Monday, September 29, 2008

Longeing: It's not just to keep from dying anymore!

When I learned to ride, and particularly in my teens as I was learning to train and ride more difficult horses, I learned to longe as a means of survival. I boarded where they didn't turn out for you, so my horses maybe got a little turnout a few days a week, if I could manage to grab one of the whole four turnouts (at a barn with 60+ horses). So, throwing them out on the longe and letting them buck and fart around kept me from eating dirt, particularly with the really cold backed gelding!

By the time I was 19, I was boarding at an AQHA show barn and while I did plenty of longeing there for the same reason, I learned reason #2 for longeing: fitting up yearlings. So I worked off my board by letting previously unhandled yearlings drag me around the arena. My primary accomplishment from this time period is learning to yank the line sharply down and to the side and throw them on their side if they tried to bolt off and drag me.

(Yes, yes, sorry, I was young and dumb and did what the Big Name Trainer told me to do.)

And of course I did the usual longeing with tack on prior to riding greenies. Figured if they stopped trying to buck the saddle off their back, it was safe to get on! I once had a mare who bucked so hard on the longe she broke the cinch and the saddle flew off. (Surprisingly, that mare turned out to be easy to ride. She just played HARD on the longe.)

Mugwump has blogged rather extensively about longeing as an actual training tool. She doesn't allow hers to buck and fart around and she actually has a pretty interesting method for disciplining that kind of behavior out of them, which if I tried it, would probably wind up with my getting myself macrame'd tightly to a panicked horse's side. I am 41 years old and can't do shit with a rope and I know better than to start trying now. But it works for her, so go Mugs and the rest of you who can handle ropes! I still figure I am having a good day if I can longline without tripping myself.

I have, however, evolved to the point where I do see longeing as a training tool and not merely a substitute for turnout and am trying to resolve specific problems with my horses that way. Drama, the POA pony, was only broke to walk and trot under her previous owner. She started out having a lot of trouble holding her lead on the longe line so I have been using longeing to fit her up at the canter before I try it under saddle. If she gets disunited or switches leads, I break her to the trot and we re-start. She has been doing wonderfully and I can see her becoming more balanced and stronger. It makes so much more sense to start our canter work this way rather than with my weight for her to deal with!

Casper, the paint filly, has had some trouble connecting the idea of leg pressure + go forward. She was confused and resistant. Since she had started to longe well, we started longeing her with a rider and it's working great. She knows how to longe and feels confident that she's doing the right thing if she obeys the commands of the person on the ground. It's made so much more sense to use a little "ground support" than have a senseless fight with a confused greenie who simply wasn't getting it.

The VLC, as I've noted before, definitely prefers to go to the right, so with him, I've been working on the left lead on the longe. He doesn't mind taking the lead, but he doesn't bend/balance himself as well that direction so I'm letting him work on that without my weight. He's such a big galoot and I can see that it's hard for him to manage himself sometimes. He totally does NOT get how big he is. He reminds me of the big dog whose wagging tail knocks everything over, except with him, it's his nose!

I'm always concerned about centrifugal force and "torquing" the neck, so I always longe at the far end of the line, so the horse is taking a big circle of half of the arena. I know a lot of people who only round pen because they want to avoid the force on the horse's neck, and I kind of went through that phase myself, but ultimately it's two different things. You have more control with the line and I think even the horses feel more like they're working with the line - as opposed to feeling like they are turned out.

So what do you think? Are you okay with them "playing" on the longe or is it always work time? (I'm still a bit undecided. I still kind of feel like longeing gives them the chance to buck and have it be okay if you're in a situation where turnout is impossible, let's say at a show, and I like giving them a chance to "vent" acceptably.) Are you/have you used longeing as a training tool, and if so, how? What kinds of issues have you fixed on the longe? Or are you anti-longeing and think it's too hard on them? (Well, it definitely can be, the way I've seen some people do it with the horse going 95mph on a teeny circle in deep footing!). Thoughts?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Rolling the dice...

