Thursday, April 30, 2009

Baby Horse- Untie Your Knots

Don't you just love the movie "What About Bob?" Today we covered a few basic, but very important, lessons with one theme in common: giving to pressure calmly and quietly. We are preparing for Louie's first ever field trial next week/weekend. This is his first time horse camping and trail riding away from home, and it will be a great experience for him to soak up as I know exactly what to expect. It is a 5-day Weimaraner (pointing dog) field trial (like hunting on horseback) in Eagle, WI, that my hubby hosts every year and I have gone to for many years with no horse to ride- and let me tell you, sitting up at camp while everybody else is out riding and watching can get pretty boring.

The horses are kept on stake outs at night time (or when not being ridden and not tied to the trailer), which consist of half a car axel pounded into the ground with a rope (wrapped in a garden hose) that the horse is tied to. They have about a 25 foot diameter circle to roam around, graze, lay down, roll, even trot around on if they so choose. But there is one rather large obstacle to the stake out- being tied to it. I haven't worked a ton on tying with Louie yet as we haven't needed to. And the concept of getting one's legs tangled up in the lines are quite another issue to deal with- in fact, this is the hardest part of the whole field trial concept in my mind.
At the trial, the dogs run 20-30 minute "braces" (aka courses) around a loop of trail that is a scenic mixture of open field and forest in a glacial bed. There are two dogs to a brace, each handled by one handler on horseback. The handlers lead the herd, then the two judges behind them, and then behind the judges is a gallery of riders, and a scout on horseback for each of the handlers (to go find the dog if it gets lost- scouts have one of the most important and challenging jobs at a trial). The gallery is where Louie and I will be riding and watching from. The course is pretty easy riding for the most part, a few pot holes in the open field and one or two rather challenging hills to climb, but for the most part, easy riding and good footing. The trial runs sun up to sun down each day, and I can ride in as many or as few braces as I choose- which is ideal for Louie's first time out- no pressure. There will be gunshots (blanks, which are quiet relative to other guns) while out on the course, along with other horses, dogs, and some natural obstacles (tree roots, hills, etc for Louie to navigate while riding. These will be relatively new experiences, but as a 3 yr old, his mind is a sponge, and as long as I stay calm and just ride and enjoy my horse and the trial, he should have a great experience and learn a lot. I don't plan on riding him too much or too hard as he is young and growing and I don't want to push him physically too much yet.
So those are the big obstacles that we will encounter on this trip (not counting the 6 hour trailer ride each way). So to prepare for this, we've begun some basic lessons on how to be a calm and happy horse and be smart while on a stake out. The first lesson today was rather simple: tying to the trailer. Strangely enough, Louie has not done this before, but I guess I haven't taken him to a show or anything where he would have had the opportunity. So we began here, at the trailer, while I groomed him. Maybe this is edible?
He wasn't very excited that there was no food for him, and he had nothing to do- so this is how he made use of his time.
I practiced walking around the trailer as if I was leaving- out of his sight, then re-appearing on the other side of the trailer (which sometimes spooks horses). Louie couldn't care less.
So we moved on to our next obstacle for the day: hobbles.
I have never hobbled Louie, but this is a traditional step in breaking a horse or sacking them out, as they learn to stand calmly when they get into a pickle. With Louie being as smart as he is, it didn't take him long to figure out this obstacle. At first he just stood in the center of the arena where I left him. Then he tried to take a step. Thinking he had stretchies on and not hobbles, he pulled his leg up off the ground pretty hard, expecting the chain to stretch. Well it didn't, and up came the other front foot. He took a bit of a hop, down to his knees, thought it out and got back up. He tried one more time, same reaction.
Then he figured it was best just to stand for a little while and maybe the hobbles would somehow magically disappear. He lifted a leg, this time expecting the chain not to give, and pulled at it, but to no success.
He tried again a couple of times, just checking it out to see what his limits were, but he never got stressed out or scared by the confinement. My old trainer taught me that you have true control over a horse if you have control over his feet. I think this is a very true statement. Louie stood and licked his lips a little bit- looking so sad that he was stuck in one spot.
"But Mom. . . . "
Then he quickly realised that he could take little tiny "baby steps" and get himself over to the fence to get a few bites of grass from under the fence. I'm so happy to have a horse that is so easily amused by food.
After sucessfully mastering the trailer tie and the hobbles, Louie moved on to the final obstacle of the day: the stake out. I pounded the stake out into a nice grassy patch in the center of the horse pasture (no horses turned out on it currently). I led Louie up to the stake out, reading his one track mind- "look at all this green grass!" He thought he was in horsie heaven. I walked him up to the stake out- "eh, not interested." I showed him the line with the garden hose over it- "eh, that's boring." I shook the line a little bit in the grass like a snake- "who cares Mom, there's food here." So okay, I hooked him up to it and led him around the perimeter so he could see the line following him. Now this got him a little perked up- he checked out the green snake-like object that was following him around- but that's all he did was look at it. Not even a flare of the nostrils. So I let him go to eat and try it out.
He ate for a while without testing the tie at all. His first 2 tests were when he stood on the line about 6 inches from his halter. He lifted his head up- at first pulled just a tad, then dropped his head and removed his foot. The second time he stepped on it he just thought, "okay, I've hit the end of the rope, I better put my head back down." Then he stepped over the line. When he lifted his head up this time, his pastern was caught by the rope. He was a little suprised by this, but he didn't panic, just lowered his head and moved his leg around until it came free. He did this a few more times without incident (of course I was standing there watching him with my heart beating a little fast in anticipation of some disaster).
The right foot might be different than the left:
After about 30 minutes of grazing, Louie got a hind leg caught over the line. He stood there, slightly more concerned than the front leg, but he wiggled and kicked his back leg around until it came free and went right back to grazing. After a short while, he had become pretty comfortable with walking over the line and figuring out how to get un-stuck. There is one thing I want to tweak on this stake out- since the hose comes quite short of the end and there are metal clips on the rope, I plan to wrap the end of the line in vetwrap to make it a little softer and safer.
Louie's first experience on the stake out really went without incident and I am becoming much more confident in his abilities to learn and adapt to new settings and new rules. I was quite pleased with how Louie handled himself in these challenges today- not that I thought he would panic or struggle with them, but Social was a bit of a stinker with the stake out, so I have the worst case scenario running through my head as any concerned horsie mother would. We will continue to practice these and other obstacles over the next few days before we leave for the trial in effort to be as prepared and desensitized as possible so that we can all go and have a great time relaxing and enjoying the trial. I was quite hesitant to even consider bringing Louie since Social was such a poor field trial horse, but I really have confidence that Louie will do very well. I am fairly certain I will bring him now, unless the forecast predicts storms the whole time (which sometimes happens- and is no fun). While I'm there I won't be able to blog on his progress, but I will post all about it when we return. As for now- the adventure continues with lots of practice.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hey Jealousy

