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.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Lesson 3 (AKA Who Is This Horse?)

If you've been following this blog for a couple of years, you know how very deeply I loved Estes. She taught me so much and losing her was like losing a piece of myself. Objectively, though, she wasn't an easy horse. She had way more "go" than "whoa". I was careful about who I let ride her because she could be such a pill. Queen Estes would never have hurt anyone on purpose, but she did things her way, thankyouverymuch.

After handling and sitting on Skeeter yesterday, I've come to realize that as much as I loved Her Highness, riding her was like driving a rugged old Jeep - great for ranch work and four-wheeling, but not super quick or responsive.

Miss Skeeter, on the other hand, is becoming a Ferrari - light and responsive. (I'm hoping that we'll instill some four-wheeling in her out on the trail without losing the light responsiveness.)

Our lesson started off with Jessica showing me everything they've been working on. It had been ten days between lessons for me, so there was a lot of stuff. A lot.

Laying across her bareback, getting her used to seeing a human with both eyes.

Working on transitions in the round pen
Finally, some up-and-overs. Mount on one side, dismount on the other.
(Look at Skeets in the last picture - totally unconcerned. Looking at Moxie and Bravo outside the fence, but standing solid with one leg cocked.)

After Jessica was done with the show-and-tell, it was my turn to practice. We started with some driving with the stirrup from the ground, which I'd never done before, but was pretty cool. It's teaching Skeeter what the squeeze from the stirrup means, if I squeezed (pushed in) and she didn't walk off, then it was bump-bump and a cluck to get her moving. We worked both sides and then I lined her up with the mounting block and started leaning over her, flapping the stirrups, rubbing her neck and butt, and generally letting her know I was there.

This was all stuff we had done before at home, so it was comfortable for both of us. It's nice to know that some of the foundation we laid came in handy in her training.

Then it was put weight in the stirrup and do the same thing - lean, rub, flap, etc. She walked off a step or two, but as soon as I lifted the lead rope she immediately stopped. I can't even begin to tell you how amazing that was to me. I went from having to stand on the brakes (Estes) to just thinking about the brakes (Skeeter).

We worked both sides with the standing, leaning, rubbing, flapping business a couple of times before I sat astride. She was rock solid, so we worked on flexing to the right and left just a bit before I dismounted. She had to move her feet a little bit, just a couple of steps, but a slight lift of the lead rope and she came to a dead stop.

I spent far more time than I should have at Jessica's, but I am so thrilled with her progress. I know I say that every week, but it's true. I could have gotten Skeeter rideable and out on the trails, but I would never have been able to give her this level of education. I would have trained her to be a perfect serviceable Jeep and missed out on the pleasure of driving a Ferrari.

(Jessica did take some pictures of me, as soon as I get them, I'll post.)

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