You all know what I'm talking about. You know when the horse won't do what you want, or is having a rebellious moment, and you have that little internal conversation? I was doing that last night with Drama, the POA pony I'm working for friends of mine. She is a lovely little pony, but the last two rides, she's developed this new behavior where she stops short and balks. This wouldn't faze me so much, but she has an ongoing behavior where she rears in the crossties. The crosstie-rearing has been improving, and she has never reared under saddle, but when you know you have a rearer on your hands, and they suddenly stop and suck back and start going backwards and all the weight goes to the back end, it does give you that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. And so my gutsy side and my chickenshit side were back to doing battle.

Gutsy Side: She's giving you Appytude. You need to whale her one and let her know that's not okay.

Chicken Side: Um, but what if she goes ballistic? I've never had to "get into" this pony before.

Gutsy Side: She's just gonna get worse if you don't make the point now that you're in charge. And she's 13.1. How far are you gonna fall?

Chicken Side: She could go right up and over and land on me, I bet a 13.1 pony weighs a LOT when it lands on you...who'd make the point then? I think I will just cluck to her and tap her with my heels.

Gutsy Side: Oh yeah. That'll scare her. Oh noooooooo I will never balk again, I might get clucked at.

Well, the clucking and tapping didn't work so I cautiously escalated. Nothing bad happened and I finally realized that booting the pony while growling really loud caused the pony to go forward every time. And after 2 or 3 boot/growl combos, the pony actually gave up and rode fine.

Gutsy Side: Bwahahaha, I told you so, you're such a dumb shit!

*sigh* That's always the hard part though. Logically, you know that 99 times out of 100, the horse is gonna give up and do what you want...but there's that 1 time that lands people in the emergency room or worse every day. The older you get, the harder it is to believe that you're going to continue gambling and winning.

I was going through this with a friend the other day, who is paying waywayway too much money for a trainer to do things she could perfectly well do herself, if only she could get over the mental block so many of us are fighting at this age.

Me: Has Horsey ever bucked anybody off?
Friend: No.
Me: Has Horsey ever reared and dumped anybody off?
Friend: No.
Me: Has Horsey ever spooked out from under anybody?
Friend: No.
Me: Then he's probably not going to develop any of that specially for you. I think you should ride him.

Of course, High Priced Trainer has told her she can't ride her own horse *eye roll*

Ultimately, we have to remember that we gamble every time we get out of bed. Sure, people get hurt or killed riding, but they also slip in the shower, get nailed by a drunk driver on the way to work, or find out they have terminal cancer after living the health-nut, organic only, exercise-daily life for forty years. We have all chosen to ride. Everybody reading this blog loves horses and wants to enjoy them. Sometimes you just have to take that leap of faith and decide that for the 10 seconds required, you're going to ride're going to do what needs to be done. If you can convince yourself, you're going to have a lot better time convincing the horse!

(And by the way, this is head shaking pony, and before someone brings up that head shaking pony may be seriously out of alignment, we discovered the head shaking stops almost completely when we braid pony's forelock for riding! So apparently pony is suffering from Fluffy Forelock Syndrome which is not a condition requiring veterinary or chiropractic intervention, but is merely cured with a rubber band...LOL! I am told this is a comon Welsh pony quirk and this pony is allegedly part Welsh...)

As to the rest of my herd, Casper, the APHA filly from Cowgirl Spirit, had a pretty extreme wolf tooth removal so I'm taking it easy on her - we're slowly starting back ground driving and I rode her around lightly yesterday. She is quiet but lazy and very resistant to leg so I'm trying to put together leg + voice cue so that it makes sense for her. Right now if you just put leg on her, you get pinned ears and cowkicking, but she is starting to figure out that leg + cluck means trot and don't be pissy about it. She is very forward on the longe, I just don't think she understands the leg squeezing thing yet. She's dead quiet at the walk, has a perfect "ho," and I could take her on a trail ride tomorrow but now we need to develop those other gaits.

