Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Smokey and Lily, trouble in paradise

Smokey may be encountering the fickle nature of mares, heat, and paddock drama. Here is his perspective on the issue. I tried to talk to Lily, but she was... occupied.

Hello? Hello? Are you getting this down? Yes? Okay, good.

So things were really good, and now.. what? Oh. Okay. I'll start at the beginning, sorta.

At first I was pretty fired up to be in a paddock with a mare. See, when I was with all the geldings, they picked on me pretty bad. I even got a big ol scar on my leg from them.

It's distinguishing, I think.

Then there was all this commotion and I got to move into the paddock with Lily.

Things were great. I mean she had this winking thing, and I'd never even seen a winking thing and all of a sudden I'm letting it fly (if you know what I mean) and it's all crazy and cool, and I'm in love. And I'm thinking she's in love too.

So we set up paddock keeping, hanging out with the long eared short horse. But lately I'm getting the feeling the honeymoon is over. For the last three days Lily's been standing next to the fence with Cibolo and they're all sniffy sniffy and all that. It's so irritating. I mean the guy wears boots on trail rides! Seriously can you believe she'd fall for a gelding like that?

So I chased her around a minute. It was fun!

Then she chased me around a minute. It was not fun! ):(

She was crazy, I tell you! Everyone thinks she's so sweet, but HA! Just try to boss her around when she gets like that.

Fine, I say. You hang out with that red horse. Me and the long ear kid will do our own thing.

Then the other day we went on a trail ride and I decided I'd give her a little nip, you know, cuz it's not like she could do anything about it since she had her girl on her.

See? She thinks she's all that and a bag of alfalfa.

But before I could connect, mom stopped me! She said it's not allowed. That's cuz she doesn't know how mean she's been to me. And I wasn't going to bite her that hard even.

Anyway, I think maybe it's time to give up on mares. Who needs 'em?


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Round pen slide show

It started innocently. I took a few pictures of Sierra on Lily riding bareback in the round pen. Then she took the controls and snapped cell phone shots of our round pen session.

So here it is, the whole silly session, with Smokey full of himself, bucking and tearing around, high snooty headed at times. I picked up the whip to let him know it was time to get serious.

But I was thinking back to a McKnabb round pen session he had with his horse, Stormy on RFD TV. He said "Don't get all worked up about that stuff. Don't take the horse out of him."

Anyway, it was fun. Warning, it's 3 minutes long. And ignore that red patch on my jeans. It's my quirky way of patching pants. :)

Pre Thanksgiving Round Pen Session from Winter Prosapio on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

OT- Kid and rewinding

Here's one from my Crib Notes...

As usual, I blame TV. It’s a convenient target for blame, doesn’t fight back, and everyone else blames it, so I’m in good company.

Because recently our house had been overtaken by the phenomenon of “instant replays.” Honestly, I never have to worry about missing anything in my kids’ lives because they are more than willing to re-enact any minute of their day. Sometimes every moment of the day.

Now, I’ve never been one of those people to watch a movie a dozen times, or re-read a mystery. But these days it’s as if our lives are on TIVO and subject to rewinding at any moment.

Unfortunately there are significant glitches in the rewind and re-enactments around here. Apparently retelling your moments from the day, especially the funny ones, are nearly impossible to do without a complete breakdown in communication.

For example, Sierra and Mireya re-enacted their entire math related drama for me.

Sierra said, “I was asking Mireya…”

At this point she broke down laughing and it took a few minutes to get focused back on the story.

I tried to help. “You were saying that you were asking…” This is always a mistake. That rewinds the whole thing back to the start of the story, which can only be revisited so many times until you beg for release.

“Yes, I was… I was… asking Mireya,” Sierra said, nearly breaking into laughter again. My smile strained at the edges. Sensing she was losing her audience, she sped up. “I asked her, you know, if she had ever dealt with negative numbers…”

“And I said what does dealt mean?!” said Mireya jumping up from her place at the table, no longer able to contain her role as supporting actress. “Because I thought it had to do with farting because they say ‘whoever smelt it, dealt it!’

It took a minute, then we cracked up.

