Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Watching for a Hurricane

Hurricane Earl Approaches

The last few days my thoughts have been on the impending Hurricane Earl. It is supposed to hit the East Coast. I am worried. We in central Virginia have reason to be worried. Seven years ago, another hurricane came inland here and it was devastating. So anytime a hurricane is headed up the East Coast we are all on alert. And while the prediction currently is that it will stay offshore, anything as big and as powerful as a hurricane can make a several- hundred- mile shift in direction rather easily. So we are worried. Preparations are being made. Relatives are being contacted. Prayers are being said. Fortunately, I am not too worried about Buckshot, my horse, as he is at a very good boarding farm, with lots of other horses, and a very secure stall/turn-out barn that will give him good shelter if needed. I sure hope this thing passes by and stays out at sea.

Weekend Riding

Hurricane aside, Buckshot and I had some great times this past weekend. On Saturday, we did our round pen work, and he was very responsive. I swear he can read my fingers now! He also finally cantered all the way around, in one direction. I was very proud of him! The other direction, which is his weaker one, didn’t work so well. But I was pleased with his effort. When we then went to the arena, we practiced our exercises and patterns. I tried something new and added the canter to two of our patterns, and they went great!

We then went on the trail with several other riders. At one point, nearby hay balers could be heard. They sounded like huge monsters, crashing their way through the woods. Buckshot thought they were coming right for him, and would eat all of the horses on the trail, so he got very, very nervous. His energy quickly approached panic level. In front of us was a rider on a new horse for her, so I didn’t want Buckshot to run into them. We were surrounded by dense woods, so running through the brush wasn’t a good idea. So I quickly jumped off of him and led him by hand. It took him several minutes to relax and realize it wasn’t his day to be eaten. We walked the rest of the way. I tried at one point to move him next to an upside down water tub, to try and remount him, but he wasn’t cooperative. So we walked back to the arena. Then the class walked through a harvested cornfield adjacent to the farm. Buckshot had never ridden in this area, but he remained calm and didn’t get nervous. Overall, a great day.

On Sunday, it was beastly hot and humid again. Oh, will this weather never end!! I am so tired of it. Although Buckshot and I worked in the round pen again, I didn’t work him as hard, due to the humidity. We had an okay time in the arena. His energy level was low in general, which I guess is to be expected on particularly hot and humid days. Still, I was a bit disappointed in our canter circles in the arena. Whether it is due to my aids, my riding, or him, Buckshot didn’t want to stay at the canter on a circle. So I have asked the BO for more private lessons. I need her expertise to tell me what I am doing right, or wrong. And how I can cue him more effectively. Or if it will get better just with continued practice.

After riding, the farm was focused on getting a load of hay into the barns. So it was a long, hot, tiring Sunday. Do the horses know how much work we humans go through for them? (smile) Certainly they are worth it. But it is a lot of work to keep the hay in store for their eating pleasure (smile).

Monday, August 23, 2010

Training New and Old....

This past weekend was a good experience for my horse and I. We tried some new training techniques, and repeated some of our old training. And I have now reviewed my photos enough to gulp! Gulp! Share them with you (LOL)!

New Training in the Round Pen
At the suggestion of TR (excellent author of El Rancho Garza blog, link at the right), I started some new training in the round pen. I want Buckshot to learn to achieve certain gaits and stay in them until I change them, including the elusive slow lope. I began with work on the ground. I think that sometimes I underestimate Buckshot’s intelligence and don’t challenge him enough, allowing him to show me what he can learn and do. So I decided that I would develop new cues to the gaits (from the ground) and teach him. I decided to use one finger, pointing up, as the cue for walk, two fingers for slow trot, three for regular trot and four for lope. I began with verbal instruction: standing in front of Buckshot, I said “walk” and held up one finger, “easy trot” and held up two fingers, “trot” and held up three fingers, and “lope” and held up four fingers. I repeated this sequence several times to him. He seemed to understand (LOL). Then we began. Using my training stick (from a famous trainer program, ahem…) to slap the ground a few times, I got him to move away from me, to the rail, at the walk. I used both the word and the finger cue. After nearly a repetition, I said “whoa” and gave him our signal for whoa: my hand, palm down, moves toward the ground. He stopped and came into the center for reassurance. I gave him praise and a treat. We began again, and with a few slaps of the training stick, he moved up to a slow trot. After a repetition, I whoa’ed him and gave him praise and a treat. We began again, and I think he gave a slightly faster trot for the three finger cue. This all took no more than ten minutes. I ended with success at that point. He really did well, learning, I think, the first three cues in the first session. Then I took him to the barn to tack him up and go to the arena for our regular patterns/ exercises/ practice work. He did great. I did okay, but I was doing new training also (more on that below).

