Friday, January 30, 2009

What's your learning style?

I was just talking about this with a friend.

Everybody has different learning styles. I learn by doing, which traditionally has made me an underachieving student. I can't sit in a lecture for two hours and pay attention, but I can do things like teach myself CGI by looking at it and experimenting.

This has carried over to riding. I read Mugwump's wonderful descriptions of how to do certain things, and I think that I will try some of them, but in reality I can't imagine how I'd remember what she said without notes in front of my face while I'm actually on the horse! For me, books or videos could never be a great teaching tool - I need to learn in a very hands-on way, with someone telling me when it looks right so that I learn to recognize the feeling. (I also love riding with mirrors - what a great and helpful idea, especially for people like me who feel correct when they're doing it wrong - i.e. leaning too far forward instead of sitting upright!)

Sometimes I think an instructor has to play around with different methods to figure out a student. I've had people where I had to get on the horse and show them, and voila, they caught on. I've had others where the right analogy worked wonders (imagine an invisible cord hanging you from the ceiling to the top of your hunt cap - that's how straight your back should feel) or really simple ones for kids ("noodle" arms that are soft and give, not stiff like an uncooked macaroni).

Sometimes you really need to feel things. I still remember the instructor who finally fixed my inability to get the better of the school horse who "rooted." She stood in front of me and pulled on my reins, hard. I flopped forward. Then she went to the side and gently pushed my shoulders back until they were behind my hip bones, and repeated the exercise. Amazing! I didn't get pulled forward. From that moment on, I "got it" and was able to correct the rooter and keep him on the rail.

So what's your learning style? What has created the a-ha moment for you?

I hate to waste much space when a simple spritz of Troll-B-Gone will do, but all of the Troll Questions have been covered before: (a) the whole point of this blog was to address that many people can and do ride with fear and that it shouldn't stop you from reaching your goals, nor should it be an embarrassment or something that you have to hide from everybody. If not for that whole point, it would honestly not be all that interesting to read a simple training log about a colt who quite frankly has been so fricken' easy that it's sometimes hard to figure out what to write about. Mugwump's hot-headed cowhorse mare makes for a MUCH better story! (b) I have never bred the VLC and certainly cannot be held responsible for the fencing he was turned out on prior to my ownership. (c) I don't believe in riding 2 year olds anymore - yes I used to do it - and will never do it again or pay for it to be done (d) if the VLC does not prove himself in the show ring, he will become a VLG. He doesn't have forever to do this. One show season should suffice. He is either going to be competitive, or not and the only opinions I care about are those of the AQHA judges since those are the opinions that determine whether or not any future foals would be marketable. (e) If you think a coming 4 year old is over the hill and it's "too late" for him to have a successful show career, our opinions on working young horses are so diametrically opposed that we're destined to think the other is an idiot no matter what other discussion takes place. If you think a 4 year old is done growing, you need to read more of Deb Bennett's work. (f) the VLC is a grandson of a Superior Halter Horse/World Show Top Ten/High Point Halter Horse and his dam is a mare who is a full sibling to an AQHA Versatility Horse of the Year with over 2000 points in a wide variety of events - from halter to barrel racing to WP. If that isn't good enough breeding for you, ok, we have different standards but I certainly haven't contradicted myself and my previously stated standards. I have said that I like to see some kind of significant accomplishment in the first three generations - not further back. I have that. End of discussion, at least on my end. I could buy Indian Artifacts or Invitation Only tomorrow and there are people who would say they were POS's because they don't like the Fugly blog. That's why I'm happy to let the judges decide - they're the only opinions that matter. (And now I can link back to this blog entry the next time people bring up the same half-dozen questions that have already been answered...)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Small victories, and learning by doing

All of you in the chickenshit re-rider group will appreciate this...this week I was told to get on a 4 year old OTTB in a large outdoor arena and I did not balk. I just got on him and he was fine, ha ha. Actually he was kind of lazy! So that's my small victory. What's yours?

Regarding the VLC training debate - funny how life works. I was in somebody else's barn watching her trainer work a young stallion who was giving her grief. The trainer never got mad. She never got frustrated. She was never inconsistent. I don't think she even said anything which impresses me as I admit I'm one that talks to the horses constantly and growls at them when they are doing something wrong. She got the same results with body language. So the VLC is going to her, and no, at this point I'm not naming names. You will all see who is showing him when he shows, ha ha. Suffice it to say I finally got a really good vibe about someone. And I was only incidentally in the barn with her - she did not know I was a prospective customer, so I know what I saw is the reality of how she works.

