Thursday, January 29, 2015

First the Mind, then the Feet

On Tuesday, finally, we managed to get our new horse hauled down to our barn. After a couple false starts coordinating the trailer and her owners and ourselves, we were happy that the haul went smoothly. I was prepared to spend some time persuading the new girl that the trailer wasn't scary, but she following me in with only the tiniest hint of hesitation. A short drive later, we turned her out to meet her new herd in failing light.

Happily, our herd is both small and mellow. The introduction was a non-event. We left her for the night, and I came back the next afternoon, armed with a halter, a flag, and a name.

Although her previous owners had called our new horse Lola, we have a lot of mares with names really close to that around our barn. We decided to call her Piper instead.

I found Piper eating with some of her new friends. She was a bit uncertain when I approached, but it only took me a minute or two to sidle up to her and get the halter on. She was hesitant about crossing the mud and ice between us and the barn, but a teeny bit of pressure on the rope found her willing enough to follow. We worked our way through two gates and a sliding door, and achieved the indoor arena.

Inside, Piper was definitely tense. I'm not sure if she'd ever been in this kind of building before. She wasn't dancing around or freaking out, but her entire body was totally rigid. My first job was to try to make her feel a little more comfortable.

We explored the indoor arena and the tacking area. She was more curious than afraid about most things, including the flag, the rope, my vest when I took it off, and the barn dog. The biggest problem was actually the herd. There is a mare in our pasture who gets instantly and intensely attached to any new horse, and she was outside calling her head off. This was not helping Piper relax.

Brian and I recently watched a Peter Campbell video in which Peter is working with an almost completely untouched three year old filly. This was actually a really great thing for me to see right before getting Piper, because our new horse has less handling than any horse I've ever worked with before.

Peter spent a lot of time emphasizing the point that horses don't get in fights with people, people get in fights with horses. There were a couple of moments in the video when the horse reacted to things Peter was doing, and he let it go and changed his approach. At the end of the video, he specifically addressed these moments. He said how, as a younger man, he would have stuck it out and pushed harder instead of backing off. He would have made it into a fight, and the horse would have gotten significantly more troubled. Those moments of fear would have come back down the road to make things harder for that horse later on.

I have heard every trainer we admire say some variation of this statement. Since I'm not in a position where I can starts hundreds of colts and learn the hard way, I try to take the advice I can find. So, my number one goal with Piper this first day was to teach her a few things, but not pick fights, and not get her scared.

We worked on a number of basic exercises, and she was pretty good with all of it from the get-go. She would yield to light pressure if I gave her a moment to figure it out. After a while, though, I noticed she was getting more tense instead of less so. Also, the calling from the herd had escalated (another somewhat socially impaired mare had joined in), and all the noise was really distracting for her.

I thought of something else Peter said then. It's also something I've heard Martin Black discuss. Basically, it boils down to the concept that, if you don't have the mind, you don't have the feet. And if you don't have the feet, you don't have anything.

In my desire not to pick any fights, I had set things up so I was being passive enough that Piper was putting me fairly low on her list of things she needed to think about. Which meant, every time I asked for something I was waiting on her to decide I was important enough to warrant her attention.

And this, I feel, is one of the trickiest areas with horses. When to push vs when to wait. In this context, I have a horse who knows essentially nothing about working with people. She's tense but not flying-off-the-handle upset. What do you do to get her attention, without getting her troubled?

My solution was to ask for more movement. In spite of being a bit anxious, Piper was fairly sticky with her feet. So I used the flag to get her to move out some. When she softened up and looked towards me, I let her stop and relax. When she strained to look to the outside of the circle, I asked for a bigger trot.

This worked really well. Soon I had some disengages that were soft instead of choppy. Piper was showing signs of feeling more comfortable. I alternated for a while then between grooming and moving her feet around. By the end of our session, we had some pretty soft disengages of both the front and the hind going, and a lot less staring around with big worried eyes. I figured that was a good place to quit.

The moment I turned Piper back out, she was enthusiastically greeted by the two ninnies who'd been yelling for her the entire time I had her inside. The rest of the herd turned from their hay consumption to wonder what all the fuss was about.