More Round Pen Training
On Sunday, we went back to the round pen and worked on our new training again. Since the day was hotter and muggier than Saturday, I took longer at the walk, to help him warm up. He seemed to know the finger cues easily, and when I said “whoa” he stopped and looked at me, but didn’t come into the center. After moving through easy trot and then trot, I tried to get the lope, using my voice “lope,” and slapping the ground to demonstrate energy and using the four finger cue. For several revolutions he just trotted faster. Then finally, he broke into a canter for a few strides. I let him come down to a “whoa” and gave him praise and a treat. We tried it in the other direction, but I couldn’t get him to lope. He just trotted quite fast. I finally decided it wouldn’t come today, and brought him down to a whoa and gave treats and praise. But he does know now that we are building to the lope. And he has been responsive and learned finger signals rather quickly. So I feel success at this new training effort!

We went on to the barn, and then the arena, and when doing the canter (which I called lope), we had some very good results- my seat stayed stuck to the saddle and the steering in circles wasn’t bad. I deliberately cut short our session because of the extreme humidity. The BO observed and complimented me later on what we had done, so (smile!) I felt great about it!

The Photos
Well, the photos above are of me on Buckshot. They are the better ones I have. Several other photos showed me some things I hadn’t realized about my riding, like how I sit perched up and forward, almost like I’m going to take flight over Buckshot’s neck! I had no idea how perched I was. I also could see my stirrups were too long. They hadn’t felt too long, but I could clearly see that I was raising my heels. And lastly, and most embarrassing, I could see how I pooche (is that a word?) out my midsection. Goodness! Where is my posture? Where is holding in the all-important core of my body? I had totally let it go to pot! How humiliating! And yet, how enlightening!

I also had photos of the reining trainer riding various horses and I compared my seat to his! His seat was immensely better than mine! His stirrups were better. His posture was better. So the photos, much to my chagrine, clearly pointed out some of my faults! With that in mind, I went to the barn Saturday determined to improve. “ I will sit back more,” “I will sit back more,” “ I will sit back more” has been my mantra. “Hold tummy in” has been my other mantra, and I am trying to do it at work, and in the car, and at home. As for the stirrups, they are the easiest to fix - I shortened them. While riding, I tried to work on my posture and my seat. It will certainly take me a while to retrain these areas, but they may very well help me ride better overall. Overall, while some of the pictures embarrassed me, they did show me a few things that are really good to see, unfortunately.

So both Buckshot and I began new training this weekend! I am going to be optimistic – That both of us can learn new tricks! (And speaking of tricks – how does he get out of his fly mask? I found his long nosed fly mask on the ground Saturday, with the Velcro straps still attached!! Does he open the straps, take it off and somehow attach them back together??? He’s like Houdini! With his fly masks! I think he must make a game of it! What a character!)

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Reining Clinic - Anticipation and Rewards

Saturday – Last Practice before Reining Clinic
Saturday was wonderful – the weather cooperated with temperatures around 90 and fairly low humidity. Although I still ended up pretty sweaty and dirty by the end of the day, (LOL) it was still much better than the 100 degree weather we had a few weekends ago. And the sun was out, the sky was a beautiful shade of medium blue and a lovely breeze wafted over us.

My anticipation and eagerness grew as I drove to the barn. Upon arriving, I saw people everywhere - weeds were being trimmed, grass mowed, everything was being tidied up for tomorrow’s clinic.

