Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Ride Again!

Actually, I've been riding for a little bit now, I've just been too lazy to blog about it. For the past couple of weeks Robin has been swamped with her web work and her last month at the art gallery. So a couple days each week I've gotten Steen out for some relaxing walk/trot rides. Just to keep us both in shape.

The first ride was in one of the big pastures. We cruised, we followed the fence, we did lots of figure eights, and even worked on riding from one point to another. All great stuff for both Steen and me. The other rides involved mostly the same kind of things, but we worked in the outdoor arena instead.

Some days have been better than others, but on the whole it has been positive. It has also forced me to work on a few things that I've never tried. Like posting. Thankfully the barn was empty while I flopped around during Steen's rougher trotting moments. But sometimes I got into a decent rhythm. It is something I will definitely keep working on.

These rides should continue over the next few weeks. And after that we have a big trip to Europe. Once we return I should be ready to get back to horse shopping again.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Horses are Dangerous

They are big and strong, and the spooky, flighty characteristics that have kept them alive on the plains for centuries can make them unpredictable. And Sham has a little too much unpredictableness. Last week he kicked at a barn worker who was taking food into the pasture. She tried to quietly shoo him away from the gate. He just looked at her and then let fly a big kick towards her head. Thankfully she was able to duck away, and he did not hit her.

That was certainly the most dangerous Sham has been since I've had him. But there have been a few other questionable moments (some I've blogged about, others I haven't). The sad news is that we cannot keep him at our barn. With the help of Robin, I have made a lot of progress with Sham. And I never felt he was dangerous when I was around him. But our barn is mostly a pleasure riding place, and we just can't keep a horse there that might be dangerous to others.

So on Sunday we loaded him into a trailer and sent him back to the guys we bought him from. It was sad. Sham loaded with ease, which was just another sign that we were making nice progress with him, but it just wasn't meant to be. He was, in truth, a difficult horse. Very smart. And not all that inclined to work with people. He always had a calculating look about him. It was as if he was tolerating us. Perhaps he was too much for my first horse. We shall see.

There are so many unknowns when working with horses. A few weeks ago Cal (the little red dun I rode in the fall) was sold to a young girl. The day after Sham kicked out at the barn worker we found that Cal has started rearing, bucking, and striking out at the people working with her. This was rather shocking news. I didn't think Cal was physically capable of such actions (she is rather tight in the hind end, and also a rather gentle spirit, or so I thought).

The good news is that I will be getting a new horse. The guys at the Meyer Horse Co. graciously took Sham back and offered us a trade. They guarantee their horses, but we only later found out that was a soundness guarantee, not a behavioral guarantee. So I feel very lucky that they are willing to work with us.

But I miss Sham. So I'll be taking a few quiet weeks to be away from horses, and then later looking at new horses. Perhaps I will blog about those. Either way, I imagine this blog will be continued (under a new URL of course) once I get settled. I'll keep you informed.

I have no doubt that in a different setting he would make a fine companion.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I Was in Charge

Well, I was in charge most of the time.

It was a cold, wet, windy Wednesday. Lately Wednesdays have been solo barn days for me. But Robin has been in the process of transitioning from her day job to being a full time small business owner. So she worked all morning and then came with me to the barn.

And as always, I was glad she was there. Sham and Steen ran right up to us in the pasture. It was a nice sight. Sham let me halter him with no problems and then led quite well to the indoor arena. But once inside it was evident that something was causing him trouble. He was very anxious. Head up, dancing around type anxious. This is not normal for him. It is a little normal for Steen, but not Sham.

I tried to calm him down with some ground work exercises, but he just decided to run some pretty big and energetic circles around me. I got dizzy following him. Robin watched and thought about what to do. The conclusion was the boys are hungry. It is tough transitioning from hay to new grass. And today was cold, so they probably wanted to eat more. So we decided to give Sham his afternoon chopped alfalfa/grass supplement a little early.

We gave him just enough to take his mind off his stomach, and it seemed to be enough for him to calm down a little. But it didn't fully calm me down, so I asked Robin if she would get things started again. I was glad I did, too. He was extremely energetic and still anxious. Better than he was right away, but not the calm horse I've been getting used to.

Thankfully his hyper-anxious state led to some hyper-awareness of us and our commands. We saw the best circle work and disengages and backs that we've seen from Sham. When I took over a few minutes later I was able to move his feet very quickly and effectively. I could get him to quickly trot/lope around me and get some very fast changes in direction out of him.

This is what led me to being in charge. I had never seen Sham lick and chew so much and desire to get near me for pets and rest. I did let him, but not always. I had to keep things productive, afterall.

But Sham is a smart, cheeky bastard sometimes. After a while (about an hour of solid groundwork), he started ducking out of the work and doing so in a way that forced me to move my feet ever so slightly to get him going. After a few minutes we would end up in the corner of the arena. Me somewhat frustrated that I wasn't competent enough in the exercises to continue them in the small space, and Sham content to rest a tad and know that he moved me.