For my part, I continue to be super excited about Piper. She's going to be an interesting project. She's almost five, and she's almost entirely untouched. It's a great opportunity to work with a horse that's physically almost mature, but is mentally pretty much a clean slate. I've no doubt she's going to teach me a lot.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Aiden Update

My absolute favorite thing about Facebook is how easy it makes it to keep tabs on the horses we've sent on to other homes. This time around, we have the added benefit that the woman who owns the place where Aiden will be living is genuinely a professional photographer. Thus, we got to see some beautiful shots of Aiden arriving at his new home (posted here with permission).

photo copyright Ladybug Photography

It seems like the herd he'll be living with was pretty easy to settle in with. And Aiden, of course, is also a pretty easy-going guy.

photo copyright Ladybug Photography

Beyond the horse companionship, he's clearly landed in with completely awesome people. His girl shows signs of being inclined to dote.

photo copyright Ladybug Photography

We've had a few updates since his arrival, and it sounds like they've already had a number of good rides. And I must say, Aiden looks pretty suave in the svelte English gear.

photo copyright Ladybug Photography

So, anyway, we're just completely thrilled about where he ended up. We've been promised more updates down the road. I think we're going to see Aiden and his new girl doing some pretty neat things together.

photo copyright Ladybug Photography

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Time On Nevada

Today I had a totally new experience. I rode a horse that has been trained solely by my husband. That is to say, today I rode Nevada for the first time.

And I have to say, I thought we got along quite well. Obviously it helps that Nevada knows me, even if I've never climbed on her back before. It also helps that I've participated in her training in a somewhat indirect capacity, watching Brian work with her and talking with him quite a bit about the particulars of her progression, and also doing hands on work with her from Steen's back.

Still, Brian hasn't actually put many hours on Nevada yet. Part of that has been wanting to keep things slow and light so she can finish growing. Part of it has just been circumstance. It has seemed every time he's gotten in a better groove with her, some life event has popped up to slow them down.

So I was a bit surprised staring out at how comfortable I felt up there. Sure, she's still super green. But she understood my legs and she was soft to the hackamore. We had no trouble tooling around the indoor arena. We walked some circles, backed, moved the hind, moved the front, trotted around a bit, and basically just got to know each other. I think she even enjoyed herself a little. And, of course, we had Brian and Laredo to keep us company.

In short, I had a really nice ride. And my experience on this little mare got me even more excited for the upcoming prospect of getting my own girl going in the near future.

Ride Time: 0:35
Horseback Hours YTD: 10:20

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Because Me Too

It's probably no surprise to anyone who reads this blog, but with Aiden off to his new home on Thursday, we were thinking we'd start keeping our eyes open for another project. Then the woman who facilitated Aiden's sale happened to mention she knew of a horse that needed a new home.

Which meant today we went to see some people about a horse. She's a 5 year old mare, not started under saddle but well socialized. She's a sweetheart who just needs someone to get her going. We hung out with her for a little while and left to talk it over. But it really wasn't hard to decide what we wanted to do. We got back in touch with her owners, and let them know we wanted her. All that's left is to arrange transportation.

So, in spite of being not fully adjusted to the idea of Aiden being gone, we now have this new cutie to look forward to getting to know. This is certainly our fastest transition from one project to another. Left to our own devices, we probably would have waited at least a few weeks. I don't mind, though. Aiden was always fun to ride, but he was pretty well settled by the end there. I wasn't actively working on anything with him because K was mostly riding him. This little lady is going to bring about a pretty different sort of learning.

Besides, Brian started a horse last year. That means it's my turn. Since he's got his hands full with Nevada, this girl is going to be mainly my project.

Horseback Hours YTD: 9:45

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Aiden Moves On

As I mentioned before, we got a call about Aiden while we were in Arizona. I chatted with a woman who was shopping for a horse for her student, and it sounded like Aiden might be exactly what she was looking for.

But we were in Arizona, and they ended up buying a different horse before we could get back and show them Aiden. We thought the case was closed. But it turned out the horse they bought didn't pass his pre-purchase exam, so they didn't keep him.

Which meant they were interested in Aiden again.

We had them out to meet him last weekend. The student and Aiden got along beautifully. Watching the test ride, I couldn't believe how good they looked together. It didn't take long for the girl to decide she wanted to take him home.

Then it was just a question of getting him through his own pre-purchase exam and scheduling his pick up. Today, I watched Aiden's new owner load him into a trailer, and drive away.

I think the thing I still haven't gotten used to about selling horses is how suddenly they leave. We had Aiden for 10 months. In that time, I spent a lot of time riding him, and even more doing groundwork and just being near him. I got pretty darn fond of the guy. The reality of how suddenly a horse goes from "ours" to "not ours" still somehow surprises me.

All that aside, I am so happy for Aiden. Over the course of the buying process, I got to know the woman who owns the place where he'll be kept. She's a really lovely person, and clearly has the health and happiness of her horses as a top priority. Aiden's new owner is already in love with him. It's exactly the way we were hoping to bring our chapter in his life to a close.

