Saturday, January 31, 2009

Everybody Plays!

Every one of my horses plus Nina got to do something today! Had an amazing day with equines.

Trail rode with Rain and Z for 8 miles. Took Cowboy on the trail to Marcy's solo, then with Marcy for a couple miles.

Played with Nina in the western saddle for the first time. The rear cinch and the leather tie straps were quite a lot for her.

Krissy got time with Gemini and we talked about horse psychology.

Everybody played!

Trimmed Nina and Gemini.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Runaway herd

Woke up to a call from my neighbor. My horses had broken through the fence and were roaming the property next door. That neighbor doesn't really like anyone on their property. DOH! I first got Rain and Z, walked them back, then went back out for the other 4. I led Gem and Cowboy home by leading them off the ATV and counting on Nina and Abby to follow.

An hour and a half later, I could finally start work.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Trimming on an empty stomach

Ugh - made myself feel a little nauseous trying to get hooves trimmed without dinner. Got Gem's 4 feet done and started on Cowboy. Got 1 of his front hooves nearly done and had to just pack it up and call it. Whooo! Felt a little dizzy and very irritable.

Glad to get another horse done, though. Right now, Cowboy, Z and Nina need some touching up. It's too many hooves to keep up with. I need to get a trimmer to come help me out.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Freestyle Lesson

Today, I had a 3 hour freestyle riding lesson with my Parelli instructor. We talked at length about my dressage experiences and how I'll balance and merry the 2 worlds moving forward. I want to be sure I don't lose my relationship with my horse or sacrifice what I know about horsemanship as I lesson with a "normal" dressage instructor.

We started with a little groundwork and me asking Z to mirror my gait on the 12' line. She went into the canter with a little attitude, so Kime had me canter her for 3 strides then back to walk. I learned (after she demo'ed) that I can definitely use my body more in my groundwork and simulate my riding more. I cantered, so Z did, then I sat back as if I was riding and asked for the transition down. She learned quickly to watch my body and follow my gait. That was cool. Then, Kime noticed Z was not backing respectfully enough, so we fixed that up by backing her straight for as long as it took until Z changed her attitude. I was working hard at being assertive and probably doing too much and Kime showed me how to ask her to back - not necessarily quickly - and stay straight and assertive and do less until Z started to "think" backwards with a positive attitude. That was all great - groundwork polishing... you've never learned it all.

Then, I got on and we started with freestyle transitions. Z wanted to cook with gas and a down transition was not in her plan! I had to laugh. So, I was only allowed to pick up one rein for the entire lesson. Most of the lesson was riding the rail and I learned to get better about riding the rail and using my direct rein and my body position correctly to keep her on the rail. That was all great. For me, riding the rail at the canter has always been more of a challenging because Z is great about leaving the rail and cutting the corners. We worked a ton on my direct rein and my body (prior to picking up the rein) telling her that she'd gone "out of bounds". I spent a lot of time practicing being very clear with my body and where my energy was directed.

We turned on the rail transitions into the corner game quickly to help Z transition down. If she didn't stop directly in the corner, I would cause a lot of commotion on the opposite side of her until she made her way back to the corner and then give the release. I kept her head facing the corner until she made her way there. And I had to remember to keep my focus in the correct place (the corner) so that I was clear with my signals. That was very cool and new for me.

At one point, Z really had her druthers and Kime had me ride her hard until she ASKED to transition down. She wasn't allowed to transition down herself, she was allowed to ask. If she asked and obliged and then she found a need for forward right away, I was to ride her fast again until she asked again. Whooo!! That was hard! It took all my courage to ride her at a canter/gallop in an english saddle and not hold the reins in an arena with corners that seemed to come very fast! It was exhilirating and powerful to ride her that way and after a few turns and coming out of fetal position (lol) I realized just how effective it was. Z was pretty tired and started to change her attitude about things. I have to remember to lift my 1 rein STRAIGHT UP! And bump her if necessary. I also have to remember to ride the lead! I'm riding straight ahead in the canter and my body should be following her lead with my hip and shoulder on the same lead as hers.

After some time I did some passenger lesson at the canter and would call out the lead I was on. The idea was to get me feeling for it and riding it and knowing which lead from the feel. I've never done that - brand new for me. Lots of light bulbs going on in my head. I was actually surprised how well I could ride her at the canter w/o reins. I was better than I thought and although a couple times she nearly left me in mid-air, I stayed with her all the way. Good for me. When she finally cantered away from the gate, we stopped and I got off immediately. We stood and talked and rested there - on the opposite side of the arena as the barn and let that soak in for my girl.

