Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I Rode My Horse!!!

This was not an unintentional ride, I climbed aboard with every intention of riding.

We don't have a round pen and Skeets and I have never figured out the whole longing thing, so we're not doing this "right".  But, hell, every time I try to train "according to the rules", we don't make any progress.

We just started introducing neck reining from the ground a couple of weeks ago, and she mostly gets it.  With Bill's first ride last week, the transfer of information from the ground to her back started, plus she figured out she can go forward and carry weight.  Last week's first ride made my first ride go much more smoothly.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Skeeter Had Her First Ride

I haven't said much about it, because I wanted to have the video ready and just haven't had time to mess with it.  Finally, I was able to sit down long enough to put it together.

Last week, Mom and Bill were down again to work with the horses.  I was supposed to meet them at the house after a funeral, but the funeral/graveside service ran long and they had more time to play than I did.  While I was on my way home from the cemetery, Bill slung a leg over Skeets and she moved off.  His options were to fall or slide on over, so he slid on.  Since he hadn't planned on an actual ride, he just had the halter and lead rope on, but didn't have the lead rope tied around as reins.

Skeeter wasn't so sure what to do, so she tried backing out from under him.  She didn't panic, just tried backing up.  After a few minutes, Bill had Mom tie the lead rope around and they started working on getting her feet moving.

It was just a few minutes, but she moved with purpose, under direction, so that counts as a ride.  God willing, I'll get my first ride on her this week.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Play Day

Mom and Bill have been so good about helping us with the horses.  Our schedules pretty much suck right now and focused training time is limited, so when they had a free day, we took them up on it.  Eventually, they'll get a blog written up on the day.  Until then, here are a couple of videos that I put together of the videos they took.  (How's that for confusing?)

Today, Jay and I were able to work with our babies for a bit.  Copper worked on leading instead of dragging and Skeeter worked on wearing the saddle some more.  She was kind of scooting around when I first threw the saddle and it was all jacked up, so we had to strip the saddle and start all over again.  She stood much nicer the second time.  We don't have a hitch rack, so she has to ground tie while I'm saddling her and ground tying is not her strong suit.

She asked to go out of the pen, so we went for a walkabout, which caused Copper to lose his mind a bit.  She's better out of the pen for me, but not perfect.  I can't tell if she's crowding me because she's being a pushy bitch or because she's looking for reassurance.  Next time we're out of the pen, I'll have someone video tape it. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Copper Graduated!

I'm very late in posting this.  Very late.

On September 6th, Copper graduated out of the gentling pen.  It went beautifully.  Jay worked with him in the pen for a bit while I worked with Skeeter, then we just opened the gate and watched to see what would happen.

It was absolutely anti-climactic.  Skeeter took a few minutes to realize that Copper was really out of the pen and then they spent some time running about.  All in all, it was a pretty boring release day.  In fact, when my girls came to visit, Skeets and Copper acted like they'd been together forever.

Monday, September 1, 2014

I Sat on My Horse!!!

I know it doesn't seem like that big a deal to some people, but it's huge to me.

I mean, I can stay on top of a horse (as a general rule) and I have hundreds of hours in the saddle of the past seventeen years.  The last five have been primarily bareback on rugged mountain trails.  I mean, I can mostly keep the horse between me and the ground, but getting on Skeeter for the first time is a Big Deal.

I've never started a horse.  I've ridden green horses until they were well broke.  I've even corrected training issues in some horses, but I've never started a horse.

I know what I expect as far as ground manners and Skeeter is about 95% perfect on ground manners.  She leads with the lightest pressure, but can also get distracted and forget to focus.  I'm much, much more confident on what I expect from her on the ground and I'm much more confident in my ability to get her there.

From her back is a totally different story.  I know that good ground manners translate to riding.  I know that, but it was still a huge deal to climb up on her back today.  I had to trust that she trusted both Bill and me enough to let me climb up on her.  I had to trust that I've instilled enough ground manners that if Bill told her to whoa and stand she would do it.  And I desperately don't want to screw her up and have bigger problems in the future.

It took about ten minutes for me to actually make it onto the back of my horse, but it felt much longer.  It seemed like I did the pressure/release thing forever before finally sliding up.  We started with leaning over her, which Bill has done lots of.  It's not a big deal.  Then I kicked her back, hip, flank and leaned some weight on her.  When she shifted, though, I removed all the pressure by standing back up on my "mounting block".  We did this several times until she didn't care that I had one leg dangling over the other side and she was bearing more than 50% of my weight (not that she cared a lot to begin with, but I had to be sure she'd stand stock still).  She moved off a little bit when she realized I wasn't going to relieve the pressure by stepping off, but didn't bolt.  She took a step or two and then froze.  She's young yet and has never had to balance an extra chunk of weight on her back.  She eventually figured to tighten her stomach to help balance the weight and was able to move a step or two before I slid off.

All of the time Bill has spent playing Dead Indian with her has paid off.  She doesn't care about someone laying across her back and sliding down.  My knees are far too old and abused to be just popping down off a horse.  I need as soft a landing on my feet, and therefore my knees, as possible.

Bill scrambled up on her after I got off and she was just as good.  I lead her a step or two and we called it good.  I removed the halter and just let her be.  As we wandered over to fill the water, I realized I had a halter in my hands and I could just sneak into Copper's pen and quick put it on him for a minute, so I did.

