Tuesday, February 19, 2019

How to win at bitey-face (by Leo, in pictures)

Approach unsuspecting opponent sneakily and show your teefs.

If he's not impressed, try a shoulder attack.

Act surprised when he retaliates.

Go for the ears on the counter-attack.

Lure him into an attack by sticking out your tongue to taunt him.

If you opponent is annoyed enough, he may strike swiftly. Defense maneuvers can be difficult when your opponent lacks any bones in his neck.

Your opponent may also be taller than you.

But you can show him.

Except that he might squash you if you're not careful.

Always remember that it's OK to run away so that you can play again later.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Too lame to ride, too obnoxious to retire

As you might have guessed from the lack of Taran posts, things are not going quite as well as we had hoped after the ProStride injection in his RF coffin joint.

I'm not even sure how this horse did what he did.

We gave it a full month to take effect, but... he's not sound. Or I should say, not sound enough for much other than walk work.

The haffies hate it when he goes for hand walks by himself.

So... we've been doing some tack walking to keep him from going stir crazy. Except, last week when we went out he took off at a MONSTER (lame) extended trot, stuck his nose on his chest, and took off bucking. I stayed on, but it was a little sketchy there for a minute.

EARZ ON HIGH ALERT OMG (I risked my life for this pic, normally his ears aren't anywhere this near my face)

The other day I put the boys out to graze for a few minutes while I was doing chores, and when I called everyone in for dinner, Taran gave me a big old EFF YOU. The haffies all came running for food, but T just... well, ran. Like an idiot. Bucking, spinning... clearly whatever is bothering him isn't bad enough to stop him from doing dumb stuff on his own time.

Admiring yourself in the mirror seems like a much more reasonable occupation SINCE YOU'RE LAME.

He's driving the other horses absolutely bonkers, because he gets everybody all riled up and then they just run and run. For some reason, he especially likes chasing Griffy, who is not super excited about Taran's attentions.

This is fine. Everything is fine.

Unfortunately, T seems going back to his bullying ways, I think because he's not getting as much attention and exercise as he is used to.

Also he never gets any cookies anymore.

We discussed options with the vet, and at this point we would need to have MRIs done of both front feet to really understand where we're at, and then formulate a treatment plan. And... well, based on his history (nail through coffin and navicuar bursa in 2011, super-thin soles, ongoing struggles with Cushings, etc), we've made the decision not to pursue additional treatment options.

Haflinger companions are an excellent treatment option. Also moar cookies. 

So technically he's retired, in that we're not going to be pushing toward 4th level or any other sort of goals. When/if he's sound, I'll do more with him riding-wise, and when/if he's not, we'll just tack walk. I have no agenda and no schedule for him. If at some point in the future, he's 110%, maaaaybe we'll think about legging him back up for competition. Maybe not. We'll take each day as it comes.

Honestly this is fun too, when he's not spinning and bolting away from the terrifying bunnies.

I rode him last night WTC both directions for the first time in two months, since he was feeling pretty good (a little NQR here and there, but overall good). We worked on straightness, balance, and self-carriage (fortheloveofgodineedtoletgooftheinsiderein), which honestly are things I will always need work on, but it felt good to work on ME and not have to worry about riding a baby. It was also kind of amazing to have power steering and brakes, and remember what a horse who is truly over his back feels like to ride. Not to mention feeling his biiiig, powerful, rolling canter under me again, even for just half a circle. (Ok I know it's not that big in the grand scheme of things, but it feels light-years different from Leo's flat unbalanced racy baby canter.) Oh, and the bucks were nice too.

So that's the state of things in Taran-land. He's retired, sort of... but maybe not really?

Yeah buddy, I feel the same way. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Leo's opinion of his first dressage show

Leo and I went to a local schooling show this weekend, his first one ever. We'd signed up for Intro A and Intro B, because I wanted to keep things super low-key and make the experience very positive.

