Monday, February 28, 2011

Counter Canter!

The weekend blessed us with lovely weather, far better than one can expect in February. So, thank you to the weather gods! Saturday was sunny, with lovely, comfortable temperatures in the fifties. Buckshot and I did some groundwork in his pasture after he had finished his morning hay. He did well with our exercises, which enable me to start warming him up with large circles in hand, spirals, as well as precision exercises with walk/ halt, or walk/ halt/ back. These exercises also help him to pay attention and focus on me, as well as give me opportunities to praise him (LOL).

We then walked and grazed our way over to the main barn where I had a special treat waiting for him. The farm had gotten a load of some mid-percentage alfalfa hay, and I had some waiting for Buckshot in his stall. Well! Let me just say, he loved it! He put his head down into it, and I don’t think he came up for breath until I had him fully groomed!! (He wanted me to put in an order for seconds!)

We went into the arena, stopping to do clicker training on girth tightening. He did well with it. I hoped he would do as well the following day at the scheduled reining clinic. We went into the arena and started the next step of the gate opening work. From mid-arena, we walked (in hand) to the gate, paused, and I used my hand at a point just behind the girth to get him to take a few steps and be parallel with the gate. He did fine, moving calmly til he was parallel and then stopping. I praised him, gave him a treat, and walked him back to the starting point. We did this three times. I told him he earned an “A” in this lesson!

Then I mounted and we began our walking warm up. After twenty minutes of walking, we began trotting and he had lovely, eager energy. We did wonderful, floaty trotting, and a beautiful straight line of trotting down the center of the arena, at a good, steady pace, and in an unusually straight line! I praised him for this! After several minutes of alternating trotting with walking, we cantered several times. I did well with my aids and he did very well- controlled, strong, but not explosive. I did very well keeping my seat more or less in contact with the saddle, and giving good hand response, moving in time with his head, and, in the curve at the short end of the arena, keeping myself straight over him (not bending into the turn).

Then we were joined by the other riders in our Saturday lesson. We did more walking, trotting and some cantering. The BO instructor was able to give me feedback on my cantering - we did get the correct lead each time (whoopee! That’s not always the case for me!). And she explained to me that what I was doing with my hands was helping Buckshot in the turns at the canter. She said that since I was giving with my hands, and not holding them fixed, I was not jabbing his mouth, rather I was supporting him which gave him more confidence in me at the turns. Isn’t that interesting, how as I get better, he is able to canter better! (Of course, he is much more advanced at the canter than I; I am grateful for his patience with me as little by little, I am progressing at it. Boy, it is a hard gait!)

I see my own progression as well. I am able to actually think more while I’m cantering; things like “tap with outside foot,” and “keep straight-this is a turn” and “steer him here” have room in my mind. Other thoughts, such as “keep seat twisting” and “move arms” stay far in the back of my mind. So I think I am developing a tiny, tiny bit of muscle memory. It is so satisfying and exciting to see my own bits of progress, and hear (from an expert observer) that Buckshot is comfortable at the canter as I get better.

After arena work, we took a trail ride through the woods and ended up at the field arena and did some more work there. I trotted Buckshot and urged him in the trot, and he did lovely, very energetic but controlled, extended trotting. Then, when we were behind another horse, trotting, and I asked him to slow slightly, he responded and eased off. When I felt we had done plenty of work, considering the limited riding of recent weeks, I backed off to do a cool down walk. The class shortly returned, down the driveway, to the main barn. What great work Buckshot did! I was so proud of him.

The next day, Sunday, we went to the reining clinic, taking four horses and riders to the clinic. The BO went, her husband, another rider, and me, with four horses. The weather was cloudy but pleasant temperatures. We had a great time! I have to brag, forgive me for bragging about my sweet horse, but I have to brag! We did a counter-canter! I have always thought of this gait (if indeed it is a gait) as super advanced and one that I am years away from attempting. So when it came up in the clinic, I was not very sure at all of it. But I watched the other riders, and listened closely to what the trainer told them to do. When it was our turn, I was ready to give it a try. The exercise was: do half of a large circle in the canter at the left lead, then go straight a few strides, then turn to do a circle to the right while staying on the left lead. So Buckshot and I started, we got our left lead canter just fine, got to the point of straight strides, and I held my right leg in place, and steered to the right, and we did it!! We came around the turn, and headed back to the other riders! The trainer gave us a huge compliment about doing it! I was so proud of us, just beaming and grinning! My dear, sweet (old) horse just did a counter canter, and so did I! Wow!

