Frigid February – Exciting Despite the Chill

Another day, another frozen thumb. I know, not very poetic…but I have always preferred fiction to poetry anyway. In the past week I have been productive. I rode JB not one, but TWO times for a significant amount of time. He is an awesome horse and the more I ride, the more I WANT to ride. Riding is addicting – Chips Ahoy Cookies or Cheesy Poofs -once you start, stopping is difficult. OK, the former is actually good for me, the latter – not so much.

355JB is such a pickle. We are back to working on long reins and right/left & forward/back balance exercises. He likes to argue by kicking out his hind legs when the going gets difficult. He does a nice job at the walk, and now I am bumping him up to more trot work. Our spring goal is to try to be ready for a local horse show in April – 3 months. It could happen! I plan to start taking body pics as well. I am looking forward to seeing how much is body might change between now and then.

 

283Another horse we are working with is Magic. She has all sorts of balance issues. So much so that the more we work with her, the weaker she seems. I think her weakness directly correlates with her unpredictable personality right now. I think as her body becomes more balanced she will become more stable psychologically, but I think that day is a long way off. Even after three months she still shies at random obstacles in the barn where she is ridden almost daily. Here is a pic of her with Shelby, one of my assistant trainers here at the barn.

Finally, tonight I worked with my new bestie and Honey. Honey is doing great at the walk with most of her riders, but she really fights her balance at the trot. We worked her for two hours before getting her to round her back and start to put her head down – in essence, moving her into a more collected frame her can hold herself without aids. The key to balance for all horses is the ball (the fattest part of their barrel). My goal whenever I am riding any horse is to help them move that ball forward toward their point of balance (POB) - typically that spot between the top of their tail and point of their chest. Many measure the horse from nose to tail, but that is an inaccurate measurement of the horse’s point of balance. If the horse’s body represents a table, its point of balance is the middle point between the table, not the middle point between nose and tail. If the point of balance is measured from nose to tail, the POB ends up right behind the horse’s shoulder/elbow, which in turns places more weight on the forehand. When the POB is farther back, the majority of the horse’s weight and rider’s weight can be supported by the hindquarters. Many of my riders are feeling their horses begin to find balance at the walk and it is exciting for me.  

In the next week I should have Rain coming in for training. With her in the backyard, I hope to put crazy hours on her. Hopefully with the consistency she will come into her own. She is a sweet girl, I think she just needs time – like all horses.

Horsin Around at the End of January

Well, almost a year has come and gone and I have done a poor job of keeping up with the blog. In my defense, I have been a wee bit busy :) Magistaad Stables is in full swing. We ran a Groupon back in September,sold 300, and have been going full steam ever since…even in this cold weather!

My new year’s227 resolution is to try to ride at least one horse a day – especially my own. JB has so much great potential, but he is the last one I usually work! This is the story of a horse trainer’s life!

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite parts of the barn is the business. Kids are coming and going, and everytime we look out I see girls horsing around – literally ;) It makes me so happy! David Lauer even gets out on his horse once in awhile! 232

 

 

 

 

I have all of my 4H students working on Right/Left and Forward/Backward engagement. Of all of our horses, Honey has made the most progress. She is doing awesome at the walk and I am able to help her get balanced at the trot. Other riders are getting close. I am excited to see new riders helping her find balance within just a few rides.

JB likes to cheat. He is a heavier horse than Honey and wears me out more quickly — which is interesting to me bacause he has had a lot more ground work and balance work than Honey has. I think most of the differences have to do with personality.

Here is a picture of Ruby when she first came to the property. She needed a lot of groceries and her body is all out of proportion to look at her as she stands. We are working several exercises to help her get her balance better.

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The two horses I look forward to seeing the most change from are Magic and Ruby. These horses are being worked with by other students and we are documenting their bodies each week as we work. The goal is to have one of those videos where you watch the change over several minutes and get to see how the body changes with balance work.

I plan to check in more regularly to keep myself on track. I love writing about my training…I just need to make time to do it AND I need to set a good example to all the young 4H minds I plan to corrupt!

 

 

Women’s Confidence Camp March 2012

March 16 – 18

What an AWESOME weekend! Five women brought their horses to Magistaad Stables for a weekend of bonding, learning, and friendship. We had 70 degree weather all weekend and nothing could have been more perfect.