Then they attempted to replay the scene for Dad, barely making it through halfway before breaking down again into laughter. About five minutes later they got through the retelling and by then, it was somewhat anticlimactic. Unphased, they replayed it for each other and giggled about it for a good half hour.

And I’m still not sure Mireya knows what a negative number is or what the word dealt means.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thoughts on Loss

Shilo and Nancy.

My mind has been tangled in the manes and tales of horse who have left us, for whom injury, bad turns, and time have dictated they must move on.

This strange collection of horses, this silly internet herd, a blogging band of snorting, bucking, nickering souls - they are somehow part of all of us these days.

I started this prayer/poem/prose in a comment for one, for Denali, then realized there were many more I wanted to share these feeling with. So, I wrote this for those left behind.

We are here for you,
my distant friend.
We hold your hand in the darkened forest
as you lead your companion one last time.

We tie white feathers into the mane,
to help speed the flight for this final journey.

We stand with you,
at the edge of that forest,
as your companion steps into that open meadow,
surrendering at last the limits of this place,
free now,
finally free.

We walk with you,
along the meadow,
stealing glimpses of your noble, dear one,
running along side on the edge of the horizon,
leaping hills, mountains, cloud banks, and then,
into the golden eye of the sun.

And we stay with you in the silence,
for you are never alone,
and with you,
we remember.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Quote Worth Remembering

Found this reference on Equine ER:

Louise Firouz helped save the Caspian from extinction. Before she died at 74 in 2008 she told Reuters that she had ignored doctors orders to stop riding horses. "I'm not too old to ride," she said. "I'm too old to fall off."

Amen, Louise. Amen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

My Three Legged Horse in the Trailer

My horse. Mine.

Sunday was a big day around here. As of Sunday I own Smokey - final payment made on Cibolo and that went straight to pay off Smokey!

I cajoled Stephanie to a trail ride - but it was pretty gusty so we called Sharon to see if we could ride at her place.

But first we had to get them in the trailer. Smokey was reluctant to load. Really reluctant. Basically if someone stands behind him he'll load right up. So I've got some homework to do this Thanksgiving.

Cibolo had never loaded in the back section of the trailer before, so it took a few tries and a few taps on the rear.

When we got to Sharon's, Smokey started calling to the other horses. Stephanie headed to the arena and we took over the round pen.

Right about then I was pretty glad we were going to do arena work, because my horse was spazzing out. It got worse and worse. I realized I was too soft - unusual with Smokey, usually getting too big is a disaster.

I finally had to bring the rope into the round pen because I couldn't keep his attention. Remembering the run it out rule from the clinic and book, so I sent him around in canters, turning him when he called out. Slowly he hooked up.

Interestingly every time I asked him to stop, even when he was riled up, he stopped. If I called him to me, he'd come right up to me. Not sure what to make of that.

Anyway we began our work session in the arena. Cibolo did really well, and Smokey came around. Soon we were cantering well on the left lead, but he resisted the right. More home work. But I got what I wanted from him in our session - head down, responsive, better steering.

We loaded up for the trip back to the barn, Smokey wouldn't load, then loaded fine with pressure from behind, Cibolo hopped right in.

Then something happened. I don't know when. It's a 30 minute drive to the barn. I took my time, taking turns slowly and going extra slow on the road. I think I just didn't want the day to end.

We parked and got out to undo the horses' trailer ties. I stroked Smokey and reached down, and saw it. Smokey's front left was hung up in his hay bag. He was standing on three legs. I struggled to unhook the hay bag, his pressure was making it difficult to lift it free of the clip. I cursed that I didn't have a knife on me. After getting him to lean forward slightly I was able to free him.

He didn't limp out, never panicked, he just looked for help, standing still. I don't know how long his leg was caught. I don't know if he stood on three legs for the entire drive, or if he just pawed at a stop sign.

All I know is I'd just paid him off and now he almost broke his leg on a hay bag.

Somebody needs a new hay bag.
One that hangs much, much higher.

For my next trick I washed him off and watched as he rolled in manure. So now he's green, muddy, suspicious of hay bags and...


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Smokey in the Round Pen, Lily on Adequan

On Friday our medicine for Lily came in. We rushed out to the barn to give her the first dose. She's been doing better with all the time off, but after a few circles she was still off at the trot.