Copper did really, really well. He's still figuring out the leading thing, and asks that I remember to lead him properly instead of dragging him by his face.  He very much prefers to be lead with the person just forward of his shoulder (you know, where you belong) instead of out in front of him.

After Copper got "worked" for all of about three minutes, it was back to Miss Skeeter Bang.  On went the halter and back to the mounting block.  She really balked at it and didn't want to play, so I changed the rules and had Bill lead her up so I could mount from the off-side.  I don't think it occurred to her that I would change the rules and she'd have to learn from both sides.  Ha!

She didn't make it easy on herself by parking out a bit from the block.  I was able to get my leg over, but then had to leap from the block onto her back.  In the video, you can tell that she wasn't exactly thrilled with my weight landing on her back.  You can almost hear her go "ooof".  I started sliding and grabbed onto her with my left leg to try to get centered again. In the video, that's when she started turning into Bill.  It took me a second to realize I was causing the turn by grabbing on with my leg (good for her, moving away from pressure) and as soon as I relaxed, she straightened out and relaxed.

When Bill hopped up on her, she was pretty much over the whole day and pranced a bit.  I made her stand and relax before he got down and we called it a day.

Next time, we'll wander a bit farther.

I actually am just making it up as we go at this point.  I know there are great training videos on how to start horses, but I'm just kind of letting her (and Mom and Bill) tell me what she's ready for next.  It's worked so far, let's hope it continues to work.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Just Because

This picture cracks me the heck up.

When I go to the Tree of Happiness, I often pick an apple for me, too.  It takes a little searching to find one that's not wormy or been pecked at by the birds, so when I find one that I can bite into with fairly high confidence that I'm not going to get extra protein, I enjoy it.

Skeeter does not enjoy this and believes that all the apples are hers.  All the apples belong to Skeeter, and she wishes I would hurry up and learn that lesson.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Growing Up (Warning: wordy and media heavy)

Tuesday was a busy day for Skeeter.  No more coddling, she's on her way to being a grown-up horse and one step closer to being ridden.  Bill would kill to get up on her, but for now he's mostly okay with just playing Dead Indian with her.  I won't be able to hold him off much longer, so if I don't hurry up and get my ass on my horse, he's going to end up with the first ride.

Mom and Bill offered to come down on one of their scheduled days off this month (yes, they only schedule two days off a month for themselves during the season) and help get Skeeter moving.  We've kind of been in a rut.  I tried clicker training, but she's just not getting it, but she's a horse who needs to learn new things on a regular basis.  With Copper coming home, she was preoccupied (as were we) with the new family member, but now it's time to get back on track.

I cut my work day short and headed home, but Mom and Bill still beat me by a few minutes.  When I arrived, Bill had Skeeter's halter on, with the rope tied around her neck and was introducing her to neck reining from the ground.  Sorry, no pictures because I just watched in awe as she moved forward, to the left and right, and stopped.  It wasn't pretty, but she was thinking it over and trying really hard.

I left him to it and ran in the house to change out of my scrubs.  By the time I was done (it only took me about three minutes), the storm I was hoping to avoid had moved in and thunder was rolling.  Mom made Bill put Skeeter away and we ran a quick errand during our rain delay.

Luckily, the rain delay didn't last too long and we were able to resume when we got home.  Bill took Skeeter out of the pen, while Mom and I stayed with Copper.  Apparently, the first time Skeeter left the pen, Copper lost his mind, so we tried to get some video. He must have realized that Skeeter would be back, because the second time was much less exciting according to Mom.  He was concerned and called for Skeeter, but didn't seem to be out of control at any point.


Copper was boring, so I followed Bill and Skeeter around like the paparazzi.  First, they had to squeeze between the truck and the sheds.

They wandered around and looked in the other shed ...

... then Bill got the brilliant idea to have her walk under the clothes line ...


... they did their "Peeping Tom" impression after Skeeter saw Allie-bird move through the window and had a little moment of bolting panic ...

... then they visited the "Tree of Happiness".  I think Skeeter thinks that apples - her very favorite food on the planet - are gifts from the heavens.  She didn't know (and how could she?) that they grew on trees ...

I forgot that she loves apples so much that her brain short-circuits, so Bill had to make her feet move to re-engage her brain, then back into the pen we went.

A visit to the trailer, where my "elasti-mare" consented to putting three feet in the trailer.  She's so long that she doesn't need to put the backs in to reach the hay in the bunker.  With enough coercion from Bill, she finally put that third hoof in.

And then she backed out nicely with a voice command ...

Whew, she did so much, but we weren't even close to being done.  Bill tied up her lead rope and tried with the neck reining thing again, but she wasn't having it.

He deemed her focused enough to get to the main event: Saddling!

I was warned that the second time might not go as well, and I knew it was a possibility, but I wasn't worried.  I asked Jay to come out with me to hold Skeeter while I saddled her up for the second time and it was fine.  She didn't stand stock-still like the first time, because she knew what I was doing and didn't want to put the squeezy thing on, but Jay corrected her and she stood nicely.  We walked around a bit and I tightened the cinch a couple more notches.  She wasn't thrilled with the cinch being snug, but she was good about it.  She twitched her ear and flicked her tail.  That was the extent of her temper tantrum.

She's so good it makes my heart all full and happy.

Tomorrow, the focus will primarily be on Copper and working with leading so that he can come out of the gentling pen soon, but Skeets will still get saddled.  This time, from the off-side, as that's how I usually saddle up at Mom and Bill's place.