WE spent the mornings on simple ground work exercises, getting our horses’ attention and respect. In the afternoon we did a variety of riding exercises, looking for calm, willing, attentive, adaptible from our horses. The ‘bridge’ was a source of anxiety for several horses and most were crossing without batting an eyelash by the end of the weekend.

Pictures and other posts coming soon =)

Training Rain with a Bounce

2/27/2012

Today was an interesting session with Rain. Horses, like people, are multifaceted and prone to good and bad days. Today was not necessarily ‘bad,’ but Rain gave me some excellent ‘food for thought.’ In horse training, I am familiar with a theory called “The Bounce” – A situation where a horse will be working really well and then out of no where will “Bounce” back to naughtiness or struggling with a concept I thought it had mastered. Such was the case with Rain this afternoon.

First I must say that I caught her as soon as I reached her in the pasture – so that made the session great right from the beginning! Once caught, we went through the saddle and bridle routine, but this time I tried a new bridle and saddle on her. I have been working her in a training snaffle and my own saddle the last two weeks, and today I did not have time to grab my equiptment, so I used the owner’s – which I should be doing anyway. SO, after Rain was bridled and saddled, I started her with the exercise “Long Reins on a Straight Line.”

The goal of my session was to do several walk/halt transitions, help Rain find straightness because she weaves like crazy around the arena (she cannot hold a straight line when I pick a point on the wall and ride towards it – she usually drifts to the right), and do some riding with walk/halt transitions and helping her become light on the bit. Well, Rain had other plans. Whether she had an issue with the new equipment, was not in the mood to work, or whatever, a different horse showed up and I had to change the ‘plan.’

I would like to clarify that Rain was not ‘awful’ or ‘naughty,’ but she definitely ‘bounced’ back to several old habits – like pulling the reins through my hands and trying to bolt around the corners. In previous sessions, Rain was coming off the bit, accepting a light feel, and moving at a calm, steady pace around the arena. Today she did not do any of these things with any recognition that they were familiar to her. The bounce theory states that ‘things’ might get worse before they get better, and I observed some worse behavior from Rain. She was also super sensitive to the reins, and I have spent the last three weeks really desensitizing her.

Rain dragged me around the arena almost the whole session and would put her head down to plow through my hands. In the corners, she would bolt around and turn to face me before I could straighten her out, and she was not willing to relax into the work. She was, however, attentive when she stopped to face me, and overall she had a calm demeanor.

By the end of the session she was calming down, but I did not ride her. We worked on Long Reins on a Circle and I kept asking for calm, willing, and attentive at the walk when she constantly wanted to trot. Towards the end of our session she was finally slowing down, but she never really settled into the work. I will check back in Wednesday to discuss the horse that shows up!

 

Training Dodger – Long Reins Day 1

Dodger is a huge sweetheart of a horse with fascinating issues! Although he looks like one of the strongest horses on the property, I am finding that he is actually one of the weakest. This weakness does not mean he is lame, it means he carries most of his weight on his front legs instead of his hind legs. Pictures of him reveal a huge front end – thick chest and huge shoulder and is not equal to the size of his hindquarter. Although he has a nice big butt, his front end is more built than his hind end, he is not using all of the muscles in his hindquarters when he trots and canters, and he hollows his back with a rider. All of these elements make for a fun training project and excellent Long Reins candidate.

I introduced Dodger to the long reins tonight with great success. He is pretty chilled out about pretty much everything, so the long reins around his legs and hindquarters did not bother him much at all. He was bothered by having to accept a rein contact. He is used to being ridden on a loose rein, and once I asked for a contact, he argued with frequent head tossing and trying to charge through the reins. Long reins are typically 30 feet, so I was able to let Dodger drift when he tried to pull the reins away from me. Allowing the horse to drift also helps them begin to accept a light contact. Our space was small enough that he could not run away.

I started Dodger with the Long Reins on a Straight Line exercise. My main goal was to try to keep Dodger between my hands and moving in a straight line around the arena. The easiest way to do this is to pick a point on the wall and square your body/shoulders to hold the course. When the horse bounces right to left and cannot ‘stay between the lines,’ he is demonstraining his imbalances and weaknesses.

