Thursday, September 17, 2009

I did the honors today of giving Mona her fourth ride. This is a BIG bay Arabian two-year-old filly—she's probably already 15.1 hh with legs for miles. She's a beautiful horse with a lot of exuberance, and a sweet personality. It's hard not to fall for her.

But as she is not mine, and will be going home as soon as she is "ready", I have to keep some perspective.

Today, we learned that blue tarps blowing in the wind are nothing to worry about. We also learned that if a wagon goes by with a flat tire, it sounds like fluggedy flump, fluggedy flump, fluggedy flump, and even though it sounds scary, it isn't. We learned to pay attention to the leader during (un)controlled catastrophes. (Any "old-timers" remember that task from the earlier Level One assessment?)

I did the usual warm up, with emphasis on the Extreme Friendly Game (Lite version). Because of the wind and everything flapping around us, I wanted to be sure flappy flying things didn't bother her before I got on.

Nothing of note to report. Accepted the saddle like an old pro. I rode in my own Circle Y today with one shim because she is narrow in the withers and a bit downhill. It fit her quite well and solved the slippage issue I'd had with the BM's saddle. (The scary thing is, the Circle Y is the saddle I've been riding Cheerios in, and he's much wider—as soon as my inheritance comes through and I find one slightly used, I'm buying a Parelli Natural Performer or the earlier version; perhaps this is why he has trouble cantering?).

I played with her mouth a lot to prepare her for bridling. She's been bitted once. Not by me. The girl who did first ride tromped up to her, shoved the bit into her mouth, THEN asked me if she'd ever worn a bridle. When I went to bridle her the other day, she wasn't having any of it. So, I worked on trust, touching her tongue, rubbing her gums, rubbing the noseband of the hackamore on her mouth, and holding the hackamore like I'd hold the bridle so she gets used to the method.

I waited until the BM was done giving a lesson before mounting, and had the BM nearby to help. Like before, I had the BM lead Mona while I did a passenger lesson. Youngsters are so wobbly! They don't know how to balance a rider yet, and it's disconcerting. But she did well. We walked and trotted. Once she learns how to carry me, she'll have a beautiful trot with those long legs.

Then I tested rein positions, and I was IMPRESSED. She picked up Direct, Indirect and Lateral Flexion LIKE THAT. With NO encouragement from the BM on the ground! She also figured out Back Up pretty fast. Just a step or two was all I asked. She's getting it.

I think what surprises me is that I'm really good enough to teach her that, and have her respond to my focus, my leg/body, and my soft rein guidance.

You mean... maybe I really can do this?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My apologies in the post delay; busy lately! Lots of barn visits; lots of phone calls to settle the last bits of Mom's Estate; and I got a part-time job FINALLY. It starts tomorrow. Evenings, telephone research. Plenty of daylight horse hours left wide open for me. It's a start, and I'm thankful for it.

So the update. Kat had a third saddle desensitization session only I went back to the BB pad because I wanted to begin preparing her to have me in Zone 3 above her eye, and see if she was ready to accept my weight. I don't ride English, I ride Western, so I'm doing it all bareback at first. (Just like Pat and Jake did on the SC DVD.)

Not much to say about it. Same stuff, different day. Although it took a LOT less time for her to allow me to blanket and pad her—minutes rather than hours. That is progress. We were done with the games/warm-up and ready to get tacked up when another rider wanted to borrow the round pen. It was a good time for a break, so I allowed it. I let Kat graze, hung out with her, bonded; then I decided to test out her Sideways down the fenceline. And this is where I learned the real reason why I "bother" doing Parelli.

She went Sideways beautifully then began to go very RB. Then I realized my foot was snagged.

Then I realized that one of the electric fence wires (the grey kind) was down, and had been curled up beside the fence—hidden in the grass, neither of us saw it, and I unwittingly sent my horse right into it!!!

Kat wasn't caught, but she thought she was. Basically she'd snagged a bit of it, dragged it sideways with her, and pulled out the coils into a big mess, which I'd gotten my own foot tangled in.

I took leadership, and she turned and faced. She was breathing hard, but waiting. I looked carefully at the wire, assessed the situation. Kat just waited. I calmly detached the wire from around my leg, then told her I was going to pull the wire out from under her, just stand still and you'll be fine.

I extracted the wire, moved her back a step off of a piece of it, and then got rid of all of it. We both heaved a huge sigh of relief. It could have been a disaster. But it wasn't—because thanks to PNH, I had a young RB horse who LISTENED and overrode her instincts, and I knew what to do.

I've also learned that just because the ground was clear during the past 364 days, it doesn't mean it's clear on day 365—always check to make sure it's clear before sending your horse that way (or yourself).

After distracting her with a few more games, I took her back to the round pen and although the other rider was still riding, I just went ahead and did my blanket/pad anyway. Yep. Outside of the pen, without a net. Then, tacked up, I let Kat graze until the rider was done.

Then I got the mounting stool and just did approach and retreat in Zone 3 on both sides, stepping up and down and rubbing her until she figured it out. The last thing I did was rest my upper body on her back and rub her thoroughly. She handled it well and let out a huge sigh. End of session.

Mona had her first ride with another rider. Then she had an unscheduled vacation while other horses were played with. It was suggested I have a different girl ride her, with me assisting. Since I'm doing this for the BM, I have tended to let her decide the procedures, figuring she knows her boarders' riding and training abilities better than I do.