I've given intramuscular shots before, when Canyon had hives. But I tend to be a little nervous about sticking a needle in the neck of my horse. I like to be holding the lead rope and being emotional supportive.

But it was time to cowgirl up. With a nice big pile of hay at the ready Lily only flinched at the injection but was her usual amazing self. We went to the round pen.

I haven't worked in the round pen with Smokey on the ground in months. But since we couldn't ride (my daughter forgot her boots and I wanted us to work together), I thought it be a good time to check in on our ground work. While we work on ground manners all the time, working at liberty in the round pen gives me a good sense of how in charge I really am.

It was the best round pen session we'd ever had. He turned in to me flawlessly, walking straight up to me when I called him in. All the work we'd done under saddle...

it had translated to the ground. I was stunned. And thrilled.

Then it was Lily's turn. She did well, already much improved, but still a little off.

Sierra and I decided to try a brief trail ride at the lake today. Smokey was a bit sticky loading (something to practice again), but Lily loaded up, clearly excited. We got there late in the day, and both horses where jazzed - Smokey a little worried, Lily ready to go racing around.

But we didn't push it. We went on the lake trail, I got off once to help Smokey get through the ditch (which even Lily refused to do - it's a classic ambush ditch, darn scary for a horse).

We headed to the big open field and worked on circles and serpentines. The work help Smokey focus and we trotted around.

And Lily was sound!

Boy, do we have some trails to ride!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Things I never expected

Coming back to horses as an adult allows you to realize many things you never noticed the first time around. I was generally an introspective child, but I don't remember being quite as swept away by my horse as I am now.

Today I went to the barn alone, determined to work on cantering a bit. No one else was there, so I got to do all the things I don't normally do when I have kids to wrangle or folks to visit with. I breathed in my horse's smell, buried my face in his neck. I lingered here and there, noticing how his coloring has changed over the last week, how deep the black is, how he is, indeed, smokey.

I wondered if they named him after a winter season - he was born in April, so he may have been more golden colored. But who knows. Foals seem to change so dramatically in color you never know what you'll end up with.


After we finished our work in the arena (I did as Shirley suggested and did transitions. We cantered a bit, but I had trouble with circling. We may need a larger arena for that.), he did so well I decided we should hand graze to celebrate. We brought Lily out to join us and walked around for a bit.

It was quiet and I watched my two wonderful horses, carefully picking through dried grass, looking for the perfect blade.

Standing in the quiet reminded me of the list I started on the plane the other day, the list of the things I never expected from adding horses back into my life.

I never expected horses would somehow make me calmer. The sense of calm extends far beyond the barn, when I go home I feel the gentle stillness within, am reminded of how to stop I exhale deeply and we stop, together. Being calm allows me to see potential everywhere, to feel more, to connect effortlessly. It's not to say that horse time can be anything but calm. Lord knows I've had those days. But when it goes right, like it did today, I find the peace I search for in my everyday life.

I never expected horses would place me firmly in the present. It's something I've endeavored to do and only rock climbing got me to that place in the past. When rock climbing became a thing of the past, I found it hard to find something else that could replace the hours and hours of that feeling. Until horses re-entered my life. When I'm alone with my horses I am only in that very moment. Everything fades away - the worries over the past, the fretting over the future, the wondering of what could be, the longing for what was - and we live, wholly, in the only time that really exists - the now.


Enough rambling for one Sunday. This is just two points from a pretty long list, I find I want to contemplate a few of these at a time. Maybe I'll add more in later posts. Maybe just this rumination is enough.

How about you? What have you found on horseback that you didn't expect?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

When horses run

Smokey and I have been hard at work at the barn, trying to put everything we learned at the clinic to work. Over all things have gone well. Generally Smokey is a little rusty the first day we get back to work after a break (with work I can't really get to the barn for 3-4 days) and we have to work hard on steering and keeping his head in the right position. So we do that first each day until we're back on track.

By back on track I mean until we turn well in both directions at the trot without having to do the lift maneuver.

Some days that's 6 circles. Some days it feels like 26.

