Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's Done

It's that time of year again, renewal time for AERC. It was easy last year. JB was the designated horse for the sport. I signed us up and all I had to do was focus on him.
This year, as you all know, Maggie appeared on the scene and was given a free pass to stay on at Acer Farm. My decision to keep her was based on the simple first hand knowledge that the breeding lines that this mare was from produced exeptionally tough horses. That was all the potential I needed at the time. (oh, and the big doe eyes played a part in the decision as well)Maggie arrived, on the verge of founder with one more glance at green grass and went immediately onto a new feeding program. It involved many months of being dry lotted with very small amounts of grass hay through out the day, a program that made her sour and unhappy about life in general, having been used to running on over 20 irrigated acres of lush pasture. Seeing her so unhappy, I began the process of getting acquainted with her by taking her out for walks or short excercise periods in the round pen. We spent many hours working on basic ground manners, something she was lacking. As time slowly passed, her body condition went from a high 7 to a low 6 in 3 months. She proved to be an athletic , strong mare, despite her weight and build. Explosive power when she is motivated. Getting to know Maggie was an interesting journey. For the last several years, my main focus had been JB. While I own and ride several of the other horses here at Acer Farm, they are mostly well trained or much older and I don't spend alot of concerted "training" time with them. Maggie was the second addition to my training program. I quickly found out that she is nothing that JB is and everything that JB is not. There could not be two more polar opposite personalities than Maggie and JB.
Since June, the weight has continued to come off and she was beginning to get a little bit better conditioned with her sessions in the round pen. I got about 20 rides on her by late summer and she was beginning to show me more of her personality, as she felt better and better. Today, she is about at a weight that is as close to ideal as I can get her without alot of conditioning but she remains a large , round barreled, flat back horse. It's her conformation and there isn't much more to be done about that. She can probably still lose about 50 pounds and with additional condition , she will develop more muscle, but her build will remain similar to what it is now.
I have labored over whether my initial hopes of making her an endurance prospect were realistic . Is endurance really the right path for her, given her build? It's a frequent topic of conversation with my husband, since he was the one who bred, raised and trained these Lippitt Morgans for years. He surely has the experience with what they can and cannot do. We both agree that this mare will certainly endure the mental and physical toughness that the endurance sprot demands, however he does not share my concern in her ability to cool properly and recover quickly enough. Tom has always used a Lippitt Morgan as his riding horse, whether it was his journey on horseback from New Mexico to Montana, long days of helping with working cattle, or the miles he has ridden in the backcountry. He is drawing his sentiment of the ability of these horses directly from his experiences of these horses. But still, it wasn't usually at speed so I am left to wonder.
Concerns aside, I decided that there is truly only one way to find out. That is to begin , as initially planned last June, conditioning Maggie for the sport this spring. I will monitor and track her recoveries closely and see what she has to tell me. A horse that is fit to continue is different than a horse that will simply continue regardless of whether they are fit or not...Time and miles will be our guide.
So , with my decision made, a heart rate monitor on the Christmas wish list, I added "Z Halcyon April" to the renewal application for AERC. It's signed ,sealed and delivered. Maggie will officially join the AERC crowd.
We'll see what Morgan has to show me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

All in the name of a place to ride

As the weather changes and the footing on the roads, trails , and outdoor arena get worse, I always feel a sense of urgency. How will I keep JB in condition? Now, with an added member , I have the added concern of how to keep Maggie going as well. I plan to have her ready for her first 25 miler this season and she needs a ton of work before that. I can work a horse in snow , but we get so much ice, it becomes a real problem for me.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. The arena I would normally have access to was foreclosed on this past month. So, yesterday my friend and I went arena hunting. There happens to be a huge , fancy place about a mile and half up the road from my place. It would be perfect but there is one problem. It's private. The owner is , shall we say, a local well -to-do business person/attorney/property developer who is living out his "cowboy" dream in Montana...

I drive by the place every day coming and going to work and wonder what really goes on at this fancy place. I haven't seen any horse activity for the last year or so. I used to see a horse trailer coming and going quite often, driven by a younger guy in a cowboy hat... (atleast he looked the part) but lately there has been no activity. As far as I know, they have reining horses at the place....but maybe , just maybe , they got out of the horse business? which would explain the lack of activity????
...and maybe, just maybe, they would love to see their facility atleast getting used by someone... that someone being me, a neighbor???
I finally got tired of wondering and got up enough courage to find out once and for all. Ofcourse, the only way to do that was to drive in there, hope to find someone and ask. I considered a phonecall but something like this warranted atleast an introduction of myself.