Some other things worth mentioning - I was not losing my stirrups in the canter, which means I was much better at staying long and relaxed. I naturally went back to pushing backwards in the canter instead of forwards (as instructed in my dressage lessons). Keeping Z on the rail with my seat and THEN my direct rein is very effective - I've been lifting the rein which points her nose, but doesn't get her whole body back on the rail. Also, my head shouldn't drop when I use my direct rein - it should lift and turn in the rein direction.

Loved it. Broke through some thresholds and learned a ton in 3 hours. I'm sure I'm forgetting some things and I'll be playing it through my mind for a couple days so maybe I'll add more later. Still, passenger riding at the canter in the english saddle was a great confidence builder and it's time I pushed through that bubble. I'm good enough now.

Kime and I talked a ton about leasing Gemini, managing my principals while learning dressage, not being Parelli "snobs", Cowboy, how great Z is... just good conversation with a like-minded horsewoman.

I love my life.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Another Dressage lesson

Had a great dressage lesson with Z today. We started by me showing how we're going - what our practice has netted us. I'm still working a little too much in the trot. I started to quiet down even more, keep my center of gravity lower and use my core, not my hips. It's different and I'm unlearning some old habits. We started adding my arms to picture. My arms should stay at my sides and work with my core. I'm so non-specific about my arms when I ride. We talked about how the arms help the energy stay in the core and how much they can help the horse stay between your legs. I had to laugh at myself when I realized just how loud my arms are compared to what dressage riding is about.

Then, we started working on the canter. This is where things got very interesting. In Parelli-land, we're taught to push back in our saddles at the canter and stay in contact with the seat always. In dressage, you push forward and it's perfectly fine to get some lift out of your seat. My horse is never shy about telling me when I'm screwing up and cantering is an area where I never quite have it right for her. So, I'm happy to try something different and see if it makes Z happier. So, for dressage, my back is too round, my legs are too tight and my upper body is ... I can't remember... just incorrect.

So, we started over. She had me stand in the stirrups at the canter. She talked about being deep in the seat and what that means, really. It means following your horse's movement and filling in the holes with your body. Your horse rises, you rise - your horse goes lower, so do you. Makes sense and follows what I'm doing with Parelli. I rode at the canter standing, then found a place to rejoin Z after a few circles and sat back down. She cantered for longer and she was definitely less irritated.

Then, we talked about my inside hip being ahead to follow the lead my horse was on. To exaggerate to teach, she head me look OUTSIDE the circle - which lifted my hip and put it forward. I've spent a lot of time looking in the circle or even on the circle, so that was bizarre to me. But, surprising, it helped Z stay on the circle and her canter started to feel more up and down and less stretched out and fast. After a while, when I wanted to trot, she would offer the canter. Now, she's an Anglo-Arab so it's not any surprise that she'd choose the faster route, but normally when I ask for a canter I get back a sneer first and foremost. Now it was her idea! I also noticed that I was losing my stirrups less in the canter. I should have more weight on the stirrups so my stirrups stay put and I should feel like I'm standing.

Then, we worked on sitting trot. I feel pretty good about that and I think my instructor was happy enough with it. She also commented on how good we looked at the walk. That was nice to hear! We've been practicing a lot. I've practiced on all my horses over the past 2 weeks. I've never been so conscientous about how I sit the walk and I realize now what I was missing. I'm following each footfall, in rhythm with my horse, more out of my horses way than ever.

I now have to keep working on NOT working so much in the trot. I have to stay lower, do less, and be in more harmony while rising. We talked about bareback riding and how my legs should be straighter and my back straighter to ride bareback better. Maybe one of these times, I'll take off the saddle so she can coach my bareback seat.

It was a great lesson and Z was so cool. She's a great partner. She's learned teh stick to me game very well and when I get off, she always stays right with me - all the way to the barn. Or whereever I go. She's teaching me so much - I know why having an opinionated horse is a GOOD thing. I also feel better in my english saddle than I ever have. Time to switch and spend more time in it.

We start Nina in 2 weeks. Looking foward to that! Also, she's been talking about me in her clinics because I've been giving her some advice for the horses she's training. I've been helping her think outside the box and motivate the horses through horse psychology vs. "make". She's so elated about the changes she's seeing. Anyway, her clinic students have asked her to bring me along to a clinic! I, of course, would be thrilled to do it! I may be flying to Houston in the next month or two to experience a dressage clinic and share horse psychology information. I so love my life!

Zarah: 2 hours

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Finding time

I finished work a little early, got kids snacked after school and then I headed out for an hour of horse time. I headed out and felt like kicking off with Cowboy. I had some ideas of things to try with him to cause him to be more supple. We started with a little ground work, but today I wanted to start upping the game. He can do more than I've been asking and he's ready.

