Friday, December 31, 2010

Secret Life of the Herd

This morning Dove was standing on the track, halfway up the drive, while the rest of the herd were eating in the grazing cell. "Poor thing," I thought. "I'd better go help her." So I grabbed a halter, with a plan to put her back in with Journey until the weather gets better. Of course, she was having none of it - didn't want to be caught. So I walked her back to the pasture, instead. Then I had a look at the tracks in the snow. It seemed like the whole herd had last been along that stretch in the early part of the night, but then Journey had ventured out for a drink of water in the morning and was simply stopping to eat weeds. Maybe she's not so helpless after all.

After breakfast I headed out to the pasture to bring them in for feed and to close the gate, with a plan to move them to the next grazing cell after they got their buckets. Bruce and Iona came easily, I shut the gate and took Hunter out next, but Dove was not up for it. Catching Game in a 10 acre field in 6 inches of snow. "Oh, boy!" An hour in, it wasn't getting much better. (I realised that I wasn't being entirely consistent with my body language and responses, though, which was a useful revelation that I'll come back to in a moment.) I stuck with it, and fortunately Mark saw my problem from where he was working and hatched a plan. He drove to the pasture gate and got out of his car, which kind of drew her that way. I'm sure she was looking for a change of pattern. (I know I was!) I helped her out the gate and we corralled the four of them in the feeding area. I was finally able to get her haltered in this smaller area. 

What I could see was that she was frightened of the other horses, particularly the Fells. I don't think she likes being in close quarters with them at feeding time. Naturally their energy is a little high. I have made sure that she gets to eat in safety, but there have probably been some skirmishes at the water tank. The best I could do was to make sure I kept her safe while she ate her feed. She relaxed quickly when she saw that I would defend her space, and that the others respect me. I hope I got some leadership points, but I expect that it will be tricky to catch her off and on for awhile. 
The new grazing cell gate opens almost directly onto the water and feeding area, so at least we won't have horses missing the gate when the herd leaves without them this month. Perhaps we can establish some more positive patterns.

Mark and I drove out on the track, to connect the temporary fence of the new cell to the main live fence. What a story the tracks in the snow told. It seems that the horses left the loafing shed while the storm was still blowing last night. They probably stopped off in the pasture for awhile, and then they headed on up the track! They went quite a ways along the north side, maybe to shelter from the north wind in some trees. They emptied two of their five haynets on the way back to the pasture in the morning, where they lay down in the snow and went to sleep. 

I was surprised at how much they had moved around. The track doesn't currently make a complete loop, as we've had to close a section. I have had the impression that they haven't been using the north part of the track at all. But last night's activity made me wonder whether they move around a lot more at night than we realise. Or was last night different because of the storm? We only know what they did last night because of their tracks in the snow. Hmmm.

So back to that revelation. I realised that my Catching Game was wavering between putting pressure on Zone 5 and retreating when I got two eyes, and just plain trying to catch the darn horse! OMG! When did that creep into my habits? Who knows! But I think I understand now why things got stuck with Journey, too. Wish me luck!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Just Smashing!

Tuesday, Dove got her feet trimmed. I had managed to pick them up a few times, and our trimmer, John Graves does a nice job with less-than-confident horses, so things went great. I decided that having passed this milestone, and now being pretty easy to catch, I'd introduce her to the herd and if all went well, turn her out. I put Bruce in the arena and took Dove in and led her around the perimeter to show her the fence. (We put a training wire, that looks just like the stuff on the track in Dove and Journey's pen a few days ago.) 

Once I let her go, Bruce tried to sniff her rear end, she made to kick him with one of those long hind legs, and he whirled around and squealed and double barreled her to let her know that's not advisable. With that out of the way, they totally lost interest in each other. I put two piles of hay on a tarp for them and they ate pretty well in close proximity until the hay ran low. Then Bruce started nipping her shoulder to move her off. 

While they had their lunch date I played a bit with Iona in the round pen. (I've missed using the round pen. It's been a calf hospital for ages, however, the calf is finally better and  been moved in with some buddies.) We worked on our Porcupine stuff, did a few successful changes of direction and transitions, and I hopped on for a brief bridleless session. It all went well, especially the circles and riding. I can pretty well fake having the stick in my right hand now, if I use it two handed or just drag it along. However, she was pretty light and I didn't need it much. I'm afraid that I still don't have much of a program about progressing with Bruce and Iona these days, other than getting better responses with the Porcupine Game, especially where their heads are concerned. I just mess around and do what I can. Liberty is the easiest, although Iona is not bad to ride. I try to keep the sessions short and not show them too much about what I can't do.

I then put Iona in the arena with the other two. She wasn't interested in Dove at all. Just wanted to stand by the gate with Bruce. Okay then! I spent just a couple minutes catching Dove, haltered her, and we all started down the track. I encouraged the Fells to walk in front and Dove and I followed. We stopped for a drink and then headed on out to the pasture. I let Dove graze on line for a little while then took the halter off. I hung out for a bit, then made sure that I could still catch her. That took maybe five minutes of persistence. She looked pretty relieved when I let her go again!