Regarding the baby Moose...none of us were born knowing how to work with a baby. I learned in the late 80s because I was working off my board at a barn that wanted me to longe their AQHA yearlings. This was in the era before round pens, LOL - at least they weren't as common as they are today. This barn did not have one. I had to go out to the large indoor arena and convince previously barely halter broke babies that they wanted to longe. This resembles water skiing behind the Road Runner as Wile E. Coyote is chasing him. I learned about body language and placement not because I watched a video or went to a clinic but by trial and error. If I was in the right place, I could get the baby to keep going around. If I failed, the baby typically did something like charge into the middle straight at me. Fun, fun! Babies bolted off down the wall and I had to practically sit down to hold them to the circle. It was the baby rodeo but it did teach me how to longe.

Around the same time, someone helpfully gave me a completely unhandled yearling as a thank-you for helping him to sell a show horse. Gee, thanks! His name was Tex and he'd been thrown in on a deal with another horse. They weaned him by chasing him into a horse trailer and hauling him from Texas to Wisconsin, where he was chased into a box stall...where he sat until I came along.

Well, he was mine now, so I decided I'd better do something about him. I was young and in the barn all day, so I hung out. I hung out in his stall with a grain bucket. He came to me after a few days or weeks...I can't remember now how long it took. I got a halter on him and we practiced leading inside the stall until we got it right. One thing I remember is that I wasn't in a hurry and I think that was the most important part. We worked on picking up feet. I hung a clippers next to his grain with baling twine so he got used to the buzzing in his ears.

Shortly thereafter, he caught his jaw on something in the stall, probably a bucket hook, and tore quite a hole in the underside of it. I had to hose it out really well daily. When the barn owner saw him standing quietly in the cross ties letting me hose his face, I thought she was going to fall over. It really hadn't taken that long. I rehomed him as a two year old. He saddled, bridled, clipped, longed, ponied, loaded, stood tied to the trailer and basically had everything done but riding. I saw him a year later at our local big rodeo - he was carrying a flag for the grand entrance, as a three year old. The lady was just thrilled with him and said he'd been the easiest horse she'd ever broke out.

I was so proud of that little guy, but in retrospect he taught me way more than I taught him. And the Moose and his difficult moments will teach his mom much more about feel and timing and body language than any clinic or video or instructor ever could. All she's got to do is pay attention all the what works, to what doesn't work. Watch his eye. Watch his ears. Is he cooperative and soft or pissy or confused and apprehensive? Is his attention on you, or on the other horses down the road? You don't have to accomplish everything immediately. There's nothing wrong with isolating him in the stall or round pen and working on basics...ho means ho, stand where you are put, pick up feet, clip your bridle path, etc.

Get it all down in a safe, enclosed space first before you try to take the show on the road and remember, everything is stupider in a cold wind, even thirty year olds! (Admit it, everybody - you've been taken for an unplanned ice skating session by a 25+ year old who was feeling goooood in an icy wind! I know I have.)

And always remember...anyone who never has a doubt about whether or not they are doing the right thing with a horse is probably a complete asshole. Every good trainer that you will ever talk to will admit to moments where they realize they could have handled a behavior better, reacted differently, or tried something else. I mean, I can tell you things like "when they start running around you in circles, the next thing they do is duck in and try to come over the top of you, so have your elbow ready to block them" but that's also something you'll learn by doing. You learn by doing and the more of them you handle, the more you learn. Some day, it really will come easy!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

Lots of updates!

The VLC is back to 100% sound after a regimen of handwalking, hand-backing and longeing on a big circle with lots of walk-trot transitions, so I finally got to ride him a few days ago and was reminded again how much I love him! He hasn't been ridden since October, I think, and he stood perfectly still for mounting and did not move off until I asked (hooray! That was a tough thing for him to learn last year, but it stuck!). He then walked off on a loose rein, ignored the other horse in the arena and generally rode just like he always did. He was so lazy that I had to threaten him with the rein ends to get a jog but that's typical with him - he fires up as he gets fit. When he is unfit, he is a marshmallow who just wants to walk. Personally, as an older, chickenshit rider, I think that is a FINE, FINE, FINE quality! It's great to know that any time he has to be laid off and not work, he will come back LAZY. The rehab period had another nice benefit - he has learned to back on a perfectly straight line, as well as back around circles and corners and make turns. I think we've inadvertently set him up for trail class!