I started by asking him to trot when I trot, canter when I canter. He seemed to have some fun doing that! I had him pretty close - maybe 10 ft away and he was engaged and ready to transition up or down as I asked. Then, we went for some trotting sideways on the rail. He got a little defensive as I asked him for more speed going sideways, but he quickly got the idea that I wasn't criticizing him - I just wanted him to offer more to the game. I actually got some cantering sideways! Then, we went for some circle game and I asked him to canter more laps. Until now, I've been happy and content with him simply cantering when I ask. Now, I took it to the next level by asking that he maintain the canter for longer. It was a different game and he was a little confused, but he caught on quickly and got the idea in no time. He's smart, smart, smart.

I was really happy with how he handled me asking for more, so it was time to ride. I hopped on (he's so great about mounting - stands still and strong every time) and we started with some simple follow the rail at the walk. I wanted to work on suppling him with bending a lot at the trot. I realized something today, though. He's a short horse! I can do that all day on Z, but Cowboy sees no purpose in moving fast or far. That's when it dawned on me - no wonder he hated cantering on line so much! He's a short horse! So, I had to pause and remember how to motivate a short horse so we could actually progress. I have some obstacles in my arena and I decided to bend around those and circle each one. After we circled 1 -3 of them, I'd stop him at one and give him a small treat. Ah HA! Now we're talking! He started actually getting into it and trying to figure out which obstacle was going to be the "treat spot". He got a little skip in his step and became a little more interested. I realized though, the best suppling is going to occur on the trail. That's where we'll go next - when I have enough time to dedicate to it.

I hopped off and asked for a little more sideways at the trot. I just think it's a good game for Cowboy and I want him thinking sideways and moving off the rail soon.

Then, I tied him off and grabbed Z. I need to ride her bareback - even if it's just 5 mins at a time. She's so sensitive and so annoyed if I ask wrong, we need a lot of practice. I took her into the round pen and asked for some walk/trot bareback. She got annoyed when I asked for forward to strongly. Whoops, sorry Z. But then we trotted for a bunch of laps in both directions easily and happily.

I finished off by spending just a few minutes asking her to bow. We haven't done that in a while and I had to remind her of the cue on her cannon bone. But she went back fairly easily and it's time to ask HER for more. She's comfortable at a certain place and I need to push her comfort zone. It's a hard trick for a RBI - trusting me is a hard thing for her.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Too tired for horses??

Another amazingly warm January weekend day. I had to tend to some work in the morning and by about 11:30am, I was free to go horsing. They were all in the front grazing and I headed out with my stick and 22'. Rain met me first, of course. Then, Z. Nina was close behind and I decided to just spend a quick 20 mins feeling her out and just testing the games. She was great and our communication was more subtle than ever. So, I let her go and and asked her to head away. She was funny, she circled around me and came right back. I swear, her name should be Bungee.

Then, I got Gemini and ground worked him a little while still in the front pasture. I decided to walk him off the property and up the road, to see where his threshold is. When Krissy rode him off the property, he got very worried at the gate and became extroverted. She was curious if he'd leave ok with me. I was curious how he'd do on the ground first. I'm such a natural horsewoman - I'd rather see how he feels from the ground before I hop on his back.

Anyway, he left with me just fine. He was calm and relaxed. I walked about half-way up my street and he was brave and confident. I'll try it again from his back next. I had a good talk with Krissy about pushing him over the edge and I think we have a better understanding. I'm a little worried about leasing him out because I want his brain intact, he's been pushed hard enough (prior to coming to me). He has a hard time really trusting people and he can go into self-defense mode so easily. We'll see.

I took him back to the yard and then let him go and sent him away. He charged back to the herd and then rolled. He was feeling some stress with me, I realized. He didn't show it. He was calm, head low, reaching for grass. But obviously, he was feeling some stress. Interesting.

Then, I tacked up my Rainer and took her onto the trail. Normally, I pony a horse with Rain. Today, I just wanted time with my best horse... alone. I wanted to focus on my fluid riding at all gates and get her moving and focus only on her. We didn't go far - about 4 miles total. But she was a little hesitant about leaving the herd. By hesitant, I mean she let me know that she wasn't sure it was a great idea. She's subtle and easy-going, but we haven't left alone in months and months. We had a really nice ride, though. We did all gates where the ground was firm enough. The snow melt has the trail muddy in some places. On the way back, she was a little over-exhuberant about getting home, so we worked on sidepassing and backing. She is so much fun to ride. She's like that comfortable shoe you could just wear all the time. We've covered so many miles together. Riding her is like going home.

