Thursday, September 29, 2016

....technical difficulties?

So... uh... I didn't plan a post for today (totes fine, right?) but opened up my blog anyway bc I'm trying to find some contact info for some of you (stay tuned y'all, some stuff is COMING tomorrow btw).

See, I use my blog list for a lot of things - not just to stay up to date with all my other favorite bloggers (omg so many of you too!!), but also in case I want to get in touch with someone. Plus I know there's at least a couple of you out there who use it as a feed reader too.

But today I went to click over to someone's blog looking for said contact info... When I discovered a NO GOOD AWFUL TERRIBLE THING OMG.

My blog list just.... disappeared. Wtf blogger. How did that happen? That list was like, my masterpiece. The result of years of fervent reading and internet stalking.

And POOF, the blogger gadget just like.. evaporated or something. Ugh. Devastating :(


Soooooo I gotta rebuild it. Link by link.

Not impossible, since I have variations of the same list in my feedly account and Blogger's own feed reader thingy (that is terrible itself). Alas none of these functions do easy import/export links so I legit have to copy and paste all those links. And naturally the three lists weren't exact copies - I know there are some from my dearly departed blog list that weren't reflected elsewhere... tragic.

Which leads me to my request to you, dear readers: As I work on rebuilding that blog list (WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY!), please feel free to add any other links or blogs in the comments that you think I may be missing out on. I'm always eager to find more good blogs after all!!

And, perhaps if I'm very lucky, by the time you read this post all will be well in the world again.... Ugh but damn, how annoying!!! Thank god I have some weird cat pics to at least make myself feel a little better....

 so instead of interesting content (or useful links, *sob*), here's an intrusive cat face

these lovely kitties are maybe the most unfortunate collateral damage in my barn change, since Isabel's barn didn't have room for Charlie

my sister's kitty helping me with my work!

her other kitty tho... was apparently otherwise occupied in her little pink giraffe chair. i feel like i need a moment in that chair right now ugh.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

#$@&%*! flies!!!!

Charlie is your typical thin-skinned TB. While he doesn't appear to blow up or pull apart at the seams just by brushing up against any random shrub (yet haha), he DOES display extreme sensitivity to a certain lightness in pressure on his legs and flanks.

This fortunately does not include the aerosol spray (for heavy hitting fly repellent), but does include regular fly spray, water drips while getting hosed off. And, of course, actual flies.

Guys. Charlies HATES those #$@&%*! flies.

Behold his admirable multitasking abilities of biting and kicking at those dastardly flying menaces while simultaneously never breaking stride from his jog. Truly, his expressions are a thing of beauty!

"wtfffff ugh flies noooo leave me alone!!!!" - Charlie

"ughhhh I will destroy you with my impressive high kicking!!!!"

"srsly tho, diiiieee"

"this is total bull shit. I do *not* get paid enough for this!!"

Poor poor Charlie. It's a very tough life he leads!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

trailer loading starts.... in the arena

By now many of you have seen that awesome video of Isabel and Wick demonstrating their perfectly synchronized self-loading techniques. If not, the video is right here and is absolutely worth the 24 seconds haha.

getting to know each other
Sure, both of those horses had certainly been on and off trailers long before I met them (especially war horse OTTB Wick), but given our weekly lesson plans and the fact that neither Brita nor I owned either horse, we wanted to ensure that trailer loading was a sure thing every time - no fuss needed.

So each went through a session (or two, in Isabel's case haha) with local horsemanship professional Jim McDonald, wherein I also learned Jim's method for teaching a horse to self load. You may recall I wrote about Isabel's training sessions with him way back in 2014.

the dreaded stick ball!!
Given how fantastically Jim's method worked for Isabel and Wick (not to mention a few other horses I have trailered in the past two years), and given Charlie's extreme greenness and large size, I deemed it prudent to go through a similar training process. Ain't nobody want to be stuck off property alone with 17h of OTTB that won't load!

We ended up not ever even getting to the trailer tho. Jim loved Charlie and was floored to learn the horse was only six weeks off the track... but all the same, there are some important holes that need filling before we add a trailer into the mix.