I couldn't decide what I wanted to do with Louie today so I let him choose. "Tell me Louie, Right hand for ride, left hand for lunging." He chose the lunging. So we worked on "easy" to slow down the trot to a nice jog as we have been starting to work on under saddle, and "hup!" to power it up and move into a faster english or road trot. Then we worked on the canter- all tracking to the right. Louie missed his lead over and over and anticipated and grinded his teeth, and was getting so frustrated, but I do say he cantered pretty softly and nimbly on a very small circle on the incorrect lead! I could have touched him with my lunge whip, yet he stayed quite soft in the canter and at a very nice collected loap. Finally he got the right lead- GOOD BOY! I feel like I have to do jumping jacks with pom poms screeming "Go Louie, Go Louie, You Got It, You Got It!" every time he gets his right lead because it just doesn't sink in quite as easily with him. For as smart as he is, he is still struggling a bit with this right lead business- especially on the lunge line. After that we trotted a bit and tried a few more times, got the wrong lead a bunch more, then finally got the right lead again- YAY! (the inner cheerleader comes out)- and I think I actually startled Louie with my errupting joy and praise that he stopped and looked at me like I was some swamp beast from Mars. So then we had to try it again. After a few more times, he finally got it again, and I let him go on that lead for a little while, then stopped and petted and praised him. We did a little more jogging to cool out.