So, I talked my friend into coming along. I figured if there was some crazed caretaker to run us off, there was atleast strength in numbers. I pulled up to the long, fancy entry way, paused for a moment as we glanced at each other for a final confirmation that we might either be about to make total fools of ourselves or possibly get chased off by a crazed ranch caretaker...a nod of conformation from my friend said we were going for it....we headed down the long heated,... yes heated... paved driveway , bordered by beautful pastures that were fenced with the white vinyl(someone forgot to tell Mr well-to-do that white vinyl does indeed crack at 20 below) fencing on both sides.
I wound my truck down the drive to the main house, although it was hard to tell what was house and what was barn... if you can imagine for a moment, the fanciness of the place. The barn looked like a house... or maybe it was vice versa , either way.. both were beautiful.

We parked, got out of the truck and bravely walked up the the door. So far, no crazed caretaker... the lights were on in the house and I recognized Mr Well-to-do business man standing there with his wife in the kitchen. We stood there for a moment and the thought crossed my mind... Is this what it feels like to be a stalker???? They must have seen my headlights, yet , they seemed oblivious to the fact that someone had just pulled up...

We knocked.. waited.. waited some more..

For heavens sake.... they were both standing right there, were they ignoring our knocks? Couldn't they see us on their well lit front doors steps??? Were they hoping we would just go away if they ignored us long enough? My friend looked at me , sharing the moment of confusion....can they not hear us?? Right about now, I was thinking maybe this was a mistake and just about lost my nerve, wanting to make a dash for it back to my truck..
...but, not being one to be ignored...

...................................knock, knock knock again..

A little louder this time. Ah finally.. Mr well-to -do looks up , in surprise to see me standing there and decides to anwer the door....

We politely introduced ourselves , and he politely listened, although he had the faintest look of what appeared to be irritation on his face at this friend went on for a moment about why we were there and where we lived (neighbors) and my friend then got right to the point and asked the question. "Do you ever lease out your facility to the public? We are distance riders and are looking for a place to ride for the winter?"
Mr well-to-do, looking as though he were considering it for a moment, but then , as politely as possible said "I am sorry but I will have to decline" .

He could have stopped right there... we had the point. It was the answer I was expecting but hoping against....

...but no... He had to add salt to the wound...
He went on to say, " We have a lot of requests like this and we just can't have every yay-hoo that calls themselves a rider come use our arena but.... good luck"
and he closed the door and walked back into the house....
I had to manually lift my jaw off the ground........Yay-hoo? The nerve!! Who is the one that calls himself a cowboy in a newspaper article but doesn't own a single cow??
I had to stop myself from rapping on that door again and challenge him to come riding with me sometime....see how many miles it takes for his cowboy &$$ to begin to chafe....and then we'll see who the ya-hoo is.....
but I refrained... I am sure my husband wouldn't appreciate having to explain to the cops that I just wanted a place to ride for the winter...and I tend to have a short fuse with rudeness.

I have rubbed shoulders with a few folks in my life with plenty of the green stuff. Most of them are nice people, good people. I admire people who have worked hard and been successful and try to learn what I can from their success.. but this??? This was just a little uncalled for. There is no reason to say things like that but I guess that's arrogance for you. Money doesn't give people a right to treat others rudely.
So long story short, I guess I got my answer but I also lost any respect I used to have for him (as a local business man) and you can bet you won't find me patroning his business anymore, I guarantee that.
It looks like I will be hauling to the state land about 8 miles away again this winter, dealing with frozen toes and fingers in order to keep my horses going, along with all the other yay-hoo's.....

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Winter Training Journal 2

I have nothing for this journal entry, absolutely nothing.

I was supposed to go on a conditioning ride today with my friend and endurance riding companion Debbie , but it began to snow. I thought it would only last a little bit but it just kept coming down. I threw on my snow boots and walked out to the road to see just how bad it was when I nearly fell on my arse. hmmmphh.. A well packed layer of ice...

Normally I would not have let a little weather stop me, but sometimes, safety and logic do have to weigh in. Driving a truck and 16 ft trailer on good roads can be tricky enough, driving a truck and 16 ft trailer on snow packed and icy roads, I am not even going to try , less it be an emergency. Of course, the tires that are on the truck aren't exactly what I would call good at this stage... (note to self, get tires)
With nothing else to be done, I cursed mother nature and slip slided my way back to the house to call Debbie and cancel.

