Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Onto Part Two...

This is the next installment in my series of long over-due make up posts about my life and the horses in it. I left off with the end of the Harry clinic, and left a cliff-hanger for those who cared to read to the bottom (I know it was a long post, sorry for my incapability to condense the material). Anyways, strap yourself in for another long, excitement filled post, cuz here goes...
Following the clinic, Terrie and I talked and worked out dates for me to return to her farm to keep working with Sassy and chipping away at the lingering negative thoughts the little mare has. I have since been out 4 times to ride Sassy. Each time I have done groundwork and long lined her first. The long lining really helped her loosen up and relax both her back and her mind, which was a good warm up for the ride. My first visit I did all the prep, hopped on, and walked her for the majority of the ride. Toward the end I asked for a small trot, and by ask I mean crowding her walk persistently until SHE offered a trot. I was given a short, choppy-strided trot with her neck tight and ears back. Following Harry's advice, I didn't direct her much, but asked her to keep trotting in the belief that she would work through it. Eventually she was able to even out into a nicer trot and at that time I called it quits. All in all that day I was happy to have gotten her to trot, and she seemed not to resent it and that's all I was concerned with.
The next three times I rode her was all in this past week. I rode her Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and boy did she do GREAT. Monday we warmed up normal, and I hopped on and walked her out. When I crowded her for the trot, she easily fell into it, and for the first time EVER she actually blew out and put her head down as she was trotting. This was huge. She released a great deal while carrying a consistently paced trot. I crowded her a bit more a couple of times and she was able to give me a bigger trot without any ugly attitude. I was SUPER pleased.
Wednesday I returned to the farm to find Sassy happy and eager to go. I had been checking her back before and after each ride and not once could I find any pain. I took her to the arena, warmed her up like normal, and climbed aboard. We went through the things we had been working on such as the nice forward, low-headed walk, and the forward, but calm trot that we had gotten on Monday. She offered both pretty quickly after I asked, and she was just feeling really good. Around one corner I squeezed her up a little bit while she was trotting, and low and behold, she cantered! She cantered a couple strides, then came back down. I took her around at the trot and asked for the hurry again and she picked the canter up beautifully again. She held it down the long stretch for about 10-12 strides, and I asked her back down into a trot (to avoid her tendency to just STOP) and she gave me a lovely transition. Obviously, I was over the moon at this point by the fact that we had just cantered for the first time in four years.
I let her soak on that for a good long while, and then I asked her to move out in the other direction. She went willingly and as soon as her trot evened out and she dropped her head and relaxed, I asked her up into that canter just as easy as can be. We stopped there, rode back up to the barn, and called it a day.
Friday I went out and immediately checked her back. Terrie had told me she'd been sore the day before, but she appeared to be completely sore-free. I proceeded to tack her up, worked her in the round pen at liberty some, long lined her, even over some jumps, and then mounted up. I walked her, trotter her, and got her up to a canter which she carried for an entire circuit around the arena. She amazed me, so I stopped againon that good note and brought her back up to the barn.
Sassy has most certainly amazed me recently, and I am VERY happy about the progress she has made. However, I am fully aware that she is still her unpredictable self, and I know that there are probably some not-so-great rides in our future as well. For the mean time though, I am trying to consistently go out to Terrie's and work with her. I truly believe the consistency of last week helped her immensely, and I hope to continue to grow on the great stuff that was planted last week...

Next time I will fill all of you readers in on the new horse who has entered my life, also about my new job, along with some college updates! Until then!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Three Months Worth of Material

