Ride 3 – Don’t Turn Away

On Wednesday, I had my third, walking ride on Reason. 

My first lesson was that I should not turn away a ride, just because Reason gets excited or frisky due to surrounding events.  I’ve been going off a “feel good” or “not so good,” system of determining if Reason is up for a ride.  Part of me doesn’t want to get dumped but the other part is clearly aware how sensitive his young little mind is.  I have to take my time and he has to want to be there, to make a ride positive and therefore worth it. 

On Wednesday, it was looking 50/50 when I took Reason down, bridle and helmet in tow, to the indoor arena.  The air was crisp, just enough so that you could either have a nice ride or a rodeo.  One of those days.  The horses next door were playing off and on, the horse I was sharing the arena with at the time, was frisky, the cows were grazing close by.  Reason hopped about, trying to focus on the scary, weird, cows and at the same time listen to the horse that was having a ball just behind. 

Reason was less worried about the cows, more relaxed this time around.  But, due to everything that was going on, I wasn’t sure if he’d want to be or be focused on what his rider was doing.

As the moments passed, I was reminded about something.  If Ink was ever unsure, scared or nervous, I felt much more comfortable to navigate him, on his back.  He liked having me up there and he liked when we’d move forward through problems or challenges, whatever they may have been.  I’m not sure why this is.  Maybe because when he raced, it was a chance to run into comfort, freedom, whereas at the barn, he couldn’t get away?  I don’t know?

I had a light-bulb moment.  Each ride I’ve had on Reason, despite only being two solo ones, I already knew he followed along those same lines.  A rider on the back was good.  This meant that he would be asked to do something and he liked being asked. 

I got on, minutes later, to find myself on top of a horse who asked me to be there and who truly was ready for whatever may come, with me above.  Relaxed and less worried about whatever was around us.  What a good feeling that was and is!  My horse wants to be there, as much as I do.  That is surely a GREAT start.

I got a good, forward walk.  Reason is already responding to basic seat aids.  His steering is already better, brakes are getting better.  He’s moving away from leg aids so well.  I’m so impressed and excited! 

Walking is so much fun!  I never thought I’d say that.  But it is and by just focusing on walking, I think we can do a lot.  Next ride, I’m adding the saddle to the mix.


Ride #2 – Another Look Forward

More and more, I’m feeling the push to move forward.  Part of me always has Reason’s injury at the forefront of any decision I make, including getting on and walking, worrying.  But part of me thinks, is pretty certain, that getting on and taking more steps in that direction (riding), is the place to be heading.  Reason is mentally, getting to the point of asking for this.  Hand-walking has it’s place and it’s been part of our relationship from the beginning and will be for many months to come, but riding, is slowly creeping up as the main source of movement..

Reason is getting increasingly bored with hand-walking.  The footing around the property isn’t all comfortable to me to use right now, after the amount of rain we got over the weekend, so that’s off the list for the time being, of stuff we can do and hand-walking in the arena is almost a chore because Reason is not stimulated.  I don’t want to ride more than 2-3 times a week, at just a walk, 10 minutes at a time, but I feel that this is the right direction to be heading in.

I’m hoping for an ultrasound this week or next (cross your fingers) of Reason’s [bowed] tendon.  It’s looking good and feeling tight.  I want to shave his legs because this winter hair growth has me freaking out.  I think the tendon looks bigger and then I go down to palpate it and have a sigh of relief.  It’s my mind playing tricks on me!  It’s been 7 almost 8 months since the injury.  I think for the fairly mild bow it is and given that all we’ve done for that time is rest and hand-walking, I think it’s time to move forward.  Although I toyed with the idea of not getting on his back or anything for a full 12 months, I think that would be awfully boring for Reason, considering how active he is and the environment he lives in.  Mentally he does not need that long for decompressing either.