But going out on our own is getting better and better. We still only ride within the general area of the barn, but there's less balking and "barn diving" (you know, doing hard turns back to the barn). The improvement is very incremental, but discernible.

Then there is the run.

We went to the lake last weekend with B and her new horse - the 4 year old gaited Palomino Buddy that Donna was selling - and with D and her gaited TWH Trigger.

B (who is also our farrier) is no longer threatening to steal Smokey. She's in deep love with her new horse.

However, Smokey and Buddy (who is very alpha) don't get along, and Smokey gives him a wide berth. Until they start running.

Smokey did well on the trail around the lake, not spooking or anything. But when we got to the area where we all tend to do some loping he got... competitive. I couldn't keep him in a solid canter and pretty quick we were in a run, catching up with Buddy who was at the head of the pack.

The run didn't feel out of control, other than it was faster than I wanted to go. I thought I'd probably be able to slow him down if I veered him off to the side because I still had steering. But it was exhilarating, in a way. And, when we came down (and then hung out with Trigger, who is much older and wasn't going to do any more cantering), Smokey did fine. No jigging, no calling out. He ran out one other time at a different spot, again racing to catch up to Buddy.

Only later did I think of one thing I could have done - kept him running and running past the herd. It's like all those times after a party when you think of the things you should have said.

But at least I did ride it out and now I won't be afraid of it.

I know that the issue is simple: I need more practice at the canter. We've only cantered a handful of times. He never raced into a run before.

So we worked on this a little today in the arena. It was messy at the start, but we got better before calling it a day.

So what do you do with a racing horse? I don't think this is a "every time we canter" thing. I think it's just in a herd. How do you get that stop nice and sticky in the canter - or get them to rate down? Lots of transitions?

Advice is welcome and needed!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Clinic Photos - Found at last

Finally I found my pictures - and Lisa, from Laughing Orca Ranch, sent me several (they must have gotten trapped in some sort of internet trap and I missed them earlier. All the good ones are from her in this post). So here's a bunch with semi amusing and/or informative captions.

Mark's horse: Surely we aren't going to stand here all day.

See those reins? They weren't broken in and it
was like riding with chopsticks. So I soaked them
in peanut oil for three days. Now they're soft but
smell like a jar of stale JIF.

Smokey: Yes, I can move sideways without even LOOKING!
Eat your heart out Fred Astaire!

Smokey: Hmm. Is that alfalfa there on the ground?

Me: Good boy, keeping his head down.
Mark: Goofball

You know, my horse and Mark's are the same color. In August.

Me and Val (this time I had my eyes open)

Me and Lisa

K and her gelding and Mark counting the collected strides.

K and her sorrels' apparently underdeveloped hindquarter.

K and her gelding (and that dreaded stereo/static generator)

Mark's horse: We're never moving, are we? How come
all the other horses get to go around? Seriously.

Mark's horse: Do you think he'll notice if I move my hoof just a smidge?

Thanks again to Lisa for these photos (there are several more wonderful ones on her blog) and Val for the ones I used earlier (she posted some to) and for Trail Rider's (I used his in the beginning) and for everyone's tremendous moral support. Thank you for being part of my journey.

Ride on.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Day Four - 3rd day in the saddle part 2

Thanks again to Val and Trail Rider for the photos in this post.

This will be my final post on the clinic - and I'm leaving so much out, I feel terrible about it. But realistically I only have so much time to write and I'd like to start talking about where we are now, 10 days past the clinic.

Couple quick notes - KK asked about my saddle. Crissie checked it and it fits Smokey fine - although it may not in a few months, she said. It's an old big horn barrel saddle, via ebay. Light, sturdy, leather is not exactly in good shape (not even leather CPR made much of a dent). But the tree is solid and it fits.

I sold my other saddle (sob) at the clinic - to Robin. Her 45 pound roping saddle was hard on her older mare. She moved out much better with mine. Not knowing if it would ever fit Smokey, I couldn't justify keeping it and was relieved to find someone it could make happy. Not to mention that when Robin lifted it, she couldn't believe how light it was and nearly threw it over her horse completely.

Robin is on the right in this photo, and she's in the saddle in this picture.

Smokey and I discussed the options for our last day. To be honest I really didn't have another idea. I'd ask about collection.

