Monday, October 24, 2011

Old habits die hard

Last weekend I worked Kat on Saturday, then pulled his shoes and trimmed his feet. I admit to getting him a little short and he is now tender footed in the front. Especially on the right front...  This gave me a chance to go back and fix something that has been nagging at me for a little while.

Kat does not readily 'give' on the left side like he used to. Going to the right used to be our problem, but now it is the left. Fix one thing and something else pops up right? Since Kat was too tender for driving on Sunday it gave me the chance to put him in long lines and ground drive. He could comfortably walk around the arena in the soft footing, so all was not lost. 

We worked on lengthening the walk, bending to the left, bending his nose to the inside while going to the left and so the right wouldn't go back to the old ways, we worked a little to the right as well.  Before I worked him at all though, I like to see if there is a pain issue involved or if he is just refusing to give and being a brat.

I will stand at his side, back by the girth, place my left hand on his nose and gently ask him to turn his head to the left. I hold the left rein in my right hand and as he brings his head around, I will take up slack in the rein, then gently tug so he gets the idea that the tugs mean turn your head. If he is comfortable and relaxed, I will take my left hand off his nose, but tug gently on the left rein to keep his head where it is.  I will also praise him verbally then release him and let him straighten out.

I will then try it again, more rein and less hand, but with my hand still on his nose for guidance and reinforcement. Kat learns quickly so usually two or three times and he has reached a good understanding of what is being asked.

If there is any resistance when turning his head with just my hand on his nose, I will let go and ask again. If there is still resistance, he is a bit tight, maybe stiff or even sore and this needs to be addressed before moving on.  If I were to proceed with his work when he is stiff or even sore, it may compound into bigger issues needing to be resolved before moving on. 

We made several laps around the arena at a walk, bending both directions and he seemed to get the idea he was to tip his nose to the inside whichever direction we were going.  Everything was good or so I thought.

This weekend I took him out Saturday morning and we went for a walk around the neighborhood.  We logged about 3.5 miles this time, but it wasn't until we were nearly home that I finally realized what the real problem in all of this is. It's Me!  I have created this issue with him not giving to the left by reverting back to an old habit I used to have about 20 years ago in my dark ages of beginning to ride. I had discharged and overcome it when the trainer I was working for pointed it out. Now it has reared it's ugly head and come back to nag at me.

While we were out walking, I noticed two habits I have. My back started to hurt a little so I sat up straight, lengthened my spine, took a deep breath and brought my shoulders back. I have a habit of hunching over as if to hide my chest.  My right shoulder gives me issue because of this and when riding, I do it and also tend to twist at the trot while posting. 

Once that was sorted out, I thought I was good. Until I noticed my right rein was always shorter than the left. I would slide my hands up or back on the reins, shortening or lengthening, but it always seemed to be shorter. An even length of reins just felt weird and foreign.

All this time, even if Kat had wanted to turn his nose to the left, the way I was holding my reins- I wasn't letting him. I may have asked for it, but I still wasn't letting him.  I would try to turn him to the left, but still hold firm with the right rein.  I'm pretty sure, knowing him, the whole time he has been thinking "WTH??????" 

The trainer I was working for all those years ago, had asked me if I had ever ridden a bicycle. Of course, but what does that have to do with horses?  Holding on to the handlebars, when you turn right, where does your right hand go?  Where does your left hand go?  You don't let go of the handlebars and equally, you don't let go of the rein. But you do 'let go' of that side and ALLOW the horse to turn their head the direction you are turning.  It all made perfect sense when it was explained that way. 

Once the light came on in my head and I realized what I was doing, I figured the easiest way to fix it, just happened to be in my hands. I let my whip drop over and put my left thumb over the top of it. It was almost like a pair of bicycle handlebars. Now my reins were even, (like it or not) and whenever I asked him to bend, right or left, the other hand went forward without question.