Yesterday I had a second ride on Reason.  Bareback is my method of choice.  A fellow barn buddy asked me if I “break all my horses like that.”  Lol.  Well, first I don’t know if retraining an OTTB constitutes as “breaking” at this stage, I don’t know.  And second, just like with some average horses, the approach to legging up can vary depending on the horse and situation.  Reason’s very smart.  And like most OTTB’s he anticipates what I want, based on what he already knows.  So if the bridle or saddle came out in the earlier stages (where I just hand-walked him with different pieces of tack) you could tell he was ready for what he thought we were going to do.  I liked that attitude, but because of his “associations” with things, I had to try something that would almost make him wonder and wait instead of anticipate.  Halter and bareback was the method of choice!  Simply because he had no idea about this..  He listened to me and I trusted him enough to feel comfortable doing it this way.  Now, I started introducing the bridle to our routine and although he anticipates, he still asks for direction because the overall feel of the situation (and environment) is different.  Once I got him to the point where he was asking, it opened the door to retraining!

So yesterday I focused more on forwardness.  It’s all about forward to me.  But at times, in what seemed like confusion, Reason would stop, almost asking to reiterate what I just did.  I cluck first to cue forward, back it up with a light touch from my heel.  At times this didn’t work, not sure why.  So I brought up the crop (not something I was sure was appropriate at the time) but backed up my leg with a touch from that if all else failed.  The less aids the better.  Leg, seat and hand should be the only three, but sometimes artificial aids are needed.  I guess because I have done a lot of ground work and pressurizing with the whips presence, Reason understands that more than the leg right now.  That’s what I chalk it up too.  I suppose I keep doing what I’m doing and eventually he’ll understand the leg itself.  Not bad at all for the second ride!

 The steering isn’t bad at all.  He’s actually pretty straight and responsive.  I was amazed that when I would ask him to halt and practice the steering aids, he understood them really fast, which quickly carried over when we got moving.  The brakes need work, only because the brakes are wired so weird (compared to English and western riding) right now.  He’s smart, so I know this will come in time.  But at this point, I’m focusing more on the verbal aid of “halt” with a little hand to back it up so he can connect the two later on.  I can tell he’s trying to understand and I give Reason credit for that alone.

All in all he’s a good ride, happy and comfortable with a rider on his back.  But make no mistake, he can be a little opinionated about what he wants to do.  Basically, he will evade my aids here and there to try to get me to let him walk somewhere else than where I want.  As his leader, I can’t let him dictate.  But he can do what he wants, so long as he stays within my aids.

I got off yesterday, after about 10minutes feeling happy and good about everything.  Reason was so good and he’s so happy.  Ah, that is enough for me!  I love it.

Carl Hester – The Relaxed, Supple, Positive Horse

It seems like a good time to talk about one of Great Britain’s best in the world of Dressage.  Why?  In my series; The OTTB – The Horse I See, The Horse Some Don’t, I wanted to bring up some of the mis-guided, mis-conceptions people have regarding the unique experience, which is owning and retraining an off track Thoroughbred.  Carl Hester, is one of my most favorite in the world of Dressage.  Anywhere you read, it is clear how down to earth and positive he is as a person and as a rider and trainer of Dressage.  This is personally, very respectful, to me.  But not only that, I feel that his approach to training, could very well be a place in which off track Thoroughbreds could flourish.  On the second part of my OTTB series, I’ll chime you in on why I think Mr. Hester’s approach works and why.  But for now, lets take a look at this exceptional horsemen!

If you’ve been reading here for a while or are on my Facebook friends list, you will probably note that on the occasion that I mention a Dressage trainer or rider, it’s usually none other than Carl Hester.  But, why do I like him so much?  What is all the fuss about?

I watched Carl Hester demonstrate his training style and way of bringing along the young horse through this exact video (shown below, at Your Horse Live, 2007) on the TV three years ago.  At that time, I was only into owning Ink for a year and this man really inspired me.  One of the other things I quite liked was his start in the world of horses.  His website reads;

The first equine to be subjected to Carl’s skill was a donkey that Carl would ride to the village shop. Always eager on the way there for the chance of a carrot he stubbornly refused to leave for the journey home. Carl would get on board, then be handed the shopping and with a flap of the carrier bags that frightened the donkey they set off home at a spanking gallop. – Carl Hester Website

One of my other “likes” towards Mr. Hester was with this interview (fast forward to 4:30ish);

Why do I like Carl Hester?  Lets observe…

Check out this video.