I had Cowboy and Z queued up for the last of my horse time. What happened next was interesting to me. The sun was out, the air was warm and I just felt like going to my bed and laying down. I've had a hard week and traveled and didn't always sleep great. I just felt tired. I let all the horses back out to the front pasture and I did a few more chores in the barn. Then, I fed my kids and went to my bed. I was practicing cutting my self some slack.

Not enough energy today for horses. Go figure. And now it's Sunday night - back to work in the morning.

Nina: 30 mins
Gemini: 45 mins
Rain: 1.5 hours

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A gorgeous Saturday in January

Today I finally got horse time. It's been since last Sunday (6 days ago). My dumb job was insane this week and then I had to take a last minute trip to Atlanta. Work does really get in the way of horses.

So, there was manure everywhere, horse chores were desperately behind, and it was warm like Spring. Thankfully, the kids were ok with hanging out together while I got some horses moving. I started with Nina. I had opened the trailer door and the horses were all out while I tried to catch up the manure. Nina was so cute and went in and out of the trailer all by herself. Cowboy jumped in it, but then he decided that was a dumb idea and got on out. It was entertaining stuff while I mucked.

A few horses need trims, but I wasn't about to mess with hooves today. I got Nina out of the trailer and put the saddle on her. She was great about the saddle. Then, I took her into the arena after a few minutes with my obstacles. She worked hard (over-worked) again, but less than the previous sessions. I really expect that in the next session or two, she's going to be in the game. For now, she's still showing some extreme extroversion. Her sideways has come along nicely and her squeeze game looks good. I didn't try the figure 8 today - I decided to simply try to get our games better. She has moments of total haul-ass, which make me laugh but can also give me little rope burns. I try to focus on the slide grip and I've gotten pretty good at it. Sometimes though, her haul-ass seems to come out of nowhere. Her circle game is better, but she still gets bracey at times and wants to cook with gas faster than necessary. She can gallop on a 30 ft circle - pretty amazing. She's an extremely athletic LBE.

Then, I spent some time riding Z. We went to the front pasture, I worked on riding her well and my own stuff (my form, following her shoulders) while we w/t/c around. We also did some galloping! Dang, that horse is fast! I got some flowing and beautiful-feeling half-passes, sidepasses, shoulders in and haunches in. She was a little pepped up and she gets very vertical when she's want to go forward. Then, I took her into the arena and we worked on our 20m circle. She was happy to canter nicely on the 2om, which was surprising. We're working on maintaining rhythm in each gait on the 20m circle and this was our best day yet. She stayed on the circle at the canter and I was able to really sit her the best I could. We also worked on transitions and a few times, when I asked her to walk from the canter and she had a hard time, I took her in tight circles. I haven't used the tactic on her in a long time and it was just what she needed. Our canter-walk transitions were much better after that. She was a good girl today - full of energy and go.

Lastly for today, Cowboy. We did some groundwork and he's just coming along so nicely. It's really time to focus on some of the specific L2 groundwork. I'm thinking also that I might film he and I in the next month or so and pass our L2. Then, he could be touted as a L3 horse - officially. He could easily manage the L2 tasks in a short time. That would be cool. His sideways looks pretty nice on the rail - time to get off the rail and progress. I didn't groundwork him for long before I hopped on. I practiced lateral flexion with him, trying to get his neck to relax more. He's very, very stiff in his neck. He's actually very stiff in his whole body. I then did a few laps of walk/trot transitions. He was actually fairly agreeable to that. Then, we worked on snaky bends, but we only turned to the new direction when that direction was soft. That was when I realized just how stiff he is. He literally couldn't really flex into the turn. I imagine it's his mind that has the brace and his body is following. I don't think he's physically stiff. However, we are going to focus on snaky bends and see if I can get him to relax some and let his body flex. He did really well and I learned some things today about where to go next with him.

I have to get out of my day job somehow. I need to financially plan this weekend.

Anyway, I do still love my life, just not the weeks where my job wins. Tomorrow, Rain and Gemini.

Nina: 2 hrs
Z: 1.5 hrs
Cowboy: 1.5 hrs

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Nina, Cowboy and a 20 meter circle

Today, I started with Nina. I did just a little groundwork to make sure she was feeling ok (which she was - Very OK and full of energy!). Then, I took her into the round pen and started letting her reacquaint herself with the saddle and pad. She was quickly comfortable, so I started swinging the pad off and on. She was quickly cool with that, too. Then, I went for the saddle.

I had Steve out there with the camcorder because I thought it would be neat to chronicle Nina's journey to becoming a trusty mount. Yesterday, when she wore the saddle for the first time, she bucked and I thought it would be cool to get some video of that if she did it again. However, today, I put the saddle on and she was non-plussed. She simply walked and trotted and cantered on the circle like I asked. With the saddle. Good girl!!