He was one sweaty pony, as it is beautiful and sunny out today. So after cooling down with some nice curry combing, we tried the bath thing again. This time we got a little more surface area than last time- got the full legs, groin/between the legs/sheath (the most important parts in my opinion), chest, shoulders, neck and heart girth area. He started to dance around when I tried to rinse his sides and hind quarters, but once our wash area/cross ties are set up that should get easier.

To finish, we found a nice grassy area on the lawn and I treated Louie to some fresh green grazing. He LOVED that- did I mention my horse loves food? Well he does. I tested him by leaving him to graze while I went and put away some stuff in the barn. He passed with flying colors. I did mention he loves food- he wasn't going anywhere as long as there was fresh stuff under his chin.

Of course you can imagine the disappointment when I told him it was time to go back in the pasture. "Mom, do I have to?" We fought at the pasture gate once again but finally he gave in and went into the pasture. He walked over to his favorite spot and had himself a nice roll with his fresh wet coat. In the mean time, I had walked past him to get Louie's "TWH brother" Cash from the pasture to work him. When Louie saw me over by Cash, he came running, green with envy. He ran right up to me and said, "Mom, what are you doing? What about me? You can't talk to him, I'm your baby!" Oh the look on his face. He followed us up to the pasture gait in hot pursuit. I could almost see the tears on his face when I told him, "No Louie, I have to work Cash, you had your turn." Babies- they are so egocentric. Of course Cash is the totally neglected brother (hubby's horse), so I do feed into Louie's superiority complex just a bit with how spoiled he is.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Stall Baby

It's official- Louie is a stall baby. I went to put him back in the pasture today after our ride and he refused to walk through the pasture gait to go back out in the pasture. Granted the electric fence by the gait has gotten him a few times, but he came out of the pasture without too much convincing today. I really didn't want to get into a fight over the whole thing, so after some pretty serious attempts and effort on my part, I just let him go in his stall, and he was happy as a clam in the barn by himself, thunderstorm brewing and all. Social was never so content to be apart from the rest of the herd or in his stall, but I'd rather have a stall baby than a herd bound horse any day! Louie has got me wrapped around his little finger- I mean hoof. He's a spoiled pony! And a hungry one too!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mind the Rail!

Owweee!! We were riding along so peacefully and nicely on this windy day (40mph gusts) when Louie's steering gave out just a bit (as it frequently does) and we meandered a little too close to the rail. With one thud, my patella single handedly popped the arena gate open, and with quite some velocity if I do say so myself! I immediately doubled over on Louie's neck, and while he stood there perfectly taking care of me (thank you and good boy Louie!), the next words that came out of my mouth were the type I'd never want my mother to hear me say. My knee was almost paralyzed, I looked over at it, bent to exactly the angle that it had been the whole ride, and just staying that way by itself. That "funny bone" sensation went through my knee again and again. After a few minutes of pain, we finished up our ride with some very gentle trotting and called it a day. Yeeoww! It still hurts. I hope it will be purple tomorrow so at least I have something to show for it!

Friday, April 17, 2009

We Have Right Lead!

Hooray! Louie got his right lead 3 out of 5 times today! And it is actually better than that- He got it both of the first 2 times I asked him for it, but on the second, he quit on me before I asked him to. So I cued him again and that's when he got the left twice, then got the right lead once again to finish! It wasn't the most pretty thing in the world- he seems really unbalanced on that side, as he really has to rock his body and move his neck a lot to get enough impulsion to stay in it, but hey- at least he is getting it! His left lead has been beautiful- smooth and controlled, and he's pretty steady with his head. I don't know if he just needs more work on the right, or stretching, or growing, or a chiro adjustment or what, but I figure the left lead is more important for the show ring anyhow as that is the first way and impressions are still being made at that point. He isn't bucking or kicking or anything anymore, and seems to be doing it quite willingly now that he's figuring out that's what I want (he got it 2/5 times earlier this week when I rode him), so I'll just go with it and hopefully it will get better with time.