“What we’re trying to achieve is an athletic horse.  What we’re trying to train is something to be an athlete and to be supple.”

“If you find Dressage boring how do you think they find it?”

“I want him [Bling, 5y/o stallion] to be playful about it [moving forward].  I don’t want him to feel like Dressage is so hard work and a real grind for him.  She [Charlotte his assistant] really has to let him go forward and not pull on the reins at all, so he feels totally free.”

“We’ve shown you his [Bling] stretching.  10, 15 minutes of stretching, now we do work up on the bit.”

“We do walk, trot transitions to test his [Bling] sensitivity and just make sure he’s on her leg.”

“It must be light.  I mean she [Charlotte] has to have like feather light legs with him.  Because if you think about it, it’s not squeezing.  If you squeeze, you will literally end up with no energy left.  You don’t squeeze the horse, you touch the horse.”

“You have to remember that the trot, because if you look at this horse you think, “what a beautiful trot he’s got,” but remember the most important pace is the walk and the canter because they’re the most difficult paces to change.”

“We changed his [trot] by, A) getting him in front of the leg, so he really started to go and B) just make some shorter steps by just teaching him that when he comes back to her, he has to collect a little bit.”

“Her [Charlotte] outside leg comes off, comes on, canter.  That’s it, quite simple.”

In a 2006 Horse & Pony Magazine (NZ) interview, Carl Hester has a few things to say that I particularly liked..

Carl warns that it’s easy to be tricked when looking at young horses – if they’re brought out of the stable and the buyer is flashing them about, waving whips or plastic bags, they’re bound to look much more amazing than they actually are. Instead, it’s important to assess the young horse’s nat-ural movement, and to see how they move when they get tired.
The best dressage horses tend to be hotter types: “If you’re thinking about a horse to take to Grand Prix, then you want a horse with a big engine – not one that’s a very good mover with no heart,” explains Carl. He always tries to assess the sensitivity, simply by touching the horses with the whip and observing their reaction. Putting the hind legs underneath more or bucking and running away are all signs to be rewarded, whereas the horse who barely flicks an ear when slapped with the whip is not one Carl would choose for himself.

Each time I watch Carl work or watch the horses he’s trained, I am always thinking a couple key things; relaxed, soft, physically attentive, mentally attentive, positive and expressive.  There is always a clear, welcome, joining between the horses’ mental state and physical response.  The horses are expressive and appear to be happily taking direction from the rider.  There is no resistance and a clear mutual respect happening.  I love this combination.

In learning about Reason, it became clear to me that there was one big factor that jumped out at me.  He’s a sensitive horse, but I am always thinking, freedom, expression, space when I approach his training.  I’m always looking for his ideas and learning or re-learning ways to approach him without compromising his sensitivity.  Reason is clearly a sensitive horse and I want it to stay that way.  If he wants to buck, play, hop about, I want him too.  I’m learning how to encourage this behavior, at the same time directing times of stress or angst on his part with moments where he can feel free in his reaction and find leadership in me to have “fun” with the idea of scary things and situations.  I like this learning process.

It’s the idea of expression that brings me to my next big thought about off track Thoroughbreds and a misconception people have..

Stay tuned.

The OTTB – The Horse I See, The Horse Some Don’t. – Part ONE

This will be part of a 3 part series I’ll be writing, about OTTB’s, the negative stigma that seems to surround them and some other observations..

As I sat shivering and cold yesterday, soaked from meandering throughout the property at the barn – First, walking Errika and her fellow cougar mare friend, KC, down to shelter and then helping another boarder with her horse – I was determined to stay and watch the future events unfold.  In front of me, a 7 year old Thoroughbred, 2 months off the track was being brought into the arena by it’s rider, ready and eager to participate in the clinic. 