Fast forward to ground work. When I went to Buckshot in his pasture, I decided to do one groundwork game with him, before bringing him to the barn to groom and tack. We did a game I call Bingo. I lead him to something in the pasture – a tall weed, or a tree branch, or a tree stump – and say “touch this.” When he touches it with his nose, I say “Bingo!” and give him a treat. He loves this game. We have a lot of other groundwork things we do, but I haven’t been doing them lately, as I am more focused on getting a little bit more time riding. But it is good for him that we do groundwork – it gives him variety, and some new kinds of work, and purpose, and treats!

Fast forward to riding Buckshot. I had a list of my exercises and patterns to work on, and I planned to work on the canter. We did pretty well, he was attentive and willing during our ride. On the canter, I did my “twist” reminder and stayed well in the saddle. Someone blogged recently that she had worked on giving soft canter aids, because otherwise her horse thought “we’re barrel racing, so I’d better go, go, go!” (I’m sorry I can’t remember who said it; I want to give her credit.) But as I gave my aids to the canter, I couldn’t for the life of me think of how to make them soft. Driving home I pondered this again. Perhaps I could whisper the word “canter.” Perhaps I could make a very small kiss-noise. I’ll try this and see if it helps.

We didn’t get to canter much because another rider, whose horse is a bit unpredictable, came in the arena. And shortly after that, other horses came in, for the 1:30 lesson. For our lesson, we did a trail ride. This gave both Buckshot and me a break from the arena work. By the time we finished up the trail ride, I looked at my watch and realized we had been riding non-stop for almost two hours! Buckshot did great for such a long period. After I untacked him, I gave him carrots and took him to get washed. Then back to his pasture, eating grass on the way.

Sunday – Day of Reining Clinic

The clinic was great! We had good weather, and about nine horse and rider teams. We had several trained reining horses in the mix so it was neat to see them doing some really impressive lopes, spins, circles and sliding stops. But we also had several non-reining horses, including mine, Buckshot. The trainer had each of us work on a square pattern in which we focused on steering the horse straight on the rail, turn, straight again, etc, and end with coming into the center of the arena to do a stop and roll back. The first rider who rode the pattern had a very nice lope on her horse. “Gosh,” I thought, “I don’t know if we can do that at the lope- it’s such a small square, hmmmm.”

Two riders later, the trainer called my name. As I rode by him, he said it was fine to start with the trot. Buckshot did a nice trot, that I posted to, and we did nice clean turns and straight lines. By the time we had done a full revolution, I felt good impulsion from him and decided to try it at the canter. I gave the aids and away we went!! I got decent turns, helped by sticking my inside elbow up in the air, and my butt stayed pretty well in the saddle. We did our roll backs and picked up the canter again. Then we repeated it in the opposite direction. It felt pretty good, not as smooth as a controlled lope, of course, but I felt in control the entire pattern, and not like I was flailing around. Which is progress for me! As I finished, the trainer gave me the nicest compliment – he said he was very glad to see my improvement, and that I had done really well at controlling Buckshot, much better than a few months ago, when Buckshot called the shots. I even got applause, led by my instructor! I felt so happy and proud of myself! To get such a compliment from a real expert reining trainer. And compliments from the other riders who have watched me practice over and over. Wow! That was the highlight of my day (week, month)!

As the other riders rode the pattern, the trainer gave feedback and encouragement to each. I was all ears, as he tends to give insights during his various observations that are terribly helpful.

One such tidbit was: when you give aids to the lope, open the horse’s inside front leg, so that he can reach out with it and get the correct lead. And if needed, raise the inside rein a touch, to help keep his inside shoulder up. I am going to give this more thought – it sounds like good advice. I am not sure if he means to keep your inside leg off of the horse, or not. Off of the horse would seem to me to signal more “openness” to the horse. Also, he mentioned to kick with your outside leg, which is the traditional aid. But he specified how to kick. He said stick your toe out to the side a bit, and kick with just the heel. I will work on that. I tend to lay my foot on his side and squeeze it a bit, and then keep it there – and I call it a kick! (That’s really called gripping!)

In all, it was a fun, satisfying clinic, and I am looking forward to practicing more with Buckshot and showing more improvement when the trainer returns.