Earlier, we also worked on a lot of figure 8's and circles at the trot today (and walk-trot-walk transitions). We would do figure 8's and most of the time I'd do an extra circle or 2 or 3 on one of the parts of the 8 before going the other way. He does tend to anticipate my next move, so we trot in kindof a funny shaped circle sometimes, but really he did quite well by the end. I think this is a good suppling exercise and a good exercise in listening and not anticipating. I was also able to do this with quite a nice headset (nicely flexed) and almost no rein contact whatsoever. There were many moments when I basically just gave him his face completely and he went along perfectly. Since sometimes I find myself pulling quite hard (okay this is a relative term, I have very soft hands compared to most others) on the reins to get what I'm asking for, it was good to be consious of that in this exercise today.

Overall I was very happy with my horsie today. :) He is such a smarty pants- and he is turning out to be a very calm, well mannered, and good thinking horse, which I am absolutely thrilled about. I love my horse!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Dirt Sticks Better When You're Wet

That is a phenomenon Louie learned after our lesson today. But to start at the beginning, we went for a trial ride in the barn owner's saddle today. I wanted to try it out because I eventually want to get a new cutback saddle. Hers is a Whitman adjustable bar with equitation seat- I really liked it. The adjustable bars set way back helped me SO much in keeping my legs steady while posting. And I didn't mind the deep seat either. The only thing I didn't like was that the seat seemed to cut into my butt/legs on the edges.

We just did a plain old average ride in the arena today, worked a little bit on asking Louie to bring his head up- and he did that pretty nicely. He gets a little lazy and wants to hang on my hands, but he'll get it figured out eventually once I routinely ask him for that. We worked just a little bit on the canter- only tracking to the right today. The first 2 attempts he missed the lead. Then lo and behold he got his right lead! Good boy! We went around at the speed of sound in that tiny little arena and were lucky the arena was just leveled so we didn't wipe out. After it sank in to Louie that I kept saying "good boy!" and petting him, he settled down into a much nicer, more relaxed canter. We walked and trotted for a little while more, then one more time I asked him for the right lead canter and he got it again! Hooray! I don't want to say that this was a major lightbulb moment or an epiphany for Louie yet, because it was probably just luck, but I can sure hope! The right lead is definately less comfortable than the left, but hey- you gotta have a right lead to be able to work on it.

So to cool out we went for a nice walk around the farm again- between the row of pine trees, looking at all the pretty sights- neighbor horses, lawnmowers, big rocks, etc. Then all of a sudden, some ducks landed on the pond about 20 feet away and Louie spooked- we headed off galloping through the neighbor's yard. All the while I'm saying "woah! woah!" and thanking God that I was riding in Lisa's equitation seat saddle that actually has a cantle! He only went about 30 feet, but that was plenty! At least he stopped. We rode back up to the pond and I made him look at those ducks. He jumped/spooked in place when they took off to fly away. Scary ducks.

When we got back to the barn, I gave Louie a little snack. He is growing- yippee!! And while he's gained about an inch of height at the withers in the past month, he's lost probably 50-75 pounds. So we have increased his feed, and I gave him a little of his protein feed (Assurance Grass Balancer) mixed with some of the high-fat supplement that Sarah gave me (Empower). He gobbled that right up while I groomed him- of course, not before dropping half of it on the floor- I think he thinks that is a game, then he can enjoy it for twice as long while he's cleaning up his mess. Louie has learned to love being groomed- he has been standing like a perfect gentleman, super relaxed and happy as a clam for his groomings.