It wasn't until I took a break and Robin did some work that it fully dawned on us what was happening. OK, not me, it was Robin who realized and corrected it. He, of course, hated this correction. And it was simple. It involved us marking a big X in the dirt and not moving from it. Sham would become reluctant to move, but rather than stepping towards the hind to drive him, Robin kept the pressure on from the front and continued to direct him with her hands. It took a few extra seconds each time, but eventually he would give in. The first time he gave in he went close to Robin and took a flying bite at her sweatshirt sleeve. Not good, but she spooked him out of her space.

We finished the day's work by revisiting yielding the forequarters (another maneuver Sham hates). We aborted the method we tried over the weekend and just went back to doing it how we know. There was some mild resistance, but all in all it worked quite well.

Sham is still used to being in charge, and he has a lot of tricks up his hocks. But the more I read about horses like him the more excited I get. Once I have firmly established myself as the leader, I should have an extraordinarily loyal mount and rewarding relationship. The super steep learning curve I'm on can get frustrating, but it is still an exciting challenge. And it's like no challenge I've ever faced.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Long Barn Day, Short Barn Post

At least that is the plan. The posts often get long. And I thank whoever is reading them, but they are really here to help me keep track of my progress and regress with Sham. So that is my excuse for the length.

Today was another quiet day at the barn. And again Sham was an easy catch. He trotted up to me from far away, and I was able to put his halter on with no walking away. In the outdoor arena we ran through our leading exercises and general groundwork. He was really good, and his backing out of my space is getting better and better.

But it also has a ways to go. He particularly struggles when I need him to yield his forequarters away from me. After some failed attempts at this, Robin and I experimented with a few ways of asking for disengages. We experienced some difficulties here and had to change tactics a few times. Ultimately we ended up going back to what we all know and building from there.

That calmed us all down (well, mostly Sham and I, Robin wasn't flustered) and into the arena we went for more groundwork. Then we proceeded to have a little in and out of the tie-stall work. Into the tie-stall for curry comb grooming. Out to the arena for groundwork. Into the stall for more curry combing, brushing, and hoof picking. Out for groundwork. In for mane brushing, saddle pad and saddle. Out for groundwork and the bridle (which he took a little more easily than yesterday).

The final session of groundwork we did with Robin leading and me up on his back. It went fairly well. I haven't been up there in a couple of weeks and I'm always surprised at how much bigger he is than any other horse I've been on.

So the day was long and there were some difficulties. But all in all it held a lot of positive growth. Sham was much, much better in the tie stall. And though he still crowds my space at times and occasionally gets a little too lippy, he is getting very comfortable with just hanging out with me. And mostly doing so by standing many feet away. Robin has a nice dorky shot that illustrates this.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

More Learning

Thursday was more or less and nice repeat of Wednesday. Except Robin came, so I wasn't pretending to be anything other than myself.

It was sunny and very, very windy. Sham was lethargic on the lead line and that gave me a little bit of trouble. We are changing some of our groundwork tactics with Sham because he doesn't quite respond to the cues in the same way that Steen does. So Robin explored some rope swirling as a way to engage Sham and get him to move, and I went to get Steen for a ride.

The rope swirling is something we picked up from a Horse Hero video of British horse behaviorist Richard Maxwell. Maxwell is my new favorite trainer. His methods are simple, productive, and watching him work with a horse is pretty amazing. He is cool as a cucumber and very relaxed, but he still commands a lot of respect. If you haven't already, I recommend checking out his videos. The Horse Hero subscription has been well worth it for us.

Steen, again, was a dream. It was crowded and busy inside but he just stood quietly while I got him ready. In the arena he would occasionally look over at Sham trotting and kicking around on the line, but he wasn't bothered by it and never veered from his line. We're getting to be better and better buds.

Friday stormed, so I stayed in all afternoon and read Buck Brannaman's The Far Away Horses.

It's true, Steen lets me hug him like Brannaman does, but I'm no horse whisperer yet

I am very interested in learning new training methods, but it can get tiresome reading "how-to" books over and over again. So I was excited to encounter some tales of real life horse training. Buck goes through the ups and downs of his life and the numerous horses he has worked with over the years. I'm a bit of a literary snob, so I can't say it was extraordinarily well written, but I can say it was entertaining and informative. I would love to read more books like it, and I'll definitely pick up his more recent Believe in the near future.

Saturday we woke to clear skies and pretty, white, puffy clouds. The water also brought out some more intense green in the grasses. I'm sure this made the horses happy. At the barn we worked exclusively with Sham, and today was the first day in a long time where I did 95% of the handling. He continues to be easy to catch. Both Thursday and today he wandered off on my first attempt to halter him, but he only went a few feet away, and I was able to get him willingly haltered in about 2 minutes. I'm very happy with where that is at.