Right away I noticed that Dodger has a tendency to drift right in order to avoid loading his hind right leg. HIs barrel archs to the right, the right rein gets tight, the left rein gets slack, his right hind leg short-strides, and his body drifts right as his nose and shoulder curve to the left. Pulling on the right rein to straigten him out forces him to load all of his legs more evenly. Over time, each leg increase its weight bearing capacity, DOdger’s hindquarters will take on a nice, round beach-ball shape, his back will round as he develops better back muscle support, and his topline will gain muscle and strength as he uses his body more optimally.

Much of the theory I practice can be found in the training books: Training for Optimal Balance. I have also attached a link to one of Kirsten’s blogs where she explains how the horses spin lifts as the rest of the horse’s body comes together optimally. http://kirstennelsenhorsetraining.com/2011/03/17/how-the-horse%e2%80%99s-spine-lifts/

I will post pictures soon!

 

Training Rain ~ Long Reins & A Short Ride

Today was a good day with Rain. I walked out to the pasture and caught her with no problem. Progress-I hope so! Once I had her saddled and ready to go, we did long reins for about 20 minutes.

I have been walking at her side near the saddle to better simulate riding. I have two long reins connected to the bit and we do soft serpentines throughout the arena. One of my goals is to have Rain follow the feel of the bit from left to right, and one of the issues I discovered early on is she did not respond very fluidly to direction from the bit. She also had a pretty weak ‘Whoa.’ The long reins allow me to safely work her from right to left and practice frequent halt transitions.

One improvement I have noticed already is Rain becoming softer on the bit. During my first long rein session, my hands were raw from holding the lines and she would drag me around the arena. I worked at keeping the lines soft, even when she tried to pull on me, and over the course of thirty minutes or so she became softer and softer. I simulated softness, and she responded. Although she will still try to be heavy on the bit, I would have rated her a 9 out of 9 for heaviness last week, and today she was closer to a consistent 6.5 or so. A score of 5 would represent optimal feel for me where the rein is not dragging or drooping towards the ground nor are the lines so tight I have to really hold on. With an ideal 5, I can hold the lines in both lands lightly with my thumb and pointer finger and the slightest drag will affect Rain’s responses.

After walking around behind Rain for ten minutes or so, I moved to her right side. Rain is very insecure when anyone works her from the right side, so I have been spending more time on her right, building her confidence. I think she is typical of many horses that have not been handled from the right ~ she is not entirely sure why her human is on the right instead of the left. I can quickly escalate her into panic mode by moving too quickly or applying too much pressure. Part of the fun of working Rain is desensitizing her. Incidentally, I do a lot of bouncing and jumping jacks to help her relax.

I ended today’s session with about 20 minutes of saddle time. We worked the mounting block for a few minutes, and she was better today than she has been since we started. I was able to guide her up to the block within two tries and mount. For our riding session, I continued to do soft serpintines around the arena and halt transitions. Rain’s responses are night and day from the first few sessions. From here on out we are going to do half ground work and half riding. I think the ground work is so important to continue to build her confidence and hindquarter strength/balance, but I am also excited to move her forward with riding.

Training Rain & Owner Feedback :)

Rain’s Owner had this to say after our second session!!!

Hi Tiffany, I just wanted to tell you about my session with Rain on Friday.  I had to go to the barn to fill Whisper’s supplements so I decided since I was there I would see if Rain would “catch me”.  When I first went out into the pasture she looked at me and then turned around and slowly walked away.  She went around the side of the barn.  I said ok and went in and took care of the supplements.

Then I got my bucket out and put some grain in it and went to try again.  When she saw me, she walked away around the side of the barn again.  This time I started to whistle and followed her.  She stopped and turned to look at me, so I backed up a couple steps.  When she moved off I whistled and followed again.  She finally stopped and watched me.  I would whistle and back up, and she would take a step or two towards me.  We did this for a little bit and she finally came all the way to me and took a treat.  Then the other horses started to act up and chased her away around the side of the barn.

This time I went and put some grain in my coat pocket and tried again.  When I first started to walk up to her she just stood and watched.  I would whistle and she walked towards me; I backed up and when she got close she ate the grain.  We did this all the way to the barn.

