Monday, May 14, 2012

Joey Update.

We had quite a week of rain last week, so my riding with Joey has been hampered by the weather.  Despite the weather, I have managed to get in about 4-5 rides over the last 10 days.

Yesterday, I hauled him to Tejas Rodeo and rode in their big, beautiful covered arena.  I wanted to see what he would do without the training cones we had been using in our home arena to mark out his circles.  He did great.  We have established a warm-up routine, and this seems to settle him whenever we start work or travel to a new place.  It involves some neck flexing to both sides.  Some head lowering exercises.  A little hind end yielding, and some longeing on a training halter and lead.  We do all this from the ground before I ever mount.  It only takes 5-10 minutes, but it gets him checked into me and establishes our connection.  If he is still too distracted, we spend a little more time doing the exercises.  Then I mount, and we flex the neck a bit more from the saddle. A little warm up moving his shoulders and hind end, and then we are ready to perform. 

He did very nice circles in the arena.  I was able to use my legs to direct him when he moved a little outside of the circle.  His stops were good and aggressive.  He is really getting his hind end down and stopping quickly.  He is carrying his head better and rounding his back.

One of my main objectives yesterday was to get his lead departures done correctly.  This is something I have always struggled with on Joey.  And like every horse problem, it was probably my fault.  You see, I was kind of focused on getting his front end in position for the correct lead.  I was thinking about his back end, but probably not enough.  I did a little reading from Larry Trocha's website, and he stated that the rear end is what mattered.  The front end will follow the rear end.  Just yield the hind end, and then push them into canter, but don't quit on the horse too early.  In other words, don't let go of the heel pressure moving the hind end over UNTIL they start to canter on the correct lead.  My problems was: (1) worrying more about the front end when my emphasis needed to be on the back end, and (2) releasing my heel too early before Joey was in the canter.  Why was I doing this?  Because I let Joey train me that he didn't like my heel moving his hind end over and I probably was worried he was going to buck with too much heel pressure.  See, I don't hesitate with Woody, because I KNOW he won't buck.  But with Joey, it's always in the back of my mind.  But I pushed through that tiny kernel of fear, and just did it yesterday on Joey, and it worked wonders.  Yeah, he swished his tail the first couple of times, and acted bothered, but once he learned the release was coming if he would just canter off in the correct lead, it was pretty much over.

My thinking is a "hind quarter first" lead departure.  You can click on the link above from Larry Trocha's website for a better explanation.

The rest of the afternoon was spent with my friend's new horse.  This is a 20+ year old horse, used on a ranch in the past, ridden by everyone at the stables that wants to ride a horse, used as a lesson horse, used to carry the flag in opening ceremonies, likes to canter.  Remember, this is my same friend who was thrown from a horse and had surgery to his spine.

Yesterday was the first time I had the opportunity to "handle" this horse.  He was pulled from his stall after a week of stall time due to the weather and brought into the arena.  He was crowding my friend at the walk and while standing still.  He was just absolutely in his space.  My friend, Alex, wanted me to longe his horse as he saw me longeing Joey. But first, I wanted to see what this horse knew.  He would not flex at the neck without moving his entire body.  No biggie, a lot of green horses do this.  But this is supposedly a "super broke" horse!  His neck was like iron, solidly braced.  I got a little flex and his body still after about 10-15 minutes.

Then to longe, the horse had very little clue what to do.  I spent another 15 minutes getting him used to the idea on longeing on a lead line.  It wasn't pretty, but it got some energy off him.  He kept wanting to canter, but I got him licking and chewing and trotting easily after a bit.  He still had a major tendency to lift his head VERY high when worried.

Then to bit him.  He wanted to keep his head very high, and I don't like this.  So I spent another 15 minutes getting him to lower his head in response to pressure.  Then when I approached his head with the bridle, he leaped up and popped the lead rope.  Then Alex tells me, "Yeah, I heard that he was tricky to bridle".  Really?  You don't say?  Another 15 minutes of desensitization to get him soft for the bridle, and he was finally bitted up.  I have NO IDEA when or IF this horse had his teeth looked at or floated, and neither does Alex.

By this point, Alex was so freaked out about this super broke horse's behavior, that he was expressing reluctance to even ride him.  Along about then the head cowboy shows up, the one that's been giving Alex lessons and that encouraged Alex to buy this super broke horse, and proclaims that there's nothing wrong with this horse, and jumps on his back and rides him around the arena and shows everyone what a great horse he is.