I decided to ask largely because of something Mark said to K about her sorrel gelding. He noted that the gelding had underdeveloped hindquarters and riding more collected would help him use his body more effectively.

What could I do, or should I do, to ensure that this didn't happen with Smokey? Mark, gratefully, kept it simple. "Decide where you want his head and keep it there."

"Won't I be in his mouth all the time?" I asked.

"Isn't he in your hands?" her responded.

"Well, it's both, isn't it?"

Mark explained that I have to set the parameters and as long as I was fair and consistent - where he would find relief in carrying his head correctly, then he'd learn to use his body well.

So we got started. I was back to staring at my horse's ears, and quite quickly he was dropping his head and keeping it in the right place at the walk.

We headed out to practice under Crissie's watchful eye (she'd also helped us with standing still when I got in the saddle and our stops).

Pretty soon we were solid at the walk. So we stepped it up to the trot.

All of this was done with reins. Maybe because that's all Mark feels newbies can handle, maybe because he keeps things simple.

By the time we came back up to show Mark, we were cookin'.

The only thing we hadn't worked on at the clinic was cantering, but we'd come so far, it was time to take a collected victory lap and call it done.

So we did. At a trot.

We've had our adventures back home, where Smokey wasn't sure if all that stuff just applied in New Mexico. That first day riding at home we rode into the bushes. But that was the last of it. Smokey get's that this is the new normal. We're back to turning - as requested.

We still have a good bit of work to do to cement the clinic world although most everything is at the place it was when we left (after just a bit of regression).

Mainly we've got some speed issues at the canter - which turned into a gallop today ( more on that later, I'll be looking for advice).

But I'm not worried. I see our work coming together, our understanding growing and my ability to handle what gets thrown in the mix better than ever. I'm becoming the leader that's needed for this horse. I can breathe from my belly, ride with intention, feel my horse and, on occassion, stop with a mere thought.


If you get an opportunity, see Mark in action. Ride one of his clinics. Read any of his books (I have his latest Whole Heart, Whole Horse and got it signed by the clinic participants - it's great). He's not just an amzaing horseman - he's a great teacher, solid guitar player, and someone you'll be glad to share some time with.

(Auditors were invited to demos and dinner, by the way - pretty cool.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Day four - Third day in the saddle part 1

By the end of the afternoon, Smokey and I were turning well and it was taking less and less tilt to get the turn to connect. I was relieved. Already I felt like Smokey was stepping up to these dramatic changes and we were actually moving together as a team with me as the (gasp) leader, not heading off in our own directions.

In fact I wasn't sure if there was much left for me to work on. I felt Smokey had come such a long way I didn't want to overwhelm him. My support crew (Donna and Trail Rider) came up to me, clearly brimming with ideas. I could see that they had that fever in their eyes - auditor fever. The fever that had them thinking of what they'd want to ask if they were in the arena.

Both of them had the same suggestion. Collection.

"Do I even do that at this stage with a baby?" I asked. Heck, I just got my horse to stop and turn. Now we were getting all dressagey all of a sudden. I tried to ignore the panic in my stomach. I wasn't a good enough rider to start trying that!

"It'll be a good question," they said, smiling.

"I'll think about it."


That evening several people gathered for dinner at the home of E & J with Mark and Crissie. You know how you think you like someone who is teaching you, but you wonder if in real life they are really, actually, not so great to be around?

This was not like that. Not at all.

It was a great dinner, Mark played guitar, the group sang along, food was great, we shared stories about our trials on trails. Mark and Crissie were as easy going and accessible just as they were in the arena. I felt I had grown an entire group of friends that night. I didn't want the night to end. Donna and I headed out for the long drive back to the East Mountains, songs still soaring in our heads.

But the many late nights and early mornings caught up with us and we opted to sleep in a bit.

(Thanks to Val at Fantastyk Voyage for these photos)

When we arrived, things were well underway. The palomino was back, still in too much discomfort to do saddle work, but working on ground work.

K was tearing around the barrels in a collected fashion on her sorrel. I wasn't sure exactly what they were working on - I got the idea that it was shoulder control and getting off on the correct lead after the first turn. But there was much cheering going on.