The VLC continues to be wonderful. He's my easy horse to ride, which makes me laugh daily. Who would think that my 3 year old, 16.2 stallion, who's been under saddle for five months, would be the easiest horse I ride? He is, though. He just never does anything bad. The only thing I have to remember on him is to steer because he doesn't realize how big he is and will go too close to the walls if I don't direct him. I set up new cross ties and now he gets cross tied right next to mares and he ignores them. He rides in the arena with others, no problem. He is almost 100% fine about his feet now - the back left, he will still try to pull away a time or two but he gives up pretty quick. I bought him a brand new rain sheet and even though I'm pretty sure he hasn't been blanketed at all in the past, he's fine with it and has made no effort to destroy it (GOOD COLT! Some of them are so hard on blankets.) He's just such a sweet, cooperative horse about everything.

I also got a great report about his mini-me -- Bullwinkle is leading, "longes" at a walk (goes in the direction you point, what a smart boy!) and is generally just learning everything about life very quickly. Of course he's out of the cute baby stage and now looks ridiculous, much like my Big Gold Yearling. I tried to get some good pictures of the BGY the other day...oh forget it. I'll try again in a year, ha ha!

I loved hearing everybody's updates - keep it up! It's really good to hear from those of you who finally found a trainer that works for you and your horse. The good ones are out there - I swear, trainer shopping is like buying clothes at Ross, you gotta go through all of the fuschia print hot pants and sweatshirts with teddy bears to find that little black designer dress in your size hiding amidst all the crap!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Off to school!

I said I was going to do it and I have...I believe I finally found an AQHA trainer that I trust to finish my VLC and do it fairly. Great facility, weekly lessons are included, and there was not a single bit in her tack room that I object to. The worst thing I saw was a slow twist, which doesn't bother me. It's the thin wire "tongue slicer" bits I object to. Like this. If anybody ever put this on my horse, I would have to kill them.

Anyway, he is off to school November 1st! I am excited about it even though he won't be at home and I'm paranoid about that. But I'll have my weekly lesson so I'll still see him regularly. Right now the game plan is just to do a thirty day evaluation and then give me things to work on for the rest of the winter at home. Then he'll go back in the spring, closer to show season. Money is always a factor, and I like that this trainer is willing to work with a limited budget. She made a lot of good points I'd already thought of about how it makes more sense to go to bigger shows and fewer of them and to start him off at the local open shows and keep it cheap and not take him to an AQHA show at all until he's super solid and has a very good chance of doing well. I really felt like we were on the same page, and every horse in her barn was happy and looked great. I didn't see a single pinned ear.

I figure I've got him as far as I can go without possibly making a wrong turn - he walks, trots, lopes, halts and backs. I can ride him around bareback in a halter. He is still somewhat one sided and doesn't like to bend to the left, and sometimes has balky moments on left circles. He also likes to drop his shoulder that direction. All the methods I know for fixing that are probably not the ones we want to use given that we want his head to stay low and his neck to stay flat. It's time to turn him over to someone who is an expert at what he needs to do and can also watch me ride and pick on me.

I think I'll always be glad I started him myself though - I got what I wanted, which is a very calm, easy horse who's never had a bad experience about riding or a reason not to like it. Now I just need to fill in some of the training gaps before he leaves - like teaching him to clip, as he's expected to know that and I admit I don't own a pair of clippers at the moment and haven't even tried so far. (Fortunately, I can borrow!)

So how far did the rest of you get with your projects? Did you decide to get some outside help? Did you decide just to haul in for lessons or get a friend for a second pair of eyes to assist? Who actually made it to a show this summer? (I tried, and then they decided not to allow stallions, and they didn't have stalls so there went that idea) Did you accomplish as much as you meant to? More? I got everything done on my list except the trail riding - not surprising, that's the hard one for me because I freakin' hate trail riding, even on trained horses much less taking the green one out to see what happens! But on the plus side, he rides absolutely great bareback and I hadn't even meant to try that at this point.

(hmmm, there was more to this post and Blogger ate time!)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The turtle and the hare!

Right now I have both of them to ride!