We did other exercises, and Buckshot had wonderful, strong, good energy throughout. I think he had a great time as well! He got extra treats after the clinic, and then all of us, tired but happy, loaded our tired horses back in the trailer, got them home and to their pastures. A wonderful day!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Windy Weather Rides!

We had gale force winds here on Saturday, February 19th, steady winds all day, with gusts that seemed they would pull all of the trees from the woods! It was sunny and a pleasant temperature, but the buffeting winds dominated the weather.

I went up to Buckshot’s pasture to see him. He was trying to eat hay, but the winds were blowing it out from under him. He walked a few feet forward, trying to get the hay, take a bite and then the rest blew away from him. Again, he walked forward, patiently following the fleeing hay. I ran ahead, scooped up some hay, brought it back to him and put it under his mouth. He took a bite but quickly changed his mind about eating hay. He didn’t know that hay could run away from him!

Looking around his pasture, I noticed several of the trees down. I immediately started walking in their direction, and Buckshot followed at my shoulder. I could almost hear his excitement to tell me: oh, yes, come see the trees, the trees are down, we’ve had such excitement in the pasture this week, the trees are down, come see them! It turns out the BOH had taken down two trees to make more room for grass; they lay on the ground on Saturday and looked very funny. Buckshot wanted to give me a tour of his new pasture digs! Such a chatty horse!

We tacked up, and headed out to the main arena. I couldn’t believe how windy it was, and my dear, special horse never once spooked! I have to give him credit, because I was spooking- oh, my, what a gust, oh dear, that’s strong, uh oh, what a big gust that is! I was more nervous than he was! He trotted and cantered nicely through it all – what a great horse! Later, all the school horses in our class handled the wind just fine, but when the instructor told us to dismount, I felt a sigh of relief!

I've decided to work with Buckshot on opening a gate from the saddle. So, following instructions I found in a magazine, Buckshot and I started our new goal on Sunday. It was much less windy on Sunday, but cool and partly cloudy. When I got Buckshot into the arena, I explained to him what we were going to do, to work on the various elements of gate opening, from the ground, before we put them together under saddle. The first step is to lead him up to the gate, stop facing the gate for a moment and then walk away. We did it three times, with Buckshot being very cooperative and standing in front of the gate quietly. He did seem to wonder what in the dickens we were doing?? But he liked getting a “good boy” and a treat after each effort. I told him he got an “A” in his very first gate-opening lesson! The next thing I have to work on is getting him to do a side pass while under saddle. That will probably be a lot harder than lesson one. LOL!

On Sunday, we also rode on the trail, rode in the field arena and had a wonderful time. We did a lot of trotting and a fair amount of cantering. He really has a lot of “try” for a horse, always willing to respond to my aids.

I created a new exercise as well. Earlier, in the main arena, I had left the gate open for other riders. After Buckshot and I had ridden a bit, I wanted to give him a break, so I lengthened the reins and stopped steering, and let Buckshot go wherever he wanted to. Well, you can guess where he wanted to go! He always ambles in one and only one direction: to the gate! Since I didn’t want him to ride out of the gate (and probably back to his stall where he would ask to be untacked!), I steered him gently away from the gate as he got close to it. I decided to use his gate-focus to good advantage: I walked him in a circle partway around, then released the reins and let him move to the gate, then I gently steered him back the other way, in a half circle and released the reins. We were doing figure eights with the gate helping us! He did very well at this for a few minutes, then I gathered the reins and asked him to go back to work!

Overall, we had a wonderful weekend with two rides in which we worked on some trotting and cantering as well as some patterns. He had a lot of good energy and seemed to enjoy it! Hope you had a good weekend- now I’m going to go read my favorite blogs and see what everyone is up to!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mild Winter Weekend Riding!

Right in the middle of winter, our weather turned (temporarily) mild and sunny. So Buckshot and I got in two wonderful rides this past weekend. The arenas had good footing so we rode in both of them.