Nevertheless, I think there should be a word for that feeling of getting exactly what you hoped for, but still being a little bit sad. That's certainly how it feels to say good-bye.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A New Student

Last week, we had a cold snap. Like, highs-in-the-single-digits style cold. While I'm way hardier than I used to be, I find temps that low hard to be comfortable in.

Nevada says, "There's ice in my forelock? Really?"

Still, I had to go to the barn on Friday because I had a lesson to give. Last weekend, a woman who boards at our barn, M, asked me if I'd be willing to teach her how to do some groundwork with her mare. So I put on approximately every warm garment I own, and tried to pretend the thermometer didn't say 5°F.

M's mare is a 15 year old rescue horse. She's an Arabian, and sweet but a tad standoffish about people at times. She lives in the pasture with our horses, so I know her a little. The trouble her owner is having with her is mostly minor stuff, but it's the sort of behavior that can grow over time into real problems. The mare can get pretty fidgety during tacking and grooming, and has lately started to move away from the mounting block when M goes to get on. When she's fidgeting, she doesn't have a lot of care for where she's putting her feet or who she's bumping into.

As far as M knows, the horse hasn't ever had any real, systematic training. But she's overall pretty quiet, and (like all horses) just wants to get along with her people. M has had horses before, but she's never done much training. She's seen us working with our horses and wants to learn to do some of the things we do.

For the first lesson, I had Steen with me. I started off by showing M some basic ways to move the feet. Then I had her try them on Steen while I got a feel for her horse, Loretta.

Loretta is super responsive. It didn't take much pressure at all to get to her feet. The bigger challenge was getting her to focus, and getting her to stop once she started going somewhere. Like many sensitive horses, she's a bit nervous. All the things she does seem to come from a feeling that she needs to stay aware of her surroundings and stay ready to evade any threats. Early on, she was spending a lot of time looking all around the arena and very little time looking at me.

Since Loretta is fidgety, M has gotten into a bit of habit of holding her on a short lead and trying to prevent her from moving. I explained how this strategy backfires, because a nervous horse is only going to get more nervous when it feels confined. We worked on different ways to let Loretta move when she needed to, but asking her to do something productive with her energy rather than just letting her decide where to go and what to think about.

After having M practice some things on Steen, I gave Loretta back to her. M practiced some more, and I gave her some homework. By then we were both thoroughly frozen, so we called it a day. But I ran into her yesterday, and she said she's been practicing and is keen to learn more. So I'm excited to see how things progress over time.

Meanwhile, all our horses are holding up pretty well, in spite of the crazy cold. Brian's been getting on Nevada with more consistency lately, and she's been growing, too. It's fun to see her start to seem more mature.

Horseback Hours YTD: 07:15

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Looking Ahead

Brian and I just returned from spending two weeks in Arizona, visiting my family. While it was a lovely vacation, I must admit I was missing Steen like crazy the whole time. Part of it is the setting. My parents live in a beautiful valley at the base of the Catalina Mountains, surrounded by the land and trails I grew up riding with my first horse.

One of my fond hopes is to someday be able to take Steen there. Right now this isn't possible for a variety of reasons. Brian and I went for a lot of walks, and I couldn't help thinking about how great it would be to be riding instead of walking.

Now we're home, and saying hello to Steen was a kind of relief. Climbing into my saddle and riding off felt like getting back some part of my body that hadn't been functioning. I've had Steen for almost seven years now. I don't know exactly how much time I've spent on his back because I didn't keep track the first few years, but I know it has to be at least 600 hours. That's a whole lot more time than I've spent on any other horse. The relationship I have with him is unique in my life.

Now that 2014 is over, we're looking at what we want to accomplish in 2015 with the horses. While we were in Tucson, someone called about Aiden. He's listed here on our website as for sale, even though we're not actively trying to sell him at this point. The caller thought he sounded perfect for her riding student, and Brian and I spent a few days thinking we might sell him shortly after getting back. It turned out the timing didn't work out, though, and the student bought a different horse before we could return to Iowa and show her Aiden.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the near miss. On the one hand, the idea of selling Aiden and getting a new prospect was exciting. On the other, I really like Aiden. He's fun to ride, and he's great for Brian's student. I'm going to miss him when he's gone.

Part of it is I need to decide what I want to do next. With Steen getting older, it might be time for me to find a promising youngster and start the horse that will be my next Steen. On the other hand, I do enjoy finding horses who need a little help, getting them all polished up, and sending them on to good homes.

Fortunately, whatever happens, it should involve a lot of time on horseback. Our first day back in town, I rode three horses, one after the other. That felt really good.

Horseback Hours YTD: 2:50

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