March 30, 2013

Flying Changes

Full rainbow over the barn after our amazing ride.
I think the rainbow is somehow a sign of something!
Tonight I decided to start officially schooling flying changes. Back when Rose was four she randomly started doing them any time she didn't want to transition down to the trot from the canter on figure eight work. I went with it at the time but didn't have much more time riding/practicing them as I was pregnant and my riding days soon came to an end.

Aside from asking her to do them in a figure eight I wasn't sure how to properly train her to do a nice quiet and balanced flying change. Although she's done quite a few times on the figure eight they's always been a bit of an un-balanced struggle. Since I've never had to train a horse to do flying changes before, I thought it would be best to have some professional help to me learn how to teach her to do them properly.  However, my plan to start lessons with an awesome local hunter trainer are on hold due to her barn being on a post-HITS Ocala EHV1 quarantine (seriously, this seems to happen every year at HITS what is the deal?), and my dressage trainer only works at our barn weekday mornings when I do not have child care options, I decided to do a bit of research before tackling it on my own. A visual learner, I sifted through some entirely questionable videos on YouTube until stumbling upon Jane Savoie and a couple heavily accented German dressage trainers who actually seemed to know what they were doing. Thanks to their combined expertise, I devised a plan and put it into action.

Here was the plan:

1. Start with a really good warm up. W-T-C, lots of shoulder in, haunches in, side pass, circles, collection work, etc.
2. Heading down the long side on the left rein, pick up trot, ask for collected canter.
3. Canter collected, in half seat, short side and head down the short diagonal (P X S).
4. Just before S and all at the same time, change bend to right, sit the canter for a stride or two, bring left leg back asking for change of lead, tap of dressage whip if needed. Do not throw my body around, stay balanced and in the center of the saddle no matter what.
5. Reward for any attempt at switching leads, whether or not it was successful, only a partial switch front or back, etc. Keep it fun!
6. When she got a fluid perfect change, praise the heck out of her and end on a good note.

It took us five attempts before we got a perfect and balanced flying change. When we finally got it, it felt like heaven! I was so very happy with my girl and she seemed to really be enjoying figuring out something new. I cannot wait to work on them some more and keep building on it so that we can eventually work them into course work. Fun times ahead!

I am also happy to report that the cross tie wiggles seem to have been eliminated for the most part. Once in a while Rose still wiggles a bit when she hears a weird noise or something down the isle way (cat fights, etc.) but otherwise she has quickly figured out that standing nice and quiet in the middle = cookies and lovin'. I am very happy about this. Grooming and tacking up, even with praise and cookies, goes so much faster when I'm not having to dance around her.

Happy trails and swooshing tails!

March 29, 2013

Solving the cross-tie wiggles

In the last two months I have been doing a lot of groundwork with Rose and she has been completely on board with it. She's now ground tying very well and will not move a muscle when told to stand in the arena or  while standing loose in the barn isle while I groom/tack-up. She's happily following me through the tiny people door into the arena. She's staying out of my space and being very respectful with her head.

However, she's been wiggly in the cross ties. I'm not sure when this wiggle thing really started. I know it was sometime after I got pregnant, and it clearly became a habit. But what is causing it? Some days she's nice and quiet and stands still, but others she's constantly fidgeting in the cross ties. It's not to a dangerous level, just an annoying one. Furthermore  if I leave her in the cross ties but take them off she'll ground tie nicely. So how can I fix the wiggles?

Things I've done, that have had no effect:
  1. Ask her to back a step and tell her to stand, every time she fidgets. 
  2. Pull her immediately out of the cross ties when she fidgets and asking her to move her feet/back, etc. Return her to the cross ties once she's licking her lips and chomping in acknowledgement, etc. 
  3. Let her stand in the cross ties for hours while ignoring the behavior.
Nothing in my bag of tricks was working so last night I decided to try a new approach, thinking that the issue may more that she's developed cross tie anxiety, not so much that she doesn't understand that she should stand still. What did I do? I decided to make the cross ties become her favorite place in the barn. I was happy to an exaggerated cheesy extent, gave her leg and back massages, praised her and stuffed her with horse cookies for standing still.

It worked!

I'm curious to see what happens tonight at the barn, but at the very least it worked yesterday and on top of that I had a great ride. So the mare earned her 4.0 last night. Fingers crossed it wasn't a fluke.

Happy trails and swooshing tails!