I was curious how the trainer/clinician, who I had never seen work, would approach this situation.  First and foremost, my feeling was that this clinician was pretty brave and was open to jump into whatever horse or rider came his/her way.  I liked that.  I’m not going to go into talking much at all about what the clinician did.  Tid bits here and there that stuck with me that either I’m re-thinking and re-playing or things that I felt good about overall.  But, I was more concerned with what the horse was doing and what it wasn’t doing.  I wanted to learn from the horse.  It’s reaction from the things that the rider and clinician were doing and what worked and what didn’t and why.  I have never had a chance to watch a fairly, fresh off track Thoroughbred be worked and trained from a spectators perspective.

When the horse first came in, I studied the conformation, I studied it’s apparent disposition and most importantly it’s eye.  I had an up-close, personal, yet in-personal opportunity to watch a horse who I was not connected with, move, respond and work.

Instantly, I liked the horse.  I didn’t like it’s way of going or essentially how it was put together.  However, I was aware that, in time, much of what I didn’t like, would change.  Not the conformation, obviously, but it’s way of going to a degree.  So I discarded that thought.  But I did like the horse.  At seven, this horse had been further around the block than most OTTB’s.  I wasn’t expecting the horse to jump through the rafters, [unlike] to the surprise that some exhibited (and were probably thinking) when the the horse traveled willingly around.

The rider takes the horse to the mounting block and it’s apparent that he [the horse] hasn’t been introduced to the idea of standing at this mounting contraption.  It’s hard to teach an OTTB that sometimes, because they are so used to doing things quick and on the move, including mounting.  But the horse did a couple things that made me instantly appreciate and respect him.  Standing, was beside the point.  The horse was kind but prepared.  He was already anticipating the riders presence on his back, ready for the next step.  He shouted, “I want to please!”  to me.  I don’t know if anyone else saw that or not, but I did.

Let me talk about the owner/rider for a moment..  I talked to this lady a couple times.  In her fifties, a mother and fairly new to owning horses again (I say again because she said she had one when she was growing up, but is just getting back into owning and riding for the second time in a while) I was impressed with her go-get-it attitude.  She was open-minded, sweet and so happy to be doing what she was doing with her horses.  I liked that.  She rode well, despite not knowing much.  I respected that.  Nothing else mattered or matters to me.  But others felt different.  It was a little disappointing that we as horse people can so quickly cast judgement on others.  In a way I felt bad for the lady.  She was so eager and seemed almost innocent to the horse world, just beyond her smiling face, that can be unforgiving and judgemental.  Nothing is perfect.  No rider, no horse.  But to me, someone who takes a positive approach, wanting to learn for all the better of herself and the horse, is definitely respectable.  The rest comes in time.

What more do horse people want?  What more do you need to, be happy for someone who is traveling a similar path that we ALL once did, at some point?

I am very much turned off right now, with the disappointment and frustrations I feel for the horse world that hovers over, jealousy, strife and narrow-mindedness.   

The Cows, Oh the Cows..

Cows, the three letter, C-Word that almost every Thoroughbred fears. 

When Ink first encountered a cow, it was part, “oh my gosh, it’s a fire breathing, horse eating, monster!”  Combined with, complete confusion and fascination.  He didn’t want to get close, but he stood there like a dog, head cocked to the side, wondering. 

I didn’t know that this cow fear, was pretty common with Thoroughbreds.  But after Ink’s first encounter, I told the barn owner at the time and she told me that, “It’s a TB thing.”  I hate to sound stereotypical, but it’s looking that way to me too.  However, I know of other breeds who have an innate fear of cows as well.

Knowing this and knowing that the barn I call home now, has cows in close eye proximity to the indoor arena, it would be only a matter of time before Reason had his first, true, encounter.  We’ve been lucky to have been able to avoid the cows up until now.  Whenever we’d be in the indoor or walking down the path that parallels the cow pasture, we’ve always seemed to miss them. 