At this point, I walked off and just stuck to Joey.

I have no doubt that this "super broke" horse could be a good horse.  But I also have no doubt that he's the wrong horse for Alex.  I could easily work with this horse, but Alex is so green, he's never even bitted a horse, and now he has a horse that is difficult to bridle.  This horse has poor ground manners, easily corrected if you know what you're doing, but Alex doesn't know how to deal with this yet.  This horse wants to just go and go and canter fast and furious, and Alex is just off a neck injury and cannot afford to fall.  I could see in this horse's behavior that he has Alex's number as a rank beginner, and he was taking advantage of Alex at every opportunity.  This is yet another disaster in the making.

I will only mention the other drama of some woman coming over and giving me free advice on how to handle Alex's horse.  I stopped working with Alex's horse and invited her to work with his horse if she was a trainer.  But if she wasn't then she needed to shove off as I would refuse to work with this horse with an audience of free counselors.  She left in a huff.

It was quite an adventure.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Guiding and a New Bit for Joey

Joey and i enjoyed a trail ride after some arena work this past Sunday.  On the trail, he stumbled once, and then his rhythm sounded different.  I couldn't place it. I was probably just too relaxed.  But coming back to the barn, I realized he had caught a shoe and flipped it off.  Just like that.  Amazing how easily they can lose a shoe.  That got him a 2 day reprieve from riding.  Thank goodness, the farrier was coming out for routine shoeing anyway.

But yesterday, it was back to work for Joey.  What follows are some follow up remarks from our first reining lesson last week with Todd Martin.

Problem: How to get a better stop on Joey.  It seems I used to have a better stop on this horse than I do now.

Answer: A big run makes for a big stop.

Solution: Huh?  What the heck are you talking about?  This answer really had me stumped.  Sure sure, I can understand that running hard will mean a better sliding stop because you'll carry more momentum, but I don't really care about that.  I just want a better stop.

And then I rode Joey the way Todd suggested, cantering him harder and harder, faster and faster, really driving him, and then abruptly stopping the ride with my body WITHOUT pulling on him, and he sat down and gave me a good stop.  Ah ha!  The thing is, now Joey WANTS to stop because he knows he's working hard and I don't care how fast he runs, and he's looking for a release, and when I stop riding, he gets the release by stopping.  A big run makes for a big stop.  Now, I get it.

Before, with me in his mouth trying to control the speed of his canter and letting him brace against the bit, he was insensitive to changes in my energy or my seat.  Now, running free on a loose rein, he isn't braced on anything, and he is clued in to my energy.  Amazing.

I am also making him back up with every stop, as Todd suggested.  But I think the difference has been freeing up the horse to let him FIND THE ANSWER, rather than controlling everything he does to avoid trouble.  That was just frustrating to us both.

Problem:  I'm not really progressing with getting a getter "handle" on this horse.  I expected he'd be neck reining better and responding better to my cues.

Answer: When you are cantering him in your hard circles, use the outside rein to guide him.  Rely less on your inside rein pulling him into position.  SUGGEST and GUIDE where you want him to go and let him find his way there.

Solution: So I did this.  And it works.  And now his reining is much better.  This has been one of the best tips I have picked up so far.  I was using direct reining far too often and too much.  I wasn't trusting Joey.  More specifically, I wasn't letting him make mistakes and THEN correcting him.  I was an over protective parent trying to keep him out of every trouble.

In addition, I am reining Joey in front of the horn, not pulling down and away.  I also used a leverage bit for the first time with him yesterday. He chewed on it a while.  He was very sensitive to the bit, but not SOFT.  This may take some time.  He hasn't really been soft with anything I've thrown at him. Not as soft as I'd like anyway, not as soft as say Woody or Lola, much older and experienced horses.  But I need Joey to come along.  Much is going to be expected of this horse.  The easy ride is over.  So far, he's been a champ.  I'm not going to rush him, but he isn't going to sit in the back of the class and avoid the assignment any longer either.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Reining lesson

I had my first reining lesson with Joey and Todd Martin on 4/27/2012.  I was with him for about 3 hours.  It was overwhelming.  There was so much information coming at me, I was mentally dizzy.  In fact, I didn't sleep the night after the lesson just trying to process it all.  But I have spent the days since the lesson trying to physically perform the lessons learned, and develop muscle memory.