I had left Hunter in the pen next door to Journey for company. However, he didn't have to stay there long, as Mark arrived home with yet another new horse! This is a gelding that belongs to a workmate of Mark's. Mark has him on trial. He's a sort of "been there, done that" horse, and we've heard good things about him. However. I wasn't prepared for the great big guy who stepped off the trailer. Especially as Mark had forgotten to take a halter with him when he picked him up, so I said, "Oh, don't worry. Just open the trailer door a bit and I'll throw a rope over his neck." Well, here was this big bay, about 16hh, and about 12hh wide! Talk about stocky! He's actually built a little like Iona. Short legs and a really, really deep body. How kids barrel raced him I'll never know, but it must have been something to see. This fellow currently rejoices under the name of "Smash" (part of his registered name). I'm thinking something like "Ranger" might be nice. We'll let you know.

Most of Wednesday was taken up with picking up a load of hay, but with the round pen clear, I decided it was time to try and make some more progress with Journey. I'd love to be able to turn her out, but I'd also love to be able to catch her again, get her feet  trimmed, be able to deal with her (and maybe a foal) if she's pregnant, etc. On the way home we figured out how to create a corridor from her pen to the round pen, where we could open a gap in the panels to drive her in. That went smoothly and I started playing the Catching Game. I'm not surprised that she's proving a tough customer with this. and I wish I had some more Savvy Arrows. I ended up sending her around for ages. She would start to lock on to me, and would face me when I took the pressure off, but I couldn't get any forward steps. In the end I played things a little different and approached her. If she let me make a little progress (first, touch me, then let me touch her and make some progress through the zones) I'd back off. Not all these things at once, of course, but progressively. If she chose to leave, I'd send her out again. If not. we'd do a slow dance where I'd casually try to get back to Zone 5, then send her out. We had quite a long session, and she was a bit sweaty but I managed to get a little further past her withers than we had been so far. I didn't want to push her any harder as it was getting late and cold and I didn't want to stress her too much.

Today we had another session. I tried a few new things. One was backing into her space just as her Zone 5 went behind me on the circle. I watched Pat do that on the old Catching Game DVD. However, I think that scared her, so I quit. We also had a period when the whole thing took on a more playful feeling. I think that was great, but somewhere it dribbled away and I didn't really find it again. I also tried using a telescoping rod to touch her. It was a bit cumbersome and not quite long enough for the size of the pen, but I'll try it again in a smaller space. Toward the end of the session I'm pretty sure I approached too much and retreated too little. Darn!  I felt that I'd taught her to keep facing me but we weren't progressing much past that. I also discovered that she really doesn't want me on her left side, so I worked on that, and when she let me touch her a little there, we called it a day. Later, when I was doing chores in her pen, I noticed that she was obsessively facing me. I'm not sure whether that's a good thing.....

I also had short sessions with Bruce and Smash/Ranger today. Bruce and I mainly worked on Game 2 at Liberty. I could tell he would like to do more, but I didn't have a plan. At least the little bit we did went pretty well.

I managed to play the first four Games with the big guy. He's been a little pushy and disrespectful so far, so we defined my space. He went along with this, but I can tell he doesn't really believe me yet.  Surprisingly, his Porcupine and Driving was pretty good in all Zones. It's possible he's been played with a little in the past. I think his owners have flirted with PNH. Yo-yo was harder. He couldn't believe that Phase 1 or 2 meant anything. Perhaps my energy could have been clearer? Having given him a couple of BIG Phase 4s, I settled for some good steps at Phase 3.

It's amusing to have all these things that I can do with horses I hardly know. The first four Games one handed are pretty easy. So is most of the work with Journey. But at the same time, I can do so little with my "advanced" horses. At least the new guys are keeping me occupied. 

A bit of a blizzard hit this afternoon, and they say we will have some really low temperatures for awhile. Because Bruce was in, the others hung around the yard area all day and didn't go get their hay. By the time Bruce was out the storm was coming, and he was not sure whether to take them out to the pasture or stay near the shed. I knew they were hungry and needed something in their bellies for the cold night. They got halfway up the drive and stood around eating weeds with the snow sticking to them. By dusk they were still there. I decided to put a bale in their shed and walked them to it. Dove isn't well integrated yet. She hangs back and Hunter bullies her a bit. I was worried that she wouldn't get into the shed or get any hay, so I offered to catch her, and would have let her wait the storm out with Journey, but she wasn't having it, and it was getting dark and I was frozen. I felt bad, as she's a bit thin. but she's lived out all her life and I know she'll be fine. If she's looking unhappy in the morning I'll catch her and give her some TLC.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


This afternoon I placed the tires out by the electric poles as planned. That part was straightforward, but let me just backtrack a little. What with the arm and everything, I got a little sloppy the past few months with the herd's grazing routine. The plan is that I get them out of the grazing cell first thing in the morning, and let them back in around sunset. Needless to say, there can be arguments some mornings, and sometimes they can also get a little spooked about something and not want to come through their gate and past certain areas. However, for a number of weeks we hit a nice routine and they were pretty much bringing themselves in. (They have to come in to drink.) Of course that just made me complacent, and so the rot set in.

This month, the grazing rotation brought them down near the house. That's great! Less walking and hassle to get them in, I thought. Especially in the winter weather. However, Bruce saw an opportunity and so started bringing them the short trip in to drink before we got up in the morning, and  taking them straight back out to the grass. Then with little further motivation to come in, they were difficult to round up. 