But here's the last team I wanted to talk about. Patricia and her mare.

Patricia had come to the first day of the clinic a big fan of Mark. She didn’t have anything in particular she wanted to work on, but rather was just thrilled to be there. Still, even though she was possibly Mark’s biggest fan, it was ironic that they had the hardest time communicating at first. He was trying to get her to see that her focus was on the things that upset her horse, she was trying to finish telling him about that, he was moving past it and trying to get her to work differently, she was really unable to hear him.

Then, on the last day, it all came together.

One thing Mark says that really resonated with me is that someone has to be the adult. Maybe because this applies to my workplace too (frankly every workplace I’ve ever been in), but I found this to be a nice clear way of summing up all this work and talk about leadership.

Pat’s mare would get worried about something – the fire extinguisher. “It’s like the 500 pound gorilla in the room. You decide you aren’t going to worry about it,” said Mark. “Then you say ‘I’m not worried about that 500 pound gorilla. No, sir, that 500 pound gorilla is no big deal. We are just riding past that 500 pound gorilla. Nothing to be scared of a 500 pound gorilla. Yep. We are not worried about that 500 pound gorilla!’ and pretty soon that the only thing in the room.”

Instead you acknowledge and move past. Oh yeah, I see that, but we are on our way over here, so let’s just get that done.

That’s being the grown up.

But Pat also made a mistake I’ve made on many of my other horses. Not being understanding. It’s as if the pendulum swings in our mind and we decide if we just have them confront the darn thing they will get over it. Well, you don’t get someone over their fear of tarantulas by dumping a bucket of them on their head.

So much of our mistakes with horses, or at least mine, come from seeing the goal and presuming we can get there by merely going from A to B. But for the horse we are really going from A to Q. We either don’t handle the situation in a way that builds confidence (dumping tarantulas on the person’s head while others hold them in place is just force and probably increases fear of the next thing – including those who took this approach in the first place), or we handle it through subtle and ongoing avoidance (can’t go outside because I saw a tarantula there last week and she freaked out, remember?).

Confidence building takes time and patience mixed with firmness and kindness.

On this, the last day of the clinic, things clicked for this team. Mark got Pat to stop over thinking and just DO. She had never cantered on her horse. So he did a game with her, sending her to different areas of the arena. She had to just respond and go. At first they were off at a trot, since that’s generally what she’s asked from her mare, but he pushed them to pick it up an GO.

When it was over, Pat was breathless and beaming. I was beyond thrilled for her. She had gone from being disenchanted the day before to having he entire experience exceed what she thought was possible. In three days they had worked on collection, confidence, and cantering.

And they had been transformed.


I was really looking forward to the afternoon. Especially since Val and Lisa were there to watch and provide moral support.

Lisa, Smokey, me, and Val

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Day three - 2nd day in the saddle

The next morning we arrived early to the arena - an hour and a half early. Donna and Trail Rider and C were going to spend the morning on a trail ride in Santa Fe via Bishop's Lodge and she had to leave early. This meant I had to unload everything I needed for the day in case they didn't get back in time for me to saddle up.

Needless to say, I was thrilled, particularly given that I had a dinner the night before. Have I mentioned that I'm not a morning person?


Anyway, I arrived early, unloaded my tack and hauled it over to the arena. It was plenty cold and both sessions would be held indoors.

I didn't bother picking up anything warm to drink because they had coffee and hot water for tea the day before. So I figured I'd just warm up there.

I helped by watering down the arena, then waited for the hot water to arrive.

It didn't. Turns out their coffee maker had broken and it took two more purchases before the hot water arrived. At 11.

Have I mentioned how fond I am of the cold? Especially when you get cold to your core?

Ahem. Again.

I endeavored to focus and wipe away my childish (sleepy, freezing, crabby) irritation. The morning session was great. I was looking forward to seeing the progress K made with her quarter horse.

K had been doing well with her QH, a handsome sorrel gelding. They worked cattle, did some barrel racing, all kinds of things. But their work together unraveled after she entered him in a match race.

I know nothing about match races, but the horse that entered the arena the first day was a hot mess. I thought MY horse fought the bit. K's hands were full and busy trying to keep her gelding from touching the sky with his nose. (I have some photos of them, but they are MIA. Will post them soon.)

