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.