One other tidbit – I had the opportunity in the last few weeks to get on one of the trained reining horses at our barn. The first time I rode him, I felt like I had two horses under me – such was the sense of power and muscle! And this was at the walk! I was awed by sitting on a young, impressive quarter horse reiner. The second time I was able to ride a few strides at the trot. Very impressive!

Lastly, I finally got some photos of me riding Buckshot during our practice session that I’ll be able to post. I'm glad a fellow boarder was willing to take pictures of us!

Monday, August 9, 2010

On Riding, and a Funny Gadget Story

I hope you had rideable weather this past weekend! In Virginia, we had pretty nice weather (low 90’s, bearable humidity) so I was happy. On Saturday I went to the barn and got Buckshot ready to ride. I was ready to try cantering in big circles! Well, as often happens, just after you make big plans, things change. There were more people in the arena, so I couldn’t do quite what I planned to do. We had a good warm up and worked on some exercises and patterns. I worked on riding deep into the corners, inspired by posts by Carol at her blog, Dressage Training Journal. (See her interesting training blog here Dressage Training Journal) ). I decided to try and canter a circle using half of the arena (since the other half was being used by other riders). We did pretty well at it, but the funniest thing happened! As I was riding a circle to the right, I noticed that each time my butt contacted the saddle, I felt a ping in my shoulder! What was that?? I kept going, at least to finish one circle. Goodness! Nothing hurt after cantering, but that was a strange sensation. The BO came out and watched me canter, so I asked for some feedback. She said I was doing well, and to keep working on staying in the saddle, and that she could see I was trying very hard, and that that was good. That was fair feedback; I could feel more bounce in my seat than I want to have. After a cool down, we joined several riders on a long trail ride, which was a nice change of pace, both for me and for Buckshot.

After giving it more thought later on Saturday, I decided that I was just a bit too ambitious to do circles, and that I still needed to focus on my seat at the canter. So on Sunday, I went back, renewed and committed to the seat. I’ll get back to circling in a bit. This day, Buckshot and I had the arena to ourselves. We started our warm up, and did a variety of exercises and patterns. When I felt he was listening to me and had some impulsion, I was ready to try a canter. I readied my aids (legs adjusted, reins slightly adjusted, verbal “are you ready?” cues) as we walked around the corner of the arena. Buckshot responded and started cantering. I thought/yelled to myself down the entire side of the arena “Twist! Twist! Twist!” as I made my butt slide back and forth, while my upper body moved forward and backward with his movement. It worked! My seat stayed in contact with the saddle much better! After a brief rest, I tried it again – ready my aids, ask for the canter, and “Twist! Twist! Twist!” yelling in my mind, so that I would keep my focus on just one thing! (Of course, I was still steering along the rail.) And it worked again! It was helping!! Hooray! The BO came out and I asked her to observe and give feedback, and she gave me good feedback about staying in the saddle much better. She also gave me feedback that Buckshot looked comfortable and balanced at the canter. All very good to know, since I really can’t tell if he is looking okay, from my seat overhead in the saddle. We continued working on the canter several more times, successfully.

So I will keep using my “Twist! Twist!” technique to help me, hoping for that wonderful, but elusive muscle memory to kick in. Someday I’ll be able to think two thoughts while I’m actually cantering!!

Now, for my funny story about gadgets. I have taken to carrying a dressage whip when riding Buckshot in recent months. It had been for those very occasional moments when he thinks he’d like the gait of, say, a statue. It doesn’t happen often but when it does, he can be, momentarily, very stubborn about taking one step forward. Usually a light tap on his shoulder is all the reminder he needs and he resumes walking.

Why, you say, have I been carrying a dressage whip? I know it sounds ludicrous!! LOL. (And here I am with a western saddle, with an English bridle, wearing my neutral blue jeans, my Troxel helmet, and a dressage whip, on a clearly-Western-looking Appaloosa! Very funny picture, now that I write it down….) Well, I bought the dressage whip from Tack for a Day a few months ago (they had a good sale on two dressage whips for a low price) and they are very nice – about four feet long, with a small lash on the end, and a very good rubber handle. I use them with the groundwork that Buckshot and I do. So I had been carrying it into the arena, and using it with our clicker training before I mount, and really just using it to direct him around the arena on the ground by pointing ahead of us. When I mounted, I just kept holding onto the whip and would ride with it. But it was too long; if I moved my hand very much, the end of it could inadvertently touch his flanks when I did not mean to do so. And 98% of the time I rode, I didn’t need it. It became a bit of a pain, to adjust my hands and reins, and watch out for his flanks, all for a one-or two-second tap.

