Monday, October 5, 2015

Round pen video

I wanted to post this with the write up of lesson 2, but it was taking forever to upload. In my hurry, I didn't get subtitles put on, which kind of sucks.

Jessica coached me through my mistakes and helped me be lighter with Skeeter. I never considered myself particularly heavy-handed or overly dramatic, and watching the video I still don't think I'm over-the-top with my signals, but she's got Skeeter so tuned into body language that I literally only need to raise the flag (or even, I swear, think about raising the flag) for direction.

I did get after her pretty hard in the first part of the video for stopping and turning, but even that was just a sharp flap of the flag. By the end of the video, all I was doing was raising or lowering the flag just a few inches.

I'm glad that Skeeter going to training includes Jessica tuning me up, because I don't want to be heavy-handed with Skeeter and if I thought I was not too sharp and Jessica thought I was, then I definitely need the tune up. (If that makes any sense at all.)

Lesson 2

I scheduled our second lesson on a day when Jay could join us, because I wanted to him to hear how/why Jessica does things so that we can work with Copper before he goes for training.

Jessica started the lesson by showing us what they've been working on - picking up feet, throwing ropes all over Skeeter's back (something I'd done, along with tossing it around her feet), and round penning.

Still not perfect, but much, much better.
I've never round penned a green horse in my life. Julie round penned Skeeter at her place, but without one of our own, we've not practiced.

Skeeter and I worked primarily on round penning with some excellent coaching from Jessica. I'm thrilled that with just a cluck I can move Skeeter from a walk to a trot, and blowing her a kiss will move her up to a canter.

See how thrilled she is to see the flag in my hand?

Ending on a good note after some circling practice
I wanted to get back over to Jessica's over the weekend to work with Skeeter a bit more, but that just didn't happen. I did swing by after I went to the range to tell her hi and get a quick scratch in. Saturday was a total loss for me, and I spent all day Sunday working on my new classes. This is the reason why she's at Jessica's - at least I know she's getting worked on a regular basis.

At our next lesson, we'll work on picking up her feet and throwing the rope all over her. Jessica planned on getting a saddle on her this weekend, so there might be some saddling/unsaddling work at our next lesson as well. We're probably still a couple of weeks away from me getting on Skeeter, but I'm so thrilled with her progress that I'm okay with it.

She'll end up being a 60 day horse, but Jay's okay with putting Copper off another 30 days if necessary.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Copper's Pedicure

Thursday was a big day for Copper and Jay - it was their first farrier visit.

Jay's become so comfortable with the horses, it's hard for me to remember that he's still very new to them, so this was a first for both of them. He wasn't sure what to expect and wasn't sure how Copper was going to behave.

Here's what Jay posted on our FB page:
Big milestone for Copper today. He got his very first visit from the farrier. The only prior experience Copper has had with hoof trimming included a squeeze chute that tipped him over on his side and a grinder. This time he had to stand still and let a complete stranger pick up his feet and use hoof picks, clippers, rasps and files. I should also mention that this was my first experience with a farrier. Ever. I was nervous. I have heard stories of horrible horse/farrier relations that include farriers being kicked and horses being struck after misbehaving. I wanted neither to happen. Thankfully my prayers were answered. I couldn't be more proud of how Copper handled himself. He was a real trooper. Not perfect, but I didn't expect him to be either. He pulled away a couple times and got antsy a few times as well, but for his very first trim he was nothing short of a rock star. It was a proud papa moment for me. Copper done good.
Copper's unsure, but willing to go along

"Dad, I'm not really happy. Hold me."

I love this picture of Copper supervising his pedicure

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

First Lesson with Skeeter

Last Friday I had my first lesson with Skeeter. I anticipated doing ground work and I was not disappointed. Skeeter had only been with Jessica for about four days at that point, so I knew she wouldn't be at the riding point.

Apparently, Skeeter was not a good house guest her first two days there and ran like a mad woman. Jessica is persistent, though, and wore her down. Skeeter was just not interested in that strange woman bossing her around and chose to leave. A lot. For two days, she ran around her pen like a fool.