Bruce - 1
Kris - 0

A variation on that was that they would drink in shifts, and if they saw me coming to take the straggles out, the drinkers would run back in. 

Bruce - 2
Kris - 0

Then the gate became a very scary place, and it was like pulling teeth to get them in, even though they were so thirsty their tongues were hanging out.

As I only started the hay nets recently, and they were getting a lot of grass, they weren't really bothering to walk up and eat them most days, and I didn't always notice when the nets were finally emptied. The past week, though, I noticed that Bruce was bringing them in much better on the mornings when hay was available. While they were in drinking, we would zip out and close the gate, and they would wander up and get the hay.

Bruce - 2
Kris - 1

Later in the day, they would hang out at the loafing shed, or wander around the track looking for pickings of fallen leaves and stuff, basically waiting to see us head up to open the gate to the grass. Late in the afternoon, while they were focused  on the gate, I would put out hay for the next day. Perfect! Except, as I mentioned yesterday, Hunter wasn't getting to eat any. 

Late this afternoon I put out the tires, and the hay for tomorrow. An hour later when I went to open the gate I saw them already stuffing themselves on tomorrow's hay.  

Bruce - 3
Kris -1

I can guess that they will not be coming out of that grass willingly tomorrow morning. And I'll need to figure out a new routine. Probably put the hay out in the morning before I try to herd them out. I don't really mind. Being outsmarted by Bruce is one of the great pleasures of my life!

Game 1, Game 2 ...

Dove's progress
It only took a couple of minutes to get Dove haltered today. Out of curiosity, I tried just walking up to her. That wasn't welcome, so I started sending her around. Ha ha! That wasn't welcome either. I could hardly get her to trot. She was doing stuff like going along the fence and stopping at her water bucket and looking at me like "Can't go any further. This is in my way." At that point I did throw the line at her and get her to trot a couple of laps. Halter on! I think we could be looking at a serious LBI (Lazy and Bone Idle). Interesting, since her pedigree is full of winning race horses. We'll see.

Friendly game continued. I introduced the Carrot Stick. That was no problem. I doubt that she's ever seen a whip, so it was just a "thing" to her. Rubbed her all over. A few slightly iffy spots, but nothing dramatic. Got all four feet picked up. Good, as the trimmer's coming in a couple of days. Moved on to the Porcupine Game. Surprise, surprise - the rear end was light and the front end was heavy. I decided to see if I could make the right thing a little easier, by backing her up first, to lighten her front end, and then staying in rhythm while asking the front feet to move across. I learned this technique from Adrian Heinen, and have used it on more advanced horses, but never tried it on a horse just learning this. I think it did make it easier for her to move, although I'll still need to isolate it later. My idea was that if I make it easier for her to comply at this stage, she might have a more positive feeling about it. 

I fed her a bunch of treats and petted and scratched her and let her go. I can see her taking in these new experiences with amazement and starting to relax a little. It's nice to watch. I'm wondering  whether we might get as far as backing her a little if the weather holds for awhile. I know that if we don't do it soon, we will probably have a long wait while she is heavily pregnant and then looking after a foal. Something tells me not to go too slow with this horse, but we'll see!

Track adjustments
The other horses are now using a grazing cell which is close to the house, loafing shed and water, so in order to keep them moving I've been putting a bit of hay out on the track during the day. They don't really need it, but they do need motivation to move. I've mainly been hanging the nets on a convenient row of electric poles that run along the west side, however they are too far apart, and Hunter is not getting to eat any hay. The Fells go from pole to pole sharing a net while Hunter stands and politely watches them dine. He's just too dependent on them to go all the way to the next pole and eat by himself. It's not a great situation since of the three horses, Hunter is the only one who isn't fat. So today Mark and I collected a bunch of tires from the east side of the track (which we've had to close for awhile due to fencing issues) and tomorrow I'll place them near the poles, ready to have hay nets tied to them. I'll let you know how that works out. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Catching Dove

Dove and Journey

Two weeks ago Mark and I went to a farm auction. The owner was selling up. He was a breeder of Appaloosas and Quarter Horses of quite good quality and we came home with two mares. A nine year old gray whom I named Dove, and a three year old bay that Mark has named Journey. Dove is halter broken and probably had two or three rides put on her as a youngster.  She has been used as a broodmare. Journey probably isn't halter broken, and we don't think she's been ridden. Both are probably in foal.

So far they are fairly timid or skeptical about people. Dove will tolerate being touched, but obviously doesn't enjoy it, although she's not really that scared, I'd say. Just cautious. Journey is more curious about us, but at the same time more timid. I have only touched her nose and face, so far. Mark has gotten slightly further. Journey also makes a lot of grumpy faces and occasional threats. So far she hasn't followed through, but I'm sure she could. Her eyes are always the first thing people comment on. The whites show a lot of the time. This seems to be partly conformational, but she also has that habit of arching her "eyebrows" when she's worried, which is a lot of the time. She's going to be quite a challenge, we suspect. 

I've spent some time just sitting in their pen reading, and stuff like that. They do come and check me out. One day I put a haynet under my chair, which made me a lot more interesting, and that day I got to touch Dove a lot more. Then I got busy and haven't done much for a few days. However, this morning as Mark and I were standing looking at them I felt the moment was right to do a little more with Dove. I took a halter and lead rope and played an informal and low key Catching Game. 