Yesterday was the first day.  Hello cows. 

Reason was being a good boy yesterday, calm and inquisitive.  I decided that, if all went as planned, I’d mount up again.  My plans were de-railed, as I was hand-walking Reason down in the indoor, feeling him out before moving forward with mounting etc.  The cows began herding together, over the hill and down to the corner of their pasture which is diagonal from the corner of the indoor arena.  Reason saw these crazy, weird, creatures coming and started to fear the worst.  His head went up, his eyes got big, his wheels began turning and his chest began moving as his heart started pounding.  I call this, the cow reaction.

I let Reason look.  Every part of him was on those cows. Ready for fight or flight.  But a part of him remained curious, interested and confused.  Just like Ink was.  A couple times he swung around me, tail and head up.  But for the most part, he stood still.  There seemed to be a direct tunnel leading from him straight to the cows and he could see or pay no attention to anything outside of the tunnel.  A couple of times I asked him to back up so his attention would come back to me.  He respected my presence and willingly did what I asked, but he still remained focused of those things across the way.

A little while later, Reason seemed to calm down, but for safety measures and still confusion, his mind remained on the cows.  It was a good time to open another window of trust.  Each new situation or object, can be an excellent way to do more training and more trusting.

I remember a horsemen saying this about when introducing a horse to something new and “scary.”

He said (and I wish I could remember who exactly it was.  The fact is, I remember things they say and not always their faces..) that you should not make a horse face the thing that is making them shy away.  You should move with the horse, as the leader, but also as the horse would in a herd.  So instead of walking a horse directly up to the scary thing and forcing it to look or stay close (doesn’t sound like a good idea anyway..)  you should leg yield them away, as you walk by.  Following the horses instinct to normally move, sideways from whatever they are shying from.  Therefore you do a couple things;

1) As leader, you ask the horse before it reacts.  Being able to remain light and focused. 
2) By asking the horse to leg yield away, you are simulating what would happen as the alpha mare would shift her herd, guiding them safely away from a potential predator.
3) In a training environment we are building the horses trust in our guidance and confidence in our ability as a leader. 

I slowly began to ask Reason to back away from the sight of the cows.  I still wanted him to be able to look at them, because not being able to see them poses more of a threat, but I wanted to get him at a more safer, comfortable distance.  This seemed to help.

Once we stood for a little bit longer, I tried do something different.  I had him walk around that end of the arena (opposite of the cows) around and around.  Moving away and coming back.  Each time you could tell Reason was getting less concerned about what the cows were doing, or not doing.  Eventually, he started acting more curious and silly, than worried.  Tossing his head, jumping about but never trying to stray from me.  At the point where I thought that Reason was good with the cows, I decided that this was a good place to stop.  But Reason, curious as he is, wanted to go see them.  Egging me towards that direction.  I admire his enthusiasm, but perhaps this time, mama knows best.  This was a good place to stop, next time we’ll get closer.



First Ride on Reason!

Yesterday, I had my first, solo, ride on Reason! 

It didn’t start off great.  Not the ride, the before part. 

First of all, as soon as I took Reason out of his paddock I instantly knew that today was a good day to get up there.  It was instantaneous.  I put his polo’s on, grabbed the bridle and my helmet and off we went.  I started off with walking him in hand to get a better feel of the situation.  There were people riding in the arena and I wanted to make sure Reason was still cool with the idea.  As I tried to walk this big dark horse around, he would do his stopping thing and would refuse to move.  I knew exactly what he was doing.  Being stubborn.  There are little bits of grass around the arena and he knows this, so when we’d get close to that part, he’d stop.  Pushing him forward wasn’t working, he was pretty insistent.  Right then and there, when I felt my frustrations and embarrassment that I couldn’t get him moving consistently, I knew it was time to get on.