The turtle is Casper. Casper is a three year old APHA filly that was rescued and donated to Cowgirl Spirit. From pretty much day one, her attitude about riding has been "okay, whatever, and can I have a cookie now?" Juliane rode her bareback the first ride. I believe she trail rode her on ride #2. I got her after that and the only real challenge we've had is that she doesn't see any reason why she should have to go faster than a walk. Just like Bessie, she is pretty much bomb proof quiet at the walk but now has to learn the other gaits. She is so smooth once you get her going that it's just a pleasure to ride - one of those trots you can sit even if it's fast - and "level" is her natural head set. Casper's only about 14.3 so normally I would think that's a little tougher size to place, but in her case she's a born youth horse. It really isn't going to take much to get her ready to progress with a kid (or petite adult) who has a trainer, so I don't expect to be writing about her for long. If you think you might be interested, let me know! (Please put CASPER in the subject line). She does have papers, in order and ready to transfer, so she's eligible for APHA competitions and programs.
This was ride #4. As you can see, she is not actually awake...

Then there's the hare. The hare is a pony named Drama. My friends rescued her from a scary chicken barn thanks to a Craigslist ad, and they made a great call, because this pony is a "10" mover and I mean a "10" mover. I mean, a holy-crap-this-pony-could-go-to-the-A-shows mover.

The Drama pony, so named because at first everything they did with her involved a lot of Drama, is the opposite of Casper. She is fast, and fussy and will shake her head violently when you ride her unless you braid her bushy forelock. (Ponies!) She was broke out the typical way around these parts, complete with western saddle and shank bit and oversized rider, so I have had to convince the pony that I will not (a) hurt her mouth (b) flop on her kidneys or (c) annoy her in any way and it is ok to (a) slow down and (b) relax. But she is getting it and as I have mentioned before, I love ponies. This one is a medium, 13.1, a POA/Welsh mix. The girls who rescued her got her ground manners solid and did a lot of ground work, and have now passed her along to me for riding. She's five, so a perfect age to begin serious work.

We hope to get her to the A shows eventually (of course with someone else up - I'm too old for ponies even if I'm still reasonably size appropriate for them). But you know, first we have to get the head flipping and, well, drama to stop so you'll be hearing about her for a while! (And yes, she is scheduled for a power float - but she flips in a halter too so it's not just about teeth).

So those are my two new projects. Of course I've still got the VLC, who is the turtle when it's warm out and the hare when it's chilly, LOL! He is very much tuned in to the weather. If it's 85, I could ride him in a halter through a field full of mares in heat and he wouldn't have the energy to raise an ear. Memo for future: Send him to big AQHA shows in very hot climates and watch the points mount up!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

This is why I love my Very Large Colt

I haven't ridden him in a few weeks. I left my girth at the SAFE show, and nothing else I have works on him, and I've been busy with other horses and working and you all know the drill. So today I climbed on him and he was...

exactly the same as always. Quite lazy, actually. Walk,
trot, canter...didn't do a single thing wrong. Someone was actually watering the arena with a hose while I was riding...he didn't blink. Oh, and I longed him yesterday and someone had left a tarp in the arena. He bulged out a little and trotted over it without blinking. He's going to be such a good trail horse - he really ought to be owned by someone who isn't so chickenshit about trail riding!

This is why he rocks. I have ridden a lot of 20+ year olds who get a few weeks off and it's like they just came off the range the first time you get back on.

He is awesome. I love him. I gave him a nice bath and detangled his tail (which is thicker than my own hair, and that's saying something) by hand. Then I did the same to the Crabby Old Bat, who was
highly annoyed at the beauty treatment and responded by whipping her tail violently back and forth and whacking me in the face with it. Gotta love old broodmares...

Meanwhile, I have actually gotten off my dead butt and started working with my yearling. He is such a smart little snot. I pulled him out last night and longed him and he was kind of all over, and then today? Longeing like a superstar. Which is great, because I want to put him out on a big circle because of his age and now I can do that because he's staying out there and not requiring much guidance to keep going. We just walk and trot but he is being very, very good. I thought for about a minute about how cool it would be to take him to a show for yearling longe line and then I remembered he's butt ugly at present. Just use google to find a picture of a yearling Thorough
bred. Now paint it yellow. Now you know what he looks like. Blech. Seriously, the only thing he got from his dad is his color and his wavy tail. Everything else is from his mother, who wound up a very attractive 17 hand Thoroughbred mare but was probably extremely hideous at 18 months also...