So I decided what I really needed was a telescoping crop or whip – one that could safely go into my pocket when not needed, but was available when I needed it. So I thought of something that fit the bill – a meeting pointer, a silver metal telescoping pointer used (in the old days) by a presenter at a meeting for pointing to things on a slide show screen. I had one tucked away somewhere, so I dug it out and took it with me to the barn. I showed it carefully to Buckshot before we rode, showing him how it gets big, then gets little, and how gentle it is when it touches him. He wasn’t worried about it, in fact, he was only mildly interested. So I started to ride with it. What a great idea, I thought!

In actuality – what a pain! When I needed it, I had to stop, dig it out of my pocket, stretch it out, and then, tap his shoulder. My tap finally occurred about 30 seconds after he had done something needing a tap! He had long forgotten whatever he had done by the time I tapped him. Needless to say, I only used it that day. And nobody saw me use it, thank goodness. It is now thrown back into the junk drawer. Then I went and bought what I should have used all along, a regular crop! It works great!

What crazy ideas I sometimes come up with! LOL! If you had done something like that, share it (I won’t feel so bad)!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sitting Trot or Walking Trot?

This past weekend was, wonderfully, much better weather than the mind-numbing, searing heat we’ve had recently. I went to the barn Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Friday was a day of vacation from work). Buckshot and I rode all three days. Hoorah!! We worked on our patterns, our exercises and on the canter. Friday and Saturday we did great at the canter. But Sunday there were other riders in the arena at the same time and we didn’t do as well at the canter. Oh well. Two out of three rides is still quite good.

I have a set of three to five exercises and patterns written down in advance. I want to make sure we ride a variety of exercises and don’t overdo any single type of work. And we ride on the trail as well. That also gives us a change of pace. One of our first exercises is from 101 Arena Exercises by Cherry Hill. In it, the walk is alternated with the sitting trot. I start Buckshot walking around the arena, or across the arena, or on a diagonal line. After a few strides, in which he is usually a bit pokey, I ask for a bit more, and work up to a nice extended walk. Then I say “eassssyyyyy trot” which is my verbal cue for a sitting trot. Several times Buckshot gave me such a nice trot that I thought we were still walking! I asked for more trot, using my legs. I really have to concentrate so that I can discern with my body the difference between a sitting trot in which we are very much in harmony (and I am not bouncing at all in my seat), and a walk (in which I don’t bounce in my seat either). What a nice “problem” to have! The sitting trot has been a challenging gait for me. To have such a wonderful, controlled trot that I am not bouncy at all is a huge accomplishment for me. In full disclosure, I don’t stay at this wonderful trot for long. But is it me? Pushing him more because I don’t feel the bounce of a trot so I think that we aren’t trotting? It could be. As a result, I am concentrating harder so that I can tell the difference and continue to ride the sitting trot with a stable seat, and no bounce. The exercise is appx 10 strides at walk, than appx 20 strides at sitting trot, then back to walk. It is a very good exercise for us.

Then we move on to some patterns which usually utilize the entire arena. One pattern we do is the traditional figure eight, at a posting trot. I then incorporate other patterns, and then work a bit on the canter, from each direction. Even when the canter doesn’t go great, I pat him on his neck and thank him for his work. I really do appreciate his hard work with me. He can tell I’m still learning, and he is learning how I ride the canter. So it is a partnership effort. I think I am ready to get more private lessons on the canter. Private lessons from our BO help me a great deal. Having the instructor watch me and what I am doing, and giving feedback immediately helps me not to continue to do wrong things, thinking that they were okay. I will continue to work on it, and I look forward to our next reining clinic which is scheduled in a few weeks.