Thursday, September 20, 2012

Words of Wisdom

For those of you who know me, I am not one to let a sleeping dog lie if they are not in a good spot. With the horses in general and maybe espeicially with Kat, letting the previous crappy workout go was just not in the cards. Yes we ended on a good note, but the overall workout was not a shining moment in the least. I did not want Kat to get a break after that and when we have time for another workout, reverting back to the last one he remembered and just slipping into "repeat" mode.

I wanted to erase as much of the 'bad workout' as I could from his mind and see what needed to change and salvage what I could of the good. In long lines he was going forward with enthusiasm, engagement, thrust and momentum to spare. With the cart and the change in bits- there was a lot lost and I needed to recover what I could.  I went back to a ring snaffle, but this time the one I used has a slightly thicker mouthpiece. It is also a brand new bit.

With the new bit and back in long lines again, our workout went much better. It was not quite the same as we had before, but far better than the last workout which was, in one word- dreadful.  Kat was a bit more responsive, I still need to work on softening him up on the left again and for me- letting him go, but I didn't have to take a hold of him and literally pull him around the turns.  Our stops were good. Not great, but still good.

With this bit having smaller rings than the half cheek, I don't think the mouthpiece was low enough for Kat to be getting his tongue over it.  It also wasn't loosely bumping and flapping around in his mouth that he would have to pick it up and hold it to be comfortable with the bit either. Then there's the matter of the mouthpiece and ring attachment and nothing he could have been getting pinched by either. When training your horse, these are all things you need to look at, consider and probably far more importantly understand. The horse is merely reacting to what is going on, what they feel and often are not able to tell you- other than by resisting or ignoring the cues.  The last part of the article I linked to in the last post is this-

"Resistance in the mouth is the horse's only way of telling us that something is wrong somewhere. It is up to you to find out what. Only one thing is for certain: A more severe bit will make matters worse!

If you did not read that article- I strongly suggest you do so now. Various bits and their effects  For me not wanting to screw things up miserably, I have gone back to the simple loose ring snaffle. In speaking with Mikael about bits, one thing she mentioned that makes a lot of perfect sense (to me at least) was this-

"When people are giving you advice on what to do, what to use, how to fix something or whatever with YOUR horse, stop for a minute and ask yourself this. What do THEIR horses look like? How do THEY move/perform? Do you LIKE what you SEE?"

When you think about it, that is a pretty good measure of how much that person knows, how they apply it and what the results are.  It applies to both riding and driving and horses in general, spans the breeds, disciplines and covers it all quite nicely. You can also carry it with you wherever you go, use it without anyone knowing and then decide for yourself, maybe more so for the sake of your horse- whether or not to consider what they told you or forget it and move on. 

Granted now, some of us have developed an eye for what is correct and what is not. Some of us are still working on it, and others, well until it smacks them square in the face and the light bulb comes on- it just isn't happening and they are not going to see it. All things considered, that is one of the best things I have heard in a long, long time. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Whole lotta Huh???

As the readers here may know, Kat has been moving forward in training in such a bold way lately and I have been riding the wave of that excitement for the past couple of weeks. But then something I read caught my attention. It is an article on, written by Heike Bean called Various bits and their effects. It cites information from Carol Lavell, John Lyons, Dr Deb Bennett and Ron Meredith.  It is a good article and well worth the read. If anyone cannot get to it through the link, let me know. I will copy, paste and send it to you in an email.

In the article it is essentially stated that the use of a leverage bit, such as a curb bit, liverpool or such only gets two responses- slow or whoa. There is no way of getting any true lateral flexion by using a leverage bit. The non leverage bit- or snaffle bits are much nicer on the horses mouth and you can get lateral flexion as well as the standard flexion of the horse breaking over at the poll.  Knowing I need to work on letting go with my hands, Kat getting his tongue over the bit and softening work... when I went out to work him last night I thought about all of this and decided I would change up the hardware.

I have been doing all of the long line work in his old harness. The harness saddle and the bridle with a loose ring snaffle. This bridle has no noseband, but instead it has an overcheck on it. Since these are not allowed in competition and taking it off would require either work or cutting it, I just set it as loose as it goes and snap it on the ring to keep it out of the way. His standard harness has no overcheck, but does have the noseband. I have been using either the butterfly bit or the pelham since the CDE back in March. Since he has been doing so well in the snaffle, I went with the half cheek snaffle. With not so good results.

