Monday, July 25, 2011

Extreme Weather - Fun Horse!

This weekend was the first weekend of really extreme weather here in Virginia- temperatures in the high 90’s with severe humidity causing very high heat indices. Add strong sun, and this was weather just to survive. So I took all my serious weather gear to the barn to see how Buckshot was doing. He handled the weather just fine. I planned to do just very easy things with him, no riding definitely in such weather, but I had some ideas about things to do on the ground.

On Saturday, I took him from his pasture to graze in some grassy areas. Then we walked down the road. He walked further than he had in the past- about ten yards further! Good boy! Then more grazing and walking around. He led me in the direction of the barn (perhaps he wanted some of the alfalfa hay I give him there?) but we went on by it and back to his pasture.

By that time, I needed a major rest from the heat, so I repaired to the main barn, a big fan, an outdoor chair, bottles of water and a snack, and just chilled out. After recovering, I had an epiphany about going down the road, and went to get his stall ready for some grooming – putting alfalfa hay, a bit of sweet feed, and clean water in the stall. I went back to Buckshot’s pasture and got him again, took him out grazing, and headed again to the road.

He walked nicely down the road as he had done an hour ago. This time, when he stopped and seemed to be at the end of his confidence, I turned to him and said “Buckshot, walk. Treat.” And he started walking again! LOL! He walked another twenty yards before he stopped. At that I was so thrilled, I praised him and dug into my tote bag for the German horse muffins that he loves. Good boy!

I hadn’t previously thought to use treats before, and specifically, announced treats, to help him on the road. It worked wonderfully! It motivated him to walk a bit further than he had, and it gave him a reward that he loves! We turned back and went back to the barn, where in his stall, he found his alfalfa hay, and I groomed him. I then took him to the wash stall and gave him a nice rinse of cool water, squeegeed him, and walked him back to his pasture. What a good boy he was! And on such a hot day, too.

On Sunday, the weather promised to be just as miserable as Saturday, so I decided to give Buckshot a new challenge, one that would be fine in such hot weather. After grazing him a bit, I led him to a shady area, apologizing that there just are some times when the human needs a shady spot. LOL! Then I taught him how to bow! I said the word “bow” then pulled his head gently down toward the ground, then I tapped behind a front leg with my hand until he moved it forward. I praised him and gave him some apple pieces. We did this several times so I think he understands the work “bow” now. How fun! I told him he should practice it this week in his pasture, so we’ll see on Wednesday night, when I go back, how improved he is!

After our training session, I led him down the road, eager to try the announced treat again. He walked calmly as far as he went the day before, then he stopped. I turned to him and said “Walk, Buckshot, treat.” And he started walking again, energetically. We made it very far down the road before he stopped again! I then gave him praise, his muffin treats, and we headed back, to the barn and to the alfalfa-grooming again. I am so proud of him, that he walked quite far out of his comfort range this weekend. I am glad that I thought of introducing treats, and announcing them (as a sort of bribery, I know), and it did motivate him. I look forward to doing more of it, and getting him all the way to the end of the road!

Despite horrible weather, I had a wonderful weekend with Buckshot, doing some new and fun things. What a wonderful horse! I hope you found some non-riding fun things to do as well. Breathe over at HorseCentric blog had a great time with her horses, doing a fun game with them. I want to try a similar game myself. Thanks for the inspiration, Breathe!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Exciting July Weekend!

This past weekend – July 16-17 – had some wonderful Buckshot moments in them. I’ll give a few of the Saturday highlights and share a little bit more about Sunday. First, Buckshot’s rain rot has been cleared up! Hooray! I gave him a bath after our Saturday ride, with the medicated shampoo. When his hair is wet, it is silky smooth and I can feel every tiny bump on him, and his bumps have gone! It has taken two months of daily treatment, weekly shampoos and tool cleaning, but it has finally cleared up.