It went much as I expected. She didn't get scared, but there was no magical moment when I suddenly got lots of draw or she decided to "join up". The pen is an odd shape with lots of corners, plus a run-in area. Luckily they didn't want to be in the run-in with me (too trappy) and it was pretty easy to keep them circling. I say "them" because of course Journey is in the pen, too, and had to come along for the ride. She likes to stick close to Dove for security, and at times seemed to be trying to cut me off from her. Dove pretty much ignores Journey's insecurity, and didn't try to hide behind her at all. I tried not to put too much pressure on them, and stuck to walk and trot. Canter might have been a more effective gait, but Journey is pretty reactive, while it would have taken quite a bit to get Dove going, I think. We are in a tape pen, the ground is hard, their feet aren't that great, and they're pregnant. Lot's of good reasons to keep is low key.

How it went was that I would send her around for awhile, and she would begin to show signs of relaxing and/or locking onto me a bit, or wanting to stop at a favorite spot. I didn't have draw, so I would experiment with going over and letting her sniff me and/or trying to pet her. Sometimes I could, sometimes I couldn't. I tried to time sending her off again to her offering to leave. If she didn't offer then I would walk away and chat to Mark for a moment or two. I did feel we were reaching a stalemate at one point, and by this time Journey was getting used to the proceedings, and figuring out that this was just not about her, so I was able to up the pressure a bit and throw the line out at Dove.  I got to where I could pet her and she would stand for longer, then actually rub her with the halter and rope. I walked away. 
Pretty quickly after that there was a very clear change, and she let me put the halter on with no rush, no sneaking, and I felt she accepted it. We had a walk around the pen. I was very careful not to let Journey get between me and Dove with that halter on, as I feared that could turn into a wreck. I then had a look at how she felt about being touched in more provocative areas, and hand fed her some hay for awhile, and let her go. The hardest thing resisting the urge to try to touch her again before I walked away, but I knew it was the wrong thing!

If I did a good job today, tomorrow it will take half the time.

and Brucie
After this incredible feat of horse whispering, thank goodness Bruce was around to help return me to humility. I thought I  might just give him a nice grooming and a bit of attention, but it was obvious that he wanted to do more. As soon as I tied him up he had to play with everything, and clown around. So we did the grooming thing and I put his bareback pad on. We headed for the arena. I thought we might work on some Figure 8s. 

I started On Line. The 22' is too heavy for my wrist, so we were limited to the 12'. He pulled on me a couple of times and I decided that was a no-no, so we went in the roundpen, where we had a pretty good session recently. He did some nice transitions, but perhaps not quite as nice as last time. (Hmmm. I'd better monitor myself, or I'm going to allow him to get dull.) Then I tried some changes of direction between two cones, but he was doubtful about that. Because I know he can get a little unconfident with that I was trying it at a walk. I had no draw! It actually went better a little later when he was trotting and cantering. 

Things seemed to be improving, so I tried some Stick to Me outside the pen. That was great so I hopped on. I had no lateral flexion ot the right (my bad hand). It really took some getting, and when I finally got it, I gave him a treat. I'm not sure it was the right strategy. He did one or two nice things, but I spent most of the ride dragging him away from obstacles I had not asked him to visit. Aaarggghhh! It was pretty messy and although you simply can't out-muscle Bruce anyway. having a weak hand didn't help. My little pony turned out to be too much horse for me, so I found a good note to finish on and bailed out. Probably the most harmonious note of the session was me sitting down on the ground and inviting him to roll. I'm sure it was his favorite part!

Still my Black Angel

You might expect that my relationship with Iona would be damaged by our wreck. I have to say "No." My confidence is in good shape, and I don't bear her any ill will. She was just being a horse. She certainly didn't respect my space at that moment, but she wasn't acting aggressively toward me. She had no idea that pushing me out of the way would injure me. It would be nothing to another horse, after all. Let's move on.

A couple of days after the accident I thought I'd try some Liberty. I figured that losing the rope was a plus, since I only had one hand. We headed for the roundpen to try out some stuff Jena Cody had shown us. What I got was a very confused pony. My stick was in the "wrong" hand half the time! We hung in there and finished the session, but I had to stop and think about this. Did I really want to teach a bunch of new cues that would be pointless in a couple of months? No! Were we ready to go stickless? Huh-uh. Were the other Savvies going to be easier? HAHAHAHA!!!

Another day I thought I might have a little ride. It was windy, and I couldn't really warm up effectively. I dragged her to the mounting block anyway and wrestled her into position. I got halfway on and she said "Don't do this!" So I lay on her like a green colt for a moment and jumped off the other side. That was my ride.

Recently, I have been for a couple of rides around the property with friends. My arm is a little more useful, and fairly safe in the brace. On the first ride, Iona took off for the comfort of the herd twice and I couldn't stop her. However, it all felt pretty safe, and kind of got me over my worries about riding with The Arm. Sunday, I was out again with Denise riding Bruce and Sara on Sage. We did spend time warming up, and I was amazed at how responsive and connected Iona was in the arena. The ride went pretty well, too.