That's about to change. I've learned something valuable. While one girl has been a working student with a prominent cross-country eventer (who has won the Rolex and a World Championship before) and spent the summer breaking two-year-olds, the riding ability is there, but the actual horsemanship is lacking. (I was told by her that the Eventer, who shall remain nameless, gives all the youngsters Ace before they are saddled the first time. I'm sorry. To me, that is the equivalent of giving them a roofie and date raping them. I am thoroughly unimpressed, and if it were me, I would not want to listen to a single thing the man said. Ribbons and championships aside).

Another girl has been riding for 11 years, but knows very little about how to teach a horse new things. Yet another spent two years in a very prestigious Equine program near here, but changed majors because the program directors not only belittled Parelli, but after inviting another well-known NH trainer to give a demonstration, they laughed at HIM. While he was demo-ing to their students!

These girls all have paper credentials and associated prestige; so they should know their manure, you'd think.

Well, this is what I've learned. Their horsemanship will tell you a lot more about their true knowledge than their mouths will.

And that's true for me, as well. I'm not saying I'm exempt. Or perfect. But I know my horsemanship, even in its growing stages, speaks for itself. And the funny thing is, the others are starting to look to ME for information. (Except for Ms Rolex Student. But her goals are different from mine.)

On Sunday, the 11-year rider (J) and I were to work with Mona on riding. I collected Mona in my usual manner. I played with her in the pen to see where she was mentally and emotionally. J watched, asked intelligent questions about why I was doing what I was doing, which I answered. Mona got to the ready point, and we proceeded to saddle her English. I circled her a bit, following PNH procedure.

Because she'd been bridled before by Ms. Rolex, I thought to test and see if Rolex had done the job well.

Nope. Mona didn't want anything to do with the bridle. I realized that bridling would have to be a separate session and left her in the halter. I tied up the 12-foot into reins, attached the 22, and J mounted up. It went fine. I held the end of the lead line as a safety net, and to help Mona find the answers when J asked her to respond to rein guidance. She rode Mona around a little bit, then we found a good stopping place.

The next day, J and I repeated the procedure for Mona's third ride.

Instead of bridling her, I
opted for the hackamore instead. It makes sense: she's used to the Parelli halter and lead rope—it's the same thing with reins added. J mounted up, and we walked and trotted. Well, they walked and trotted—I stood in the center at neutral holding the popper. After a bit, J felt confident enough to take her around without my holding on. Mona was OK with that, but wasn't really responding to J's attempts to get her to go or turn.

I had one of those moments: you watch, you suggest, and you stand there getting antsy because you're just SURE if it were you up there, you'd be able to get her to do it.

So we switched. We swapped out English for Western. Mona saddled like an old pro. And I got on.

And yes, Virginia, I was right. Kicking her wasn't working (of course not). I did the PNH procedure. Sit up, energy up, squeeze gently but with increasing pressure, cluck, swing rope around myself... Mona leaned forward, I released and rubbed. Repeat: Mona leans forward, lifts leg, release and rub. Within about four of these, Mona understood to walk off when I did that. And we're walkin'...

Next, I tested Direct Rein. Of course, I used focus with the eyes, then my body, and reins last.

Mona TURNED. A little wobbly, but she did it. Pretty soon, I had her doing slow, wobbly S-curves across the round pen.

J watched the whole time. Suddenly she's full of questions for me. (I like that.)

We found a good stopping point when Mona sighed. I dismounted, and stood there with Mona resting her chin on my shoulder as I softly scratched her. I wish this was my horse. I wish they were ALL my horses, because I truly love them all.

I've realized that 11 years of being able to ride doesn't mean you know how to use your body to ride. Like most, J adopts The Position, and expects the horse to know what to do, or to be able to steer with the reins or legs while staring forward. The concept of looking where you want to go, not just with your eyes but your whole body, is new to her.

Parelli is amazing. From it, I have learned more about horses, horsemanship, riding, and myself (and other people) than I ever thought I could from a "video-driven horse training method".

J told me she'd been Googling horse methods, but there were so many out there, she was confused, it was hard to know which ones worked. I admitted that when I first heard of Parelli, I was skeptical—I thought it was a pyramid scheme, or one of those things that promised more than it delivered. Thankfully, my skepticism was quickly dismissed; seven years of being an obsessed PNH student proves it's not a pyramid scheme, it's a Godsend.

Perhaps we have a new convert in J? I can only hope.

Rode him and worked on everything. My main objective was to get us to L3 standard—we've been lazy. I've been letting him get away with being sloppy, with easing into a trot, easing out of it. I want smooth transitions and snappy departures. I want him to RESPOND when I ask for Sideways. I mean, snap to attention, Yes Ma'am, and go Sideways, straight and smooth, and don't stop until I ask.

It's been more like "Sigh...." one reluctant step or two Sideways, then angle out so he's walking at a diagonal.

I fixed that.

He was a bit miffed because I actually dared to get firm with him. He got firm with me and ran my knee into the electric wire and fence post on the way out the gate. The bruise is pretty huge and ugly, but it missed my knee cap.

He's used to being in charge. He's LBI. He's not used to me taking leadership. But we tightened up a lot of things in that session.

So the next session I played at Liberty with him, and taught small new things. Like lead from the mane, tail, lip, ear. Just the beginnings. I switched gears. Nothing huge to report—it's all preliminary right now. But I think, pending the next week, we'll be taping on the 30th.