Finally, since it is absolutely beautiful out today- 65 and sunny- I decided it would be a good time to introduce Louie to the hose. So I set up the hose right outside the barn (our usual bathing area doesn't have the hose hooked up yet- it's April for heaven's sake, it's not supposed to be this warm out). I held Louie's lead rope in one hand and the hose in the other while I turned it on. The first squirt out of the hose was a little scary and Louie took a lap around me, but soon it became less interesting. I put my hand in the water and held it up to Louie's nose (I've been giving him a sip or two of coke this way- he loves it). At first he was a little scared by the concept, but then he figured out it's just water and tried to drink from the hose. After he figured that out, I was able to hose down his legs- starting in the front, then the backs, and slowly working my way up to his chest. He stood beautifully for this part, so I turned off the hose and called it a day. He promptly went out to pasture, kicked his buddy Khougar out of his spot where he was laying, then had himself a nice roll in Khougar's spot. Louie was quite pleased to discover how nicely the dirt sticks to his legs when he has had a bath!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ooh He Looks Good!

In his new saddle! Nevermind the english work bridle and the half-done clip job. Here's Louie, modeling his new saddle, which looks mighty handsome on him if he does say so himself. It fits nicely, and it rides even better.
We did work on our "jog" a tiny bit, but um, we have a lot of work left to do on that before we'll be showing that off to anyone! lol But we cantered in the new saddle and that went well. I think Louie will have to get used to the weight of the saddle (this one is probably 15+ pounds heavier than his english saddles), and the size. I also am in the process of acquiring some "accessories." Hehehe. A saddle carrying case, a saddle cover that I can ride in (hopefully), and a new show bridle. Maybe Louie's first show ring class will be a 2+3 yr old snaffle bit western pleasure class after all! But back to reality- we've got to canter on both leads before that happens. I'm just THRILLED that I finally have a nice western saddle that fits my horse, fits me, and fits in the show ring! :)

Friday, April 10, 2009

New Saddle!

Well I know it isn't exactly what I've been working on so far. . . but I stumbled across this saddle on Craig's List and the seller was willing to work out a trade for my barrel saddle that doesn't fit my horse (QH bars), nor fits in the show ring. I got one heck of a deal. :) Hopefully Louie will enjoy western because I sure do! I think he is versatile enough, so eventually we will get around to practicing our western pleasure jog. . . Anyhow, here is our newest addition- a 16" Circle Y show/pleasure saddle with semi-QH bars, and just the style/color that I love. Can't wait to try it on! :)

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Tooth Fairy

Our vet came today for the routine spring visit. Louie got the rest of his spring shots, coggins, wormer, and his teeth floated. His teeth were "in the middle" as the vet put it, meaning they weren't bad, but if they are causing trouble, it wouldn't hurt to do them. So, with the grinding we've been having and the fact the fact that I want to make bitting and riding as enjoyable as possible for Louie, we went ahead and floated them to be sure. Louie did have a loose cap that the vet was able to remove- these are about actual size- pretty cool! We'll see if the tooth fairy has any goodies to bring for Louie!

Once the mouth speculum was on, I was able to take a pretty good look inside and it did look like there were some pretty sharp points off of the upper back teeth. Our vet also pointed out to me where the next teeth will be erupting and which caps will be falling out next. Louie's left lower canine is erupted, and the right lower isn't quite through yet, but it looks iminent- quite a swollen red bump there! So this all gave me quite an appreciation for what Louie is going through, and quite another appreciation for our vet. He is very good, and great with patient education and patience, thank you Toby!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Progress Video

Sandy came to watch and help us today. The ground was still semi-frozen and hard, but after a while, both Louie and the earth loosened up a bit. We just did a quick lesson on the basics, some transitions, walking, and trotting, and a tiny bit of cantering (I wanted it to be a non-issue, so we just did a little). This was our second ride in the hunt seat saddle and I'm still getting used to it and trying to remember how to ride hunt seat, lol. I feel like I'm riding a pogo stick between the way the seat puts me compared to my cutback and the hard ground causing Louie to take a little shorter strides. As you can see I forgot my crop and my helmet, but actually life was easier without the whip, so I may continue to forget it, and the helmet, well, the jury is still out on that one haha. So here is the video, sorry for the bits and pieces, Sandy's shoulder doesn't have enough endurance to film the whole clip in one shot (but believe me, you're not missing much).