Since we had been on the pavement for most of our walk, Kat got Sunday off to help keep him from wearing any more hoof down and so he could also relax knowing I have finally figured out how to give him a chance without getting in his way at the same time. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Schooling Shows, part 4

Our class was called and I headed for the gate with Kat. I urged him on, he picked up the trot and we headed down the rail.  Since we were the only diving entry I just let him go into a nice long relaxed frame. As long as he was balanced, and moving like he should, I wasn't going to push for too much. 

We circled to the left, using about 3/4 or the arena. No use going the full length if we were the only horse in the class.  The footing was deep, there were divots galore from the horses in the halter classes and my pony was doing well enough.  I think we made one complete lap of the arena before the judge asked for a walk.  It didn't take much and Kat made a nice downward transition.  We didn't seem to go very far down the rail before the judge asked for a reverse at the walk.

Going to the left has been a bit tricky for Kat lately. He is not as soft, he doesn't tip his nose in the the left as we go around and I have been meaning to work on that with him. (I managed to slip in some long line work this weekend and corrected it. At least for now.)    Once we had reversed  the judge asked for the trot again.

I urged him on and Kat willingly picked up the pace again.  As we came down the length of the arena in front of the stands, I felt my left hnd start to shake.  I have had this happen before when riding, but it is usually one of my legs. It's like I get a nervous adrenaline rush and something quivers as a result. When it is a leg, I just push my weight down into my heel. This steadies my leg and the quivering stops. Since it was my hand this time, it was different. 

What didn't help matters was for some strange reason I also felt like a little old lady sitting in the cart as we went around the arena. I could have been 80 something years old for all that mattered, the way I felt.  That was a strange feeling to say the least.  I took a slightly firmer grip on the left rein and my hand stopped shaking. I wondered as we went around, if anyone watching had seen it?

About then the judge called for us to trot in and line up. We turned and headed straight for the judge. Kat was starting to tire, but he was solid as he trotted right up to the ring steward and stopped dead with the slightest mutter of 'whoa'.

The judge liked him. She loved his markings, his movement and everything about him.  While we were waiting for the announcer to 'pin the class' I had thought about how it was worded on the entry form. The novice class was for novice drivers or horses. Since he is by all means a novice horse in performance classes, I asked them to let the staff know I wanted to switch the novice class to showing instead of just schooling. I would pay the difference when I picked up the ribbon. 

The judge also asked how long we had been driving? When I said only since April, she was a bit surprised and though he had been doing it much longer. She asked if I wanted her to call for an extended trot. Sure, why not? He can do it.  She also mentioned she doesn't like asking for too much, since she is never sure how far along in training any horse or rider is.  I told her to call for what she wants. It's her arena, she's the judge, she's in charge.

With that we headed back out onto the rail for our second class. It went pretty well, Kat was starting to tire and as we came around the arena he hesitated then scooted a few steps as we went over the shadow on the ground of the light fixtures from above us.  The judge asked for the extended trot, but he was slowly fading and didn't have a lot more to give. I pushed for what he had and called it good. The footing was deep, he was wearing down and this was our last class.

Again they asked for the walk, reverse at the walk, trot and extended trot. As we came along in front of the stands, my hand started to shake again. I found myself taking a firmer grip on the reins again to make it stop. As we turned to go into the line up, Kat was pooped. He broke down to a walk and I let him. As long as we made it into the line up, I let him go at his own pace.  The judge could see he was tired and our classes were done. He did a nice square halt and stood patiently waiting for the placings.   She was impressed with him and mentioned again how much she liked him.  