So I'll put up a picture of when he was a baby and still cute. You will all see more pictures of him

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

No real rhyme or reason to it...

I commented briefly before that I can't figure myself and my fear issues out. I really can't. It's like there are some horses I'm fine on even if they do misbehave and others, forget it. I want off. NOW.

The SAFE show was a prime example of this. The vet put the kibosh on showing Honey (who I was
very comfortable on) so a friend brought a sale Thoroughbred for me to show. He was just lovely. Dapple gray, elegant looking, pretty mover. Well, I got on him and after one circuit of the warm up ring at the walk, he dove for the out gate. I wasn't expecting it and we nearly took out a pony. I got off and I said, uh-uh, not going to do this.

Half my brain was telling me I should have fought it out, but the other half provided the convenient (and actually
accurate) justification that the warm up ring is not the place to have a battle with a horse you don't know and that it is unfair to jeopardize other people's safety with a horse you may not be in control of. (Especially when the horse has scared the crap out of you and you are all weak in the knees like you narrowly avoided a car accident) So I took him back to the trailer and one of the other girls from the barn said "oh yeah, he dove out the gate with me at home, too." Well, okay then...

By then the Cowgirl Spirit trailer had pulled in and I figured I would try to commandeer Class, a Quarter pony I'd worked with a little earlier in the year, for a class or two.
Instead, Juliane suggested I ride Prince Caspian, the rescue's newest project, in the 40+ walk trot.

"Is he broke?" I asked. I knew he hadn't been just two weeks ago.

"Yeah, he's great! I've ridden him four or five times now."

Four or five times.
Juliane being Juliane, she had already fearlessly trail ridden him, taken him into the river, etc. I looked at him. He looked really calm. So I got on him and he just plain felt calm. He felt solid. I felt solid. So even though he was dead green and he went sideways all the way down one side of the arena when he saw the flapping banners on the fence, I never felt unsafe or unconfident or like I wanted to get off. I felt like I was in control. We were good to go. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to keep him straight and focused. (He got adopted very shortly after the show, by the way!)

So why was I okay on one and not the other? I'd love to analyze it out. Well, I do truly hate gate darters. I have this vivid memory of a horse that my friend was on darting into the barn from the arena and sliding right onto his side when he hit the slippery wood floor. That was over 20 years ago but certain things stick in your mind, and that stuck in mine. Still, that's not all of it. I just can't explain it. Green Arabian, normally a breed I'm wary of, no problem. OTTB, normally my comfort zone, I just wanted to get off.

I hear this from a lot of you though. You've had the same thing happen. Allegedly "easy" horses scare you, whereas you effortlessly deal with "difficult" ones. There are certain horses you'll fearlessly bomb around bareback on, and other horses you feel nervous walking around the round pen. Why? Why? Why? Wouldn't it be great if we could just figure it out?

When I was younger, I used to psych myself up to ride the really nutty greenies by visualizing that I was on one of our old school horses who was in a mood and needed to be sorted out. It worked really well. I've tried to do that now, and it works inconsistently. Some horses, I just want to get the hell off of. This drove me crazy at first, and now I've decided, eh, it's okay. I'm not training for a living or anything. It's fine if I don't want to ride something. I used to worry that - especially if I backed down and got off the ones that scared me - the fear would keep growing like some kind of fungus until it took over and I was afraid to ride everything but the 25 year olds, but that hasn't happened. I just can't make total sense of what has happened, and for a super logical, must-analyze-everything person like me, it annoys me.

Ah well, that's my SAFE show report amid lots of rambling. I lost my girth at the SAFE show and as a result of that and just lack of time, the VLC has been on vacation. I started longeing him again the past two days and I think I'm going to finally ride him again tomorrow. He's so easy to longe that if I wait til the end of the evening, that's all I do because I can almost fall asleep standing there holding the line. I need to make my own horse a priority again, instead of letting him wait until after I've ridden the horses I'm riding for other people!