The first day Mark worked on quieting both horse and rider. K was sending so many signals to her horse (who was already out of sorts) that it was making things worse. Mark had her simplifiy. No leg cues. Only one cue - take up slack on the reins and keep the head in place. Slowly, slowly the gelding calmed down. Soon he was dropping his head. The nervous energy drained away and you could almost see their connection rebuilding right before your eyes. Her hands grew quiet. She was a good rider, you could tell, but they had gone down a road of arguing.

It reminded me of the misunderstandings we have at work - someone will have an odd interpretation of someone else's motive, then they react, thinking that person is trying to get around them. That ticks off the first person, whose motives were sincere, but now they are insulted. Pretty soon the entire thing is melting into a mess.

Until someone points out that they both want the same thing - to get along and get the job done.

On this day they began working on collection. The QH had an underdeveloped hindquarter and wasn't using his body well. That made everything he did more difficult. Slowly they worked on collection - first five paces, then seven, then nine. After each set of paces Mark would say "now" and she would give slack on the reins. Quickly the sorrel was catching on. Watching them work was beautiful, a glimpse of dressage. By the third day in saddle they galloped the barrel pattern, collected.

And this from the horse that was touching the sky with his nose.


The next time I came up I said I needed to work on steering. Smokey has the ability to run through his bit, his head turned in, and canter or trot in the opposite direction. Imagine turning your horse to the left, and, with his head still facing left, he actually moves to the right (or straight).

This problem stemmed from all that flexing. The flexing I've seen on countless horsemanship videos (I'm talking to you, Clinton Anderson). Basically Smokey had learned he could move with his neck flexed and now he had hyper flexion in that joint. Fixing it would be a challenge. What I needed to do was activate the next joint down the neck.

The key was to lift the rein on that side (the side where I was turning) so his head would tilt, activating that joint. Then he'd connect his head through his hip and make the turn.

Mark set me up in a sort of cloverleaf (which I never quite got, but that wasn't the real point) and we worked on turns. After half a dozen I started to get the feel of the lift. We did them at a trot - which is where I learned "the rule."

"Do you know the rule?" he asked me as I struggled with my not turning horse.

"Um, the golden rule? The local authority rule?" I said, attempting to be amusing before I ended up in a fence.

"There's one rule. Don't run into me."

"I'm trying."

"It's the rule."

I laughed. I got it. I focused my intent and slowly we got it together. I lifted the rein a bit more, Smokey turned. We are turning. Cue (rein only - no leg). No turn? Then lift, his head tilts, we turn.

Slowly it came together at the trot.

"So," I asked when we stopped for a moment. "Can I really fix this in him? Can he rebuild this connection or is the hyperflexion permanent."

"You can rebuild it. But it'll take work."

We trotted off to the other end of the arena to get to work.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Leftover from Day two - First Day in the Saddle

I can't believe I forgot to talk about the Static Attack!

We'd had our turn and were busy working on our stops when all of a sudden the batteries on Mark's wireless mic went out. For those of you who never have to deal with this, what happens is the speakers are suddenly pouring out very loud static.

Smokey decided this was way too much. First I dragged him into this place with no sky, then he had to do all that grown up horse stopping, with all those people watching, and now the entire world was HISSING!

We surged forward at a somewhat controlled trot around the indoor arena, round and round the other horses. I never tried to stop him completely, but was somewhat dismayed to be on the only horse reacting this way.

But I decided what was best was letting him trot this out as long as he stayed in my control. We were turning well, no bucking, no rearing, but head pretty high. Finally, after four days (okay 2 minutes), Mark SLOWLY put his new batteries in (why no one turned down the volume is beyond me) and the static went away. We came to a halt and I shouted "Thanks a lot!"

There was much relieved laughter. Or was that just me?

Later I asked if I did the right thing by "riding him out" and Mark said that usually that's what he recommends; however since so many of his students these days are backyard horseman they can't always ride things out, especially when it's a much bigger reaction (full gallop, I presume).

I spent a good portion of the next two days praying that he had longer lasting batteries in that mic.