So today I thought I'd play for a bit. I have tried to continue to work on the Porcupine game, especially in Zone 1. Today we continued that and I wasn't thrilled with how it went. One of the things I tried was leading by the ear. We can kinda do this, but it's not pretty. This evening I was suddenly hit  by a picture of  me just grabbing her ear and pulling. Eek! Now, it wasn't quite like that, but it probably seemed like it to her. Shucks, I'm supposed to be doing this in the name of  lightness and responsiveness. Maybe I should try to offer some. You know, go slow...reward the slightest try. Great! I think I know where I'm going wrong with this.

However, we had some good stuff, too. We were in a small pen with no toys. How to be provocative? Porcupine and Driving in the other Zones was pretty good. I tried a little Zone 5 Driving using just my hands. She is very sensitive to whether I'm asking her to go forward or back. I love that! It really does feel magical. Turning to left and right is a little harder, but if we concentrate, we can. We also backed in a circle and kept the belly of the rope on the ground. We played a fun game where I positioned her so that each of her feet in turn had to step on a piece of brick that was on the ground. We did lead by the leg with just my hand around her hock. What a cool pony I have!

I needed to pick up empty hay nets from the track. I thought we might ride part of that trip. I clipped on a set of reins. (I recently got a set of 7' ones, and what a difference it makes to have some the right length!) However, she felt a little high to me, so I sort of rode her from the ground, using the reins to cue her most of the way, and as a lead rope once I had my hand full of nets. Then we had a little ride in the arena. That went well. I tried not to use the reins at all. There were quite a few cones and barrels and stuff scattered around, and I tried to use them as markers, so that I wasn't too aimless. She was spot on with almost everything I asked her.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What Happened

What happened is this: A week or so after my last post I broke my arm. A lot of you already know the story, but just in case, here  it is.

After Livia left us, we  headed  straight into preparing for a big event. Petra, Kime and another instructor, Jena Cody, offered a day  of free lessons and a tournament here. We had a lot to do to get ready, so unfortunately horsemanship took a back seat that week. The event was fun and quite a success. Then once again I started horsing around.

The weather was great that week, and I was managing to get one or two horses ridden nearly every day. So one day I took  Brucie out for a ride around the track. Iona and Hunter were following us. I noticed that Iona's following had a slight air of desperation. She tends to get very hormonal in the autumn. I had put out some extra mounting blocks near some of our many gates, to make it easier to get through them (they're hotwire gates, and I don't really like to work them from the saddle) so I decided to leave the track by one of these and continue riding Bruce in the pasture. This wasn't to get away from the other horses, just somewhere different to ride.

I had decided not to take my stick. Since Bruce is the lead horse, his space doesn't really need defending, and I feel that everyone who rides him (me included) prefers the stick to the reins, since his Porcupine Game is not as good as his Driving Game. I'm trying to change this. I dismounted to go through the gate, and I was lazy, so rather than untie the mecate, I flipped the reins over his head. Iona and Hunter were about twenty feet away. In spite of how Iona had been feeling, I didn't think to check in with her or make eye contact. Things had been going great between us for weeks.

I never saw her coming. She hit me like a train. The only warning I had was a face full of black that must have been her neck. She knocked me out of her way and I watched in amazement as Bruce jumped me. Not very well, I might add, he stepped on my arm twice - but not the one that got broken. (Go figure that one out.) I'm guessing that either the hotwire hit him, or he was avoiding it. He's terrified of electricity.

I stood up a little shocked at how bad my wrist hurt, but fully expecting the pain to go away momentarily. It didn't. It just got worse. Darn! (Or words to that effect.) So I hobbled back to the house with Bruce in tow and let Mark untack him and catch Iona while I licked my wounds.

I was convinced that it was only a bad sprain, and hung onto that belief for three weeks. The pain wasn't too bad, but  I finally had to admit it wasn't mending. Long story short, it was broken into quite a few pieces, and I ended up with surgery to re-break it and put in a plate and screws. This journey included a full arm splint and sling, then a splint and bandage the size of Texas, then a cast, and now I've graduated to a part-time brace. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but I'm still on restricted activity for now. Looks like it will be fine, though!

So I've watched October, November and most of December roll by, with some of the best riding weather ever, and been able to do next to nothing. Typing, cooking, playing music were also very hard work, and mostly I didn't bother. I admit that it got me down a lot of the time. However, it sure gave me time to think. I realised some uncomfortable truths about myself. How I view horses when I'm not able to use them to pursue my dreams, how I define myself by my activities, how I use those activities as an escape from my responsibilities... Yes, it's been a lot of fun. Not! But learning is rarely comfortable. Given a choice I would have skipped this episode, but I'm glad it's given me a new view on things. I hope that I will use what I've learned for positive change!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bruce is Back - First Session

Livia returned Bruce to me, safe and sound, a couple of weeks ago. She and I spent an enjoyable few days together, playing with him, riding, and talking about some of the things she learned during her time as an extern at the Parelli ranch in Pagosa Springs. During one session, I watched her ride Bruce in the Cradle Bridle. I think both Livia and Bruce were tired, and the session wasn't great. It really got me thinking, yet again, about where I stand on bits, on so-called collection, etc.