These are a few of the tips and problems we encountered during the lesson.

Question #1: Joey doesn't seem to know how to canter slowly. He just wants to tear around the arena.

Answer: Let him.  Encourage it.  He lacks confidence.  He hasn't been allowed to run on a loose rein.  He needs to just run and run and get it out of his system, to know that he can really run and will be OK with you on his back, and that he isn't running off anywhere.

Solution: So I let him run.  RUN FORREST RUN! The past 3 days, I have just absolutely opened him up.  I've been driving him hard and letting him run and run and run.  Guess what?  He doesn't seem so keen on running anymore.  Ha!  I guess now he knows what it feels like, and he is realizing it's a lot of work, and he's over it.  And I think the reason he lacked confidence was because I lacked confidence.  He's a young horse, and I wasn't sure what he was going to do or if I was going to DIE.  He must have been feeling the same thing!  Well, we both survived and we are not so afraid of it anymore, so we are slowing down and developing confidence in one another.

Question/Problem #2: He doesn't canter a good circle.

Answer: Practice,  Teach him the circle.  Mark off a BIG circle, maybe 100 foot circle, and just do it.  But if he cuts off the circle or goes wide, bring him immediately across the circle and make him do the part he did poorly again until he gets it right.

Solution: So I did the circles.  And by day 3, he is much improved.  And we are doing the circles full speed, mind you, until he starts slowing down.  When he swings wide, if he doesn't immediately correct with my legs, then I bring him across the circle like a semi-circle, and start over again in the same lead.  And we don't stop cantering when we cut across either.  I don't know exactly how it works, but it does.  Todd said that when they swing wide, it's because they want to go that way, out the arena or towards something that caught their eye, so by making them leave that every time they try to go that way, you are teaching them to focus on the circle of pay the price by working more.  Something like that anyway.

Problem #3: How do I warm up the horse?  Todd watched me flex and do my warm up routine and he wasn't impressed.

Answer: Really ask him to do something when warming up.  Get his hindquarters and shoulders free and moving.

Solution: These reiners are really into spurs.  They don't break the skin or anything, but they are spurring and asking the horses to do things constantly, I noticed.  So while I've been content to warm Joey up with a little flexing, I need to be asking for more.  An inch of hind end yield is not enough.  It needs to be more and more.  The first contact with the spur asks the horse a question. The subsequent spurs touches are telling him to figure it out, whether it be to yield shoulders or hind quarters, and only release when he's answered well.  And it's not really a hold with the spurs, it's more of asking over and over but louder each time.  Until eventually, he gets that he really should find the answer quickly or more spurring is coming.  All this while maintaining a brisk walk or slow trot for forward impulsion, and with neck flexed.  And while keeping your seat and making sure your spur is touching him in the right place: up by shoulders for shoulder yield, ribcage for bending around your leg, more back for hindquarter yield.  And consistently done.  Whew!

This has been one of the hardest things for me to do, because it really asks a lot of a rider.  But he is moving more freely and is getting softer in the face.

Problem #4: How to get Joey flexed at the poll and softer in the face.  I have been having more success with the bosal in getting him flexed at the poll and giving with his face, but the bosal really limits how you can direct them versus a bit.

Answer: Todd suggested that he likes the snaffle, but that he think Joey is old enough to go to a leverage bit.  Not for more hurt on him, but to more clearly get him soft in the face.  Todd's horses will literally give their face so much their chin touches to their chest.  And while you wouldn't keep them there forever, it does make it easier to then let up and just keep them flexed at the poll.  I have been struggling just getting Joey's face vertical.  And I really don't think the snaffle is the best bit for this lesson either.  Even on my other horses, the snaffle will get their heads up in the air.  Put a leverage bit in with a mild port, and they keep their chin tucked without any bit pressure other than just the weight of the bit.  It seems to be a more clear signal to them.

Solution: I have several leverage bits, but I will likely use one I have with a mild-moderate port for tongue relief, Myler brand, 6-7 inch shanks, with breaks in two places across the bar to make it easy to control one side versus the other, secured with a leather chin curb rather than chain curb.  I haven't tried it yet, but it's on my list.  Especially as I seem stuck with the snaffle and Joey.  I know he can give me more of his face than he is doing, but I think the nutcracker effect of the snaffle is confusing him.  That's what it feels like anyway.