We also did some groundwork in the pasture and rode in the round pen. On Saturday, our class warmed up in the main arena, then walked down the road to the field arena and had a nice time there. Buckshot had good energy, and several times gave a strong, floaty extended trot. It felt like we were flying! So wonderful! We also did a few canters that weren’t bad at all. I did so much posting in the saddle I thought my legs would fall off! I could tell I need to strengthen my legs for this much work! But it was wonderful to have such a good riding day, with good footing, and good weather, and a horse that seemed to love it as well! Good Buckshot!

On Sunday, we planned to go to the reining farm for a clinic. The BO couldn’t go with us so we planned for the BOH, another rider and myself to go with three horses. I went to the farm Sunday morning, and after making sure our tack and gear were in the trailer, and after getting the stall set up for grooming, and chatting for a while, I went to get Buckshot. I was, as usual when trailering him somewhere, a tiny bit nervous, but I reminded myself that I know what behavior Buckshot has shown before, and I can handle it. We walked over from his pasture, eating grass along the way. As we approached the trailer, sitting right by the barn in “ready mode,” I expected to hear him blow through his nose. He didn’t. We headed to the barn and into his stall. He ate his treat of a small bit of sweet feed in the feed bucket. I expected him to start walking around the stall, poking his head out over the door, perhaps calling to another horse. He didn’t. He stuck his head into the hay and munched away. I groomed him.

(I tried a new trick with myself. Since I was feeling a bit nervous, I made myself smile as I groomed. The purpose was to encourage my nerves to quiet down. And it worked for me. Keeping a smile on my face did make my nervousness dissipate. Wow- a good little tip for myself!)

After all the normal grooming was done, we still had time in the stall, so I began doing a massage technique that I like, where I take his mane and tail brush and run it slowly down his back, over his haunches, down the back of his leg to a few inches below his dock. I did this three or four times on one side, then walked to the other side and did it several times on that side. It is a long stroking motion, with the brush offering what I think is a comfortable amount of pressure. He seems to like it.

After a few minutes of this, the BOH (barn owner husband) came to get us and tell us it was time to load. We went around to the front of the barn where the trailer sat. I gave Buckshot’s lead line to the BOH and he headed toward the ramp. At the ramp, Buckshot put his front feet on the ramp, and then paused. He just needs a moment; he doesn’t argue or pull back, he just takes a moment and then walks right in. I met his head at the window and secured the trailer tie, and gave him a treat. After the three horses were safely and quickly loaded, we hopped in the truck and left.

It took us a little over an hour to get to the reining trainer’s farm. We unloaded the horses and I walked Buckshot around a little. It was a busy place. Several other horses were being tacked up at nearby trailers and a few horses were in the arena. We got tacked up and mounted and we started our walking warm up.

We had a wonderful clinic. Although it was very windy, and sometimes hard to hear the trainer because of it, a group of about 8 or 10 horses and riders did a series of exercises and routines. I had a great ride on Buckshot. He was full of good energy, and seemed to enjoy the weather and the setting and the work. In one of the first exercises, we had to ride large circles and come through the center of the arena along a straight path. The trainer let me ride it at a trot, and Buckshot and I did well. The second time, doing the same pattern to the left, was super- I asked Buckshot for a canter and then rode it very well all the way around to the straight section. The trainer said we did great and to stop. I was so proud of us!

We haven’t ridden much in recent weeks (because of weather or footing), certainly not much cantering, so I was really pleased with that canter. As we did other patterns during the clinic, Buckshot offered the canter several times and I rode them, trying hard to steer better and to keep my seat in contact with the saddle. I was really glad to get that much cantering and trotting done, and since it was interspersed with a lot of standing/resting in the middle of the arena watching the other riders, I didn’t think it was too much work for Buckshot. When we watched the serious riders do sliding stops and fast spins, I whispered to Buckshot, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to do that!”

After the clinic, we got the horses untacked, loaded up and back home safely. I walked Buckshot to his pasture, and he did his usual- rolling just as quick as he could find the right spot for it. Then I fed the horses in his and the adjacent pastures, and told him what a good job he had done!

A great weekend break from bad weather and frozen footing! And lots of sore muscles (mine!) also! I hope you got to spend time with your horses as well!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Dewormer- Yuck!

Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011, was rainy, grey and gloomy. At the barn, Buckshot and I worked on our groundwork in his pasture, using our plastic cones. He was very interested and did a great job. After the groundwork, we walked around the farm letting him graze. He found some very tasty sections of grass!
On Sunday, the skies cleared and it was sunny and nicely cool, in the fifties. We planned to do a trail ride, and the main arena was wet but usable. I went up to Buckshot’s pasture to bring him to the barn for grooming. Several other horses were laying down in the delicious sunshine. I felt bad getting Buckshot from a siesta time, but, as is his usual custom, when I approach him in his pasture, he never moves off or acts like he doesn’t want to come with me. Well, he doesn’t come up to me either. But he never argues. As we walked by his pasturemate, lying down in the warm sunshine, I whispered to Buckshot, “I’m sorry to take you from all this, but we have important work to do! It’s very important work that only we can do.” I imagine he likes to do very important work.

I groomed him, tacked him up and took him out towards the arena. His energy was up, so we did a few exercises, and I worked on refreshing our clicker training to tighten the girth. He remembered it pretty well, the girth got adjusted, and we headed into the arena to mount. Then we began our walking around. Another boarder, who I hadn’t seen in months, was in the arena on her horse as well. The BOH came into the arena on his reining horse. The BO brought out one of her respected school horses and mounted her young grandson on him.

Then suddenly, without warning, the other boarder horse started bucking, sent his rider into the air, and then wildly ran out of the arena and into the adjacent areas, saddle flapping on his back! The rider got up, unhurt, and the BO immediately turned to help get the loose horse, who was running fast back and forth. Horses in nearby pastures started whinnying and running around, apparently excited about the adventures of the loose, fast horse. I slipped off of Buckshot and walked him up to the grandson’s horse and stood holding both horses (just in case the loose horse came back into the arena). The young reining horse stood very still. A few minutes later, the loose horse had been caught and his owner headed off to the round pen with him. Whew! A good outcome! No people or horses hurt!

We regrouped, remounted, and went on a nice trail ride through the lovely woods. If I may brag, I was so proud of Buckshot that he didn’t flinch when the horse started bucking and running loose. Maybe he has seen a lot of horse antics at the race track and so isn’t fazed by it. Whatever the reason, I was so proud of his calmness. He also calmly took the lead in the trail ride several times, and did great. (That hasn’t always been the case. When we first started riding on the trail, over a year ago, he would balk and hesitate when we led. But over time, he has changed and now takes the lead confidently when we have to. Good boy!)

After the ride, I praised him profusely and gave him his post-ride carrots. I walked him slowly back to his pasture, letting him graze on the way. Unfortunately, I had an unpleasant chore to do. It was time for his dewormer. He hates it so. But it has to be done. So, after getting him in his pasture, I held his halter and slipped the dewormer into the side of his mouth. He stood stock still, not moving a muscle, as I held the bottom of the halter and waited for him to swallow. It is as if he is thinking, I will not swallow. I will not swallow. And how can you be so mean? I will not swallow. I can outwait you, lady.

And so I stood there, not saying anything. Then I made swallowing noises with my mouth, and his tongue made a motion. I stood. He stood. I can outwait you, lady, he was still saying. (He is very persistent.) I made another swallowing noise with my mouth, and his mouth made another motion. Then I let go of the halter, and he immediately walked away, sulking. He spit some grass out of his mouth. He just stood, looking sad and sulky at me. I felt so bad. I had a treat in my pocket but sometimes (the only time) he won’t take a treat after a dewormer. I walked slowly over to him and offered him the horse muffin. He didn’t take it. I put it back in my pocket and started toward the gate. And he followed me, which surprised me, since I knew he was slightly mad at me for giving him something that tastes so terrible. I stopped and got the treat out of my pocket and offered it to him again. Again, he didn’t eat it. So back in my pocket it went and I walked away. And again, he followed me! At the gate, both he and Lucky were right behind me, so I split the muffin in two. Lucky eagerly took his piece and Buckshot finally took a piece. Then I told them I would fix their dinners and headed to the feed room to make them dinner.

(Secretly, without laughing at him, I have to laugh - he is so funny! My most willing horse becomes mad, and sulks when he gets a dewormer. I feel bad because it must taste just horrible. But it so funny to see how determined he is not to swallow, and to make sure I know he doesn’t like it or like me. But then, in time, he will come around. Poor boy!)

I hope you were able to have a ride or spend time with your horses, preferably without dewormers! LOL!