Now of course I'm back to the original for his show career. Wouldn't you know it, the trainer I liked sends horses to ... *sigh* Cleve Wells. Now, that person may be completely innocent and not know anything about him other than that he's a big name and wins. The trainer I like is a long, long, long way away from Cleve. Still, now I am nervous again. I imagine what I would do to someone who put spur tracks on MY colt or broke HIS jaw and I'm pretty sure I would go to jail for it.

Friend #1 says to send him to a dressage trainer. While I can find one of those who isn't abusive, you guys have all seen my VLC (pic below for those who may not have). He just isn't built for it. He's built for AQHA pleasure. That's his niche. That's what will come easy to him.

Friend #2 says send him to the original trainer. I saw nothing wrong in that person's barn (true, I was VERY impressed and didn't see ANY unhappy, thin or marked-up horses) and we all have some shitty friends (also true! I would not like to be judged based upon everybody I've ever come into contact with in the horse world. I worked for some eeevil bastards in my youth.). But he'd be far enough away at Original Trainer's that I couldn't check on him all the time and I am just too nervous. And I don't want to be anybody's paranoid, pain in the ass, nightmare client, either. If I'm not 100% comfortable, I'm sure we'll both be happier if I just don't do it.

Friend #3 says to just do it myself. I've noted before that my major reasoning for not doing it myself is (a) I have a lot to learn - I haven't shown in so many years that, back then, we were still "seesawing" to get head set and (b) I have bad show nerves. I don't always think logically, I make mistakes because I rush things like transitions, and if we get to the point of jumping, forget it because I don't see distance well enough to make a horse look pretty. My horse deserves better than that.

So now I am toying with a variation on #3...I am going to meet with a possible trainer this week and see if I can put him there, take lessons on him a lot and do most of the riding myself, and then have her ride him for shows. If she is comfortable with that, it might be a compromise that I can live with.

I've also decided that at some point this year (might be spring, might be fall, we'll see how other things work out), I want to send him out to a friend in Eastern Washington and have her guys put 30 or 60 days on him just using him on the ranch. He LOVES cows and he LOVES to herd things, despite his size. He herds the smaller gelding he is turned out with. He is way too big to ever cut and I don't think he has the acceleration to rope, but I think that mentally, he would absolutely love the experience and it would make him into the sort of solid, do-anything trail horse that even I would like to trail ride.

And yes, I will start calling him the May when he actually is! For now, he's still a three year old to me. :-)

I'm curious, who has a horse in training or going to training this year? How did you decide on a trainer? How much information do YOU need to feel comfortable that your horse will be safe and that you will get what you pay for?

The Big Gold Yearling (hey, he's not two til March 4th!) is out to pasture with a TB colt and they are enjoying their life of rolling in the mud and biting each other in the neck. I'm thrilled because the TB likes to RUN and that has gotten my colt into a lot better shape without putting him into a formal work program. The eternally ribby, gawky yearling look has gone away and now he's round with a butt and some muscle tone! He's still growing like a weed. I think he's going to be bigger than the VLC. He'll come back home this summer and get to work learning to be ponied and wear tack.

I am hoping that Thai (above), who is still out rehabbing with KarenV, will be amenable to being used as a pony horse. My goal with her is to fit her up, teach her to neck rein and use her for that. She's sound and normal weight now thanks to Karen - just waiting for spring to bring her back to this side of the mountains and put her to work!

Lucy has an admirer! Lucy, the Crabby Old Bat, and the yearling are all pasture boarded at the same place, and the lady's adult son loves Lucy. Lucy, surprisingly, loves him too. She is still very wary of most people but will let this big guy come right up and catch her. He is going to ride her when weather permits and see what he thinks. Cross your fingers - Lucy really needs a person of her own! She also just loves the pasture board life - she thrives on it and has no trouble holding good weight in a herd. She would very much like to stay right in the herd she's with, and if he adopts her, she will. For now, she is muddy and happy and probably the most relaxed that I have seen her since we got her. All efforts to ID her have failed - her tattoo is simply too illegible. We know she is 15 this year and that's all we know. Lucy is below. Love that front end. Jeez, people, who bred that? She's 100% sound, though!