March 28, 2013

Patients is a virtue

Now that I am getting regular quality sleep, I've been able to take an objective step back and screw my head on straight. Upon reflection, I now see that one of the things that was causing me frustration with Rose back in December was actually the bi-product of exhaustion. When I'm a completely sleep deprived zombie I apparently become stingy with my normally large quantity of patients. Any that I had laying around went entirely to JR. At the same time though I expected a five year old warmblood to just "be good" and do her job, after having more or less an 18-month break from ground work training and only maintenance hacking. Obviously that was an unfair expectation, but I was too tired at the time to see that clearly.

However, now I'm back. I can once again think and I see the error in my ways. My patients have returned and I'm  able to extend them not only to JR, but Rose, Hubs and any number of other creatures in my day to day life. This is good, because my horse training motto has always been slow and steady wins the race. I've never had much success with just trying to take a short cut and force an issue with a horse. Sometimes it is necessary, but the bulk of the time I've found it only makes things harder.

So we are back to taking things slow and steady and I've been really happy with the progress that Rose is making under saddle, over fences, and on the ground. More on that to come...

Happy trails and swooshing tails! 

March 26, 2013

Sleep. It's a good thing.

Back story: Jr started sleeping through the night at two-months. At four-months he started waking up 1-2 times a night. At 5 months he started waking up every hour (5-6 times a night). At the same time I was stay at home with Jr., working part time for my own business, helping Hubs with his business, teaching a three credit class at the local university, and coaching the university's IHSA team. I had a lot on my plate and a baby that wasn't sleeping. The semester ended in December and I was able to breath, even if sleep still alluded me. It became clear to me though that I still had too much on my plate so I quit coaching the IHSA team.

At the end of December when I decided to sell Rose, I got a phone call. A phone call from a friend, who is a been there done that mommy and is a fellow horsewoman. She was concerned that I had postpartum depression. I had recently made some other big life changes and she was really surprise to hear that I was selling my horse. I assured her that I did not, and it was the right decision to make, for both of us. After all  I delighted in my baby, I just didn't get any sleep. My only problem was that I was chronically sleep deprived.

Since that phone call, out of utter desperation Hubs and I hired a sleep consultant to help up with Jr's problem of not sleeping. He was nine months at the time, still waking 1-2 hours all night, every night, to nurse, and only napping when held. I had become a complete zombie functioning on literally no sleep for the past five months. It was during his nine month doctor appointment that our pediatrician assured us that sleep training would not turn our child into a serial killer and handed us Marsha Podd's business card. After highly caffeinating our two remaining brain cells and swishing our heads around until they bumped into each other we decided to make the call and managed to change our lives. Within a few days of our teleconference with the sainted Ms. Podd, Jr was sleeping through the night (11-12 hours) and napping in his crib!

I was thrilled. I was getting sleep. Now I would be able to get so much stuff done, right? Blogging of course was on that list. The reality? I got sleep done. That's about it. Now however, two months later, I am starting to regain my vocabulary, remember appointments, and function like a somewhat normal adult again. Jr. is doing much better as well. Sleep really agrees with him and he's tons of fun! But so is my horse.

Since Rose has been back in full work, and I've started jumping her again, and working a lot on ground work/manners our relationship has jumped leaps and bounds. I'm enjoying working with her again. It makes me reflect on that January phone call a lot. Maybe I wasn't clinically suffering from PPD, but I was so sleep deprived that I was shutting down aspects of my life just so that I could survive. Rose was one of those things that I "shut down". I really do love my horse. She is brilliant, beautiful, and a joy to ride. I just was not able to function back then.

However, even though I'm once again delighted with my horse, I still don't really have the time for her. It is a giant struggle to get to the barn each and every time. Everyone says that your life won't ever be the same after having a baby. I thought people meant this on an emotional level only. Boy was I wrong! What people should say is that having a baby will change every single aspect of your life completely. Having a baby is a HUGE time commitment. One that would be less demanding if both Hubs and I weren't self employed or if either of us had any family in town. So, although I'm making time to ride four days a week at the moment because I have to, I can't keep it up. We don't own land, so I cannot in good conscious continue to board a horse that I don't have time to ride. It isn't fair to Rose either. She's in the prime of her development and loves to work. She needs to be in training and Rose still has to move onto another owner. There is just no way around it. However, for the time being, I am having a blast with her and intend to until the day she moves to a new home.

Happy trails and swooshing tails!

March 21, 2013

Jumping Video

I shot some video of our jumping session last night. Unfortunately I had forgotten to re-charge the battery so my camera kept shutting off. As such, there is very little footage of jumping the 2' vertical. Next time I'll do better! There was enough footage though for you to get an idea of what we are working on.