Eventually she realize that all that running was hard work and that standing nicely for Jessica was a whole lot easier. Of course, I didn't know all of that before I arrived for my lesson. Skeeter wasn't hard to halter (ok, with the exception of the Julie Goodnight thing), but she wasn't as good at is as when I first taught her. I take full responsibility for that. I taught her how to lower her head and she practically haltered herself at the beginning, but as she got better at it, I fell into my old livery habits and just threw the halter on her without reminding her to lower her head.

Turns out, I let a lot of my livery habits creep into training Skeeter and Jessica has had to un-do them. For one, we never circled or longed horses. Nope. We caught 'em, saddled 'em, and rode 'em. Rarely picked up (or picked out) their hooves. If they could lead and stand tied and not throw a rider they were good.

I just have to say "wow" at what Jessica has been able to do with Skeeter. We talked about what she had worked with her on. You know, after the two days of running around like a fool. As she was talking, Jessica was demonstrating and I couldn't believe what the black mare was able to do. It might not seem like a lot, but it was huge.

Jessica showed me how to have Skeeter lower her head and put her nose in the halter. I'd done that, but in a slightly different manner, but let it slip as I mentioned earlier. Then she showed me how she kept Skeets out of her space and got her circling. Skeeter wasn't the world's best circler after just a couple of sessions, but she was so light.

After Jessica showed me what they'd accomplished, she taught me how to do it. I have a lot of bad habits to break, but I'm so thrilled with how light and willing Skeeter is. I was happy with her before, but now I'm ecstatic. Jessica had to correct me a couple of times because I was confusing Skeeter, but by the end of the lesson I started to get it.

We talked about how much Skeeter hated fly spray. I can spray her all over with a bottle of water, but the smell of fly spray is what she takes offense to. We also talked about how she's not fond of having her feet handled. I mean, she was okay with the backs, as long as you could hold on until she settled down.

A couple of days ago a video popped up on Pony Peak's Facebook page of Skeeter not only standing to be sprayed with the stinkiest stuff around, but of politely having her back hooves picked up and set down. Jessica did say it was a "significant hurdle", which is polite trainer-talk for "dude, your mare's a bitch".

Jessica is also professional enough to tell me that Skeets isn't going to be a 30 day horse like I'd hoped. That's okay. At first I was thinking there's no way I can afford another 30 days, but I think with some careful not-spending, I can swing it. I don't want to push Copper out any more than he already has been pushed out either, so that's weighing on my mind as well.

Tomorrow is our next lesson and Jay's going with me. I want him to do some of this stuff with Skeeter so he can practice on Copper and hopefully it will decrease Jessica's work load once the big red horse arrives.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Skeeter Goes to Camp

I haven't said anything about sending the horses to a trainer because I didn't want to jinx it. Jay had a trainer picked out for Copper, one who placed top ten in the Colorado Extreme Mustang Makeover (EMM) in May. The plans for Copper to go to that trainer fell through, so I was afraid to say anything about Skeeter going away until it actually happened.

I was super jealous of Jay's decision to send Copper to a trainer, and decided to re-allocate my "new gun" money to "Skeeter's Camp" money and talked to Jessica from Pony Peak Stangmanship. I met Jessica when she was a cast member on Horse Master a couple of years ago and have loved watching her work her 'stangs in the EMMs ever since. She is very zen-like in her approach to training and it shows in her horses.

Here's a video of her freestyle the year she won the Colorado EMM (2012). (You'll have to click the link, for some reason it wouldn't embed properly.)

We agreed she would take on Skeeter after she got back from the Fort Worth EMM (where she placed top ten), so on Monday I borrowed a friend's truck and trailer and hauled Skeets over. Mom came down to experience this milestone with us.

Remember last year when she didn't know her name? Now she comes when called.

Just some showing off for Grandma

When my friend offered me her truck and trailer, she didn't ask about my trailering experience. If you've been reading this blog a while, you might know that it's ... limited. I hauled Estes up the hill once in our small, two-horse straight-load bumper-pull trailer, and I hauled hay up the hill once on Jay's 21' flatbed bumper-pull trailer.