The photographer was busy snapping pictures and asked if we wanted to do a couple of shots with the ribbons.  I have yet to find them online, but our paparazzi was able to get some video and a couple of pics of us before we exited the arena. Which I have been unable to transition over to post here.  :(

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

All in all though, he did well and we both survived. The next date on the horizon is November 5th & 6th.  There is a clinic in Paulden for beginner drivers.  Saturday morning is a pleasure drive, Saturday afternoon is dressage practice, Sunday morning is the clinic and Sunday afternoon is help with the obstacles.  Although I doubt we will make the pleasure drive, I hope to be able to join in for the dressage. If we can stay for the obstacle work, I will try to focus on getting Kat in the water.  We will see how it goes and what happens.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Schooling shows, Part 3

With the water truck headed our way, I turned Kat off the roadway into a small open spot and dismounted the cart. Standing by his head and holding him while the truck went by, he was fine. Just like at home in the neighborhood with the garbage truck. It's good to practice everything, even if it is unintentional or you think you will never do it or use it.  I was going to get back into the cart and continue warming up when a truck and trailer from the cutting show came around the corner headed our way, so I waited for them to pass too. 

As I got back into the cart and headed back to the warm up arena, Kat was really behaving well.  He was quiet, calm and relaxed. We walked through the small area between the show and warm up arenas. As we did, one of the show staff personel walked along behind us and warned us to be on the lookout for horses spooking at the sight of us.   I was well aware of that and already on the look out, thanks... 

We eased our way into the warm up arena and started walking around the rail. There were a few horses taking a good look at us, a couple of paints that were not to sure about us and the rest, well they could care less.  There was one trainer on a horse schooling in the center of the arena. He was in there before us and still there long after we left. Spur, spank, yank and crank is his game. 

Kat was really doing well at the walk so when we reached the far end of the arena with no horses near us, I pushed him into a trot. He settled into it just like he does at home.  I tried to keep plenty of distance between us and any horse that looked unsettled by our appearance. The two paints seemd to think we were out to get them for sure. I also called out to the other riders "On your left" or "On your right", which seems to be a long lost common courtesy anymore. 

As we changed direction and came around past the gate going to the right, the woman from the entry desk called out to us. They had decided to bump the two driving classes up to follow halter, then have the break followed by lead line and walk trot. We would not be exiting the arena into the lead line entries.  This would lessen the risk of any of their horses being spooked by us.  This was not a problem, but meant we would be going into the arena soon. I still needed to finish getting ready so we headed out of the warm up arena and found JR by the gate.

He went to the truck to grab my hat, sweater and apron, but I forgot to mention my gloves...  OOOPS!  Since this is a schooling show and we were the only driving horse on the grounds, this was not a big deal.  It was a minor oversight, but not one to be made at the driving show next month.  The show staff woman asked if I needed help, but since JR was on his way back with everything, I assured her we would be ready when the class was called. A few simple changes and we were headed for the gate...

Part 1
Part 2

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Schooling shows, part 2

After getting the entries sorted out I headed back to the trailer to unload Kat and get started. Cleaned his feet, dusted him off and took him into the warm up arena to lunge and loosen up.  As he started to work he let out with a loud high pitched whinny to let everyone know he was there.

If everyone liked the one picture of him working from before, had they been able to see him on the lunge line showing off, you would all be picking your jaws up off the ground.  Kat rocked back on his rear end and let his hooves fly as he cantered around on the end of the line. His knees were coming up level with his elbows, yet he never sacrificed or lost any movement in the rear end either. His hocks were also coming up level with his stifles. Talk about POP! 

Because of his whinnying, people along the rail were looking. Everyone was staring at him as he went around on the end of the lunge line. When he dropped down to a trot, he still had that same fluid, graceful movement with a ton of action in it. His legs and hooves came up and out with an extra amount of reach in each stride. This was the kind of movement I had gotten in the dressage arena when warming up for the Darby back in August. 

Since he was a bit excited and this was his first show, I lunged him a little longer and was sure to take the edge off of him.  I'm just not up for the same kind of excitement we had back in our early days of training and our first few trips to the horse park. With other horses and riders around, I didn't want to be the talk of the show for the wrong reasons.