Like a lot of Parelli students, I would prefer to ride without a bit. I'm not vehemently against them, but they aren't my ideal, either. However, I'm curions, and recently experimented a little with Iona in the Cradle, and found it pretty easy to get a "soft feel" that might just develop into something we could both enjoy. The conclusion that I've come to is that most of us don't have our Porcupine Game in Zone 1 anywhere near good enough to be messing around with contact with a bit. For sure, Bruce's Zone 1 stuff has never been very good at all. When I first started riding him, I couldn't steer him at all in a hackamore. Of course, I thought that just because we could play the 7 Games fairly well that it was time to get on and start riding him. And when that was difficult, I just fought with him as best I could.

I haven't ridden him in the hackamore since he came back from the ISC, so I don't know yet what may have changed. It is a testament to Livia that she managed some good sessions with him in the Cradle. However, I've made up my mind to make a big effort to get all our horses soft, soft, soft in all their Zone 1 yields, and to explore whether we can even make some steps into contact and collection in the hackamore before we use bits for these things.

All this is really just a prelude to telling you about my session with Brucie today, as I didn't want to interrup the flow of the description explaining all this.

The first things I played with today was yielding the forehand with finger pressure just in front of the girth. Bruce was doing well with this previously, but found it trick to keep his feet still for a complete 360 degree turn. He can do that now, and is lighter and more confident with it than before. Yay!! I also played with lowering his head, backing him up with my fingers on his nose, lateral flexion with my hand on his muzzle, etc. These things felt really good. He need a little more friendly game in his mouth, I think, and then I might try some lead by the lip.

I am still working my way through the tasks I planned with the trailer (see I Have a Plan) so I thought we'd go do that next. My plan was to play the games On Line inside the trailer. We headed to the trailer, which I keep in a roped off area. However, I didn't think I'd need to close the gate! Well, it seems that Bruce has a few concerns about the trailer. Whether he doesn't want to take a six hour trip only to find himself away from home for three months, or just didn't like the hunks of bark and stuff that were decorating the trailer floor (Mark hauled some firewood) I really don't know. I got him in on the first couple of sends, did something he didn't like, so he came out. No big deal. I re-sent him and he just left. Went to talk to the cows about borrowing some alfalfa. Okay, so he still knows how to leave. Not surprised!

Back at the trailer again, I shut the gate this time and tried a few hard sends on a circle, but of course he's too smart for that. Back to trailer loading, then. He wasn't enthusiastic, but it didn't take much to get him going in the trailer easily. He was more sceptical about me coming in, though, so we played with that, and with me playing a bit of Friendly Game with the back door of the trailer, too. In the end, we did manage to play the games inside, although I'd say there were some reactions amongst the responses. It wasn't easy enough to get him to lower his head, for one thing. However, I decided to keep things light and not make the session too long, so I wound things up, and will come back to it later. 

Our last task today was circles. My goal was 5 laps of trot on the 22' line. We did this in the arena, in the corner nearest to the loafing shed. I fully expected to have trouble hanging onto him, but he never left. When we started the session my plan was to get first one lap, then three, and then five. He started off constantly breaking gait and leaning on the rope. I decided to fix the leaning first, so I asked for walk. The moment he put slack in the rope I brought him in for a rest. The next time I waited about 12 strides, after he put the slack in, and the next time he managed a full circle. It doesn't take him long to figure things out! (I was proud of myself for remembering my goal of lightness in Zone 1.)

We moved on to trot, and it really didn't take much to reach my goal of 1, 3 and 5 laps. He didn't have a lot of impulsion, and on the five laps, he leaned on the rope sometimes. But I never stopped while he was leaning! We will sort those things out, but at least he maintained gait in this simple task, and understood that slack in the rope is important.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fun and Games!

We had a fun time on Sunday. I decided to invite everyone over for a day of mad games that I thought up, based on the 7 Games and Parelli Patterns, but with a few evil twists! We weren't seriously keeping score, but Barney and Kathy Eddy's team won, just in case anybody asks!!

These were the rules - which we bent a little from time to time, along with a few photos.

1.Round Pen Mirror   Time 3 minutes
"Leading" pair stand inside the pen, near the gateway. The "mirroring" pair stand outside the pen, at the same point. Follow the rail for one lap, doing a movement at each of the four marked posts. These movements are called out by the leader, and must be mirrored exactly by the other pair. Use HQ and FQ yields, back-up, sideways, squeeze, Driving Game, Porcupine Game, zone 3 driving or Stick to Me creatively. Do not use the same move twice in the same lap. After completing the first lap, riders pass through the open gate and trade leadership for the next lap.

Failure to mirror -1 per task   Successful mirror +2 per task

2. Cloverleaf    Time 5 minutes
Start with humans side by side, facing carport, one on either side of the yellow cone (X). Horses in zone 3 driving position. Humans are joined together by each holding one end of a Savvy string. Play Friendly Game (neutral, relax, reward, scratch) at X for 10 seconds. Walk one complete Cloverleaf pattern to the right. Stop at X for a 10 second Friendly Game. Do one complete Cloverleaf to the left. The second (and third if you have time!) can be done at trot, if you wish.