In the outdoor arena I worked on the rope swirling to get Sham to move and then on standing comfortably out of my space. He got pretty good at that by the day's end.

After we all felt relaxed we brought him inside and put him into the tie-stall. He doesn't love it in there. We think because he knows it is a precursor to getting the bit in the mouth. And the bit hurt his mouth sores, which he doesn't know are gone. So he fidgeted off and on while I groomed him. If he moved his feet I put him right back into place, but the milder head tossing and lipping at things I just ignored (Maxwell's big on ignoring the annoying behavior that cries out for attention, and so far we've had pretty good luck with that. After a minute, it stops).

Putting the saddle on was a little trickier. He kept pushing forward to get out of the tie-stall (he was tied, don't think we left him loose), and eventually he pushed all the way out and started swiveling to and fro in a rather uncomfortable manner. This is when it is nice to have Robin. She deftly grabbed the rope, pulled it off the post, and walked him around, disengaged his hindquarters, and backed him right back into the tie-stall. He continued to be pushy, but we countered that and finished with the saddling.

Then we brought the rein-less bridle out with us to the arena. I calmed him down with some simple groundwork and easy standing. Then the two of us worked the bit into his mouth. We lured him with grain, and this worked quite well as what we were asking of him was so associated with his mouth. He never tried to walk away, but he did hold his head pretty high. It will continue to take a little while for him to realize that his head sores are completely gone and the bridle no longer bothers him.

Today was a big step in that direction. With the bit and bridle on I continued to do groundwork, and he didn't mind at all. And with all those positive moments we decided to untack him and put back out in the pasture.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pretending to be Robin

Yesterday afternoon I ventured to the barn on my own. It was almost 80 degrees and while still somewhat windy, it was nothing like the gale force winds of Monday. On the drive out I sipped on a cup of tea and tried to decide what my goals should be. Sham is continuing to improve, and I am spending increasingly more time with him. But the last time I tried to catch him things didn't go so well.

So when I finally walked out toward the feed lot, I decided I would grab whoever was there and most willing to hang out with me. That was Steen. He was right by the gate. Sham was off snoozing by the feeder. I thought maybe he would walk over in a minute or so, but he did not get up.

No biggie. I haltered the ever willing Steen and took him right to the outdoor arena for groundwork. He was a tad lethargic, but I ultimately got some quicker backs, disengages, and fast directional changes on the lead line. Once he was more alert I brought him inside to tack him up. He was great for this, and Robin would be happy I remembered the apple cider vinegar for his frogs and a little dollop of sunscreen on his pink nose. He made some funny faces at that one, but he didn't really mind it.

While I was tacking up, one of the barn workers moved Stella back to her normal place in the stall herd. For a brief while, Stella was the third member of the feedlot.

she might also be Sham's girlfriend, we'll have to see how the separation goes

So as Steen and I walked into the outdoor arena, Sham was all alone, standing by the gate watching us. He continued to watch our entire ride. I though it was great for him to see Steen and I spend so much time hanging out in a very fun and positive way. We walked and trotted and did big circles, small circles, and figure-eights. We also spent quite a few minutes simply cruising at the trot. His trot was so smooth and slow, and Steen was generally so well behaved I almost felt bored at times. I thought about asking for a lope but decided not to. The ground is a little uneven and Steen can be prone to tripping. Also, he isn't in the best of shape just yet. Oh, and when things are going super smoothly for me at the barn, I try to keep them that way. So far this was proving to be the most enjoyable and relaxing solo barn trip I've ever had.

After a solid 40 minutes of riding I brought Steen in for the untacking and a little more grooming. And when I returned him to the feed lot Sham came right over to us from the bale. I let him sniff my hands, gave him a few pets on the jaw and neck, and then showed him the halter. He was fine with it. My first few attempts to slip it over his nose made him turn just the slightest, but I kept him calm, said soothing words, and just opened up the nose end of the halter really big and slid it on. I was thrilled. Another less than one minute catch.

So I pulled the second horse of the day out of the feed lot and led him to the arena. We did some basic leading exercises (which he was doing really well with), and then progressed to some more groundwork. At that point he was interested in the grass. So I kept his feet moving. Sometimes he was rather planted and not interested in moving, but eventually I'd get him going.

All in all we kept things really short. After a couple minutes of ground work I let him graze and just gave him a lot of pets. Then I made him do a few more minutes of work and put him back in the feed lot. Steen was waiting for our arrival. He crowded the fence a tad, but we were able to sneak in. Then the three of us hung out for a bit. It is so exciting to see Steen and Sham getting along so well. Again I fed them both a few morsels of grain and they were more than happy to eat together. I left the two of them hanging out at the gate together.