When Kat had settled down enough I took him back to the trailer to harness him up. We were parked along the rail of the warm up arena and could hear as the classes were slowly proceeding. I think there was one horse in the stallion/gelding halter classes, a decent amount in the mares sport horse class and none in the stallion/gelding sport horse class.

Once harnessed, I took Kat back into the warm up arena. I figured by ground driving him a few laps around in both directions, we would slowly help accustom the other horses and riders/handlers to the idea that we would be driving and coming in with the cart at some point.  It would also give me a feel for how he was behaving and which horses were disturbed by our appearance.  Since there was also a cutting show going on in the covered arena, JR had disappeared to go watch.  He did ask before he left if I would be needing help, but I assured him we were fine as he went to watch. 

Everything was going smoothly ground driving so we headed back to get the cart.  I have worked with Kat a lot at home when it comes to putting him to the cart alone. Some people advise leaving the horse tied, others hobble their horses but with Kat I have always worked on whoa means whoa and you don't move.  He stood nice and quiet as everything was buckled and fastened into place.  JR came back in time to do a few of the straps for us and then hold Kat as I got into the cart.

Did I mention we were parked on a slight hill? And going down that hill onto the 'roadway' Kat did fine. Even stepped over the curbing like it wasn't even there. We walked off down the driveway behind a few other trailers parked near us. Looking up- here come the water truck, sprinklers on full tilt to wet things down and settle the dust...

Schooling shows- Part 1

Monday, October 10, 2011

Schooling shows...

Kat and I hit the schooling show over the weekend. Although I like having other entries in our classes, for this being his first time in the show ring doing a pleasure class, the first time being in a warm up arena with horses being longed, ridden and otherwise moving around, it was a big day for him and I took the two 'exhibition' classes as a good thing.

There is a lot to be said about schooling shows. Some things good, some things bad, but in the end, you are there to practice.  Only by practicing do you improve.  Of course there are also well run shows or the poorly organized.  Helpful judges that offer tips and ideas or those who say nothing and expect you to guess. There are also shows that fall in between in every aspect and in the end, they really are all, " a box of chocolates.  You never know what you're going to get."

I have been going through the ADS, American Driving Society rulebook and reading up on things as they pertain to the classes and shows I plan to attend. Under the ADS rules, General Regulations, Chapter 8, Article 14 Section 3. Junior, maiden, novice and limit drivers are prohibited from driving stallions.   Pretty much spells it out, plain and simple.   We will come back to this later for more discussion, but for now, with this in mind, the schooling show we were attending is run under USEF rules.  Which admittedly, I haven't exactly been reading up on...

When we arrived on the show grounds, they hadn't yet gotten started, which was good for us, since we got a little bit of a late start.  Some shows are notorious for late starts and this is one of them.  However, there are always skipped classes due to no entries and show staff may decide to combine classes to help speed things along.  This is a good reason to try and be a little early if not on time. Knowing the last few times I have shown Kat in hand, we were the only stallion in our class, I figured these classes would be skipped and they were.

I parked the truck and headed over to get us entered.  As I filled out the forms I let the women working the desk know I had a couple of questions. One of them being the ruling on stallions being allowed in their novice class.  ADS doesn't allow it, but you run under USEF rules- what do they say about it?  The one woman looked at me like I spoke a foreign language or had a tree growing out of the top of my head... 

She wondered if my pony was 'wild', 'unmanagable', difficult to control because he is a stallion, etc. and if so, why did I bring him?   All righty then...  I entered him in the novice class to 'school' and figured that would rule out any issues.  That would later change and I will explain why.  As I handed her the papers to process my entry, she looked at his name and said "Oh, I have heard of him before." That's because we have shown here before in hand...

