Friday, July 31, 2015

It's so worth my time

I *love* going out to the fields to get horses.  Of course, sometimes I dread it -- long walk, heat, the time it takes.  And then after the ride, usually they have to be taken back out, which IS shorter because you just turn them loose at the closest gate. But still.

But still.  It is some of the best bonding and learning time there is.  Herd learning.  Here in high summer they don't generally come to me, not from very far away anyway.  I walk out and note where they are for the time of day, and who is with whom.  I have my intention clear in my own head and heart about who I am coming for, although I will pet and pay attention to others if that is what happens.

If the whole herd is totally ignoring me I have been known to sit down, or even lay flat out, and wait.  Because one of them will get curious.  And then I get to laugh as they seem to comment, "You are the weirdest human being we've ever known."

If who I intend to work with gives me eyes and ears, I stop and allow them to come if they will.  With grass they usually don't.  With less grass they usually do.  And once I'm closer they usually do.  Sometimes they will come from way away; that is always a gift.  And usually, once they come to me, we can choose to not halter at all until ready to go through the gate, we can play stick to me at different gates, and yields.  Sometimes I get to see a bit of their playfulness.  This is a quality that I'm trying to figure out how to better bring out in other work.  Play.  Desire.

And for sure, work is play for me.

*The title of this post is a quote from someone I was unfortunate enough to work with for a time.  We got paid per ride and he would say, "It's not worth my time to go get one."  Obviously, I disagree.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

turn out

Some weeks one horse or another from the field gets brought in, practices staying in a stall, gets worked with several times.  Usually Jin or her brother Whiskers.  This week it was Jin.

Now, Jin has been so introverted.  I could tell you all about her bottom of the herd place, about how it took some months before she could acknowledge a shoulder scratch as a pleasant thing, about how cantering seems to be exceedingly difficult for her.  Not physically.  Physically she is a glorious specimen.  But letting go that much.  Meeting the world at that pace.

Then I could go in to the seeming fact that most horses I ride seem to have some issue going into canter.  Yeah, not right now.  Besides, it's improving.

So here we are.  Sometime she'll offer canter at liberty.  Sometimes she'll maintain a whole circle at canter on-line.  We can canter a couple times around the arena.  Simple changes are usually fairly simple.  We've even done a flying change or two.  She can trot a tiny jump and canter off usually.  She can do the riding part of that stuff with other horses, sometimes even a lot of other horses, around.

Where she used to always be alone in the field, sometimes now she's with a horse or two, often Rock.  Who I swear I drool over Rock -- he is just gorgeous in that classic little QH way with the softest brown eyes and he might be next year's project.  Used to you'd turn her out and she'd just see if you had a carrot for her and when you left her, she'd walk off picking.  Used to you'd never see her cantering in the field, even coming TO grain.  She might trot.  Her favorite ploy was to walk so as not to draw any attention and thus get to eat in peace until the others caught on.  But canter?  I almost never saw it.

Until this morning.  We rode last night and she went out with Belle.  I brought her in, let her eat, then turned her out.  That field of horses were not in sight -- likely they were at the creek which is the furthest corner of the field and that's a big field.  I took her halter off, scratched her belly button, and went to the gate.  She looked at me.  "I don't have a cookie today."  She looked to the horizon.  Nickered.  Belle nickered back from the barn, and then CC or somebody from another field.  Jin nickered again.  Then trotted away from the nickers and toward the unseeable creek.

Then teetered up to a canter.  Nice, easy, canter.  Then someone nickered and she broke back to a trot for a few strides, then back up, other lead.  Kind of just like we've been doing it except effortless of course.

And then she was over the hill.

Next week's concentration should be on Zip.

But I'm kind of thinking of trying to do a level 3 freestyle audition with Belle.  And needing to see where I am approaching level 3 online and liberty with Jin.  Or somebody.  That could be Zip really because he's so free with himself when you aren't on him.  I just haven't worked with him a lot.

Monday, July 20, 2015

DQ and NH

I got to watch a lesson with a rider and a horse I know, with a young DQ I'm also quite familiar with.  I learned some useful stuff, some stuff I think I can apply.  She's good, the DQ, a good rider, a good teacher.  Accomplished.  Young.  "Make the resistance harder than the work."  That was something I heard from K but I could hear it today too.  "He needs to KNOW" blah blah blah.

And it is true.  They need to know.  We need to be consistent.

But there is also this thing called desire.  And horses have it too.  A lot of it is good riding -- horses ridden well like to be ridden.  I remember particularly the grey arab mares in the 3rd quarter pool at MM, and when the two girly girls got them (I do not remember their names), the horses refused jump after jump.  I remember the day Struby let me take one from one of those girls.  I'd had her the previous week if I remember correctly and we'd jumped everything.  She was a horse you had to ride, true enough -- you couldn't point her and sit there.  Thinking back on it it was truly what Buck talks about having the rectangle and keeping the horse in the rectangle.  That little mare would try every side of that rectangle and if there was a crack anywhere, she wasn't going over that jump.  But if you moved the rectangle over that jump, she went picture perfect.  So maybe you couldn't say she had desire;  she wasn't Lucky who when he went in an arena and there were jumps, he said (and you could hear him), "Oh good."  But I don't remember her hating jumping either.