Happy trails and swooshing tails!

March 20, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

Conformation. March 2013

Hunt tack. March 2013

Head shot. March 2013.

Happy trails and swooshing tails!

March 19, 2013

My FAMOUS horse trailer

As you may recall, last summer Dodge did a photo shoot in Bozeman and rented my trailer for one of the photo shoots. I haven't seen the printed brochure, as I haven't had time to go into a Dodge dealership and pick one up. I really should do that. However, I was playing around on their website tonight and found the photo of my trailer. In all her glory, being hauled behind a less powerful much newer truck than my Big Blue, I give you my now famous trailer:

Here is a link to Dodge's website page that shows the trailer:

For comparison, her she is behind Big Blue:

Happy trails and swooshing tails! 

March 17, 2013

Jumping, jumping, jumping!

I have been jumping Rose the past few rides now and I couldn't be happier with how she is progressing. Taking baby steps really pays off sometimes (well, most of the time actually). After jumping three days in a row last week, I gave her Saturday off and then we were back at it tonight. Given that we spend most of our time on flat work and the jumps are tiny and we are only trotting them, I don't think that I'm asking too much of her to jump a few days a week, and right now I just want to get her over the "hump" and back into the right frame of mind with the jumps. In addition, she will be turning six this year so I think that her joints can handle the regular work at this point. That's important because, it is that regular work that seems to be paying off. If I were only jumping her once a week, it would have taken me all month to get where we have in less than one week! At any rate, here is what we jumped tonight:

Gymnastic exercise: a 2' ex with trot poles.
As I said, it is a tiny jump. Since Rose did so well on Friday, we started off with the ex up rather than beginning with ground poles as before. However, I still asked her to walk over the jump first. Low and behold she actually walked over it! No trying to rush and jump it at all. I was very happy with her. I was able to walk her up to it, halt her anywhere before the jump, once or twice, and then ask her to continue on and hop over it. She was completely compliant and definitely understood her job. Once I was completely satisfied with her execution of the jump at the walk, we worked at the same exercise at the trot. Again, I randomly threw in halts before and after the jump, preventing her from anticipating what was coming. After a couple excellent jumps at the trot we called it a day. This is the first time since I started her back over fences last week that she hasn't attempted any evasive maneuvers to avoid jumping. I was very happy with her performance and can't wait to continue working on her jumping later this week.

Happy trails and swooshing tails!

March 16, 2013

Pampered Princess

Rose is one lucky girl. Miss Thing has been working rather hard the last two months, so I decided to splurge and get her a massage. I truly believe in massage and chiropractor work for horses. I have seen it work miracles on old and otherwise broken horses. However, my pocket book rarely agrees that a five year old sound horse "needs" regular massage work. However, like I said she's been working hard and deserved a little TLC. I was curious to see how she would do with getting the massage, and I was very happy to see that she was a good girl about it. She had a look on her face for a while that said "I don't know what you are doing, and I'm not sure if I like it or not...but, oh hey, that feels good". It was very interesting to watch. She definitely seemed to enjoy it and in the days following seemed to be a bit more energetic and spunky. I think there was a muscle or two that certainly got some release from the massage.

Happy trails and swooshing tails! 

March 14, 2013

Back to jumping, back to the beginning.

Now that Rose has been back in full work for two months, I decided it was time she started jumping again. For some reason, when I first popped her over a small ex in January she gave no indication of having ever jumped before in her life. Given her age, if I had not known that I jumped her over 2' courses two years ago, I might have bought her lie. However, I know better. It seems to me that she has lost all the confidence that she had developed back then. My game plan? Start over again from scratch.

Stage One (February): Poles
Throughout the month of February we walked, trotted, and cantered ground poles. My goal was to get her completely comfortable with the fact that, yes, I am going to ask her to move her body over a frozen albino death python long white round tube and she is going to calmly go over it like it wasn't even there. This was easily and well accomplished.

Stage Two (March): Grid Work
Starting this week it was time to turn those ground poles into small ex's. Yesterday I foolishly decided to just set up an ex and give it a go. That was foolish of me, and I knew better. She pulled all sorts of fun pranks like halting ten feet from the jump and refusing to go near it even when I got off to lead her over it, and trying to run out and avoid the jump at every opportunity. Stubborn as I am though, I did in the end win and get her over the ex willingly a few times before calling it a night. I decided then and there that I would do things better tonight, dial it back and really start over from scratch.