+20 for each full Cloverleaf    +20 for good rhythm

-20 for getting lost!    -10 for dropping the string

3. Pedestal Send    Time 3 minutes
With horses on 22' lines, each human sits in a chair, with horse backed up and facing them. On the signal to go, send your horse to the pedestal on your right. When team members are ready, they trade ropes, and send the next horse to their pedestal, always moving to the right.
Nose touch +1    1 foot (or pawing) +2
2 feet +4    4 feet +8
Predatory behavior -10 

4. Carrot Stick Hat Weave    Time 3 Minutes
Team members stand at one end of the Weave pattern. At the signal to go one human picks up the hat using their carrot stick and directs their horse through the Weave pattern. The human must not pass through the cones.

When the first pair has completed the pattern, they pass the hat to their partner's stick, who does the pattern next. Neither team member is allowed to touch the hat at any time!

Each pattern completed +8

Dropping hat -3

Coming off pattern (missing a cone, etc) -6

5. Yo-yo toss    Time 2 minutes
Stand in the lane of poles, beside your horse, facing your partner's horse, 4' (length of a carrot stick) apart, with the center cone between you. One human has a carrot stick (string removed). On the signal to go, the stickless person asks their horse to back up, encouraged by the person with the stick, who moves forward with their horse to maintain the original distance. Move until the backing pair are just behind the end cone.

The stick is now tossed to the other person, distance adjusted if needed, and the other pair back down the lane to their end cone. Toss stick and repeat.

Each end cone reached +7    Dropping stick -4

Stepping out of lane -6    Not maintaining distance -3

6. Washing Line Point to Point    Time 4 minutes
Move the 4 rags from one line to the other, one at a time, as many times as you can. Remember to play a little Friendly Game each time you stop at a washing line. One line must be completely emptied before you start to move the rags back again. Each person can only move one rag at a time. Team members may divide the work any way they wish, or work independently.
Each item moved +5    Dropped item - 10

Failure to play friendly game - 10    Breaking gait during a trip - 5

1.Round Pen Mirror    Time 3 minutes
"Leading" pair stand inside the pen, near the gateway. The "mirroring" pair stand outside the pen, at the same point. Follow the rail for one lap, doing a movement at each of the four marked posts. These movements may be called out by the leader, and must be mirrored exactly by the other pair. Use direct and indirect reins, halts, back-up, sideways, half or full turns, etc. creatively. Do not use the same move twice in the same lap. After completing the first lap, riders pass through the open gate and trade leadership for the next lap.

Failure to mirror -1 per task    Successful mirror +2 per task
Completing a lap silently +10

2. Cloverleaf    Time 4 minutes
Riding side by side, start facing carport, one on either side of the yellow cone (X). Humans are joined together by each holding one end of a Savvy string. Play Friendly Game (neutral, relax, reward, scratch) at X for 10 seconds. Walk one complete Cloverleaf pattern to the right. Stop at X for a 10 second Friendly Game. Do one complete Cloverleaf to the left. The second can be done at trot, the third at canter, if you wish.

+20 for each full Cloverleaf    +20 for good rhythm
-20 for getting lost!    -10 for dropping the string

3. Pedestal Send    Time 3 minutes per person
One human rides as a passenger, the other sits in a chair, with teammates on 22' line, backed up and facing them. On the signal to go, send your teammates to the small pedestal. With their permission, continue to the large pedestal.

Please use the pedestal for mounting, NOT the chair!

Nose touch +1    1 foot (or pawing) +2
2 feet +4    4 feet +8

Scaring your passenger -10

Passenger uses reins (non-emergency) - 10

4. Carrot Stick Hat Weave    Time 3 Minutes
Team members stand at one end of the Weave pattern. At the signal to go one human picks up the hat using their carrot stick and rides the Weave pattern. When the first pair has completed the pattern, they pass the hat to their partner's stick, who does the pattern next. Neither team member is allowed to touch the hat at any time!

Each pattern completed +8
Dropping hat -3

Coming off pattern (missing a cone, etc) -6

5. Yo-yo toss   Time 2 minutes
Riders face one another, 4' apart, with the center cone between you. One human has a carrot stick (string removed). On the signal to go, the stickless person asks their horse to back up, encouraged by the person with the stick, who moves forward with their horse to maintain the original distance. Move until the backing pair are just behind the end cone.

The stick is now tossed to the other person, distance adjusted if needed, and the other pair back down the lane to their end cone. Toss stick and repeat.

Each end cone reached +7    Dropping stick -4
Stepping out of lane -6    Not maintaining distance -3

6. Washing Line Point to Point    Time 3 minutes
Move the 4 rags from one line to the other, one at a time, as many times as you can. Remember to play a little Friendly Game each time you stop at a washing line. One line must be completely emptied before you start to move the rags back again. Each person can only move one rag at a time. Team members may divide the work any way they wish, or work independently.

Each item moved +5    Dropped item - 10
Failure to play friendly game - 10    Breaking gait during a trip - 5

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The News from Springvalley

It's been another amazing summer. Fun, challenging, hot and busy. We've made new friends and spent time with familiar ones, run some  successful events and made quite a few improvements to the place. I'm afraid it didn't leave me enough energy for blogging, which I often regretted, but hopefully I will do better now! So much has happened since that last time I posted that I think a catch up is in order.  

Coming Events
We need to have some fun in this cooler weather, so I'm organising a playday on Sunday, the 26th of September. I plan to organise some challenges for us, which will involve a look at some of the Patterns and 7 Games as you've probably never imagined them! Just purely for Savvy fun for our regulars and their horses. I can't wait!