Charlie started off a little dull
My heart sank when Jim said that, and a very large part of me felt that I didn't need my horse to be a perfectly trained star-student in all things natural horsemanship before we ever even got to the trailer - I mean, for chrissakes the trailer is what separates me from my trainers. I just need the horse to be good enough to get on and off so I can go to lessons and work on our training!!

but then started expressing himself
But the rational side of me understood - and, admittedly, agreed - with Jim's perspective. Basically Jim's entire trailer loading method is beautifully simple. It boils down to: Install a forward aid using a dressage whip (or, in this case, a slightly longer whip type stick with a foam ball on the end) as an extension of your arm and rhythmically tap on the hip.

ANY forward motion (even a lean) is rewarded by a cessation of the tapping. Then when the forward stops, or if a response that isn't forward (ie, sideways, backwards or no response) is given, the tapping resumes. Timing is everything with this method, as is the handler's energy.

Jim emphasized the importance of disengaging the hindquarters
Once this "forward" aid is confirmed in the horse, you ask him to go forward while the trailer is almost incidentally in front of it. And thus the horse goes forward into the trailer. This process is slowly refined until you are sending the horse into the trailer from the ground with minimal, if any, external aids. As in the video (again, here).

Therefore, the most critical piece of the puzzle is that forward aid - that the horse is conditioned to the tapping response from the whip.

Charlie kept his thinking cap on tho!
And that's where we ran into problems with Charlie, who most certainly knows what a whip is and is not accustomed to it being used in this manner (this manner also including much rubbing and practically petting with said whip across the horse's body, while the horse is expected to stand still - see the below photos).

Charlie started off responding mostly appropriately, but then grew dull, and then quite sensitive and reactive to the stick ball thingy. Including some spinning away from it, some attempts to kick or bite at it, and some hopping, mini-bucking with the hind end.

Nothing that I would call dangerous, and nothing pointed in Jim's direction - but plenty to show that there is enough sensitivity there to make me believe Charlie would not at present respond reliably to my aids in a high pressure situation. Which is totally fine. That's what training is all about, right?

deep in thought about the stick ball 
So Jim worked on a few main things. He showed me the importance of disengaging the hindquarters. A common technique that I've heard plenty about before - but basically the idea was that my tendency is to grab at Charlie's face when he starts getting away from me, whereas instead I need to push his hindquarters away to bring him back to me.

"erm, 'scuse me but your stick ball thing is touching me" - Charlie
He would rub the stick ball thingy all over Charlie's body - mostly running into trouble around the hind end (part of me thinks it's defensiveness bc Charlie is so sore back there, but Jim thinks it might be a conditioned fear response too. idk). The focus was for Charlie to stand still when Jim (or I) would do this.

And the trick is to go jusssssst long enough so that you can release the pressure (by walking forward on a circle with the ball on the ground - so in essence the horse was 'chasing the ball away') right before the horse would have stepped away. If the horse stepped away while you still had the stick ball on him, you had to keep that pressure on until he stilled again - ie, negative reinforcement.**

(**ie: a response or behavior is strengthened by stopping or removing an averse stimulus. The pressure from the stick ball stops when the desired behavior - stillness - is achieved)

"ugh ok fine" - Charlie
The other objective was applying the stick ball by tapping on the hip asking for forward, and ceasing the tapping the moment any forward motion happens. This obviously being the aid we will eventually use to ask Charlie to step forward onto my trailer.

And again here - timing is everything. You want to be able to apply the aid and then remove pressure at exactly the right moments to reinforce the desired behavior. And nothing less. So if Charlie swung sideways away from the stick ball instead of going forward, the pressure was to remain on until he went forward. I gotta admit - Charlie did not like that one bit.

"can I bite it tho?" - Charlie
Jim explained that horses progress in peaks and valleys - a concept that most of you have undoubtedly heard many many times. The horse will do well with responses for a little while, then regress. Then improve, and regress again. All the while the general trend remains upward, but it can be hard to see that from the bottom of a valley.

He encouraged me to get excited about the valleys tho, with the idea being that some breakthrough must be coming soon. Tho he also cautioned that it was of critical importance to seek out the right stopping points. You can only stop when the horse is in a calm and relaxed state (think head low, soft eyes, maybe licking and chewing, responding well to the aids).