Softening work at the walk seemed ok. I focused on ME and letting him go. Soft tugs or 'feathering' the reins to signal for turns and bending. Everything seemed fine until we started trotting. Kat seemed to build up, getting stronger and pick up speed going around to the left. My inside rein meant nothing unless I took a good strong hold and pulled. Hard. Not what I wanted to be doing to my pony or his mouth so we slowed things back down to a walk. Things seemed fine so we picked up a trot again. We were going the other direction and everything was normal. Or at least what has been normal for us.  A few circles to the right and I asked for a serpentine.

Again he got incredibly strong on the left side, I found myself taking a hold of him again, and checking or half halting the right rein and then for a time he seemed ok. I let him move forward, I slowed him down by telling him 'easy' and we did our slow trot. We did a few up & down transitions, trot, stop, trot, stop- our halts were instant as usual and he stopped dead and square. A couple of times I had to pull on him and haul him to a stop, but then it was back to not having to do more than say the word whoa.

I really didn't like having to get after Kat like that. I feel bad for doing it, but if he was not responding, what do you do? Let him go cruising forward and smack into a fence? (Although he is smart and likely wouldn't do that, I hope, or at least wouldn't do it twice...)  So I ended our workout with more walking and softening, bending, giving... working walk, extended walk on a loose rein, halt, walk, halt, walk... and all seemed good again.

I checked his mouth after removing the harness. No points or wolf teeth. Check. I lunged him beofre and watched him the whole time we worked- no lameness or soreness. Check. I checked his back afterwards. No soreness there. Check. So something is making him stiff or sore and he is ignoring me or resisting because of it. Check!

While feeding and filling waters, I texted a friend of mine. I knew as I described it, she may have some insight or answers, suggestions, tips and things to try if not a good solid explanation as to why, how or what the problem is. Bottom line- something  is not right. He is resisting contact on the left, his butt is swinging out to the right as evidenced with dirt & grim on the inside of the shaft and something has got him evading contact.

While the bit is not too different, one of the factors about it is. The half cheek is a touch too wide and I noticed the one cheek is a bit loose in it's attachment.  So we will again be backing up to the long lines and switching bridles and bits to find the golden combo that works for us. The right bit, the right amount of contact and the right responses.  I hope it works because the ADT is the beginning of the month. The Grass Ridge CDE in Sonoita, has been cancelled due to family emergency so we are going to the ADT up north instead.  I am a bit disappointed, I mean, I made my jacket, apron and a few other things... but we can still go compete at a different event and have fun.

Kat has been there before and it is at the same facility as last months Darby. Maybe this time he will get in the water while we are on course. Maybe... The person leading our Training Pony/Green Driver division  has 8 points and has been to every event. We have only been to 2 and are sitting in 2nd with 4 points. There is another ADT in November after the horse show, so we will have to see how we do and where we end up.  Either way- next year we will both be moving up to Training Pony division. There is more competition there and it is tough.

Monday, September 10, 2012


I had emailed my mentor from afar late last week and asked what I need to work on with Kat. It is like lessons by proxy, but it works for now. A friend of mine had commented on Kat getting his tongue over the bit. "He got his tongue over the bit, he can get it back under it. Sometimes they are just looking for release."

Which makes sense since I know I can tend to hold onto him at times when I need to let him go. I am used to riding with contact. So I know needed to work on letting him go and I needed to work on softening, he was refusing to give to the left... These aren't things that will take a long time to fix or work on so I asked what else I should do with Kat?

"Circles, serpentines, up & down transitions, ENGAGEMENT and several other things I probably forgot to mention. Focus on dressage, it is important!"  All of which are softening and engagement excersises. And since there was water- why not work IN it?

As much as I dislike draw reins, they can be useful at times. I attached the shorter lines for ground driving and used my lunge line as a draw rein. The draw rein is held a touch looser than the direct rein. It is merely a backup and hardly used. I ended up switching it over to the right side for a little bit too before taking it off to concentrate on other work. We did our up & downs, we did a lot of circles and since we were working in a smaller area, the serpentines weren't really an option.

I have to say though, Kat LOOKED every bit of a big horse, moving perfectly on a semi loose rein and ROCKIN' IT. He was also trotting through the water with no hesitation at all. In fact- he was Plowing into and through the water like it was nobody's business.  He looked like this horse only with his usual Katman markings and he was right on the vertical-

(photo is from Maverick Sporthorses and is a Holsteiner mare they have named Gradina. I think she is gorgeous and a lovely mover!)

Those up & downs? They help with the engagement of the rear end, lighten the front end and can help make a horse that is built slightly downhill, appear to travel a bit more uphill. The up & downs worked so well in fact, that a couple of times I had Kat trotting and asked for a stop. He planted his ass and stopped so hard he slid a good 3-5 feet like a reiner. Then he looked at me like "Holy Crap! Did you see me do that? That was COOL!"  It was cool, but I think it would be heavily frowned upon in the dressage ring. 

