Saturday, November 21, 2015

Jay's 1st Lesson

It's been almost exactly two weeks since Copper moved over to Jessica's. Jay was supposed to have had his first lesson earlier in the week, but he caught the creepin' crud and rescheduled for today.

It was cold and Jay's creepin' crud has manifested itself in a nasty cough, but he cowboy'd up and headed out into the frigid temps. Jessica was just finishing up another lesson when we got there, so Jay and Copper hung out. Two weeks is a long time to be away from your horse, and I'm not sure who was more glad to see the other.

"Hi Daddy, remember me?"

"Hey, Buddy, I still love you."

I put together a long(ish) video of Jessica working with Copper and then a few minutes at the end of Jay working with him. I'm a bit jealous of Jay's natural talent - he just seems to know when to release pressure or up it, while I still have to think about it.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sunday Fun Day - Copper

After both Skeeter and I had been exercised adequately and ended on a good note, it was Copper's turn. As you might recall, the horse switch did not happen on Thursday because we couldn't get Copper into the trailer.

We've not worked with a flag with him because he hated it, and we didn't want to make things worse, so we just let him be when it came to the flag. I understood it was a problem on Thursday when we couldn't drive him into the trailer with it. His default escape plan is to back up, so when I tried to put pressure on him with the flag, he'd bolt backward.

Jessica had her hands full working him out of reverse; it seems to be his favorite evasion, followed by rearing. He dragged her all over the property going in reverse for a very long time, but she couldn't let up with the flag. We had inadvertently trained him to back up with it because when he'd go bolting backwards, we'd stop, thinking we were doing something wrong. We were - we stopped. If we had stayed with him until we got forward motion - no matter how long it took - we could have probably gotten him into the trailer ourselves on Thursday.

Unfortunately, we reinforced that back was the right answer and she got to undo that training. He's one stubborn redhead, so it took easily a half an hour before the thought to move forward. As soon as he did, she stopped badgering him with the flag. It took a good bit more time before she could reliably get him moving forward off of the flag.

When she did, though, it was time to take him to the trailer, where she completely screwed with his mind. The trailer became a place to rest. As long as his head was in the trailer, she didn't bother him, but when he moved away from the trailer the flag started up again. Copper is a smart horse, but sometimes it takes a while for him to shed his stubborn pants. Once he realized that the trailer was a good resting place, he started asking to go put his head in.

Eventually, the head wasn't enough, so she started pressuring for the front legs, then the back legs. It took about twenty minutes to get him in the trailer the first time, but after that he pretty much self-loaded. When he loaded and unloaded two or three times, Jessica deemed him trailer trained enough to haul to her place.

It took a while to unload him at her place - he really, really likes the relaxation of the trailer - but he unloaded nicely and followed her up to his new home-away-from-home.

(The video is very long and at times like watching paint dry, but it's cool to see his progress.)

Sunday Fun Day - Skeeter

Since Copper was 1,200# of Nope on Thursday, we scheduled Jessica to come out and work with both of us. First, she worked with me and Skeeter, and then she worked with Copper on trailer loading. It was a long, amazing day.

My niece, Autobot, came over to observe our lessons. We were trying to talk her into doing the Youth Division of the Extreme Mustang Makeover next year, but she's decided that it's too much of a time commitment. I completely understand. Jay and I were willing to sponsor her (adopt the horse, pay for the feed, etc.), but it's an hour and a half round trip from her place to ours so I agree with her decision not to do it. I wouldn't want to make that commute every day before or after school either. But if we had a spare bedroom, we'd just move her in with us for three months and it would be a totally different story. :)

Anyway, I pulled Skeeter from the pen before Jessica got there and started grooming her, but she was wound up. I should have worked her first. I managed to give her a half-hearted grooming session and then we got to work.

Skeeter didn't get worked on Friday or Saturday after she came home because we had chores in town most of both days, so she got two days off to settle in. Boy was that a mistake. She had two days of pent-up energy when we went to work.

With Jessica's coaching, we worked on circling and longing. Now, I worked at a livery, we didn't have much time for "fancy" stuff like ground work. Once a horse accepted a saddle, we just rode its hide off until it was well-broke. This round pen, circling, and longing is all new to me. I've been working on it for the last couple of weeks at her place, but I'm still not very comfortable with it. Since we don't have a round pen, it's important for me to be able to longe her when she needs it. I am not a proponent of longing every horse before they get ridden, but during the training period it's nice to get the "woo-hoos" out. I'm getting way too old and the ground is way too hard for me to "buck it out".

Skeets had some attitude issues that included throwing a hoof at me and telling me very clearly to eff off, but we worked through it. Once her energy came down to an acceptable level, we threw a couple of saddles on her to see which of the two I had to choose from fit the best. She's got thoroughbred-y withers, so finding a fitting saddle could be tricky, but I have one that's okay.