But then... I took her into the arena to do some more groundwork with the saddle on and she decided it was a good time to show her will. We went for quite a while and I was seeking for a place to stop. She got extremely extroverted and displayed a lot of antics. She had a very hard time with the figure 8 pattern and was struggling to squeeze past me. She showed some defensive behavior with when I asked for sideways and she circled at a gallop. I played some friendly game and tried to improve friendly with the carrot stick - we made some good progress with that in spite of her antics. I look forward to what she offers the next time we play.

Then, I dragged my arena and set up a 20m circle with 4 points. The goal was to get Z going around the circle steady, rhythmically and for me to practice correct riding (dressage style). Z a good girl and she offered the canter multiple times. I didn't want to discourage it, but I also wanted to focus on the walk and trot. The circle got old fast (for both of us) and I played some corner game with her. Then, we did some cloverleaf patterns and I tried to focus on keeping her between my legs and and keeping her pace steady. I didn't feel like my rising trot was as good as when Loma watched me. I have to try again before we lesson again.

Then, I played with Cowboy. I wanted to do a program of calm ground work and get him to trust me a little. Today he did the coolest thing; he sighed when we walked into the arena. He Sighed! He's coming along very nicely. His sideways looks much, much better and he's cantering online with a small ask. I think about the emotions he displayed the session we had in the dark the week before I feel like he acts out when he feels over-stimulated or afraid. I can handle that. He's going to be a nice horse in a couple months. I'm excited about him.

I need to get back to Gemini - at least once a week.

A great day.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Nina's Big Day...

Today was the first day I was able to get out and play with Nina since I made the agreement to train her in exchange for dressage lessons. We had a big day! I started with the 22' and went through all the 7 games. We also played with the figure 8 from the ground (which she thought was entirely bizarre!). Her sideways has improved and her circle game is getting better each time. She seemed to get excited on the circle in the faster gaits and she'd go straight up. She has amazing athletic ability. After a while, I let her off line in the arena and she ran, and ran, and ran, and ran... Then, she'd come barreling back over to me and stand there (sometimes a little too darn close!). She's learning about my bubble and having more respect for the humans in her life. Otherwise, she's simply a fun-loving, smart, athletic and willing horse. I really enjoy playing with her.

I then took some time to groom her, touch up her feet and leave her tied for a bit. She ties just fine and never once has gotten worried or claustrophobic. Then, I moved my endurance saddle to the round pen and took her in. It's time for her to wear a saddle and today was as good a day as any.

I spent time introducing her to the idea of me throwing the pad over her, up her neck, over her haunches. She thought she should move some of the time, but mostly, she wasn't too concerned. She spent a bunch of time checking the pad out, pawing at it, just generally messing with it. She was confident and not worried. I led her around a bit with it on and wanted it to drop off to see how she felt. Again, a confident girl without much concern. I got the saddle on her next. She thought to move her feet a little, but generally she was calm. I cinched it up just enough to hold it on her back and asked her to play some circle game with me.

And then, WHOOEEEE! Bucky buckaroo! It lasted for maybe 25 seconds - which seems like a long time when you're in a round pen with a wildly bucking horse. She settled down and realized she couldn't get it off and it wasn't going to kill her. I let her stand a bit, then asked for the other direction. Nothing - she just went on the circle in the other direction and didn't waste any time bucking. She was calm and ok with it. She probably wore it for 5 mins and got calm and quiet and then I took it off and we left the round pen.

It was a highly successful first day with the saddle. I'm proud of her - she did great!

Then, I got Cowboy out for some work. The day was getting later and I was trying to decide if I thought I'd have time to ride him. I decided to do it tomorrow when I have more time. Instead, we went to the arena on the 22 to see where we left our last session. See, if we left it in a good spot today would be better. If we left in a bad place, he'd have more issue with going back to the arena for more.

He was calm, easy and did it all with ease. He understands the figure 8 online now and did that fine. His sideways is much, much improved and his send and allow on the circle game are way better. He cantered online without any fuss, which made me think that the other day he must have been scared or worried. I'm not sure, but today he was a solid level 2 horse and ready to learn more. I didn't spend a lot of time with him, maybe 40 mins. I groomed him, checked his feet (he needs a trim) and let him hang out. He was just an easy going horse today - no displacement behavior and no worries. Good boy!