The other highlight to mention has to do with Buckshot’s new sense of exploration. As we did our walking warm up, we stopped in the center at one point. After a moment of standing still, he began to drift over to the open gate. I let him go, to see where he wanted to go. We walked out of the arena, he took a left turn and walked by the closest barn. As we neared the second barn, where he and I do his grooming, he turned in toward it. I could see the barn doorway was at my eye level, so I gently steered him away, and turned him around, to which he responded willingly. But I had to laugh and wonder, why did he want to ride back into the barn? We have never ridden into the barn, naturally. (Now that I think about it, at the barn we used to be at, and which he lived at for years, it wasn’t uncommon for riders to ride in the barn aisle. The aisle was very broad and very, very tall.) How funny that he wanted us to ride right into the barn!

Here is the exciting thing – we then went back to the arena and did a few more minutes of work, and then I decided we’d go exploring down the farm road! This is the road that leads to the farm’s other arena, off in a distant hay field. I haven’t been able to get Buckshot to go down the road by ourselves yet, either riding or in hand. But with his newfound confidence, I decided to try it. We headed to the road. I could sense a bit of uncertainty on Buckshot’s part – he wasn’t walking with quite as much purpose as when he was walking us to the barn. But he listened to me and we started down the road. At about one-third of the way down, he made a left turn and detoured toward a pasture gate. So without missing a beat, I led him in that direction and then turned him back toward the original arena. No argument, no discussion. If that was as far as he wanted to go, on that day, well, that was fine with me. Next weekend we’ll go farther, I’m sure. So back to the arena we went, and continued our work and our riding. We had a great ride, overall we rode for two-plus hours! Buckshot had good energy at the trot and the canter. So it was a great day for us! Good boy, Buckshot!

On Sunday we were scheduled to go to the reining clinic. When we first started going, many months ago, I would walk Buckshot by the already-in-position trailer, in route to the barn for grooming. He would snort or blow when he saw the trailer. After grooming him, he had a lot of energy. Excitement energy? Worried energy? I couldn’t tell. But I addressed it by taking him in the arena and doing a lot of little exercises in hand. Circles, backing, walking in squares, walking diagonal lines, anything and everything I could think of. And it definitely helped. It got his mind on what we were doing and off of the big trailer nearby. Then, and this was, again, in the early days of going to the trainer’s, as I walked him to the trailer, where the BOH was waiting to walk him into his partition, he would start trotting and partially prancing. He would get on the ramp and stop, and after about 1-2 minutes of just standing there (no snorting, no quivering, no resistance, just standing still), he would walk forward calmly and get into his partition.

It is so interesting to me, now that we have done this twelve to fifteen or more times, how he is different. Now, when we walk by the trailer, he doesn’t snort. He does make the tiniest blow sound, barely a normal blow sound. After we groom, we go out to the arena and he has just a bit more energy. We do our exercises and stay busy until it is time to load. He seems very calm. But as I walk him over to the loading ramp, and to the BOH, he still does the partial trotting, partial prancing thing. Then he walks onto the ramp, stops for appx 1 minute and walks in calmly. He is funny. But I really appreciate how easily he loads. Recently I saw some other horses being loaded and they were quite a handful! After that, I remembered how wonderfully easy Buckshot is to load and I so appreciate it about him! Good, good boy!

At the reining clinic, the trainer wanted all of the participants to go, one at a time, into his round pen and lope without reins. The idea was to help us feel the rhythm of our horse’s canter, without the diversion of reins, to help us with our seats. After watching the first rider do a great job at this, it was Buckshot and my turn. We walked through the many-chuted configuration of pens (Buckshot did fine going through these tight quarters), to the gate, which had a pipe frame overhead. Buckshot went a little quickly through the gate, and I bumped my head good on the pipe overhead. But, luckily, my helmet took the hit, not me. Hooray for helmets! (And as an aside, I do wear my helmet even when riding with the other western riders, none of whom wear helmets. I remember one day a few months ago, at the clinic, and I realized of all the riders there – about 8 or 10 – I was the only one wearing a helmet. For a moment, I felt conspicuous, but I shrugged it off. I am a committed helmet wearer, and plan to always be one.)

Anyway, back to the story. I’m going off on so many tangents, sorry.