Last night I went out to work him again. I have kept the old crappy harness in the trailer for long lining and so I can work him without lugging the big box with the good harness back and forth. I figured I would just use it again and put Kat to the cart with it. We did it before the good harness, what's one last hurrah? Man is that thing CRAP!

I was going to toss it once we got the new harness, but I was advised to hang onto it. It is good for getting a horse (small pony) started without trashing your good harness. Which makes sense and all, but after last night- I will not be using it to put anything to a cart again. I had to make a few adjustments, which is not a big deal, but it was not as good as using the new harness, which I have had a little over a year now. I will keep it, but the most use it will see is the bridle and harness saddle for long line and ground driving work.

We strarted out in the back pasture and did a few circles and I let Kat loosen up at the walk. We went both directions and headed out into the big pasture with the cows. They were up front so we had the back section to ourselves. I pushed him into a trot and we did some circles, a few serpentines and then a few up and downs. I kept trying to focus on my hands and remember to let him go. Trust him and let him do the work. Old habits can be hard to break and it's not like you can just push the 'Reset' button on some things.

After doing a couple of trot/stop/trot/stop sets, I stopped Kat and he was fidgety. He didn't want to stop and he didn't want to stand still.  I tried backing him up a couple of steps and found out our Reverse gear failed. The harness didn't help and rather than screw with it and make an issue out of backing up, I let him walk forward. Our up & downs now had walking mixed in a bit more to relax my pony before he became hot.  The cows migrated to the west corner of the field and we worked in the east end.

As we finished up I let Kat play and have some fun.  He hadn't shown any soreness in his work so I pushed him for a little more. I began kissing to him and we picked up a very fast trot. We were circling to the right and I kept kissing to him urging him on. Finally he picked up a canter, but only held it for a few strides. All along I have scolded him for cantering with the cart. Now I praised him. 

He dropped back to a trot, but soon picked up a canter again, right lead and all, head up and elevated, the shafts seemed to bounce up and down with him each stride, but he cantered on. We made about one lap around like that and he eased down to a swift trot. Since we did it going to the right, now we had to do it going to the left. We changed directions and this time it was a little easier to get him into the canter since he understood that I was asking for it. A few kisses each stride and he picked up the left lead and cantered on. The shafts bounced up and down, I let him know what a good boy he is and we made a lap and a half around before we eased back down to a trot, then a walk and finished up there. He seemed to enjoy it, but he was getting tired. 

Now that he knows when I want him to canter, how I will ask for it, we can throw out the milk bottles, make up a course and play some more.  He will probably get a bit too excited about that.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Oh yeah! We were in it!

Yesterday we irrigated. So last night I threw on my pajama pants and muck boots, grabbed the harness and headed out!  Of course I long lined him first. He got a little squirrelly on me but soon figured out he wasn't getting out of it so he may as well get into it and in he went. I let him put his head down to sniff/drink the water and wouldn't you know it, he finds the grass sticking out and starts snarfin it up.  Um, not what we are doing little man. Get to work...

A few circles around in the water, out one gate, around the 3 stalls and back in the other gate, into the water from another angle, no muss no fuss- let's go get the cart!

I put him to and we headed back into the water for a few more rounds of in and out. He was even trotting into the water. YAY! Progress!

I stopped him and grabbed my cell phone out of my back pocket to get a shot of this. We are facing the two gates and the 3 stalls. I can come in either gate, loop around and line up to go out the other one and we did this a few times.

Here we are coming up out of the one gate on the left in the first picture. A little blurry, but hey, what do you expect from cell phone cameras on the move?

Heading along the front of the 3 stalls. Did I mention the three mares in these stalls? He doesn't even bother to give them the time of day when he is in harness. Nope it's work time, not play time.

To give everyone an idea of what it is like, I went back to my one handed rein holding and put the whip down to get this- The constant clucking is to get him to move and maybe trot. Without the whip to tap him for encouragement, I did manage to get a few strides of trotting into the water, but that was it. I couldn't manage the whip and cell phone at the same time. The reins? That wasn't perfect either.

As an added bonus, something you cannot see at the beginning of the video as we are approaching the gate and reach it- we pass by the stall of my WB mare on the left. She despises and loathes Kat for some reason. Absolutely hates his very existance and charged the fence at him (ears pinned, teeth bared of course!) as we went by. You can see his reaction- or lack of.  I luv my pony!