"bc..... I'm gonna bite it."
And if you maybe push for that "one more time" but suddenly end up back in a valley... well, you just gotta keep working through it then. Bc again - the negative reinforcement works by the pressure going away only when the desired behavior is achieved, otherwise the horse learns the wrong thing (remember, horses learn in the release).

This is, uh, obviously just as true for training under saddle as it is with ground work. I can't be the only one who has gone in for that one last try and lived to regret it lol.

stick ball of dooooooom!
Anyway. Jim also told me about another concept that holds equally true for riding: you must always first know what you want. Then begin asking for it with the absolute minimal aid - the softest possible aid. The strength of that aid increases incrementally until the desired response is achieved.

Jim says (and we pretty much all know to be true) that if you are consistent enough with this, over time the strongest necessary aid to achieve a given response eventually falls away to lighter and lighter cues - until eventually you are getting that response with your softest possible ask. Of course, again - the most critical part is to first know what it is that you want. Rather than say, getting there and thinking 'hm ok good but MOAR' or something like that lol.

he kinda wanted to stomp on it too
So idk. That's a whole lot of conceptualization and philosophizing about what mostly amounted to walking in circles with my giant race horse while occasionally stopping to rub him with a foam ball attached to a long flexible stick. And sometimes he stood still and sometimes he spun out or bucked. It probably looked miiiiighty silly to anyone watching (and I may or may not have done my first solo practice when nobody was around to see lol).

I'm optimistic tho, and believe that once the appropriate responses to the stick and ball are conditioned in the arena (or anywhere else), it'll apply directly to the trailer and then we'll be in business. As we all know tho, these things take time. And consistency.

It wasn't the lesson I wanted, but it was most certainly the lesson we need right now. Isn't that always the way? In the meantime I'm just gonna rewatch this video a million times to remind myself why this is so worth it haha.

Monday, September 26, 2016

stepping up + stepping out

It's kinda crazy - I had been riding only 1-2x per week for so long that I grew unaccustomed to writing more than one riding recap per week. And even before that, often with Isabel, our schooling rides were generally uneventful enough that they often didn't inspire dedicated posts.

"oh hai guys!" - Charlie
But now with Charlie I'm doing my damnedest to get in as much saddle time as possible (or at least, high frequency even if the rides themselves are on the shorter side) and everything is still so shiny and new that I want to write about it all.

so quiet in the cross ties. could literally stand for hours.
For instance, I had been really looking forward to our first ride in real shoes, post racing-plates. Obviously that got put on hold when Charlie had a mild bout of colic later that day... But Brita came out the next day to meet him and watch us go!

at present the only existing picture of us doing anything more than standing/walking
Unfortunately Charlie seemed to be feeling the change in hoof shape and angles and was a bit more body sore and tight through his back than normal. Kind of a bummer, but also kinda to be expected. This guy's level of soreness is very day-to-day right now and is mostly trending in the right direction. It's just going to take time.

riding in company
All the same tho, it was a good ride and we got to check off more firsts - such as riding around jumping and cantering horses. Charlie didn't seem to care much about it, and doesn't get race-y when a horse near him goes faster. I took care to pay to more or less face Charlie toward other horses when they were jumping or cantering in our direction... But again, it didn't seem to matter.

He is drawn in toward the group tho - and the gate. Nothing bad or naughty, just still learning the rules.

"hacking out"
It was good tho. We added in more cantering - this time a full lap wherein I really had to push that big bad wild race horse to keep going past the gate lol. And then afterwards Brita accompanied us on our first "hack out" through the green spaces around the arena. It's a far cry from the trails at Isabel's barn lol, but it's a start!

already crazy about this horse
This past weekend was a show at Charlie's barn, ST, so the place was run amok by middle and high school hunter eq riders and their ponies. This merited some attention from Charlie (esp the PA system) - particularly when we went out for a little ground work lesson with my trailer loading guru (that will probably get a post of its own).

saddle pad from Alli <3
Mostly tho he was fine to do whatever. Charlie's version of getting "up" is to stop and stare with his head sky high. But like... that's kinda it. I'll take it!

Obviously bc of the show running in the outdoor we were relegated to the indoor for our ride. It was freshly dragged after serving as the warm up ring all day and idk if it was the footing or Charlie just acclimating to life but he felt WAY better through his body and feet than he had just the day prior.

girth from Brita <3
We even attempted our first canter in the indoor! Misfired twice into the right lead but nbd, I just brought Charlie back to trot and continued on at trot until we were in a good balance and rhythm again. I've been asking for canter in the same places in the arena just to try to help him understand the cue better - but I also want to avoid anticipation.