Both her and Whisper came into the barn and we worked on whistling and getting a bit of grain.  Kind of hard to do with 2 horses, but it did work.  They would move off to play and I would whistle and both of them came over to me.  Usually Rain first.  This is unusual–it’s usually Whisper first.

Finally put the halter on her and had no problems.  She just stood there.  The only “problem” I had was getting her back out to the pasture.  She didn’t want to leave (there could be more grain).

All in all it was a great session.  Thanks so much for the work you are doing with her.

Training Rain Day 2

Wednesday, Feb. 8

Day two was surprising and pretty cool!

I went out to catch Rain on my own, sans cookies or grain. I did place the halter in my hoodie pocket, so my hands were free. When I was about 10 feet away, she took off, but not too far. I started whistling softly and she turned around and walked towards me. I started backing up and continued to whistle. When I stopped, she stopped. I waited for her head to drop and she started licking and chewing. I walked towards her and when she ‘looked’ like she might leave, I whistled and stepped back. She eventually came to me and I was able to slip the rope around her neck. I had a caught horse in less than five minutes!

AS promised, I offered her grain the minute we walked in the barn and we repeated the routine from Monday. I would whistle softly then let her take a bite.

One issue I discovered early with Rain is her discomfort when lead from the right side. Any time I am on the right, she tries to turn and face me or back up. Our first exercise for the session was hand walking – basically taking a walk around the arena on a loose rein, with intermittent halts and walks. On the left she is more confident and will walk shoulder to shoulder. On the right, she side-passes all the way around the arena.

I started walking (body and face forward, holding the lead with my left hand) and used a short dressage whip to prevent her from walking behind me. I also took deep relaxing breaths. About halfway around the arena she took a few steps forward and then turned to face me and pulled back. I smiled, positioned myself next to her the best I could, and started forward again, gently tapping the whip to get SOME motion from her. We continued this dance for about ten minutes, but the end result was a horse that finally made the transition to being led from the right side, shoulder to should, all the way around the arena.

I also spent 20 minutes doing the long reins on a circle. My goal was to try to keep as light a contact as possible because my hands were raw from Monday’s session. Rain had been heavy on the bit and constantly pulling against the lines. My strategy for the second session was to drift with her enough to keep the lines soft, but firm enough to control her speed and direction. I did not want her running away or pulling the lines through my hands.

The result was a soft, supple horse. She was rounding her back nicely and dropping her head and neck below her withers with a nice arch. She was also less chargy and more attentive throughout the full session. She never escalated into a turbo trot and never ripped the lines through my hands. The difference between the Monday session and Wednesday session was night and day – and I wish I had it on video!

We finished the session with mounting block work. She does not want to line up to the block and will turn her body to face me as soon as I say ‘whoa’. WE worked the block for about 10 minutes and finished when I was able to lay across her back from the block.

All in all, an AWESOME session!

 

Training Rain

2/6/12 – Rain_Day 1

Rain is an 8 year old draft cross mare. She has some emotional baggage. In Monday’s session she ran away from me for about 20 minutes and three of us had a hard time catching her. Once caught, I gave her a small scoop of grain and made her follow me around the arena. Everytime she took a bite, I softly whistled to help teach her to come to my whistle.

Rain’s habit is to run from people and in past lesson sessions we have played a ‘move the feet’ game as long as she is running away from us. I wanted to put that forward energy to use and control her direction the whole session, so I put her on the long reins and I made her do circles at the walk and trot.

All I was looking for this session was calm, attentive, willing, and adaptable. I did not encourage her to run away from me; I used the long reins to control the speed of her trot and when she started to ‘run’ from the pressure, I slowed her to a walk and waited for her head to come down and eyes/ears to get soft.

Long rein work is fascinating. I never escalated Rain into a turbo trot or canter, yet after 30 minutes of walk and controlled trot, she was dripping. Someone watching the session would not have believed she would get so sweaty from the workout.

Long rein exercises help balance horses and encourage them to use all their muscles, especially at the walk. So in actuality, the horse uses more muscles in a concentrated effort at the walk than at the trot. The trot allows the horse to use momentum to maintain balance, and so the horse does not actually have to rely on using all of its muscles optimally. Long rein exercises equate to pilates or yoga in the people world. Horses use muscle groups they are not used to using on a regular basis, and so they tire more quickly and sweat more readily.