My friend's truck/goose-neck trailer combo was the biggest thing I've ever attempted. It was nerve-wracking because we had to go through miles of road construction, city traffic, and some dirt road driving.  I'm happy to say that I rocked that shit!

Stock trailer. Skeets did not approve at first.
I had just a passing thought as to how Skeeter would do getting into a trailer that hauls cattle, but then it vanished. She started to follow me up into the trailer and the she smelled the cows. I'm not sure she's ever seen cows, much less been close enough to smell them. She backed off the trailer pretty quickly, but didn't go far, just far enough away that she could get a good sniff.

It took about ten minutes for her to decide that the trailer was an okay place, then she walked right in like she had been doing it forever. Meanwhile, though, Copper was losing his mind that I'd taken Skeeter from the pen.


What a sweet face, right before all hell broke loose.

I'd like to say that Skeeter behaved herself once I took off her halter and closed the partition, but that would be a lie. She and Copper started screaming back and forth and she started kicking the trailer. Mom and I loaded up her bale of hay, told her to knock it off, and headed to Jessica's.

It took almost an hour to get there, and Skeeter did really well until we got parked. Funny, when she's concentrating on staying on her feet in a big ole stock trailer, she's too busy to kick.

I knew she was keyed up and was nervous about having to halter her and get her off the trailer because she was so fired up. We decided to keep the back gate of the trailer closed in case she decided to bolt when I opened the partition gate. I opened the partition and went in with the halter, while Jessica held the partition gate closed by reaching through the "windows" of the trailer. Skeeter put up a bit of a fuss about putting her nose in the halter, but in just a few seconds it was on.

I continued to be nervous about getting her off the trailer once the big back gate opened, but she followed me down nicely. Her head got high and she got just a smidge charge-y, but not like when we were at Julie's. It was a vast improvement.

We got her settled into her temporary home and discussed the goals for the next 30 days. At the end of her 30 days, I'd like to have a walk/trot/canter with good stops and left and right turns. Very basic stuff that a green broke horse should be able to do. One of the best things about sending her to Jessica is that I'll get a weekly lesson with Skeeter so that I can learn what Jessica's doing and continue it at home. My first lesson is Friday and I'm so looking forward to it.

The trainer that Jay had asked to train Copper has been pretty incommunicado, so we asked Jessica if she could take on Copper, too. She agreed, so when Skeeter is done, we'll swap out with Copper. It means that they will be separated for about 60 days, which is perfect. It will be good for them to have to rely on themselves and a human for a couple of months.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Work Day

Last week, Jay and I attended a Justin Dunn demo where we were finally able to get our hands on one of his bitless bridles. We've seen Justin demo in the past, and it was good to get a refresher on how he does things. I find them remarkably similar to what Julie does with her horses - it's all about the ground work and controlling their feet. The difference is Justin calls his a "5-part series" and uses it to check in with his horses.

His 5-part series includes: back, left, right, ground-tie, come to me. Since we got to watch it over and over so many times that day, we were reasonably sure we'd be able to do it at home.

We waited a few days until we both had time to work together. We were reasonably successful. I've been struggling with Skeeter's circling work. After Julie's clinic back in May, I finally figured out how to get her to circle left, and we've been stuck there ever since.

Jay worked with Copper for a bit, but couldn't get him to circle either direction. Copper just keeps wanting to go backward and will not take a step forward. All we need is one step for him to figure it out, but he just doesn't get it.

I was working with Skeeter, still struggling with circling to the right, and getting frustrated.

Jay and I decided to switch horses. I mistakenly thought that since I could at least get Skeeter to circle left, I might be able convince Copper to go left. Yeah, I was wrong.

I had no success with Copper, but Jay did with Skeeter. Our Freaky Friday switch-a-roo worked wonders for Skeeter. I don't know what he did, or how, but now Miss Skeeter can do the entire series: back, left, right, ground-tie, come to me.

Back. She doesn't like it and it take some persuasion, but she'll do it.

Come to me. She's good at that because she's a pocket pony.
After we called it a day on trying to teach the 5-part series, it was time to fit Copper's new bridle to him. He has a huge head. Huge. But knew it, but we didn't really know it until we put that bridle on.