Again, tho, it didn't seem to matter. He just went. Those turns in the indoor are miiiiighty tight for him right now tho lol!

dressage tack!!
We repeated mostly the same exercise with mostly the same results yesterday too - this time in dressage tack tho! Hard to believe, but literally every single element of Isabel's dressage outfit (saddle, girth, bridle and bit) fit Charlie. Crazy, right?!?

instant fancy dressage horse, just add PS of Sweden bridle
And actually I think the dressage saddle (with the black medium gullet plate) fits him a bit better than my jump saddle (that has the blue medium wide gullet plate). The jump saddle sits down a little bit on him, and during this ride in the dressage saddle he was noticeably lighter in his front end and not pulling me out of the saddle as much.

Plus we were able to string together steps at a time of relaxed almost-swinging trot! Of course it helped that Charlie felt the least body sore he's been since coming home - so maybe he's just getting more comfortable pushing more from behind. All good steps in the right direction.

we've got all the time in the world to turn this into our "before" picture :)
It might sound like a broken record but I'm just so pleased with Charlie. Every moment spent with him makes me love him even more. Like I just kinda want to gush non stop lol. So obvi we are very much in the 'honeymoon' phase lol.

I'm very eager to make progress on the trailer loading (more to come on that later) so that we can start getting out and about to see all my favorite trainers and ride with friends again! Soon enough tho, soon enough.

For now tho, it's just more of the same, ad nauseam. Short 15-20min rides mostly trotting with some figures and changes of direction, ideally some ground poles (hopefully raised poles or cavaletti soon!) and a little bit of cantering. What are some of your favorite exercises with green beans?

Friday, September 23, 2016

it's all new

The cool thing about having a new horse is that literally everything surrounding the horse is new. Basically everything we are doing is a "first" in some way or another. And especially for a horse this green, it's all a first for him too.

feeling good about life
More than just riding tho, there's all the 'new' stuff associated with moving into this barn. It's organized a bit differently than Isabel's farm and space is a higher premium. Meaning I just get one single saddle rack, and it happens to be pretty darn close to the ceiling so stacking my two saddles on one rack isn't really an option.

this'll do!
Plus it really is about time I got myself a proper trunk, and this lockable Husky on wheels with a handle (for $54 from Home Depot) looks perfect for the job. It ought to hold my dressage saddle with no problem, too. Hopefully. Tho now that I think about it, I might need to go ahead and get a second one to store in the trailer bc damn I have a lot of shit... ugh. lol

not our first selfie tho
For Charlie, I'm trying to simultaneously establish a consistent routine while also introducing new things and subtle changes. So everything feels familiar, even as we do new things. We do at least some hand walking just about every day for introductory purposes - for instance, you already saw the photos of him investigating the outdoor arena before a ride in the indoor earlier this week.

note the busy athletic field in top left corner
Then the next day (Wednesday, ride #4 post-track) we did our usual hand walk around the indoor, but this time while four other horses were riding - another first. Then I hopped on and carried on with our normal riding routine (mostly trotting) with the added complexity of steering around the lesson horses.

Charlie was foot perfect - there was zero difference in him between all of the previous rides where we were alone in the indoor to this ride with company. Plus he continues to feel better in his body every day. Yesss.

not the first bug bite either. Charlie really hates those flies tho
And since he was so quiet, I decided to hop off to lead him out to the outdoor (he doesn't need to know that we can ride out the gate yet lol) as another lesson was starting out there. We did some more hand walking (bc routine is my happy place) and then I climbed back aboard for our first outdoor ride.

surprise new treats and a special embroidered navy saddle pad from Allison bc she is the absolute nicest ever. i maybe cried a little when i opened this up. thank you so much Alli!!!! <3
And whadya know - the horse was just as business-like in the outdoor. He napped a little bit and got stuck in slo-mo reverse when I first hopped on (will be carrying a crop from now on to nip that habit in the bud) but once we got going he happily trotted right on around without concern for the other horses or the kids playing soccer in the field or anything.

new shoes!!!! finally out of the racing plates!!! much excitement about this
And bc he felt so good and so quiet and so relaxed with what we were doing, I pushed him right on up into canter - our first canter!!!!! Guys he just kinda ambled into a big rolling quiet canter that moderated itself while not needing pushing to keep going.