Tis the season I guess. Instead of riding, I did manage to find something useful to do with my time. That pile of laundry that needed to be folded has now been tackled and I even pulled out the boxes of Christmas decorations in preparation for the coming days. In between household chores, I peered out occasionally and watched the horses frolic in the snow. They seemed to be enjoying it. Glad someone was..

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fond Memories

I got an email the other day.

My last and favorite TB that I had from my breeding program years ago had been sold. I have never been good at selling horses for this reason alone. You never really get to say what happens to them after they are gone. Lucky for me, I had befriended the couple that I had sold him to and was fortunate enough to have been keeping in touch, getting updates and even got to see Wes every summer at the local events for the last 4 years. They gave him a great home and he was doing well in his show career. Their decision to sell came after a series of injuries , which left Wes unable to compete at the higher levels that the owners were at . At first, their decision seemed selfish to me but I understand . Limited time, limited resources and as much as we all may want to , we can't always just keep horses to just sit around. Wes could still be used for novice low level jumping, trail riding and easy work but that would be the extent of it. From what I am told his new owners sound like they will also give him a good home. I hope he does well for them.

I was reorganizing and saving off pictures to discs when I ran across this series of photos taken of me riding him a few years back. These pictures were taken right before a horse show I was preparing him for. (please ignore my bad crotch hands!)

It was fun to take a moment to remember Wes . We learned alot from each other and he will always have a special place in my heart.

Journey to Self Carriage

Ok- so I have probably established that much of my focus in training, when I am not conditioning for endurance, is teaching my horse to travel long and low first, in preparation for getting them into a correct collected frame with the eventual goal to have the horse travel with "self carriage". Sometimes I wish I could just crawl into the skin of Nuno Olivera and learn what he does to make it all happen so effortlessly but .. that's not exactly going to happen...

Self Carriage, collection, whatever you want to call it.. alot of us are after it..and unfortunately it's not uncommon to see trainers using all sorts of gadgetry such as draw reins, chambon to achieve it. I don't necessarily think these things are as awful or terrible training tools , its more the case that they are often used incorrectly. Nevertheless, I haven't found them to be overly useful for JB and I often wondered why. When I began to hunt for answers, I found some

I don't know this Laura character at Lazer Ray stables, but I certainly have to agree with her thoughts on the subject.

So, as many times as I have looked at my side reins and circingle and thought..."hmmm.... maybe... " , I think I will keep continue down the path of less is more....

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Winter training Journal 1

It's not officially winter yet, but I am so grateful that we have not had snow ( of course I may have just jinxed myself) because I have been fortunate enough to remain riding in my arena. I hope to continue to be able to do that into December.

It thought I would try journal my training sessions here , with the hopes that it will keep me accountable. Ofcourse, they may be spotty as the we get further into winter but we'll give it a go nonetheless.
Last evening I arrived home a bit early and saddles in a fury, knowing that I had just an hour to spare before dark. Once in the saddle, I spent a good 15 minutes at a walk, working on ...what else.. getting a JB soft and responsive through bending, lateral work, and maintaining long and low. Most of this was to warm JB up sufficiently, as the temperature was dipping. Hard to relax with cold muscles.
When we were were ready I asked JB into a trot. We worked on traveling in a long and low frame to start but after a few trips, I began to ask for him to soften through his poll and jaw. At the same time I encourage him for a bit more impulsion with a slight squueze and release pattern with my lower leg. For brief moments, the shape of JB's neck changes, his back lifts ever so slightly and his trot feels "springier". This is the beginning of him coming together into a frame. He doesn't hold it long, but it's definitely improved from even 3 months ago. We work on this as I move him into a figure eight using half of the arena. He is bending nicely into his corners (Ha!) without the resistance I had on Sunday.

I move him back down the straighline of the arena, and ask for a transition down into a working walk, working my finges gently on the reins to encourage him to "chew" the bit down so we do not drop into a walk with him bracing his back and popping his head up. JB partially hesitates and gets a bit bracey for a mement, but with a little squeeze of my leg and a little feel on the rein, he comes right back and is soft in my hands.

By now, the sun is down and the temperature has dropped. I spent a few more minutes working on walk, halt, trot transitions.

To be continued......