Then, Rain was staring at me so intently that I decided to just spend a little time with her. I quickly tacked her up in my english saddle and decided to practice my new dressage techniques on Rain. She's a good horse for me to practice on because I so trust her. We went to my front pasture and I focused on following her body, feeling of her feet placement and being with her movement the best I could. She was gaiting beautifully, so I couldn't practice the trot. I was appreciative of her wonderful 4-beating. I noticed, however, that she was super sensitive to me and I wanted her to be more relaxed. So, after about 20 mins, I took her into the arena.

She was really looking to move out and I truly think she was trying to please me. I wanted her to settle down, which she did. Then, we played the corners game at the walk. I'm quite sure she was wondering what the heck had gotten into me today. I tacked her up with an english saddle, put her in the snaffle bit (vs the rope hack) and asked her for arena exercises. She was a great girl and I really enjoyed getting her out for that type of practice. Normally, she's my steady-eddy horse for ponying others or taking my kids down the trail. She's a highly functional and useful horse.

I love my life.

Nina - 2 hours
Cowboy - 40 mins
Rain - 1 hour

Friday, January 9, 2009

Dressage Lesson #1

After many hours of thinking it over, talking about it, and imagining it, I finally took my first dressage lesson. I did it on Z, again - after many hours of thinking it over, talking about it and imagining it. I've been given an amazing opportunity to start a high-end dressage horse and develop her in exchange for dressage lessons. It felt so strange to imagine leaving my Parelli bubble, but I realized that I owe it to myself to give this a chance. I owe it to my future and my development as a horsewoman.

I first went and watched the trainer ride a couple of her student's horses. I thought it would be good for me to see some L3/L4 Dressage riding. After all, that is where the dressage lessons would take me if I committed over time. It was interesting to watch and I really don't know what I thought afterwards. It's so different from what I do with my horses.

The trainer and I talked about it extensively and I asked her to watch a Parelli DVD. I wanted her opinion on the type of riding I've been striving for in the program and I wanted her to understand where I'm coming from. We had a fantastic discussion afterwards, during my first lesson, about what she saw on the DVD and where it fits in her world and where it falls short. Already, I've learned a ton and we're only in the first week.

I spent 3 hours with her on my levels horse, Zarah. We spent the majority of that time talking and discovering eachother's horsemanship. In small spurts we talked about riding, and she made tweaks to my riding that I have to admit left me feeling more balanced. Some of the concepts are the same, but they are definitely carried out with some interesting differences. I brought 2 horses along, just in case. I brought Cowboy as well. He ended up tied to the trailer the whole time. There is always a lesson to learn - I learned that he does just fine tied for 3 hours and he learned that a trailer ride might just mean standing around in a different location. He was a good boy and gave me no trouble at all.

I'm learning that in dressage, it's all about the core. All the movement comes from the riders core. The core pulls the hind legs forward and directs energy in a particular direction. The hips are always aligned with the horses hips, the riders shoulders with the horses shoulders. This is similar to my background. The difference is that the hips are always maintaining a parellel line to the ground. The hips don't lift or lower. The balance point is further forward in dressage. The rider never falls back on the tail bone, the rider's core is always pulling foward (even when going backward). Dressage covets the forward energy and it is never impeded by the rider. The way I halt causes my body to go behind the horse, a big no-no in dressage.

The hips and core remain fairly constant, following the movement of the horse, but never in the way of forward energy. The rider doesn't push the horse forward with the core either. It's a delicate balance. In the trot, I've been taught to let my horse push me up and control my down. In dressage, the rider controls the up and the down. The hips go up and forward and never just up in the rising trot. In the sitting trot, it's the same only following each hind instead of the diagonal hind. It was a different feeling that I'm normally seeking. To down transition, the hips slow to follow the hind required for the downward gait. So my hips ride a walk, my horse gives a walk. My hips would slow to a halt, my horses hind slows to a halt. In the back up, my core is still forward but my hips would move the hind legs. My seat position was always the same and my core again, was always forward. And you know what? My horse understood just fine. I'm sure I had a quizzical look on my face most of the evening. I opened the door to a whole new world. My horse was just fine with it, too.

In the trot, my hips should stay close to the saddle and should go forward toward the shoulders. The horse should always remain between my legs! We had to focus on that because I often ride Z without much particularity about our direction. In dressage, you're always particular about your direction - you are always the leader of that. The horse's job is to feel the direction and stay with it. So much for a passenger lesson! However, that is not to say that I won't continue to follow the program. I will follow it and I will continue to learn what the Parelli's teach. However, I will be conscious of when I need to horse to stay between my legs and when I can allow her to lead our direction. The biggest offense from this directional "looseness" (can't think of a better word) is that the horse will fall in when they turn. Naturally, they will fall in, lean into a turn and not stay upright. Another big no-no in dressage - the horse's responsibility is to stay up and light on the fore - ALWAYS!