Well, Buckshot and I were in what seemed like a teeny-tiny round pen. The trainer is very nice and accommodates Buckshot’s age and if needed, limited capabilities, and so he said to me to just do whatever I felt comfortable doing in the round pen. I wanted to lope, without reins! That’s what I wanted to do! But I’ve never successfully cantered Buckshot in a round pen for more than just a few strides, and sadly, we’ve never really loped, that beautiful, slow, controlled canter that these reining horses do so nicely. We just canter- strong canter. I know as I develop my skills at the canter, we may be able to do a more controlled canter, but it isn’t in my repertoire just yet. But maybe this was the day, I thought hopefully! I started Buckshot trotting and he did well, and then I kissed and tried to get the canter, and, well, it fizzled. I only got a few strides from him and they seemed to me to be so fast, and he seemed to be running right into the pen sides, and well, suffice it to say, we didn’t lope. But we did what we could, so I didn’t feel too badly about it.

We left the round pen and went to stand with the other horses and riders. A few minutes later, I guided Buckshot over to the arena (and this reining arena is very, very big), and decided to just practice our canter. We cantered quite well, one time we went all the way around it, with me keeping a good, decent seat and steering him! Wow! It was wonderful! We did a bit more cantering after a break, and I felt it was just such a great day for us. We did accomplish some good work, even if it wasn’t in the round pen.

Later in the class, we were at sort of a break, and I decided to take Buckshot back into the round pen and try the lope again. We wove our way through the pens and to the gate and again, Buckshot slid into the pen quickly. I walked him around the pen and could instantly feel his nervousness. He just didn’t seem comfortable in the round pen at all this time. I don’t understand why, but regardless of knowing why it bothered him, I rode him out and back to the arena. His nervousness immediately went away. Still, overall, it was a wonderful day and weekend for us – with some new adventures and great riding work done, and rain rot gone! I hope you had a wonderful weekend with your horses as well!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Adventures with a Confident Buckshot!

I want to thank Carol of Dressage Training Journal, who is training a wonderful horse, Rogo. She commented on my last post about how similar Rogo is to Buckshot. They both will walk energetically to the arena’s open gate, and then go outside of the arena, only to lose their confidence or eagerness or both. How funny! And what are they thinking? I wish I knew.

This past weekend Buckshot and I had some new adventures with this behavior. On Saturday, it was quite hot and humid. The main arena had a lot of puddles and water spots in it, mainly along the rail, due to some heavy rains. But regardless of the water, I knew that Buckshot would be fine in the arena, although we would have to ride in the smaller available area. We began our phase one walking and Buckshot did well, responding to my cues despite the heat. I worked for a while on my legs and seat, e.g., on guiding him with just my legs and seat to see if I could use my reins less. Buckshot was great at this; in 8 out of 10 direction changes, he got it right from just my leg aids. Just a few times I had to also pick up the reins to give him the direction. I was surprised and pleased by this. To be honest, I didn’t do anything different with my seat; I just didn’t know what to change. But still, he would respond from just my legs. Wonderful!

After a bit of trotting, and then even a few very nice canters, we went to the center of the arena to stand and give him a bit of rest. This is when I will lengthen my reins, and this is usually when he starts to walk toward the open gate. So I let him walk, just to see what would happen. Well, out he went. He turned left and headed toward the barn where we groom and tack up! I thought with amusement, where is he going? Why is he going back to the barn? It isn’t the place where I dismount, so he couldn’t be thinking, it’s the end of the lesson, time for you to get off, Jan! Before we got into the barn, I steered him gently back to the arena! What a funny guy! But he had walked with purpose and eagerness (although he wasn’t hurrying or tense or worried or anything like that), to a totally new place for us! I thought, he is feeling confident about exploring! Good for you, Buckshot! Confidence in a horse is an attribute that I have read about a few times in my horse reading, but it seems to me to be elusive, and hard to see. Yet, that was what came into my mind as he calmly took both of us off towards the barn, and probably right into the barn if I had let him. Since I didn’t want to try to turn him around in the small space of the barn aisle, I didn’t let us get actually into the barn.