Late Thursday night, we had a cold front move in, so it rained and sleeted all day Friday and I don't think it got over 35F.
This is enough to make me want to crawl into a blanket fort in front of the fireplace and not come out for a month.

Saturday morning wasn't much better, 34F and raining. Warmup was in the outdoor and tests were ridden in the fairly dark, spooky indoor.

As I tacked up in the rain, Leo got a bit anxious tied to the trailer as we were nowhere near any other horses. I've mentioned that we've clicker-trained Leo to target the plastic swords we used to practice with, and there happened to be one in the trailer. Hubby had the brilliant idea of doing some target work, and Leo immediately focused on the fun task and hand and calmed down. Another win for R+!

TOUCHY THA THING!

I ended up hand-walking Leo all over the grounds, just to check everything out. He was interested in sightseeing but overall really chill. The only thing he looked at was a tarp covering a trailer hitch, but he marched over to it and touched it anyway.

I got on with about 30 minutes until our ride time, and did a lot of walking before gathering up the reins and doing some trot work. We focused on staying relaxed, straight, rhythmic, and in front of the leg (all of which is like... super hard). He was actually really focused and soft, considering the wind chill and driving rain.

 
This looks fun, right?

The show was running a bit behind, so we ended up taking more walk breaks than I had intended. Eventually our turn came, and we headed over to the arena and went in.

CHARRRRRGE!!!

And... he was absolutely stellar. Sure, he called out once or twice, our transitions weren't all perfect, circles could have been rounder, etc. etc. But he stayed focused, soft, and relaxed, which was everything I could have asked for. 

There was this one part where he tried to exit stage left... someone's outside leg wasn't actually doing anything, apparently.

We had some super fancy moments that are a hint of what might be to come:
Engage hind leg!

Annnd then we had a few awkward baby moments:
Lookit the thing over there!

We had a couple of rides before Intro B, so we mostly just walked around and practiced some halts. Unfortunately, by this time I'd been on him for an hour, and he was pretty much done. We went back into the arena and got the test completed, but he was sucking behind my leg and we had some sticky spots. It wasn't really ugly or anything, but it definitely wasn't as smooth as our first test. Still, he didn't look, only called once or twice, and generally did what I asked.

Intro A, minus the walk part at the end because hubby's phone bricked due to the cold.

Our final scores were a 71.5% on Intro A and a 69+% on Intro B, which was very generous. I have no idea how we placed, since we left right after we finished - but really, it doesn't matter. He was a super kid and there were no shenanigans. For our first outing, I'd call it a success!

For some reason, Leo seems significantly less excited that I was... :D

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Keeping the waterfowl in a linear arrangement

After Leo's minor meltdown on Saturday, we had a plan for our Sunday clinic ride to keep reduce his anxiety so we could get some work done. This involved parking Griffy in the arena with a haynet while I rode Leo which... was pretty much the magic bullet.

Unfortunately, hubby had to take a work call so I have only a tiny bit of media for my ride.

Have a random picture of us trotting. And yes I promise never to pair those breeches with that saddle pad ever again, you're welcome.

We worked a lot on keeping a steady tempo, using very small corrections with my seat (and keeping my damn thigh on when I'm posting, that helps LOADS). When we had small steering issues (aka me pulling too much on the right rein), a small step in my outside stirrup straightened him right up underneath me. A moment of me riding off my hands rightfully resulted in a great deal of protest from Leo - he may be the horse that finally teaches me to ride with my seat instead! 

Because Leo spent 60 days at a colt starter before we got him, he has what is fondly referred to as a "huge stop". What this means in reality is that he might drop onto his forehand and slam on the brakes when asked for any sort of downward, which puts me in jeopardy of going off over his ears. He likely also spent a lot of time backing up immediately after a halt, so he tends to stop with his hind legs splayed out to either side, resulting in kind of a wobbly drunk-looking halt, often immediately followed by him backing up a step or two. We worked on stepping UP into trot-walk transitions, continuing the forward motion and staying in front of the leg. This is quite a challenge for him, but when I had everything organized and asked very softly, he was right there for me. And having the R+ "YES!" bridge available to me was a huge help too, because I could tell him when he had done it right.