The saddle that fits her the best is the one we started her saddle work in, so I feel good about choosing it in the first place. She was still feeling a bit "up", but not dangerously so. I might have put off riding her, but who knows when I can get Jessica back for a lesson and I definitely wanted other people there on my first ride at home. We don't have a round pen or an arena, so all of her "wet saddle blanket" training will be done "in the wild". I think I rode for less than half an hour, but feel much more comfortable than before I rode. We worked on steering and I worked on not neck-reining. I've got to break that habit for a while.

Her 'workout' schedule with me is going to be much different than with Jessica due to my crazy work schedule. The way I think it's going to work is groundwork on Tuesday/Thursday and riding Friday/Saturday/Sunday, weather permitting. I can't just let her sit, not with Copper gone, because she needs constant stimulation or she'll get destructive.

Fingers crossed it will work out nicely.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Skeeter's Home!

Copper is still here, though he was supposed to go to Jessica's yesterday.

We gave ourselves an hour to load Copper, thinking that would be plenty of time to be patient and get him in. I had let him explore the trailer earlier in the week and he was not afraid and was willing to investigate, so I truly thought an hour would be plenty to gently introduce him to the trailer.

Thursday morning came and Jay got Copper ready. I opened the trailer and Copper walked in just like a pro. But ... we had thought about the work it was going to take to get him in the trailer and not given one thought to how we were going to secure him. I was trying to talk Jay through how to close the slant gate and he was trying to do it with his left hand while keeping Copper in place with his right, but there's a super secret way to release the gate that neither of us knew at the time. We decided to leave the slant gate open and treat the trailer like a stock trailer, so Jay released the pressure on Copper and made to get out of the trailer. Copper took that as an invitation to get out as well and backed out right behind Jay.

I got in the trailer and fooled around with the gate release until I figured out the super secret way to open it. Since Copper had loaded like a pro to begin with, we didn't give loading him a second thought.

Two hours later, we still couldn't get him loaded into the trailer.

We tried everything: being patient, adding pressure, adding bribes, moving his feet, and plain old brute force. It was not happening. I texted Jessica and told her that he must be part mule, as stubborn as he was being. She laughed and said we could probably see his ears get longer by the minute. She was right.

Copper was done, Jay was done, I was done. Even Grandpa Bill was done.

After a flurry of texting, she offered to come out and do a loading lesson for us over the weekend. We headed out with the trailer to pick up Skeeter, even though Jessica offered to keep her until Sunday when we took Copper to her place. I had my heart set on getting Skeeter home, so off we went.

We were disappointed that poor planning on our part (not knowing how the gates worked) meant that not only did Copper not get to go on Thursday, but that it caused frustration and stress all the way around. I tend to think that everything happens for a reason, even if we don't know what that reason is and even if we are disappointed at the time.

When we got home and got Skeeter unloaded, she was a bit distracted and 'hot', so we spend five minutes or so doing groundwork to get her focused. I would have worked her a bit longer, because she was still a bit distracted, but Copper was losing his mind in the pen. With the moisture we've had, the pen is a slippery, mucky mess and we were worried that he'd slip and hurt himself, so I turned Skeeter out into the pen.

They settled in with just a couple of bucks and dove into the hay. Not nearly the homecoming we thought we'd get to see, but they were obviously happy to see each other.

This morning, watching them both back out in the pen, I decided the reason that we couldn't get Copper loaded was because we needed them both home for a while. My heart is happy having both of them here; Jay's heart is happy having both of them here; and even L.E. has mentioned how nice it is to look out and see them both.

Copper is going to training on Sunday, we're sure of that since Jessica is coming out to the house to do a trailer loading lesson, but I needed them both home for a couple of days (even if I didn't know it). I'll also get a riding lesson at home to help transition us to working and riding here.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Lesson 6: A Huge Breakthrough

So much stuff. I'm not sure where to even begin. Today was our last official lesson, as Skeets is coming home on the 5th!

Until today, Jessica had been getting Skeets ready for me. I was really kind of spoiled and feeling like a dude, so when she had me get Skeeter ready on my own, I felt much better. While I was waiting for Jessica to tack up Skeeter's roommate, Hailey, to ride with us there was a big boom. Skeeter and Hailey didn't even flinch. Jessica lives near a shooting range, but this shot was much closer. She had told me that her husband was up on the hill hunting, so I just looked at her and said, "guess we know what's for dinner."

We started with groundwork and Jessica showed me a cool exercise where I move Skeeter in half-circles in front of me while I'm walking a straight line. I start Skeeter on a circle and as the saddle passes in front of me, I make her change directions and continue to have her chance directions as I walk forward in a straight line. It forces her to stay out of my bubble and focus on me even more so than just circling exercises. We need a lot more practice, but we got the basics down. I'll try to have someone take video on Thursday.

We mounted up and worked on the basics. Flexing right and left, walking not like a drunk soldier, one-rein and two-rein stops. Shortly, Jessica's husband came back to pick up the gator and headed back onto the hill to get his buck. I was hopeful that he would get back before I left so I could introduce Skeeter to "dead". Ranger hates "dead", but I'm always looking for opportunities to desensitize Skeets to stuff and a dead buck seemed like a great opportunity.