In one of my earlier posts about Reason’s stopping, I talked about…

In this case, I attribute it to just being lazy or stubborn.  Un-interested.  This is my fault no less.  It’s obvious by this stopping reaction that moving forward is just unappealing and therefore baby Reason is telling me, “let’s do something else.” 

He was most certainly telling me, besides grass is more interesting, that either I get on and do something new, or else we aren’t going to go much further, literally and figuratively speaking.  I took that idea and ran with it.  I convinced Reason to follow me to the cross-ties where I bridled him.  Thoughts were running through my head.  For example, Matt, my lovely assistant, was not there.  If you recall, Reason was getting a little angsty at the mounting block, which required Matt and I to work together to help him associate with a positive thing and therefore remain relaxed and not move.  So, I began thinking (all in the 10 seconds it took to walk to the mounting block), what if he doesn’t stay still again?  The reason why it brought up some concern was, with just me there, how would re-iterating the idea of still and relaxed at the block, work if I had to go back to that?  It wouldn’t be the best idea to work on it successfully alone. 

But something said (possibly Reason hehe) that this is what I need to be doing.  It’s as if someone put me on a path and pushed me, guiding me to this decision without a second thought.  As I kept thinking of logical scenarios and how to deal with them, this thing kept pushing; everything will work out fine, just do it.  Now.

By the time I knew it, I was at that mounting block.  I grabbed the reins in my hands.  Reason stood oh so still and relaxed.  I kindly, slide up there.  Back to my comfort spot!!  All alone, the halter over the bridle, I had the lead rope attached and looped like reins to I could use that for halting if necessary (since he knows that well).  There I was.  Up, fully piloting with the dark horse.  I was happy, but excited was not the word.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great step, but I was more comfortable and truly pleased that we just opened that door.  A big, peaceful, bright door.  It may not seem like that big of feat.  But, it’s such a positive step in building trust and understanding, that that alone, makes it important.  I guess the idea was exciting to me.  But being up there, felt natural and where I was supposed to be all along, so it wasn’t exciting in the way you’d think.

I was proud of Reason.  We watched as horses traveled around us.  Not once was he anything but good.  He wanted to socialize with the other horses in the arena and a couple times decided he’d walk us, but that was all he did.  I used my voice commands to ask him to halt and walk, with good success.  I am just proud of how smart he is and all the heart he wants to give. 

I’m just going to continue on and let things come as they may.  With no real goal or schedule for “riding” right now.  Just sitting and some walking here and there, whenever it feels right.  Slowly bringing him around mind and body.  It feels right.

Welcome to the new Equus Ink!

Hi everyone.  I’d like to introduce you to the new Equus Ink blog. 

I decided to swtich blogging platforms (blogger, wordpress, etc) because I was becoming unhappy with my last platform.  Although advanced, it was still had limited capabilities when it came to things I wanted.  It also came at a price and it’s nice to know I can save that monthly fee I was paying for something more important.  The cost simply, was not worth it for me.

The other reason I decided to switch was because of something I would rarely conform too..  I originally began blogging in 2006 at WordPress.  I switched from WP to my last platform because I wanted more control and noticed a shift in reader base.  My blog became distant, over a period of time, for some reason.  Most blogs are presumably hosted by Blogger.  It has some great networking-esque tools and capabilities that WP doesn’t completely offer and essentially my last platform did not have at all.  So this, is what I found to being the pitfall of my blog.  I was losing connectivity with my readers. 

Although I am not technologically challenged, I found Blogger to be more user-friendly than WordPress.  It is simple and pretty straight forward.  Some may disagree.  I spent some time getting to know WP and Blogger alike.  It simply came down to comfort and here I am, now blogging with Blogger!

I am still tweaking with the design, but wanted to get everything up and running to some degree, so I didn’t loose blogging time during the switch! 

Now, previously two separate blogs (inkeq blog and reason’s blog) are together and you’ll no longer have to worry about reading or missing out on one or the other. 

I’ve added some new widgets and fun things which will hopefully make you all feel more at home here.  🙂

So, what do you think?