It felt pretty darned balanced too. To the point where I called out to the instructor in the ring "Look at this cute little canter!!" bc yea I'm kinda a child lol. We only did about half a lap but I was elated. Somehow the first canter was kinda looming in my mind.

Well. A lot of these "firsts" loom large. Like I don't know what I'm going to find and am afraid it'll be a challenge. So far so good tho.

recovering from first health scare!
As another first that same day - we played a little bit with trailer loading. I think I made progress maybe, and I think he understood what I was asking. We got the fronts up a couple times quietly before I would back him out again (the method I learned is very slow and involves lots of back and forth - helpful bc it teaches them both the up and down of the step simultaneously). But... all the same I think I'll bring in the pro who helped get Isabel and Wick started.

new facial expressions
Yesterday was supposed to be more of the same - I even finished up work a little early to get out to the barn. But I think Charlie heard me talking about carrying a crop with him and decided a brief but forceful bout of colic was the better option. This included much nose pointing to the ouchy spot, loootttssss of stretching out like a cat (big horse can go LOW apparently) and some dramatic attempts to throw himself on the ground (was thwarted once we realized what was up).

His gums weren't particularly terrible looking, and his temperature was only slightly elevated. Guts were definitely on the quiet side but not entirely silent. Respiration was maybe a tad high too - but could also be attributable to the stuffy weather. A quick hose down followed by a dose of oral banamine and hand walking did the trick tho and he brightened up quickly.

new stall!
All the same tho, I opted not to ride even tho he seemed totally back to 100% (including a nice healthy looking poop in the cross ties, good boy Charlie). A shame bc I really wanted to see how he felt in the shoes but that's ok. There's all the time ahead of us.

same adorable star face :)
In the meantime tho I was quite happy to see how nicely settled Charlie is in his new larger stall inside the indoor. It's bars on three sides instead of solid walls and just generally more spacious. He can be quite the expressive weaver (not disclosed at adoption, le sigh) but the new stall has either resolved that issue or majorly reduced it. This pleases me (and obvi Charlie too haha).

Plus he's started getting turnout with friends!! Not the herd mates of his eventual pasture but it's a start. And it's definitely a relief that he's quickly graduating through this barn's somewhat conservative (but appropriately careful) introduction program.

So I'm feeling hopeful and optimistic about things. There are definite moments where I think, holy shit what am I doing with this horse? Am I actually crazy? Am I in way over my head? But then I go see him. And ride him. And it's good. Charlie is good.

We have an awful lot of work ahead of us but I'm really enjoying these small steps forward and my confidence in facing potential new challenges grows with each day spent with him.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

ground poles 4 lyfe!

Ok so I'm delaying the Plantation post again, still bc of Charlie. Sorry y'all! But you're just gonna have to cope. The thing is, I'm taking a disproportionate number of photos of the horse considering what we're actually working on. And if I don't post them quickly, they'll surely overrun my poor cell phone haha.

turns out cross ties in the big wide open aisle are more comfortable for him than cross ties in the wash stall. noted.
We are obviously still very much in the "getting to know you" phase. Ya know, considering Charlie came home four days ago. I want very much to give him a structured routine, but it's a bit tricky bc his turnout situation is changing every day.

coat needs work. thank goodness this guy enjoys grooming and spa sessions!
It's all going in a good direction - he graduated quickly to all-day turnout, and then to over night turnout. No pasture mates yet (he's still technically in the quarantine period) but that will be soon too. It still means that each of his days has unfolded slightly differently.

i <3 that dopey expression
He's also getting exposed to different levels of activity in the barn - from days with no lessons (Monday) to days just jam packed with lesson students everywhere (Tuesday). Generally I'm of the mindset that exposure is good for him. Yes I want him to have routine - but yes I also want him to be able to adapt within that routine.

already king of mirror selfies
It's just making it slightly tricky to get a good baseline on him. He is generally a quiet horse, but he is still kinda maybe expecting to go run a race. And it's interesting to see what triggers that race type response. Like the wash stall - in my experience, wash stalls have proven to be safe and effective places to start cross tying green or antsy horses.