More Fun!
This time with Petra Christensen (who is now a 2* Instructor), 2* Kime Conkright and 3* Instructor Jena Cody. On October 17th, they are offering a morning of free (yes, it did say "free") lessons, followed by an afternoon of Parelli Games. We hope to see lots of new local faces and make new friends at this event. We are hoping that Livia will also be around for this. More information coming soon!

And Cooler Weather

This summer was a challenge for me, and others, too. However, we are lucky to have  nice autumn weather here, which often stretches into the early winter. September, October and December are usually pretty dry. (Statistically, November is a little wetter, here.) It's a great time to visit us. Why not hook a few extra days onto one of our events, like the Playday or Funday? Staying on after an event is particularly useful, as it gives you the opportunity to play with your horse and consolidate what you learned before returning to the distractions of "real life".

Of course we can't promise that any week of the year will have a particular type of weather, but there is a good chance of dry days which are mild to crisp in temperature. We are keeping our prices the same for now, with short breaks to suit even the tightest budget, money saving working holiday options or easy-going bed and board options that are still great value. For lots more information, and a complete price list click here. We look forward to seeing you!

Bruce on the Loose!
In July, Livia Meneau, from Switzerland, arrived to spend a week with us before taking Bruce to the Colorado ISC (Parelli ranch in Pagosa Springs) for 3 months while she does her externship. We were very impressed with her attitude and I feel she has potential to become a great Parelli Professional. She and I spent an enjoyable week together - playing, riding and preparing. We even managed to fit in a trail ride one day. That may sound like no big deal, but it had been almost two years since I had ridden off the property! The opportunity has been there for awhile, as our neighbor to the east has generously allowed us to ride on his 800 acres. There is a lot of great riding over there, which I'm having fun exploring.

Livia and Bruce checking out our neighbor's water hole
Livia and Bruce are doing well at the ISC, and of course Brucie is a bit of a celebrity, as I would expect. I get little snippets of news from Livia. Being and extern is not an easy road, and she doesn't have much time to write. I also hear a little about them from Petra, as she is working at the ranch and keeping her horses near Bruce. Livia will be back in October for another visit. I am looking forward to spending time and sharing Savvy with her. And I will be thrilled to have Mr Bruce home again!
Partners at the ISC

Petra spent a week with us near the end of July. She had the brilliant idea to offer lessons to anyone who wanted to stay here at Springvalley that week, and she also was a very dedicated horseman, herself, spending all the moments she could grab riding and playing with Cash and JB. It was nice to have her around, and to see "The Browns" again. Cash made some nice changes during their week here.

Toward the end of the week we were joined by Harlene and JoAnna and their two horses. They travelled up from the Walsenburg/Gardner area, a couple of hours to the southwest of us.  Linda came and stayed and took lessons, too, so we were quite a party. They all had daily lessons, played with their horses and we watched Parelli DVDs together in our spare time. It was a very hot week, in a very hot summer, so a little challenging for all of us, at times. I hope we might see them again when things cool off!

The week was rounded off by the second lesson in the Summer Series with Petra and Kime. It was great to see the group progressing. I felt a little sorry for our spectators, who had to sit in the heat all day, however, Mark had a plan, and it was just a question on time...

Our Auditors Now Have it Made in the Shade!
We became aware in the spring that our clinic and lesson auditors were struggling in the summer heat. We considered various solutions, then Mark had a brainstorm. A carport! So he ordered one of those super-duper pre-fab metal ones (in green, of course!). It provides plenty of sun (or rain) shelter for auditors, and we can park things under it the rest of the time. Unfortunately it took it's time arriving, but we were finally able to use it at the last summer lesson, and what a difference it made! Just as well, too, as the temperature was 105F. 
Our Big Arena
Barney and Ducky enjoy the acres of sand!

Somehow, over the summer, my "playground" has morphed into an arena. My idea of having some semi-permanant obstacles on a natural/native surface was gradually defeated by our climate and weeds. The only thing to do was turn it into a sand arena. Mark has put in a lot of time and effort to make this happen. Luckily, we are sitting on pretty good sand, so it's been a matter or hoeing out the weeds (with a tractor) then using a revolving arena harrow to fluff it up. We bought in some sand to top things up around the obstacles and near the front, where it had hardpanned over the winter, but now we wonder whether that was actually necessary. The result is great. We have an almost 300' x 300' arena. The only problem is the semi-permanent obstacles, which have to be moved every time we harrow. Well, that's the next challenge, I guess.

We have another area earmarked for a playground with permanent obstacles, but this time we will have to do some serious thinking about the surface before we start.

Grass + Cows = Beef
Up until the last four or five weeks, we've been blessed with generous rainfall again this year. The pastures are responding well to this and I have managed to do a lot of mowing for weed control. As a result, the grass is coming back surprisingly well. We still have years of pasture improvement ahead of us, but it's nice to see it paying off already. The calves are looking fantastic. They have grown and fattened up really well. So we are now taking orders for grass fed beef for local customers. We put no chemicals whatsoever on our pastures, and of course we don't give our cattle growth hormones, routine antibiotics or other nasties.

But you won't be eating Bonnie here.
We hope this heifer is going places in our breeding program!

To email me about upcoming events, holidays or beef click here