We continued to work on steering and walking. Not so many circles, but lots of walk in a straight line like I told you to. We went over the bridge the long way and walked through the trot poles until Bob returned with the buck. Jessica had him drive the gator into the arena so I could introduce the big black horse to the dead buck. I had a moment of "oh, should I get off?", but then looked at Jessica and she was completely unconcerned about being up on the horses as the gator came in.

Skeeter has positive associations with the gator - it brings food and takes away poop, so seeing it drive in didn't bother her one bit. I rode her up to the back and she stretched out with her nose to poke the buck and flinched. That's all the reaction she had - a little flinch - and then she set to carefully exploring the buck. She sniffed and nuzzled until she was comfortable and then decided that if it came in the food cart, it must be food and started nibbling on its hide. At one point she picked up a leg like a dog with a bone, and then went back to nibbling along the deer's side. I gave her ten or fifteen minutes of exploration before I moved her away for the other horses to get a turn. I was super proud of her for being so brave and confident.

When we went back to riding, Jessica had me move into a trot, which was so much better than last week. I felt more comfortable, Skeeter was more comfortable and it was going well for the most part, until she got stuck. Lots of clucking and kicking and nothing doing. She was well stuck and my legs were about done. I sighed and stopped to regroup and Jessica reminded me that I had just taught Skeeter that if she ignored me long enough that she wouldn't have to move. I know that, I really do, but I needed to regroup. I couldn't reach back to pop Skeeter on the butt very well, so Jessica told me to over-under her with the reins.

After I regrouped, I squeezed, clucked, kicked and then over-undered that stubborn black mare and she snapped right to work and said, "yes, ma'am." At that moment I had a huge break-through. I've been trying so hard to ride like Jessica and not make any mistakes that I've been timid. I am not a timid rider, not by any stretch of the imagination. Well, not until I started taking lessons and became afraid to screw up my horse. The minute I started riding like I know how to ride, and how I'm actually going to be riding her at home, we started making great strides. Yes, I want my cues to be like Jessica's, and no, I don't want to screw up my horse or be too harsh, but Jessica's not going to be with me after next week. Skeeter and I are going to have to come up with our own communication system, based on what we've both learned during her time at Jessica's.

I was feeling much more confident after Skeeter and I came to an agreement and kissed her up to a canter. We made it about three strides before I locked up and became unbalanced. Damn this being out of shape business. When Skeeter felt me lock up, she immediately slowed to a stop. I didn't ask her to, but I'm okay with it being her default "my rider's in trouble" reaction.

We worked our way around the arena just once or twice more before calling it a day. I can't believe that it's almost time for Skeeter to come home, but am so blasted excited I can't hardly stand it.


Jessica's Mustang Magic mare, Moxie, is in need of some fairly expensive medication, so I'm donating all of my royalties from the online sales of TALES FROM THE TRAIL during the month of November. You can start buying Christmas presents and help Moxie.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Lesson 5: Am I a Beginner?

It's been years, years, since I've ridden a truly green horse. Washoe was the last one, I think, and that was a decade ago.

With the hundreds and hundreds of hours in the saddle under my belt, you'd think I wouldn't feel so awkward, but I do. It's difficult for me to concentrate on what my legs and my hands are doing. I've been riding autopilot on well-broke horses for so long that if my cue was even sort of close, the horse could figure it out.

I don't look so horrible in this video clip, but that's because Jessica didn't take any video of me attempting to trot. I thought I'd try to sit the trot, but I felt like a sack of potatoes, so then I thought I'd post the trot, but that was even worse, so it was back to the sack of potatoes.

Only ten more days until Skeeter comes home. Jessica is going to get her loping in the arena this week and then start riding her outside of the arena so I can ride her outside at home. We don't have a round pen or an arena, so all riding will have to be done "in the wild". I'm actually not at all worried about it, because Skeeter has shown no inclination to bolt or buck. She did get mentally stuck and frustrated a couple of times, but not once did I feel unsafe.

Our next (and last) lesson is Saturday and I can't wait!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lesson 4: Back in the Saddle Again

On Saturday, I finally got to ride Skeeter. It was just a baby ride: working on flexing, go, and one-rein stops.

Jessica spent some time showing me what they had been working on. As usual, I was extremely impressed with how far Skeeter has come. Jessica said that riding her is like riding an old plow horse - she's not overly sensitive and she's kind of heavy on the bit right now, but she's getting lighter.

When it was my turn, there was no anxiety or butterflies. I watched how solid she was with Jessica and knew we'd be keeping it to a few steps here and there, very much like what we did at home when I first "rode" her.

We rode around for about ten minutes, practicing, before Jessica started filming. Oh boy, am I out of riding shape. My hamstrings and adductors are a bit sore from working her through being "stuck".

She's coming along so well that I'll be bringing her home at about 45 days and we can move onto the "wet saddle blankets" phase of training. We'll do the ole switcheroo and Copper will head to Jessica's. I can't wait to see his progress.