Maybe bc it's a more closed off, well defined space? Idk. Whatever the case, that rule doesn't hold for Charlie. Maybe bc he's just too big for the space and it feels cramped? He's definitely less settled in there tho, esp compared to the aisle cross ties where he could probably stand quietly for hours on end.

surveying his accomplishments!
For now I've been trying to keep the riding experiences fairly consistent too. Given the state of his feet (still in race plates up front, barefoot behind until tomorrow) and general training level, the simple act of going through the motions somehow feels more important right now than what we actually do under saddle.

So after getting dressed, we go hand walk a few laps around the indoor (including walking in hand through ground poles, which Charlie stumbled through once but has navigated easily and without much consideration since) and then I hop on and off we go!

wait - that's all? i'm used to, uh, ya know, moar.
I move into the trot work pretty quickly, with the idea being that I want to get Charlie accustomed to contact and it's easier to do that with him moving forward. It's tricky bc he starts out a bit braced (this has been exacerbated by residual body and hoof soreness) but then eases into it, and then becomes quite heavy. Back and forth from tense bracing to heavy in my hands.

looking forward to when he has friends
It's actually a good feeling tho. It feels like he's thinking. Like he's paying attention to me. I spend a lot of time reminding myself to stretch down with my legs and heels (the better to not get pulled out of the saddle when he gets heavy and then trips, Emma!) and he always notices when I rebalance myself.

oooooooh soccer field!
Charlie actually is quite responsive to the legs. Not hot hot like Shen, but definitely not dead. A nice happy medium for my style of leg aids. He also steers surprisingly well. There's stickiness by the gate and an occasional half-hearted nap if I wasn't planning ahead. And the appearance of a horse in the arena is cause for distraction (tho as a point of pride - most of my rides have been during turnout and he's been a star).

hand walking in the outdoor, smelling the roses flowers
The brakes are a titch dull, but they most definitely are in there. Mostly I just need to remember to give the 'whoa' aids as clearly as possible with my whole body, not just bracing my seat up out of the saddle and pulling, bc duh that doesn't work on anything lol.

freshly banged tail ain't bad!
Actually - maybe my favorite thing about riding this horse right now is that he gives me a very strong feeling like I need to be correct. I need to be stretching down in my legs and up with my upper body, sitting straight and evenly on the horse, with my hands and arms and elbows and whatnot all in the appropriate places behaving themselves.

sweet face!
I need to be balanced to help him balance. I need to lift my shoulders to help him lift his. It's actually not at all the feeling I expected from such a green horse - we always hear about green horses wreaking havoc on a rider's position (and that has DEFINITELY been my experience with horses like Bali and Krimpet) but for whatever reason this guy is somehow already going such that my position has a very clear impact on him. Giant tho he may be. I like it!

choppy but good 'nuff bridle path
Another thing about him that I'm happy to report: he's neither incredibly wiggly nor stiff as a 2x4. There is a certain degree of one-sidedness, sure, but honestly not much more than you would expect in most horses. Mostly tho he feels like a very clean slate that is already prepped to take my aids as best as I can give them.

a hat for Charlie!
Our rides follow a similar pattern each time, with our most recent (last night) being definitely the best. He physically felt the best and most sound (least sore) since coming home. And we weren't particularly pressed for time. Lots of trotting - mostly staying large around the arena working on straightness.

We circle a little bit and change directions, and I aim for creating a rhythm that is unchanged by whether we are going toward or away from the gate. And something that really stuck out last night: I need to look for good pleasant moments of softness for when we take our walk breaks, rather than when things get tense or choppy and I become eager to change the subject. Just gotta keep going, keep riding him and showing him where I want to be, then reward with a release and walk break.

more circles in the indoor
Oh, and usually we walk the set of three ground poles that are apparently permanent residents of the indoor, and introduced trotting the single pole two days ago. Last night tho? We trotted the three like legit professionals. Good boy Charlie!

I legitimately can't wait to get him over to OF for a lesson with trainer P. Still some work to be done before then tho. Like maybe riding outside once or twice. Or. Uh. Maybe cantering? And, um, practicing with the trailer.

No big deal tho. It's all ahead of us!