We adjusted it as big as we could, but we're still going to need to punch a few holes and order a new browband.  I think, once we get it adjusted properly, he's going to do very well in it. Copper's a sensitive boy who always wants to do right, so I think he'll do very well bitless.

And ... tomorrow's a big day for Jay and Copper! Copper's title inspection is scheduled for tomorrow evening - in two-three weeks Copper will be Jay's horse free and clear!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Horse Master with Julie Goodnight 2015 (Cast member)

This July, as I do every July, I loaded up and headed to southern Colorado to work on my friend Julie Goodnight's RFD-tv show, Horse Master with Julie Goodnight. I first met Julie when I was a cast member seven years ago (2008) with Estes. Since then, I've gone back to work as a crew member every year.

Lord knows I can use some help with Skeeter, so I applied to be a cast member this year and do double duty. The stars lined up and I was able to work it out with Mom and Bill to haul Skeeter to Julie's and back since I was going to be working.

Skeets has tons of holes in her training, but the one thing she does well is trailer loading. When they brought Ranger down to babysit, they left the trailer, so we did a quick practice run with it. She loaded into the unfamiliar trailer like a champ, which assured me there wouldn't be a problem getting her to Julie's.

I headed to Julie's on Sunday, and Skeeter was scheduled to arrive Monday evening. I tried not to fret too much, but as it got later and later in the day, I started to worry. Mom and Bill drove in about 8:30, just before full dark.

"Mom? Is that you?"

Skeets unloaded from the trailer like a pro. I was a little worried that she'd want to bolt off of it after being locked in for five hours or so. I needn't have worried.

It was after she was off the trailer that things got exciting. She circled and circled, trying to take it all in. So many different things and so many different smells. I let her circle until I got dizzy and then stopped her nonsense. Walking her from the trailer to her run was like taking a kid to their first day of kindergarten - she was both excited and unsure. We stopped and soaked it all in a couple of times, but before I knew it, she was loose in her temporary home.

So many smells to check out.
It was getting to be past my bedtime, so I patted her on the nose, told her I loved her and headed "home" for the night. Mom and Bill stayed at Julie's in their horse trailer, so I slept soundly knowing that if anything went wrong, they'd be there.

We had two episodes to finish up the next morning before it was Skeeter's turn, so all she got was a run-by "I love you" as I headed to the arena to work. Bill and Mom did a good job of keeping her company and getting her all pretty-fied.

Bill says, "no autographs!"
One of the best things about Julie's place is the hitch rail. Since we don't have one at home, us two-leggeds were looking forward to giving Skeeter some quality time at the patience post. She did pretty well, though she tried to dig her way to China (we filled it in, Julie, I swear!).

When we finished the two episodes, I ran up to the house to get myself dolled up for the camera and thus began the process of hurry-up-and-wait.

As ready as I'm going to get - or so I thought.
I got the star treatment from Cheryl, who decided to re-do my braid so it wasn't so loose.
It takes time to move all of the cameras and crew to get set up in a new location, which is why the hurry-up-and-wait thing. I understand it and was thankful to have a bit of time to decompress and switch gears from crew member to cast member. Finally, the cameras were set up at the round pen and we were ready to go.

She stood so nicely outside the pen.

Getting my mic turned on. They probably should have left it off.
We had a plan: I would go in the round pen and do some of our usual groundwork to show off what we've learned and how far we'd come (including sitting on her bareback and in a saddle), then Julie would come in and we'd talk a little bit before Dale Myler would work with Skeeter. That was our plan.

What actually happened: Skeeter lost her mind. Her brains fell out her butt. Everything we'd learned and practiced went right to hell in a handbasket. We managed to do a bit of circling and leading. We tried standing and taking deep breaths to calm down. We walked around some more and circled a bit more, but Skeeter was having none of it. I finally got to the point where I felt like, "well, this is the horse we've got, so let's get going" and had them bring in the mounting block.

Bill might end up on camera, since he came in to help out.
She wouldn't calm down enough for me to mount up, so we just worked on laying weight across her back from both sides. I was willing to climb on up, but Julie decided to err on the side of caution. She asked what I thought of really working her in the round pen. Initially, I was afraid to amp her up even more and lose what little control over her I had, but when Julie offered to do the round penning I couldn't resist. I mean, Julie Goodnight working my horse? It was an offer I couldn't refuse.