Honestly, I was fascinated. We made some big changes in my riding in 1 session and I'll be practicing this new perspective moving forward. Z also was just fine with it and maybe even happier. The trainer commented on what a great horse she is and how perfect she is for what we're doing. I credit the Parelli program - she's the horse she is because I've followed the Parelli's teachings. I learned that our philosophies are not very different. She respects the horse as I do, she understands horses and how to motivate them, she also despises some of the championship riders' style - as I do. She mentioned the "housewives" that come out and learn dressage and force collection and ride rigid and she called it abuse. I know of a woman that always come to my mind when I think of dressage. I've never liked her style. Loma was talking about her indirectly, and she considers it abuse. Amen, sister.

So, now it's time to learn riding in a way the Parelli's don't teach it. I have to admit the Parelli's fall short teaching riding. They excel in teaching horsemanship, horse behavior, finding mental and emotional collection and many other things. But learning to ride well takes a teacher on the ground. That's where I am in my journey.

I love my life.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Riding in the dark

I planned to go to a friends indoor arena to ride, but my *%#*% trailer lights weren't working. I just had them fixed (well, obviously, not really). So, bound and determined, I asked my little mare if she'd play with me in the dark. She said she would. :-)

So, I took her into the arena after just a few mins of warm up on the ground and practiced riding with 1 carrot stick. We practiced canter departs bridleless, lots of bridleless transitions, and large canter circles. We played with the figure-8 pattern as well. She did scoot out under me a couple times when something caught her attention from behind, but really she did fine riding with me in the dark. The interesting thing was much more I could feel of her because I didn't have my sight! I couldn't easily see if I was on teh right diagonal or not, if she was irritable or not, I had to feel it out. That was great for me!

Then, I put her back with the others and took Cowboy out. Tacked him up and took him out to play. He was worried! He tried, but honestly, he kept his eye on the barn. Because he couldn't protect his 2 mares? Because he new that's where safety was? I didn't get a chance to ride him because Delaney came out and needed me. However, it took quite a while of groundwork to get him into a rideable place. He didn't canter online well, either. He bucked and ran off a couple times. I was able to get him to realize that was unnecessary, and we got some nice cantering online. I think his canter reactions are fear-based - he was a worried horse.

I have a couple horses that need my attention on their hooves. I'm now trimming 5. It's just too many. I think I need to get a trimmer out to help me at least with part of my herd.

Monday, January 5, 2009

My fascinating herd...

For the first time, I've put all 6 horses out together. I've been keeping the 2 geldings separated - keeping 1 in the stall/large run while the other is with the mares and for the most part, Cowboy's had to be the one in lock-down. After all, he's only been here about 2 weeks. These are, for all intensive purposes, Gemini's mares.

Well, yesterday, Cowboy had a 2nd day with the mares while Gemini had to watch. I hate to do it, but I'm trying to be safe as possible and also try to get to a point where all the horses can find there place in a herd together. That seemed to go ok. This morning, no one had a bite mark or a worry. However, there was obviously lots of feet moving outside of the run where Gemini spent the night. The snow is majorly shuffled in that area. Nina seems a little defensive with Cowboy and she's staying pretty close to Abby. Which is very interesting.

So, I decided to let Gemini out and see what would happen. It was amazing and it went like this...

Gemini immediately went to roll. After 12-16 hours in a run, he needed to ROLL! As I stood there, my two mares Rain and Zarah trotted over to me and hung with me. They DO NOT like Cowboy. They both are offended by his very presence. They've obviously been buddying up. When Gemini was let out, they followed him around a bit but what was very interesting was that Nina and Abby followed Cowboy. Do I have 2 bands?

Gemini trotted around with some energy and Z stayed by his side like a faithful soldier. Rain followed him a little, with only a little energy, and then she did an amazing thing. She stopped, turned back to me and stood and stared at me. It was as if she was saying, "Aren't you coming?". Then, I just stood there and waited and about 2 mins later, she came trotting back to me from a whole pasture away!! She left the herd and came enthusiastically back to me! When Z took notice of what she was doing, she followed suit. When Gemini realized his mares were leaving, he jumped on the bandwagon and then all 3 were trotting back to me! Wow.

Cowboy stayed way out there and so did Nina and Abby. He slowly came back from across the pasture and his mares slowly followed him. I'm going to try to sit out there and watch more of the herd behavior after a couple of my work conference calls. I'm fascinated. The good news is that it seems there's little physical unrest - no biting, kicking, rearing. There's definitely antics, but it seems to be harmless at this point.