The Crabby Old Bat is also muddy, happy and delighting in the fact that she gets to rule a small herd again. I tried keeping her separate with Lucy and Belle and she would have none of it. She needed to rule over the barn owner's geldings and walked through the fence repeatedly until we gave up and let her. Now she is happy. She has a 17 hand Seattle Slew bred OTTB gelding for a boyfriend, and the two of them hang out together and kick anybody else who dares to come near. She's also the best weight I've ever seen her, and I credit a lot of that to finding really mud-free pasture for her this winter. Even with all of the rain we've had, the place she's at is high and mostly dry - it runs off right down to the road - there's mud but none of the deep, sucking stuff that aggravates her old joints and causes her to drop weight from pain.

Belle and Clover are with another friend as Belle wasn't doing well out with Lucy and Buffy. Belle isn't a "herd horse" - she likes to be treated like a princess. Her teeth are so poor even after a floating and extractions that we have switched her to alfalfa pellet mush along with Clover. The two of them live together and gimp around happily, waiting for their slaves to bring them their warm mush! I actually dewormed them the other day without drama from Belle. That is a first. She normally rears, strikes and makes a huge drama out of it. Maybe you can teach an old dog - or an old-ex-broodmare - new tricks!

My January training project is going to be my February training project. Sly finally returned from the fairgrounds but our arena is still too wet to use. I may try to do some ground work in the gravel parking lot, but for the most part, training is simply pushed forward to whenever I have a safe place to ride again.

I went out to visit Libby, the VLC's filly from last year. She is in that gawky yearling stage and gave me a little grief about catching but after that, she was wonderful. She stood quietly tied to the fence and let us pick up her feet, groom her and shampoo her tail. She's much more "huntseat-y" looking than her dam and I think she's going to turn out pretty cool!

That's my update. How is everybody else doing? How's my baby moose? :-)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Training on hold but Sly is a star!

Here she is on the KOMO TV site:

We are still recovering from the flood and I still can't ride. They did have "open riding" tonight at the fairgrounds where our refugees currently reside but I did not think that "open riding" was a good place for Sly's third ride, LOL.

So we'll pick back up when we have a story to tell!

P.S. I can't watch things like "open riding." OMG. Lady on the little sorrel with her ears pinned, she's pissy because she is LAME, stop snapping her in the face...she is crossfiring because she is LAME LAME LAME. Arrrrgggghhhh...

Friday, January 2, 2009


Just came in from having a great session with Sly. This was #3 and today it all clicked. She figured out that I wanted her to keep going in a circle and resisted the urge to stop and fly backward just because she was on the "open" ends (some of you may recall that our home arena is divided by a fence in the middle, so it's like having a round pen on two sides of your longeing circle and open on the other two sides - otherwise known as "temptation" for green horses who think they might want to go somewhere other than a nice round circle!) She walked on the longe today without trying to break into a jog. She jogged when asked, without any of the jumpiness and snorting that had characterized longeing sessions #1 and #2. In fact, she didn't even snort once.

I did have another horse tied in the arena today. I noticed that Sly gets very distracted and upset when she's alone, and the other filly needed a tying lesson anyway, so we brought her in. Sly was definitely more able to focus on work with another horse in sight. We have about a half-dozen Thoroughbred mares who could use patience lessons, so we'll just call this "killing two birds with one stone." Yes, horses need to learn to work alone, but they also need to learn to work with other horses around so I don't really care which they learn first and, actually, having to ignore a Thoroughbred filly having a hissy fit and pulling back is probably a good learning experience. (She is a smart filly. She only did it once; when it did not work, she abandoned the idea.)

We also worked on "ho." This mare knows to stop when you give a sharp pull on the longe but there's no voice command associated with that. If you don't pull, you could ho-ho-ho like Santa Claus and get no response. I want a verbal "ho" installed on a horse. I want a "ho" that means, you slide stop and plant your feet no matter what - even if the headstall broke, even if you are really scared, even if you are pretty sure you do want to jump off that cliff in front of you. I want emergency brakes that work pretty darn reliably, so I am working on installing them now!

This reminds me of a funny story. The first time I ever went to a real hunter horseshow, after growing up at a polo barn, I thought the horses were just terribly mannered and I couldn't understand why they were winning. The reason? They all took so long to stop! I had grown up on horses who slide-stopped on "ho" or when you drove your seat into the saddle and squeezed with your thighs. I couldn't imagine why it would take a horse several steps to stop cantering (or to start cantering, for that matter). I had never ridden a horse who lugged on the bit and slowly ground to a halt. They all looked barely green-broke to me. Ha ha, culture shock!

Who else had a major "WTF" experience the first time they saw a riding style very different from what they were raised with? What looked weird to you (or still looks weird?)