We removed Skeeter's halter and turned her loose in the pen with Julie. I perched on a hay bale on the other side of the pen so I could see and still be on camera. It was amazing to watch.

At first, Skeeter did her level best to ignore Julie. She did what was asked, when enough pressure was applied, but made it very clear that she wasn't happy about it. In fact, she very clearly told Julie to eff off more than once. Slowly, very slowly, she began to regain her brain and focus on Julie. It was a pleasure to watch and I'm fairly certain Julie was having a good time with my challenging mare. After about fifteen-twenty minutes, Skeeter came around enough that we could move on with the episode.

Or so we thought.

Skeeter is good about getting haltered. If she balks at it, she takes fewer than ten steps before she's "caught" and then stands quietly for haltering.

My horse. My stupid, wild mustang, decided that she didn't want haltered and took both Bill and Julie dirt skiing. I heard her husband, Rich, telling her not to get hurt and all I could think of was if Julie got hurt it would be my fault. After a few minutes, they were able to get the halter on the fire-breathing dragon as I watched, absolutely horrified. Skeeter's first haltering wasn't nearly that crazy and I have video to prove it.

I should have just gone back in the round pen to halter her, but there's this whole thing about having to stay clean for the episode and Bill has haltered Skeeter almost as often as I have, so I didn't expect it to be a thing.

I don't have any pictures of the round pen work or what happened during the teaching segment of the episode, because cameras aren't allowed while taping the actual episode. All of the pictures we have were taken between shots, but I know the finished product is going to be amazing.

Dale quietly slipped a bit into her mouth and adjusted it, then taught me how to "work over the withers" with her to teach her to give to the bit.

We put her in a 3-ring combo for the episode, which seems to be the favored bit on the show. After talking to Dale, I understand why. The 3-ring combo has five points of contact: the nose, curb chain, poll, tongue, and bars. It's designed so that the horse first feels nose pressure and then the other points of contact back up the nose pressure.

In "real life", though, I'm going to start her in a Myler 04 snaffle to get her used to carrying it around in her mouth. She'll get to do her ground work and circling work while wearing a bridle for the next couple of weeks until she's ready to move into the 3-ring combo.

I brought home two bits: the Myler 04 snaffle and the Myler 04 3-ring combo. Both will be excellent bits for her. I also brought home a new set of Julie's rope reins and her bitting system. When Skeeter is comfortable carrying the bit in her mouth, I'll add the bitting system to the equation to help her learn to carry herself properly. The beauty of the system is that it's not dependent on my ability to time the release on time - the release is completely controlled by Skeeter's movement.

The 04 snaffle with pretty rope reins

It's not a "pinchy" snaffle like most are.

The 04 3-ring combo

When it was time for Mom and Bill to pack up to leave, Skeeter was over the trailer and didn't want to get in. I'll admit, I had them resort to a bit of bribery to unstick her feet. It occurred to me that while I thought the whirlwind 24 hours she was at Julie's with me was fun, for her it was a lot of work and learning. It couldn't have been easy to get trailered 5 hours each way for her first trip, and then get left alone in a pen with strange horses next to her over night, and then get tied to a patience post for hours (not exaggerating, she probably spent two to three hours standing tied), and then get worked in the round pen, followed by having to get a metal bar put in her mouth and learn about that. It was a lot of work for her busy little brain to process, but it was good for her (and me).

I'm so thankful to Julie and Dale for their help and patience with Skeeter. I'm also very thankful for the support of the rest of the crew that I've been lucky enough to work with for years: Heidi, Sharon, Cheryl, Lucy, Twyla, Mel, and Steve. It was fun to get to have my friends (and Mom and Bill) with me through the whole process.

If anyone has the opportunity to apply to be a cast member for Julie's show, jump on it! It's an experience you won't forget.

Click HERE to read about Mom and Bill's version of the events. Those two are crazy - 36 hours away from the lodge and they consider that a vacation.