What a cool display of herd behavior. I love watching and learning about them and how they think and work.

Friday, January 2, 2009

My trail horse is back...

Today, I decided to get back on Z and ride. I'd given her a couple days off with all the filming we were doing before the year ended. We were really focused and working hard and I think she even looks a little thin today. Anyway, I asked D if he'd ride with me and he said "yes"! Funny, is that all I had to do was ask?

So, I trimmed a couple hooves, tacked up my 2 mares and off we went. D was pretty smiley the whole time. We had fun. It was windy today, but the air was warm. Rain was, of course, a great horse for my boy. Z was too! Z and I hit a rough patch over the past couple weeks where trail riding was very worrisome for her. I've just kept at it and today, finally, my trail horse was back. She was calm, easy and wonderful. I'm convinced that she's a RBI/RBE. She has some left brained tendencies, but innately she's RB. That's why I'm constantly rebuilding her trust in me. I'm learning a ton with that mare.

When we got back from a fairly quick ride, D went back to the tv and I took Z into the arena. We worked on bridleless riding at the walk and trot in the figure 8. I'm having amazing success with looking up to the sky for my turns and I can really feel how my body position changes when I exaggerate movement like that. I also have a great bridleless stop developing with Z. A couple more sessions and I want to take it up to the canter and get my bridleless canter riding going. Focusing my eyes up and out is making a huge difference.

Today was probably the end of the nice weather for the holiday break and soon I'll be back to the grind (blech!). I've had a great break and developed quite a bit with my horses.

I love my life.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hidden Mesa for New Years Day

I was sooo tired... stayed out way too late for New Years Eve (3am). However, the weather was amazing and Kendall was game for some trail time. So, about 1pm I convinced Steve and Delaney to meet us at the trail and bike ride/run while Kendall and I rode horses at Hidden Mesa. So, about 1:45pm, off we went. One of my boarders decided to load up and head off with us.

I rode Cowboy - figured it was time to start seeing what he had to offer on the trail. He was actually quite awesome. I wasn't sure in the beginning how he was going to behave. He hasn't been on the trail in many months and I expected a little nervousness and worry. We started out down the trail and he was a little tense, but nothing extraordinary. I made sure that I was thinking and breathing to give him the best comfort from the saddle that I could. It's always a little tough on a greener horse or a horse that's been off work for many months. However, after about a half mile, he pulled it all together and settled into things.

Kendall wanted to do some trotting about a mile in, so we started to move out a little. He did really well! I spent about 1/2 mile doing trot-walk transitions and his down transition got better and better. He has a good amount of brace built-in from his past and I'll have to make that one of my focus areas. He doesn't give to the pressure of the bit very well when he has a better idea. I don't want to get into a single tug-of-war with him but it's really tough when you're on the trail!! He's learned to drop and eat grass when he's so inclined, and this is probably his biggest brace area. I have no concerns that we'll get it solved and quickly. He's a quick study.

We cantered some on the top of the mesa and he was feeling good. The footing was slippery at times and I wasn't sure, but it felt like he wanted to kick out or buck at this one point. He never did it any other time and it's possible that he was just losing his footing. Anyway, it was nothing so I didn't make a big deal out of it. I also was very wary of letting him be in a good position to kick Rain or Abby. I either stayed behind or asked Kendall and Krissy to stay far enough back to protect their horses. I just need time to learn to trust him and figure out what makes him tick. I want to keep everyone as safe as possible.

As we were coming back down, Kendall started to complain of being cold and I think it turned out to be too long of a ride for her after our late New Years Eve night. We had a late start and I wanted to head back to the trailer quickly to be sure it didn't get too much colder. Kendall wanted to be led and she didn't want to be ponied. So, lucky me, I hopped off and led Rain and Cowboy. For part of it, Kendall walked and for part she rode Rain. I ended up walking about 2 miles. It's ok, I just love to be out there with my horses in the great Colorado terrain and fresh air. It was just fine to me.

We made it back before it got dark (barely). It was a great ride with no incidents and Cowboy gave me a reason to think he's a fantastic horse and I made the decision that he's my next L3 horse. Krissy and Gemini might work out fine and they might not, but I'll focus a little more Cowboy moving forward. I'm excited about the possibilities.

There were some emails floating around a couple of the horse email groups I subscribe to about New Years Day. The idea is that whatever you want to focus on doing throughout the new year, you should make a point of doing on New Years Day. So, for horse people, you ride on New Years Day. People all over the country were chiming in about where they'd be riding on New Years Day. It didn't occur to me until I was half way through the trail ride. It was just natural that on a day off from work, I'd figure out a way to be on a horse and out on the trail. I love my life.