Getting a little more relaxed through the back and over the shoulder, let's not talk about my stupid inside hand.

Since he was working so well, my confidence was high and I felt organized enough to canter. I had warned my trainer that she wouldn't like it much because it's on the forehand and lacks suspension, but actually our right lead canter felt quite good! We only did a few strides before asking him (softly, so softly, just exhale and NO HAND) to come back to trot and rebalance, and we did that several times each direction.

Looking pretty good

Trainer's comment was he's simply unbalanced in the canter because he's young and got a fairly big stride for his size. For now, my homework is to do lots and lots of soft transitions to help him find his balance, but not to canter in endless unbalanced circles. Given the quality of his walk, she thinks the canter will improve some with time and training.

Also he will improve if I sit my butt in the saddle and stop pulling him onto his forehand

Bit of a long video, but it's a good example of where we're at now. And no shenanigans, sorry!

I clearly need to do a lot of work on my core in sitting trot - it's just up there wiggling around. The funny thing is, I can be really quite strong with it, but it's almost like it's either on or off. Isolating body parts is hard, but thanks to Megan, I've got some ideas of things to work on.  


How Leo feels about my riding, probably.

The session ended on a really good note, especially considering where we stared on Saturday. My trainer actually really seemed to like him (I'm sure the floofy forelock and cute personality helped) and basically told me to keep him and see where we are in a year. Which is good, because I've already signed us up for a schooling show this coming weekend!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Leo's protest are... kind of interesting, actually

This weekend was Leo's first clinic with GP trainer that comes down from VA once a month. It was the first time she'd seen him, and I was anxious to hear her opinion.

We'd bought Leo as a second jousting horse for hubby, but it became clear pretty quickly that he likely wasn't going to be stout enough to carry the weight. He's the same height as Paddy, but about half as wide - definitely more of a sport model. So then the question became, do we keep him or not? The little guy has really grown on us in a few short months, despite all his challenges.

Proof that he really *does* follow you around when you're riding another horse. Yes I gave him a cookie, how could you not with that adorable face?

Leo and I started the session with usual walk around the arena in-hand, then did a little ground work in hand before I hopped on. He'd never been to this venue, and seemed a little anxious despite Griffy being in a nearby stall. The moment I got on, we started having problems that I thought had been addressed. The steering quit working, even at the walk. He sucked behind my leg and slammed on the brakes randomly. Our walk squares, which at home have been very evenly paced with a smooth quarter TOF at each corner, were more like wobbly squiggles with questionable careening at each corner.

CANNOT HORSE TODAY, TOO BABY

We worked on slowing him down from my seat, with tiny tiny corrections here and there. As trainer put it, even stepping a bit in my outside stirrup was a HUGE DEAL to him, so I need to scale way back (completely opposite from Taran). Eventually we moved on to trot, but the anxiety levels continued to escalate despite lots of pats, cookies, and "good boys," so we went back to a 3 loop serpentine at the walk.

And then he decided to protest in earnest:


Here's the highlights if you don't want to watch the video:

I swear to you, I had just VERY GENTLY asked him to trot.

Nothing like hearing your trainer laughing hysterically after this move (to be fair, she did ask me if I was OK before she started laughing) 

She did seem pretty excited when he tried this:

I WILL PROTEST WITH HALF STEPS SO THERE

About this time, hubby came in to warm Griffy up for his session, and it was like someone had turned a switch on Leo. All the tension left. Steering returned. The hamsters that had fallen out of his brain all returned of their own accord, and we were able to go back to work.

And he was effing brilliant (of course I have no video, you'll have to trust me here). We worked on 20, 15, and 10 m trot circles, a little leg yield at the trot and shoulder in at the walk, lots of transitions, big trot/little trot, you name it. It was super fun to ride, I almost didn't want to get off! 