Later that day, Buckshot and I led on the trail ride, through the woods that had many watery places, puddles, and large ponds. He did great in the role of first horse. He never balked or stopped at any standing water. And I noticed that on our walk back through the woods, his energy picked up just a bit! Perhaps knowing that at the end of the ride, he would get a treat and a bath. I was very proud of him.

On Sunday, it was again very hot and humid and I decided to keep our ride fairly easy. During our phase one walking, Buckshot was very slow, going barely one mile an hour LOL! At the beginning of our warm up, I am fine with this very, very slow walking. After ten minutes, I urged him into a normal walk, and after our twenty minutes, I asked for a trot. He did an extended walk. I asked again. Again, extended walk. So I asked him for a walk and stayed at that. A few minutes later, I asked for the trot again, and he summoned the energy for a nice trot. After a minute I asked again, and he did the most floaty, controlled power, extended trot, using the whole arena. Wonderful!

We stopped for a break in the center of the arena and I lengthened the reins. A few moments later, Buckshot started inching towards the gate, so I let him go to see where he would go this time. His stride picked up and out we went! He went across the grass, over a hill and towards the chicken house, then turned right, in the same direction as his pasture. I gently steered him back to the grassy area by the arena, and had him do a large circle, then steered him back into the arena. He wanted to explore again – this time not to the barn, but over to a totally different section of the farm! I was amazed! He seemed so confident, and calm about this new adventure, that he initiated and that I ended only when it seemed best to not wander off too far. He never balked when I steered him back to our normal area and then to the arena. I can only explain it as perhaps his confidence in himself, maybe in me, and in his farm surroundings, has grown and given the chance, he likes to explore. Wonderful!

After going back to the arena and doing more work, I decided to really test the waters, so to speak, and take him, for the first time ever, on the trail by ourselves. The day was quiet, and terribly hot, and there weren’t any other riders around, and Buckshot was very calm, so it seemed like a good opportunity to try this. I told Buckshot, how about if we go find some shade in the trail, and go a bit down the trail. In the back of my mind, I was alert, as I know in general it isn’t as safe to ride in the woods alone as it is with a riding buddy. But I thought we’ll just go a little ways on the trail, and then return. And we’ll see what happens. If Buckshot gets worried or nervous or I sense a problem, I’ll dismount and walk him back. So off we went! And to my surprise, he did great! He never became nervous or antsy; he walked with energy and calmness down the trail, over the bridge, turned around, and came back. I was thrilled!! Good boy, Buckshot! He did very well on this new adventure.

That is why I describe it as Buckshot’s confidence has grown; he has shown initiative to go places that he hasn’t ridden to, and he went on the trail alone for the first time. And he still listened to me and responded when I steered him away. The next time this opportunity arises I am going to lead him down the driveway road, toward the field arena. The last time I tried to ride him there, he balked severely and wouldn’t go. Even in hand, I have only been able to lead him halfway there. He walks down the road just fine when we are in a string of riders. But with his newfound confidence, I will try to ride him down the road again. I am terribly curious to see the outcome. I’ll let you know.

How do you gauge your horse’s confidence? Have you seen it change over time? Do you know why? I hope you had a good weekend with your horses as well! And thank you, Carol, for your comments – Rogo is a wonderful horse!

Visit Carol's blog here Dressage Training Journal

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

July 4th Weekend Rides

This past weekend was very hot and humid in Virginia. I adjusted my expectations of myself and of Buckshot accordingly. That said, I had a great time with Buckshot. He is such a wonderful horse, I am so grateful that I am his person.

On Saturday I checked the rain rot we have been battling since mid-May. It is greatly reduced but still affects the back of his right hind leg. I sprayed it with Eqyss spray before we began our grooming or riding.

After grooming him in his stall, I brought him into the aisle to bridle him and put his fly mask on. I am bridling him in the aisle for now, because it enables me to practice how to remove his halter, and put on his bridle, while standing next to him. This is something I have to do when we are at the reining trainer’s farm, and I have to admit, I haven’t been very good at it- leather straps everywhere, lead line here there and everywhere, which goes first, etc, so I have had to ask the BO for help and haven’t been able to bridle him on my own. For this reason, practicing it in the barn aisle is excellent training for me. I am now getting the hang of what to do first, second, third, and not getting the various pieces of leather and rope intermixed.