That's enough for now.  There are probably 4 more major points, but I'll leave that for another post.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

2 hours on Joey

Extended ride on Joey yesterday.  We rode for about 2 hours.  Lots and lots of transitions, trot to canter.  Lots of trotting with head kept flexed at the poll.  In the round pen, he is giving a slow canter, but he still tends to rush and want to go fast in the more open arena.  That's OK for now.  I think he'll settle down with more work.

We worked on a lot of leg yielding, and I attempted the half pass.  He and I did great with leg yielding, but the half pass was another matter entirely.  But even if we didn't get it much, it DID keep him thinking and it kept him soft.  He isn't just charging about anymore.  He's flexed at the poll and I swear he's just really in tune with me because he doesn't know what crazy thing I'm going to ask him to do next.  And because he has such a good personality, it's really fun to try new things with him. 

We also did a lot of arcing.  I want him bending around my inside leg.  I'm wearing spurs to cue him more precisely, and he's getting used to the spur without being hyper-reactive the way he was in the beginning.  Mind you, this is just cueing; there is no jabbing with the spur.  I have a gentle rowel and a very short shank on my spurs.  They're my absolute favorite spur after spending a lot of money on spurs I didn't like or that I felt were too harsh or too long and bumped the horse unintentionally.  I'll wear this pair for the rest of my life. 

This morning, Todd Martin called.  He's back from competition in Houston, TX and ready to meet me and Joey.  So tomorrow, we have our first reining lesson.  Should be interesting.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Joey in Braids

One of the things I am working on with Joey is picking up the correct lead.  I usually trust my seat, but I sometimes need the visual "look down" at his shoulder to make sure what I am FEELING is what is actually happening.  And Joey's mane is thick and long, and drapes to the right, so the very lead direction he has trouble with and the one I most need my eyes for, is often obscured.  Hence, the need for braids.

It helped a bunch.  I was able to quickly glance down and confirm that there were times when my seat told me he was in the left lead going to the right (wrong lead).  I was able to bring him down to the trot and re-try the correct lead departure with much more success and immediate feedback to him.  And by the end of our session, we were both picking it up better.

He gave me a very slow canter to the left yesterday evening (his dominant lead).  I think he is getting in better shape, and this is showing in a slower canter that requires better strength.  Also, he is reacting less and thinking more.  This is the moment I live for in a horse, the moment when we can learn new things instead of just being in survival mode.  It's taken about 7 rides over the last 14 days, but his head is in a better place, and I feel us making strides in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Adventures 2012

It's time to saddle up and start posting again.  The horses had most of the winter off, loafing and fighting.  The spring has also brought about a few changes.

I have moved from Bulverde to Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas.  I'm about 30 miles from my previous residence.  The move has provided me with a bigger, newer barn.  Unfortunately, it took away my wide open front pasture and lighted round pen.  But God provided, and my back neighbor has a wonderful arena and round pen that she is allowing me to use.  And when I say nice arena, I mean very nice, good footing, and big size.

I don't have as many trails to ride, but the horse community in this area is more extensive.  I hope to start reining training with Joey very soon.  I have spoken with Todd Martin, a local reining trainer, and I hope to begin in about 3 weeks.

In the meantime, I'm getting Joey and I in riding shape.  I kind of let him get away with being a little "strung out" last year.  That is, I didn't insist he ride collected all the time.  I wanted to build trust and work on his freeing up his canter and trot.  Also, he used to do a head trick where he "pushed peanuts" while at the trot and canter, and it always brought him out of balance and stopped his movement. It took me a while to get his head up and flexed at the poll properly.  In other words, I think he thought just dropping his head to the ground was what was expected, and what I really wanted was flexion at the poll and his head carried in a neutral position relative to his spine.  He's young, so I just think he needed to figure it out.

Well now, with his head off the ground, I want flexion at the poll. With a lot of rust still on, we were working on conditioning and NOT bucking, and so I resorted to a German martingale to help the process.  This has really helped to keep him from picking up his head and making a big to do with his head when he transitions to the trot or canter.  And it's allowed me to focus on speed control and the space between his ears, lest he decide to get frisky.

Yesterday, we rode in the the bosal, and he did very well.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I'll just use the bosal alternating occasionally with the German martingale for a while, at least until he's better conditioned and giving to pressure.  Already, things are progressing nicely. 

My goal is to have some of the rust off and have him in good shape for formal reining training to begin in 3-4 weeks.