So much better! Probably would also help if I quit staring at his ears.

Based on Leo's behavior, we decided that for day 2 of the clinic, we'd keep Griffy in the arena during Leo's ride. It's weird, when we haul solo to our weekly lessons, Leo seems just fine. When Griffy is in the arena away from home, that's also fine. But I guess we cannot horse (for now) if our support haffie is not directly visible when away from home. Clearly need to do a lot more traveling with this one!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Throwing down the gauntlet on R+ training

When Leo first arrived, he was incredibly reactive and distrusting. The first time I got on him, he tried to bolt away from the mounting block. Heck, even getting him TO the mounting block was a challenge. Because I wanted to build a positive relationship (and didn't want to get hurt), I decided scale things way back and start from scratch.

So I started with R+ (aka clicker) training. It's not something I've ever really used with horses before except to play a little with Paddy, but look, they clicker trained a PUFFER FISH to identify shapes, and surely Haffies are smarter than puffer fish?

Puffer fish starts in at about 1:20.

R+ was originally developed to work with large marine mammals, because let's face it, you cannot force a killer whale to jump through a hoop if it doesn't want to. The concept is simple though - you create an association between a stimulus and a reward (click and treat).

One of the first things you can do with R+ training is to teach the horse to touch a target with their nose. The target can be anything, but I started with a glove because that's what I had handy. The first two or three times, I pointed to it and said "TOUCH!" When Leo went to sniff it, I kind of gently bonked his nose with it, said "YES!", and gave him a treat. I used "YES" instead of a click because I can use it anywhere, even say it under my breath when riding and he gives me a behavior I want.

After about the third bonk, the lightbulb went off, and he was like a glove-seeking missile. I put the glove high and low, even on the (scary) mounting block, wherever, and he'd touch it with his nose and get a YES! and a treat. This session literally lasted maybe 5 minutes - it took him no time at all to catch on to this new game. Take that, puffer fish!

We then started working on touching whatever I pointed at instead of just the glove... paper, the wall, a brush, a blanket, a towel... anything I could find. Leo though it was super fun and started touching anything he could, even when I didn't ask. I did not give affirmation for those tries, and eventually he learned that he only got a reward when I asked. This is a common problem, where they start offering a behavior because you *might* want it - simply don't acknowledge it, and they'll stop.

When we were out trail riding (solo) one day, Leo stopped to stare at this scary pile of leaf bags. I waited about .002 seconds before he took a deep breath and marched over to touch them so he could get a cookie. It was all his decision - no kicking, clucking or anything on my part. This stuff works, y'all.

Leo isn't a fan of loud noises, and since hubby sometimes rides Paddy and Griffy in armor, I wanted him to be more comfortable around that. So, we started touching a metal jousting gauntlet. At first I held it still and he touched that, but eventually I started clanking it a bit. Within one five-minute session, Leo went from extremely tense about the clanking to this:

Literally cannot wait for me to throw the gauntlet so he can touch it

We've also used R+ training when hubby is out swinging swords around. At first, we'd stand and watch, and Leo would get a cookie for being relaxed. Eventually, he'd get a cookie if he would come up close while hubby was actually swinging the sword. Then hubby started giving him cookies while swinging the sword and poking me with it (rude).

 
Here Leo (center) is taking a nap while hubby (right) and RH (left) are stabbing me with plastic swords. Way to save your rider, buddy. 

The only downside to all this is that Leo now expects anyone swinging a sword to give him cookies. Hubby was out doing sword work with Griffy the other night and Leo was literally chasing him around going "Hey Mister! Hey Mister!", absolutely convinced he was going to get a cookie if he could just get close enough.

Dangers of R+ training = attack haffies

Have you ever used R+ training and if so, what for?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Bay-bee horse! do doo do do de doo...