After a good flat warm up, with lots of leg yielding and trot work, I set up a grid with four trot poles and two standards. I like to put up standards even if I don't turn them into jump so that my horse gets used to going through standards without becoming anxious/anticipating a jump. First I had Rose walk through the poles, and then the next time around trot them. We kept trotting the poles until she was completely calm trotting through them in both directions. I gave her lots of breaks and praise when the task was done well. Next I set up the world's smallest jump two trot poles, a nine foot space, and an 18" ex with a ground line. Starting with the walk, I took Rose through the grid, keeping her at the walk and popping over the little jump.

When you do this exercise with a lot of horses they will just walk over the tiny, unimpressive jump. Some even will drag their feet and knock the whole kit and caboodle down. Not Rose. Heck no. She jumps it like it is at least 2'. Her jump is round at least, she just doesn't realize that she can be lazy about this exercise.  That will come in time. I had her walk through it a few times until she was completely willing to go straight through the grid, no hesitation,  no attempt at wiggling and running out. I also wanted to be able to halt her at any point prior to the jump, pet her, and then ask her to continue on, again with no hesitation. After the jump I immediately brought her back and asked for a halt. We repeated this until she was willing and quiet. After a good break and lots of praises, we did the same thing at the trot, repeating until we achieved willing and calm and made sure to end on a very good note. I was very pleased with my girl and I am definitely looking forward to getting her over some more jumps.

Happy trails and swooshing tails!

March 7, 2013

Photos from the Feb. Schooling Show

I received my photos from the schooling show that I took Rose to last month. Looking back at the photos, I'm really glad that I took her to that little show. We had some fun, even if there was a lot of standing around and waiting, and I have some good memories of the day. Plus, we got a lot accomplished!

We did a lot of standing around. Hours, of standing around.
Bonus, got to work on ground work a lot...hence the rope halter.


English Pleasure Class - walk

English Pleasure Class - trot

English Pleasure Class - Canter
Happy trails and swooshing tails! 

March 3, 2013

Striking a balance?

During my pregnancy, and then Jr's first nine months I lost track of my "plan" with Rose. I used to always have goals and go about achieving them. Then I just got too big, hormonal, and sleep deprived, and at some point just stopped focusing on Rose. My family says that this means I'm a good mom, focusing on Jr. more than my horse. Okay, yes, I guess that does. I'm glad that makes them happy. However, the same phrase tells me I'm a bad horse owner.

It's such a fine balance to between one's love of horses and love of family. Clearly I'm not going to put my horse above the well being of my child, but I can't neglect her either. During Jr's first nine months, I "tried" to get to the barn as much as possible. Some weeks that meant I would only get out there once, if at all. Quite often I would wonder why I should even bother riding her, since it wouldn't make any difference to ride her just once a week. I would still ride though. When I decided to put her up for sale I knew that she had to get back into shape and into serious work to sell, so into full training she went. Once her month of full training ended, I forced myself to get to the barn at least four days a week, in addition to EB riding her two days a week, she is now in consistent work again. Finding the time to ride hasn't easy, but then Jr. started sleeping through the night a few weeks ago, and life in general has gotten better. I also decided to start really focusing on Rose's ground work again too.

Somewhere during this process, I started making goals again and really enjoying working with my horse. It occurred to me, that I should always work with Rose like I am trying to sell her. She loves it, I love working with her and accomplishing new things, and everyone is happier. Well except Hubs, who has to be on baby duty for three hours, four days a week. Me? I get a blissful three hour break in my non-stop 24hr parenting routine where I get to focus on only one horse. Now if only the guilt I feel about taking up so much of Hub's time to go ride my pony would just subside. That would be great. Darn you Catholic guilt...go away you pesky guilt you.

Happy trails and swooshing tails!

March 1, 2013

The selling process...

I know several of my regular readers are curious to know what's going on with the selling process. I don't want to jinx things though, so I've decided not to blog about it until it is all over. I'm happy to say that I've had a lot of interest in Rose. However, anyone who's ever sold a horse at her price point before knows what a process it can be to get the stars, sun and moon to all align, especially when the horse is located in the middle of nowhere  Montana. It doesn't help that professionally this is my busy season. I have a lot of work on my desk (really really awesome good stuff...haven't felt this positive about work since 2006!) and as always Jr. to take care of. I've had a busy week. I promise to give a full update on everything regarding the sale once it is final/complete. Until then, I'm looking forward to some more awesome pony time this weekend, because that is all she's been lately. Totally awesome! She's actually making this whole thing really hard on me.

Happy trails and swooshing tails!


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