A little note on the canter- Louie has been cantering pretty well from the walk! And no bucking, and he actually now keeps going until I ask him- so that's progress! But as you can see, he isn't consistent in his walk-canter transitions quite yet (as I would expect, he's 3 for heaven's sake- I'm pretty impressed that he's doing that at all!), so we had a couple of attempts before we were successful. I could have edited out the first 2 canter attempts here, but I thought it would be good to show that he's not perfect and is still a bit inconsistent here. We did canter on the right lead once (before the video), but when I asked for it again, he missed it about 3 times and started anticipating and chewing his bit, so I just decided to forget it and come back to that another day.

I also rode him in a bit that is relatively new, which he seems to like- a half cheek copper mouth Dr. Bristol. I have put him in this bit in the bitting rig and lined him in it, but no rides yet, so this went well. He hasn't really disliked any of the bits I've tried, but I figured this one is maybe a little more comfortable. Here are the 3 bits I've used with him: first, the D ring with copper rollers (this was the bit he was worked in by his breeder), second, the Black snaffle with copper inlays (one of my favorites), and finally, the new Dr. Bristol half cheek with copper mouth.

Also, no martingale today- and his head was about as consistent as it usually is with one- but just a bit lower. Saddlebred necks can be very difficult to manage as they can stretch down causing you to lengthen the reins, or they can raise up, or they can curl their necks up like a pigtail as you see Louie do here towards the end. This all can be a little challenging to manage with no consistency yet in that department. Eventually Louie should decide on a place and go with it, lol. All in all, he's coming along really nicely and he seemed happy in our ride today despite the couple of learning moments. I love having video to compare periodically to watch our progress! Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Relaxing and Fun

It was a beautiful evening tonight and I finished my last clinical rotation today, so it was perfect reason to relax and celebrate. I went to see Louie and he was taking a cat nap when I got there- I can't resist a good photo-op, and cell phones are SO convenient for that!
I went up to him and petted him for a bit while he laid there, then some of the other horses came over and started to pester him, so he got up. We went inside and spent a LONG time grooming. Louie is in full shedding mode now! I think I got about 15 curry comb waffles (you know, when the hair gets wadded up on the curry comb, then you peel it off like a waffle?) off of him! He sure enjoyed it- it must feel good to get all that itchy extra fur off and get a massage while you're at it. Then I saddled him up in my hunt saddle (wanted to try something a little different- more secure and makes me relax and ride a little different) and headed to the arena. We rode at the walk and trot, doing lots of figure 8's and direction and gait changes to warm up- basics, but can always use work. Then we opened the arena gait and walked out- all while mounted- yay! our leg yields are working- and we headed out into the world. . .

We walked up and down the row of pine trees on the side of the farm by the scary neighbor boys', behind the neighbor's pasture, around the outside of our arena, then into the woods behind the barn, where the barn owner's hubby stores all of his toys. Louie had never really been to any of those places, but he did great- ears up, very interested and a little nervous, but he flat walked and didn't do anything stupid. We headed down the driveway and onto the road. We just went about 100 feet down the road and I heard a car coming in the distance, so took the convenient opportunity to get off the road and ride through the woods/swamp on the opposite side. Louie got a little nervous about the car and trotted 1-2 steps, but settled right back down and kept walking. We just walked through the woods until we got back to the barn driveway and headed back home.

We didn't go very far, but this was Louie's first "trail ride" and he did great! It was a relaxing and beautiful night, and both Louie and I had a lot of fun. :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April's Fool

Here he is, chewing on the bag that was chasing him around earlier today. It didn't dawn on me until after he stole it and ran off that he actually might try to eat it! Luckily I nabbed it from him before he did that- I felt like I was pleading with my parents' lab- "please give it here. . ." haha
And a few cell phone shots of the action (sorry for the photos- taking decent shots and shaking the bag and whip at the same time is very challenging!):

All in all, Louie was not very excited today. I thought he would be more spunky since it was cold and windy, but no, he is just so calm and sensible.