After Buckshot was tacked up, we headed out to the arena. The BOH was using a chainsaw by the arena so we took a few minutes to work, in hand, in a nearby area. I led Buckshot in circles, then in straight lines followed by backing, etc. He is always very responsive to these little exercises we do when we are in a holding pattern and need to keep busy. I like doing them because they keep him engaged with me, and he seems to like to show that he can do any of these requests I make of him. Good boy!

Then we went into the arena and started our phase one walking. I left the gate open and twice we walked out of the arena to the grassy area. Buckshot is so funny! When he sees that I am headed toward the gate, his walk picks up, like he is quite happy we are going to walk to a new place and he is happy to go there. But then, a few yards outside of the arena, he loses his confidence and seems very unsure of this new world we are in. So I give him direction and guide him to a particular spot, and then circle him to go back into the arena.

After our phase one, we started trotting and Buckshot had good energy and responsiveness, despite the heat. Saturday is the day of our riding lesson, so after a while several other horses and riders joined us in the arena. The farm had sustained a lot of tree damage from a recent storm, so the trails were dicey. So instead of going through the woods to the other field arena, we all walked down the driveway to it. At the field arena, the footing was good and we did some trotting and a canter. The group then tried to go onto a trail, but a lot of limbs blocked the regular trail so we came out of the woods.

We went back to the field arena and did more trotting and cantering. Our instructor had each of us canter in turn, and we discussed the characteristics of each horse’s canter, and how to ride it. It amazes me how very different each horse’s gaits can be. Buckshot and I went last and did our best at the canter. I was able to keep my seat pretty well in contact with the saddle and focus on steering Buckshot to stay on the rail.

The BO gave me some advice: to let out my reins a tiny bit and to also not pull my reins back (to my stomache) quite as much. She said that Buckshot has a very powerful canter. She also complimented me on my seat. She thought that with a little tweak on my reins and hand movement, it might be a little more comfortable for Buckshot although he might canter a little faster. I made notes of her advice at home that night. We then turned toward the driveway and went back to the barn with our hot, sweaty selves and horses.

Buckshot did great! I was very proud of his hard work doing cantering and great trotting for me! After untacking him, I gave him treats, and then took him to the wash stall and gave him his now-weekly bath with medicated shampoo (to fight the rain rot). Then I sprayed him with Vetrolin to act as a sunscreen on his large white blanket area on his haunches, put a dab of baby sunscreen down his broad blaze on his face, and walked him back to his pasture, complimenting him on his great work as we walked.

Once at his pasture, he rolled, and then I treated his leg with iodine-povidine, applied his weekly Equi-spot fly treatment and put his fly mask back on. He must have felt overly sprayed, medicated and lotioned by then! LOL! But I hope he knows I love him!

On Sunday the weather was hot but not brutally hot, so we got to canter a bit more and I worked on the tips from the BO. Buckshot did seem more comfortable with me giving him a little more rein and not pulling back as far. We even went smoothly around the short end of the arena, staying at the canter nicely. It was wonderful! I love to see tiny bits of improvement in my skills and see how it really does help the horse! I can’t help but imagine and wish for even more improvement by me, to see how even more wonderful cantering on Buckshot will be! He knows all of this, it is me who is behind him in the learning curve. So I am grateful to him for his patience while I learn more. What an endearing quality horses have, this patience with us while we learn. How touching.

On Monday, I had the day off of work so I went out to the farm. It was brutally hot so we did a very easy ride- no cantering at all, only a few strides of easy trotting and the rest was walking. The woods were usable so we went on a trail ride. After we ascended some of the hills, I heard Buckshot exhale, as if to say, boy! That was hard! My sweet horse, I wish I could carry him up the hills!

After our ride, I rinsed him off and sprayed him and took him back to his pasture. What a trouper he was the whole weekend! We had good, safe, relatively uneventful rides on a hot summer weekend. And I made some improvements in my canter. Hope you had a nice July 4th weekend as well!