My other question was more of a safety issue. Not so much for me, but more for others. The halter and sport horse in hand classes were followed by a short break. Then there were the two driving classes, lead line, two walk trot western classes and another short break.  I asked them if something could be done so we would not be exiting the arena headed right into their class of lead line entries waiting to enter.  Since not all horses are used to ponies or minis pulling carts, I did not want to set off any of the horses resulting in lead line kids getting dumped on the hard ground.  They agreed and said they would figure something out.

I had my number and headed off to unload my pony and get him warmed up. Halter classes were starting and hopefully I had enough time. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It's not always good

I rode Pal again last weekend. Saturday night he was pretty good with the exception of one 'bobble'. He pulled something that was a bit new for me. I had lengthened my stirrups a hole and we started out walking while doing some bending and softening exercises. Hand back to my hip, inside leg back, push the hip over. Circles to the left, circles to the right...

And while we were walking, I also worked on me. A few deep breaths, lengthen my spine. Reach down through my heels, deepen my seat and lengthen my legs. Soft and relaxed was on order for both of us...

Things were going well and I decided it was time to move on to the trot. Pal was responsive and light in the bridle, yet on the bit too and we were progressing.  We were going around to the left and working on the rail. At about the middle of the arena I used my seat, legs and rein and turned him into the fence. As he made the turn I released the rein and urged him on, clucking to him and squeezing with both legs.

Mondo in the foreground playing with Pal.

I may have gotten one or two strides of a trot before Pal had other ideas in mind.  He started crow hopping. He got about 3 hops in before I turned him into the fence again and made him stop. What the Hell was that all about?  His usually reaction of pouting was to stop, stomp a foot, raise his head up and to the right, then kick out with his right hind foot. That was his idea of defiance. This?  This was something new.

Apparently in Pal's mind he wasn't ready to move along yet. All righty then...  We did some more walking. More stops, rock back a half step then push off and go forward with impulsion. It was slow going, but progress is progress and sometimes slow is all you get. When that happens, you accept it and work with it.  You will get more later, but you have time to work towards that. With that in mind and our daylight fading fast, we stopped there and called it good. Things were looking up.

Mondo coming down the stretch...

Sunday night was a bit different.  We were a little crunched for time. By the time I had Pal tacked and ready to go, the sun was already on the horizon. It was still light out enough to get some work in, but we would be in a pinch and pushing it to get much done.  Something is usually better than nothing so I lunged him and got on.  Things were fine. Pal was relaxed, head down, he was balanced, on the bit, light in the bridle and moved off my leg without any issue or indication of what was to come.  We did a few stops, rock back, push forward and he walked on... 

Lucky for us we were in the middle of the arena at that point. I had him bent to the left and was working on our stretches and softening work, breathing, deepening my seat and lengthening my legs when he started to blow.  It was as if he tried to bolt, but then threw in the crow hopping again.  He got about three or four jumps in before he was at the fence and found his common sense again.

Yes my hands were up in my lap out of position. No I'm sure it was not graceful on my part, but I stuck with him and when he stopped at the fence I dropped my left hand, pulled him around and he started to walk off.  I let him because a moving horse has a bit of limited options as far as which direction they can go if they decide to get squirrelly again. A horse that is standing still- can go off in any direction. You may not be ready for it and could easily come off.

Hubby Johnie Rotten had been at the fence and seen this latest episode. What he seen and what I felt and remember are a bit different.  When Pal stopped at the fence he turned but then started shifting his weight back and forth on the front end. He looked as if he were ready to go up.  By dropping my hand and pulling him off and out to the side, I had diffused the situation and kept the option of up (and possibly over) out of the question.

We did some more walking, more bending and turning both directions and called it good. The extent of his 'punishment' was hearing me ask- "What the Hell was that and where did it come from? You know better than that." We were about out of light by then and going on would have been pointless. 

A good friend of mine told me I should wear my helmet from now on. I am definitely keeping it in mind, so I will keep my mind in!  Getting hurt or even doing an unplanned dismount is not exactly my idea of fun...  I doubt it is anybody elses plan either!