Sunday, March 29, 2015

fixed and broke

I've been trying to write this for a week and have had trouble.  So I thought I'd look at what's troubling me.  First, I tend to have trouble writing about horses anyway.  Maybe they mean too much to me for words.  Maybe it is that what I absolutely do NOT mean is training advice.  Maybe it is that I tend to write "this happened then that happened" and get lost in that instead of what I mean to actually be conveyed in the description.

After I fixed it, I knew how I broke it.  Although "fixed" and "broke" are the wrong words and if I could think of others I would surely use them.

For years I've ridden her outside, in the fields, in the open, with others and alone.  But sometime in early winter she had a estrus from h*ll, fell in love with another mare, and threw a fit on me one day.  A fit enough that she scared me.  I'm not that easy to scare, but when I'm in the fields alone and think about the possibility that I could come off and it could be awhile before someone could find me, and that I could really get hurt, and that I have no insurance, and that it could be the last time I ride, I can get scared at my age. At 20 it wouldn't have phased me.  At 54 (jebus no sh*t almost) it does and I'm not ashamed that it does, I just don't know what to do with it.  Anyway, that day, that ride, the "broke" ride, I was mostly just irritated by the whole thing, a bad day, a bad ride, but I didn't really think that much about it.  We went into the arena and finished our ride.  I continued to ride her but we didn't do a whole heck of a lot of riding this winter and I didn't have the opportunity to go outside again for awhile.

And then, the next time I took her into the fields she was all pissy.  Balky.  "No, I'm not going." We went, but we didn't go far and we didn't go pretty.

She is a horse who can be really incredibly soft, if a little slow.  And her feet are sticky.  And she has trouble cantering.  Not physically.  But even in the field, you don't see her canter much.  But I do love it when I go to get her in and when she hears me whistle and spots me, she comes to me.  Mostly at a walk.  Sometimes at a trot.  Once, after getting chased by Annie, at a canter but I thought I'd take that anyway.  Mostly at a walk.  In the recent Michael Sparling clinic we participated in, one of the things that hit me as truth was, "Look at how she relaxes and her expression softens when she trusts that you mean to really move forward."  Oh.  Don't reassure; MOVE.

And so the day came again with a perfect opportunity to ride in the fields.  Why those days always happen on open arena days beats me.  Well, part of it is my and my family's current schedule.  Sunday tends to work if the weather does, and Sunday is open arena.  So there are people and frankly I don't want to get in a fight with her with people watching.  People watching and maybe I'd give up too soon or fight for too long but I don't so much trust myself with people watching.  Strangers anyway.  So of course no one is there until I get her tacked up, then two trailers.  So I have to trust myself anyway.

So, to avoid that blow by blow stuff, a major balk happened very soon, I used some approach retreat, I used some pressure release, I used some MOVE (yes that is better).  And after we'd worked past that first balk, there was one more to which I said, "H*ll no" and to which she said, "I want to buck. . .oh no I don't either, I think I'll move and be rather happy about it", and then after that there were a couple of sticky feet moments which rather simple pressure release took care of, and that was pretty much it.  And we just took a nice walkabout in the sun, in all the fields, and took in where the grown-up fence rows have been taken out, and did a little bit of precision "put this foot there" sorts of work but always in the process of having a nice walkabout.

Today we did it again with zero balks, and nearly no sticky feet, and real work where ever we happened to be, circles and closed serpentines and hq yields and all gaits and transitions and soft feel and work on breaking at the poll and not at the third vertebrae and halt and stand and relax and walkabout all.

It is a funny thing, a thing I don't understand and don't always know what to do with it, but as her confidence increases (she was THE *MOST* unconfident horse in the world), it comes out first as pissiness.  I think I have to not be afraid to say a hard "Oh h*ll no" because, counter-intuitive to me, that is not going to decrease her confidence in herself but actually increase it in me.

We'll see.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

what you have, where you have it

I watched that video and grinned, laughing inside, because at that very moment we had a horse at the barn I work at who was being led in and out of turn-out with a chain over or under his nose.  "First, take the stud chain off."  But I still wasn't brave enough to do it.  I was amazed that this horse could be working for about anyone at 1st level, schooling higher, beginning flying changes, and yet had not been taught to pick up his feet, stand for the farrier, or lead.  You could canter this horse around and yet you could not stop at the end of the barn and catch up on business with someone while you were leading him out.  His legs were important and expensive enough to be booted up but he was not capable of standing there while you took them off.

Honestly, it didn't take me long to teach him to stand there while I took those boots off.  About a week.  But leading him, with another horse, without a stud chain?  In truth it was the cowboy who was hired to put some miles on the horse who got tired of dealing with the chain and put a cotton lead on, and once it was there I left it.  And it was fine.

And what I was thinking in regards to this is that you start where you are.  And you start where the horse is.  You work where you are, with what you have.  I remember Buck talking about colts in the East, and how they don't get to be colts and horses in the way they do in the West.  And he has a point.  I don't live where a horse has a regular job.  I don't make a lot of money but I've got to make some and I've found I can't sell snake oil no matter how hard I try so I do what I do and feel lucky to be able to do that and little along, and part of what I'm doing now and will likely always be doing as long as I get to work with horses is dealing with boarders' horses with said boarders having very different ideas of horsemanship and horse behavior and needs than I do.  And working with other minimum wage workers, mostly boys, who are doing a job temporarily until they find something better, who's idea is to get to the end of the tasks and not to take care of the horses.

And none of that matters.  I do what I do.  I learn.  I do better.  I am where I am.  I hallucinate that someday my horse(s) will be so extraordinary that people will say, how did you do that?  But usually they just say, will you teach my horse to pick up his feet?  And I'll tell ya, I'm grateful for the opportunity.  Because I learn.  And the horse learns.  And I get to do stuff.  And I get to care, and take care, and sometimes even to be taken care of.

Friday, March 6, 2015

feel the feeling of pleased

The power of pressure and release, and particularly of well timed release, never fails to amaze me.  I know a lot of times my timing is not perfect and thus my results are less than they could be and my horse is less sure and happy than he could be too but other times it works out pretty good.  Sometimes I get a whiff of that feeling I used to have of knowing exactly what to do. 

I feel pretty good that the horses I work with tend to come for me when I go for them.  Yeah yeah yeah it helps that it is winter and the grass is not green and succulent and their bellies would especially welcome a bit of grain and I could make caveats for myself forever but the fact is that if I go to Jin's field and whistle and she sees me, she'll walk to me from just about anywhere.  And I play with CC and Blaze and Lily in their field about every morning when I check water and so they'll pretty well always come too.  Not always down from the top, but often.  And even Zip and Whiskers, both newer rides for me, are curious, receptive; Whiskers more skeptical but then, he's been ridden more before me too.  Sometimes it takes them awhile to get over that feeling that there is nothing in it for them.

And then there is Brat.  She isn't my horse but my daughter rides her some, learns with her some.  Brat knows everything but Brat is a very shut down horse too.  And Brat will almost never come, even for her "mother". 

But the other day I went for her.  And I knew she wouldn't come and I was mostly just relieved when I walked out there that she wasn't at the top of the field.  I walked toward her with purpose and Blaze was like, "Me?  Me?" and I rhythm-ed "no" to him and said aloud, "I am not here for you Blaze.  My intention is for Brat," and I held the intention strongly and walked.  And she raised her head.  And I stopped and cocked a leg and though, "hmmmm."  And she put her head back down and I continued to walk toward her with purpose and the next thing she did surprised me so much:  She raised her head and took a step toward me in one motion. 

I stopped, cocked a leg, laughed, and got a treat out of my pocket.