Well, when I took Lola to ride with Alex in Blanco, Tx, I had the chance to meet and ride this palomino mare. She was a good sized horse, a little thin, but solidly built and big boned. You could tell she was going to get huge with the right feed. You could also tell she was nervous, braced, and too much horse for Alex. She was high-headed and reluctant to canter. And Alex didn't know enough tricks to get her soft. With the help of the local cowboy, he was escalating his aids to get her to canter: leg kicks, clucking, yelling, screaming, cussing, and smacking her on the hind end with the rein end. She was, of course, only getting harder and harder to canter and requiring more and more stimuli. I could see a real rodeo about to happen. Thankfully, the local cowboy had to run off, and so this left the arena to Alex and me. To this point, I had been riding mostly on one end of the arena keeping my thoughts to myself and focusing on Lola.

But now, I joined Alex in riding, and I encouraged him to ride next to Lola and me. As I thought she would, his mare cantered more easily when she was asked to canter and follow Lola and me. The palomino mare was obviously feeling scared, wanting for leadership, and trying to figure out how to get away from the stimuli she'd been receiving without really understanding. She was really not in a place to ride independently from Lola, and Lola was distracting her from working.

Alex offered me a ride on his mare, and I reluctantly accepted. I don't like riding in saddles other than my own, and I was really wishing for a night latch with this new horse. I mounted well enough, noting that she was a tall horse and it was a long way down. I never really got the stirrups the way I wanted them. And when I tried to flex her from the saddle, she was just one big muscle and braced tight. This was no way to ride a horse. I did some hindquarter yields, and this got her thinking, which was better than braced. I did a little more flexing, and was making small progress with letting her realize that I was going to be offering a "release" quickly. But by this point, she was already too braced and wired to really get soft in just a few minutes, so I didn't do much more than walk and trot. I don't even remember if I asked for the canter much. It was clearly a disaster waiting to happen, and I didn't feel like getting bucked. I surrendered her back to Alex, and we finished the ride in the arena without challenging his horse much more.

I'm a big believer in: ask, tell, promise. In fact, I don't usually ask more than twice for something from my horse. If I move my arms forward and start walking from the saddle, that's me asking my horse. If the horse doesn't move forward, then I'll tell the horse to move with more forward hands and more energy from my seat. If the horse still isn't responding, heaven help that horse, because I will use everything in my arsenal to get that horse moving forward and I will not stop. And if I have to get on the ground and move the horse around for safety reasons, I will make that horse wish I had never dismounted. I never beat the horse, but I do make the horse work until I see signs of submission and softening and UNDERSTANDING.

If I've done my ground work, I shouldn't have to do much work from the saddle. What I saw in Alex's mare was that she needed ground work, tons of it. There was no submission, she had not accepted human leadership, and she was too darn dangerous to ride, in my opinion. I estimated 5 good round pen sessions and 10 more with longe work and lots of yielding. And my first rides with her would be in a riding round pen with less distractions. Only then, once she was moving freely into a canter at the FIRST ask, would I bring her out into the arena. I don't know where she came from, or what form of neglect she had received other than under-feeding, but there was a lot to learn about this horse before I would have felt comfortable with her.

But we survived that ride, and chalked it up to an adventure, and I got busy with work.

Alex went back to ride her about 10 days later. He took his family with him, and mounted her to ride in the arena. He asked her to canter, and she quickly started bucking. He was thrown, landed hard, and immediately had no function of any of his limbs. He was airlifted to a local hospital, where it was determined he suffered a C7 and T1 verterbral body fracture with some subdural bleeding. He recovered limb function about an hour after the fall, but will require a fusion surgery in the near future. He is looking to sell his horse back, and has been advised by his physicians to never ride a horse again.

I consider Alex to be a very lucky man. I went to the hospital a few hours after the event, and I can tell you he did not look pretty. The community has been praying for him, and I hope he makes a full recovery.

I, in no way, blame the horse. She might make a fine mount one day, for the right person. But she will need a skilled rider and some time.

It's just the same old story of a young horse with an inexperienced rider.