Sunday, November 15, 2009

When its Good Enough

In most aspects of my life, settling for good enough is not an option ; but with horse training, it can make the difference between getting through to a horse or sending them down the wrong path of resentment. Every time I lead a horse out to the arena for a training session , I remind myself to look for the moment when it's "good enough".

What is good enough?

It's like a cameleon that changes colors, camoflaging itself into the landscape or like an late afternoon shadow that races past you before you realize it. "Good enough" in horse training is always in motion, it changes day to day, sometimes moment to moment.
For the last couple of sessions in the arena with JB, I have had to really pay attention to that phrase , or take a chance of going too far with him. I am working JB through a few "sticky " spots in regards to softness and gettting more with less. I found myself slipping into wanting more when it's good, but not good enough....
JB can be a deceptive little horse because from the outside he often looks calm and quiet, but to the unattentive trainer, a storm can be brewing just below the surface. He will not wear his heart on his sleeve, no, he is much too proud for that. His typical M.O. is to give me only the slightest signals when something is amiss with him. Rarely , if ever, will he be so obvious as throw a tantrum or buck..
Traveling to the left, JB tenses into the corners of the arena, falling onto his inside shoulder, rib cage stiff. I ask for a bend with a little sqeeze on the inside rein and a suppporting inside leg at the girth. My outside leg remains soft and is a bit behind the girth to encourage him to maintain his impulsion. JB tenses more, rushes through the corner, falling heavy on his forehand. Arrgggg...failed attempt.. we have three more corners yet, so we'll try again. Down the long side of the arena, I ask for him to lengthen his stride. We'll try again at the next corner, not making a fuss about it. Here comes the corner again, again he quietly ignores the cues I am giving. His left ear flicks back to me in a fleeting moment, as if to say, "Yes, I hear you, but it's awful hard to focus at the moment". His reluctance to soften and the flick of his ear is his signal to me that something isn't jiving for him; Nothing more, nothing less.

While this excercise is nothing new for JB , today is a different day and today , he is struggling a bit. Each time I ask for him to ride into the corner as opposed to stiffen and cut the corner, his head comes up a bit, his pace quickens . he becomes unbalanced because his hind end is not engaged and he is heavy on the forehand. A rather common , fixable problem.
Since I know he understands the cues for for what I am asking, I need to change something in how I am presenting it to him and this usually means breaking it down into smaller pieces, setting it up so I know he can have some success.
I ask him into a walk and work on a spiraling in and out of circle traveling to the left. I give a little feel on the inside rein, and little squeeze at the girth with my inside leg, timed with his inside leg, just prior to when it pushes off the ground. This will encourage him to step bigger underneath himself. He responds with a softened ribcage and he is now traveling on the circle. He chews the bit down, softening his back. I let the reins slide through my fingers as he reaches down further and further, encouraging him to reach and stretch down. I work him through each corner of the arena doing this excercise and after each corner we travel down the corresponding long side of the arena with soft contact and a nice working walk. He is making his grunting , soft blowing sounds he often makes when he is letting go and relaxed and he feels light and responsive. The stiffness I had previously felt through his body is no longer there. He feels more like maleable clay in my hands and legs. Much better.....We spend a few more moments on a couple of lateral excercises like shoulder in, shoulder-out, etc. JB is responding softly and quietly to everything I am asking.

At this point, I have to consider, do I stop here? Is this good enough?

My answer?

Yes, it was indeed good enough. In fact it was more than good enough. My decision to stop at that point was based on his experience. I had chosen a place to stop where he was feeling good about the session, which builds his confidence, which will lay the groundwork for the next time. There is no need to drill an excercise in order to get what I am asking of him. He already knows the cues and for this particular day, doing this at a trot was more than he could manag. Instead of going back and risking failure, we got it good at the walk and left it at that. He was responsive, soft and mentally in a good place. Why get greedy?

I think this is a tough thing for trainers to accept. We often have these things called "agenda's and get caught up in them. The thoughts of " I must have this horse jumping 3 and 1/2 feet in a month to be ready for that show" or " I must have this horse doing flying lead changes next week for the dressage show".. etc, etc..

I have found that when I adjust to meet my horse at the half way point and work with him from where he is, instead of where I might want him to be at any given moment, it comes back to me twofold and we get further faster . My horse then looks forward to our sessions and is willing to try harder for me.

Waiting a little longer in order to accomplish that effortless Leg Yield, and more importantly having a happy horse, is well worth it in my opinion.

Images of Acer Farm

"Freedom lies in being bold"

-Robert frost