Of course, it was a thing with me then.  And I was never afraid I would get more than I could handle because I knew I could handle *anything*.  Dumb young kid.  But I also remember Out of Luck Charlie.  Oh, I loved that horse.  Everyone hated that horse.  He was known to kick in the stall, and they were tie stalls.  So when I drew him, on Sunday I went to his stall, to his head in the feed isle, with a bag of carrots and I talked to him.  "Look, I'll be riding you and I'd really like to not get kicked so I'll bring you a carrot every day and I won't surprise you and I'll be good to you and you'll be good to me.  Deal?"  He was not naturally forward so talking him into that was . . . interesting.  I got to ride him in one of the BIG group rides for Mrs. M (K) and I got chosen to lead because she knew it would push me and then also push some of the riders on the bigger, more forward horses, just in different directions.  And that was the day Mrs. M said how good I'd become.  It meant the world to me.  Anyway, he never even raised a hoof.  We got along famously.  I even got an A on him on show day but it was because I didn't place at all -- he *always* refused on show day because he'd learned he could, so I took a crop with me and when, two strides out from that first jump he sucked back, he felt that crop and went on and we had a wonderful round but the crop disqualified us but we didn't need it next time at all.

So a lot of it is riding, whether it is that grey arab or Charlie -- if you can get them to want to do for you, they will.

But there is also deeper relationship, at least possible.  And there are also the horse's responsibilities.  And those are likely things I've really only learned theoretically in the last four years even if I knew some of it intuitively before.

You know, a horse may be obedient and not spook badly at something, but that doesn't mean he trusts his rider OR that he is brave -- only that he is more dreadful of the consequences of spooking badly.  Obedient is good, but sometimes you have to listen to your horse too.

I know I'm not the first person to be trying to look at these things.  I'm certainly not the most talented or gifted person to do it.  I'm too old.  I want to be open, to try it, but I also want to be on the horse's side of this thing.  "I'm here for the horse."  Ray said that.  Likely Tom too.  I try to tell people who work, "There isn't a list of tasks that have to be done and then the job is done.  The job is to take care of the horses and you do certain tasks to do that but you might have to do more than that."  Or sometimes even less than that.  I try to tell people, "Every time you do anything with any horse, you are training that horse."  The relationship with that horse cannot be all one way, top down.

Can you go low deep and round if you give immediately?  Can they learn to step that inside hind up under and cross over from hq yields?  Can they be attentive to the rider without having to be told every step?  Can you know exactly where every foot is without riding every step?  Does dressage have to destroy a horse's hocks?  Can I ride a horse and not make them reticent to go forward (wtf)?  When is it set it up and wait and when is it "I said now"?

Friday, July 3, 2015


She was the most standoffish horse ever, really.  She'd be caught.  She'd ride.  She'd let you groom her.  She obediently and softly picked up all her feet from one side.  But she didn't like anything.

Imajin BN Broke.  What a name.  Her mother was a little tiny mare named Spec.  Her daddy was Dr. Haught's stud.  Both squirrelly.  Bottom of the pecking order.  She liked to come in but it seemed as much because she wanted to be invisible in a stall as anything else.

Then one day I went to get her.  I had in mind a nice little ride in the fields I think.  I put her in a stall.  I likely gave her some grain because I usually do that with the field horses I bring in.  And something that day made me scratch on her shoulder, right where the neck comes in.  Maybe I was grooming her, maybe it was before that.  But I could tell she liked it, even though there were really no outward signs.  It was likely an exhale, or a relaxation of the eye and ears.  That small.  Until I stepped away from her and she turned so as to "give" me the shoulder again, asking me to keep scratching.

That was the first ever interaction with me initiated by her.  I scratched her for a long time.  Then I took her back out to the field and turned her out again.

In a lot of ways we've come a long way since then.  Not nearly so far as I would have liked to.  Gosh, I would like to have done so much.  But she canters now, at least in a manner of speaking.  We don't have the nice dressage transitions to it still, STILL, but she's usually willing.  Even online she will canter now, and she's offered it at liberty boomerang come to me.  She gets stuck sometimes if we are riding out and there is not a horse to follow but with a little work we can get past it, but it does take the work.  She will step in most any puddle.  She doesn't like trailers.  She will get on the stock trailer, and with skilled help I can get her on other things but she doesn't much like it.  You know, so there is stuff.  She can make me feel like I am so freaking ignorant.  I am so fascinated at the layers we go through -- like how now she can sometimes have "happy feet" where she used to be so stuck, so "if I'm really really still, no one will see me".

But if I go into the field, she comes.  Maybe slow with the grass in, but she knows I'm her heard.  Sometimes, but not always, she'll play with me.  It is in there.   If I can get that out, she'll do for me.  That I'm sure of.  And she loves to be scratched now, in a lot of different places, and she will do the reciprocal thing too.  And that's a big deal for her.  And for me.

And the last time playing with her, she put all four feet on the pedestal and stood there.  She's always liked the pedestal but ours is a little small and she is a big horse but once she was up there she was like, oh.  And I emptied my pockets and scratched her belly and then we ate grass on the way back out.

Now I'm riding her half brother Whiskers too.  He is very much like her in body, less squirrelly in mind.  A solid citizen.  But oh I so do not have his heart yet.  I may only have half of Jin's heart, even in all this time, but his is not mine.  And only time will break through that.  Time and scratches.

So today I spent all morning grooming and searching for those spots, and working on him asking me questions.  And this afternoon on getting some more language.  Jin watched this last from her field.