I felt really badly for a while that I didn't do more to keep Alex off that horse, but I've forgiven myself and reminded myself that I can't rescue a grown man. But I do think I'd do some things differently if I had to do it all over again. I'd probably be much more outspoken about my concerns. But short of that, I don't know what could have been done.

I hope this writing helps someone...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Joey's Work in Progress

I've had a few more rides on Joey. There have been highs, and lows.

Behavior: He continues to show a little bit of interest in mares, my mare Lola in particular. Hard to say if he's acting like a stallion or just a co-dependent horse. Lola is much the same way towards him. I think they have a crazy, co-dependent thing going on at the moment. Yuck.

Under saddle: He is becoming VERY responsive to subtle cues. Wonderfully voice trained for gaits, and stopping very nicely with just seat cues. Between my seat and my legs, I feel like I'm hardly in his mouth at all. It's a very cool feeling. And it keeps him tuned in to me. I just love riding this way, and like that he is a horse with whom I can do this.

He is having great difficulty taking the right lead. He wants to take the left lead, no matter how much I position and cue him for the right lead. He was not this unbalanced pre-surgery. As a reminder, his retained testicle was on the right side. I'm wondering if this has anything to do with his reluctance to take the right lead?

He will take the right lead in the round pen, with me off his back. But he does start with the left lead, and then does a flying lead change to the right when I pressure him. Might be he just needs to build up the right side, both physically AND mentally.

He is also a little shy about offering me his right side. So of course, I make him give it to me, gently.

I also saddle my horses starting from the right. I swing the saddle on him from the right side, let down my cinches, and THEN walk to the left to complete the process. It's a trick I learned along the way that reduces one trip around the horse. Most people throw the saddle up from the left, walk around to the right to let down the cinches, and then walk BACK to the left to complete the process. Doesn't make any sense once you try it my way, in my opinion.

He was a slight freak about me swinging up the saddle from the right side when I first got him, but he accepts it all now. And I like to think it's a good way to "build up" his right side to accept sensory data readily. I also will occasionally mount from the right. Although that feels as weird to me as it does the horse!

Trailer loading: Much better, but still wants to ride backwards in the stock trailer. In the slant load, he won't have a choice. But I haven't decided if I'll get serious about changing this or not, because I would probably want to ride backwards in a stock trailer too.

Round penning: He is always a little hot for the first 5 minutes or so, with lots of bucks and a big show when asked to do anything. He'll tear around the round pen for several laps to get the fresh off. Once he settles in, he does very well and responds nicely. But that fresh attitude at the start has become a pattern for him. I attribute it to the paddock he is confined to most of the day. I think if I could give him the larger turn out that the other horses enjoy, he'd be less fresh, because he would have been walking around all day.

Overall, he is as good from the ground as my paso fino, and that's saying a lot because my paso fino Vaquero has excellent ground manners.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A ride on Joey

Even though I knew Joey was not in great shape, I needed to make some time for him. And I was itching to ride him, so I loaded him up and headed down the road to a friend's place to ride.

My friend's place has a big round pen in which to ride. I've never measured it, but it's at least 60 feet, maybe more. It's not a great round pen to train your horse from the ground, but it's a nice one to ride in, because the large size makes it less taxing on the horse.

She also has a nice sized arena, with good footing and solid rails. It's a good place to work on cantering circles, and lead departures.

Joey loaded better than he has been, and was pretty quiet on arrival. I was on the look out for any mares, especially ones in heat. We rode in the round pen after a brief longe session. He offered no buck, no foolishness, and was just a little lazy to go into the canter.

We moved over to the arena, and worked on the basics. He did well, but the rust showed initially. He also showed me his conditioning has gone to heck. He cantered better, but he was huffing and puffing quickly. I didn't push it. We focused mainly on transitions from the walk to trot and back down. I want him moving immediately and slowing immediately when I change my energy. He picked it up pretty quickly.

Overall, a good ride. I think I'll be riding over there more frequently. It offers good training facilities, and plenty of distractions and variety. I think that will be good for him and keep him challenged.