Has anyone noticed that "baby horse" has the same number of syllables as "baby shark"? Just saying. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, you definitely need to listen to this:


You're welcome.

Anyway.

Baby horse, aka Leo, has been getting dragged to lessons, since Taran's still on holiday. We've been working on baby horse stuff, like steering and not slamming on the brakes. The colt breaker definitely put a good stop on this horse - it's so good that there's real danger of going off over his ears every time we do a downward transition. Subtle with the body, super soft with the hand, and lots of leg so he doesn't get behind seems to be the ticket.

Keeping him in front of the leg while not running on his forehand is basically a full-time job.

Steering is definitely our biggest challenge. He loooves to throw his shoulder out, both going left and right, at specific points in the circle - we've, er, had a couple of near misses with the arena walls. We're addressing this with a fairly advanced (in my mind) exercise from Betsy Steiner - squares! We start at the walk and to a turn on the forehand in each corner. He's pretty good going left, but to the right there's one corner where he gets really sticky with his hind end, then often over-corrects and braces on the left side. It's a fine line between getting after him (yes you really DO have to move your butt) without escalating and scaring him/making him tense. We practice a lot of TOH/TOF in hand as well, and right is his more difficult direction, so this is just something we will be working on for a while. 

Working on a little walk leg yield in hand.

At the trot, we work a lot on pushing his shoulder in with my outside thigh while asking the inside hind to step under. My outside hand is low and very steady, even thinking a little counter-flexion. In reality I'm just keeping him straight and not allowing that shoulder to fall out. Inside hand asks for a little softness but is mostly just trying to stay out of the way. It feels a little like riding backwards, honestly, (aren't I supposed to be asking for inside bend???) but when we've got it all together, I can feel him straighten up under me and really step through. Also I can steer, which is nice lol. 

Here I am not doing any of the aforementioned things I should be doing. This is how we end up crashing into the arena wall.

I've also discovered that while I thought I've been getting more even in the saddle, I have not. See, Taran covers up my mistakes and we sort of even each other out. Leo doesn't have the balance or education to do so, so everything I do wrong is amplified times a million. He may actually be the horse that teaches me to let go of the damn reins and to sit in my left seatbone, because he quite literally cannot do the thing if I'm blocking him. Taran knows what I want so even if I'm blocking him, he still tries to do the thing. He's definitely earned his Wonderpony title.

Steering is nice.

I've also finally been cantering Leo, since the footing is good and the arena is enclosed (ok and there's someone to dial 911). The first few times, we just asked for a bigger trot until he fell into a canter. Then I remembered that a lot of colt starters cluck for a trot and kiss for a canter, and wouldn't you know it, he steps into the canter pretty well with a little smooch noise. We need about a gazillion more transitions, and leads are definitely an issue, but there's no bolting or spooking or bucking or even head-tossing - he's got a really solid base.

Despite riding 3rd level I have clearly not yet learned to sit my ass in the saddle. Or turn. Or turn while sitting in the saddle.

On the bright side, the kid has thrown in two (unasked for) clean flying changes in two different lessons, so I guess he's ahead of his big brother Taran there.

Also is better than Taran at fishtailing around turns.

He also doesn't leap the hose (which, after 6 months of riding 5x/week over the hose, Taran does at least once EVERY SINGLE RIDE), so like... good job kiddo?

Calmly trotting over the hose while throwing our shoulder right. Total pro.

Of course, me reaching into my jacket pocket for a cookie is ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING OMG, so it's not like he's perfect or anything. My trainer may have laughed at him quite a lot for that one.

Being a grown-up horse is significantly more work than expected. Also this yak is gonna get a body clip in the near future because dripping sweat is just gross.

And just in case you're bored and want to see a video, this was at the end of our lesson where I had mostly organized the shoulders and got my legs in the right place doing the right thing at least some of the time.

Contemplating taking him to a local schooling show in February, just to get him going in that direction. I mean, how bad can Intro A and B be??? (Er, don't answer that..)