I come bearing good news and bad news. The bad news is that I have completely failed myself and all of my readers for not having posted for several months. I wish I had a better, more creative excuse for this, but truthfully the only thing I can say is that I have been SO BUSY. Which leads me to the good news: despite my lack of updates on this blog, I have indeed been playing with, riding, and submersing myself in horses more now than ever. My life has been so exciting and there are so many things I must fill you in on!
First and foremost is what I refer to as the Sassy Saga. I had mentioned in a previous post that I was planning on taking Sassy to the Harry Whitney clinic in Floyd this year, and many will be happy to know this did in fact happen. Prior to the clinic I played with her three times out at Terrie's farm, and our sessions for the most part went surprisingly well. I truly had NO idea what to expect, what side of Sassy was going to show up, or how she was going to react, but I rode her three times and overall she handled it well. The main idea behind doing this was to reacquaint myself with Miss Sass so that I would not arrive at the clinic having not worked with this horse for two years. On my second ride on her at Terrie's she did twist around a bit, get a little snarly, and I did come off of her, but it was nothing serious, just Sassy reminding me that she is far from "fixed".
So clinic time rolled around and needless to say I learned a LOT at that clinic. It was the week of the 24th of September until the 30th, and it proved to be six days of intense horsemanship. The first day we worked on the ground in the round pen, and after a while Harry came in and worked with her. She was getting very snarly when he went to direct her from the saddle area, and when he began to rub her side and back, she began to buck and pin her ears. He held in there and kept on rubbing until she was able to accept it, then he backed off and went on his merry way. The big thing I realized from their time together is that I can't let her dwell on those negative feelings for long. I have to get in there, get it done, and move on. I can't nag her because that's when her resentment kicks in. I have to git 'er done, not make a big deal about it, then she'll feel better about it. It's all about CLARITY.
The second day we had to work around the weather, so the first part of our session was in the barn during a downpour of rain outside. This day was monumental... Harry + Sassy + Stall. For those of you who are not aware of the history with Sassy and stalls, the story went like so...
4 years ago, a couple of months after we bought Sassy and Charlotte, we decided to leave Sassy in a stall while we took Charlotte down the road to ride her. When we returned, Sassy was in a deep sweat and clearly very nervous. We called a horse friend of ours who told us she would get over it and calm down if we just close the top half of the stall door. BAD IDEA. The second the top half was latched, she began to run in circles around the stall and go nothing short of bazerk. We immediately reopened the top half, and went to get a lead rope when she decided she needed to get out of there NOW. She proceeded to jump over the four-foot high door and out of the stall. The only obvious physical consequence at the time was a big long gash on her back left leg, but it soon became clear she had really hurt her back in this accident as well. Therefore, after that she was never consistently ride-able because she was either in pain from her back or mentally unsound to ride.
With all that said, we have since that accident, not really had the opportunity to work through any stall issues Sassy has. I saw this as a perfect scenario in which to do that. I led Sassy into the stall, and right away she became very nervous. I asked her to go in and out of the stall until she was able to go in more calmly and feel better about it. I then handed her to Harry. He took her halter off and got a flag from the nearby tack room. He explained to me that if she began to get nervous, anxious, or try to get out of the stall in any fashion, he was going to make a huge commotion. After asking why, he told me it was because if she started to feel all these emotions, it was because her mind was leaving the stall. If she began to attempt to jump out, it would be to follow her mind which had already left the stall. Therefore, he would whack the flag on the side of the stall or make some other kind of noise to bring her back to the stall mentally.
He had to make several commotions, and in total Sassy tried to jump out a couple of times; but, Harry caught it early and brought her thoughts back to the stall. She began to relax, blow out, and lick and chew quite a bit. She eventually got to the point where we could all leave and she was able to stay calm and not get emotional at all. We moved her to a stall closer to all the other horses, and we decided to test it by leaving her in there over lunch. I came back from lunch to find a calm. happy Sassy munching on hay next to her buddy Niji (Tom Moate's horse).
Later that afternoon I was able to ride her and as soon as I got on and asked her forward, she cow-kicked and pinned her ears. When I unstuck her, she walked a few steps then stopped dead. Harry and Ronnie told me to completely loosen my rein and focus on doing as little as possible to get her to walk. Once she began to walk I was to leave her alone completely with my reins, and focus solely on being fluid and moving my body with hers and she walked. We were in the round pen, and I allowed her to walk wherever she wanted; Harry told me we were only concerned with the fact that she was walking out. She began to shake her head so much to the point I thought she was reacting to something with the bridle, but Harry pointed out he thought she was just releasing emotions. She had a big lick and chew and let down a lot by blowing through her nose quite a few times. She broke into the trot a couple of times, and when she did I'd let her go there for a minute, then gently bring her back down without being harsh on her mouth or criticizing her.
Harry said she needed a lot of non-demanding rides on her, meaning rides in which she learns its alright to just go forward and not worry about someone pulling on her mouth. She had a big breakthrough this ride and I know she left feeling a lot better about things than she did when she came to that round pen.
The next day the lesson consisted of basically the same thing, except we did it at a trot. I trotted her around in the round pen some, and though she was going around with her head up and tight, she was going and that's all we were focusing on. We couldn't force her to relax her carriage, and Harry said that was something that would come in time when she began to truly feel better and trust that I wont pull on her.
The fourth day of the clinic, Sassy reacted very negatively when I saddled her, and after having Harry look at her we determined her back was very sore. The saddle I was riding her in didn't fit her well, and that combined with all the riding we had been doing and her initial back problems from the accident caused her to be very sore and un-rideable. I got some good stuff going on the ground with her, then put her back in her stall.
Tom Moate's gave me permission to work with Niji, his little pony he brought who ended up not being ridden by anyone. So I saddled him up, played with him on the ground, and hopped on. He was a fun little pony, and I enjoyed riding him and working through some stuff with him. His big "thing" was crookedness and lack of focus. He was very aware of where the gate was, and was always pulling toward it by falling in on that shoulder towards it and at one point he even bluntly just took off with me toward it. I held on and got control back, but I can officially join the "Been Ran Off With Niji" Club that has been famously written about in Tom's works.
The final day of the clinic we checked Sassy;s back again and she was still sore. This was the day my family was going to come and watch me ride, so I had to call them to tell them not to because Sassy was still un-rideable.
Instead, Tom offered to let me ride Jubal, his big, lofty Quarter Horse Harry worked with all Summer. He was quite fun and I thoroughly enjoyed the little ride a had on him. He was very sensitive, so it was a really neat experience. Tom then asked if I'd like to ride his other Quarter Horse Festus, to which I said of course! He was fun as well, and I am now able to say I have ridden all three of Tom Moate's steeds.
Later that afternoon I brought Sassy up to the arena for some ground work. I wanted to long line her, so I saddled her up, and after working through some stuff that showed up when I circled her, I snapped on the long lines.
Long lining Sassy was probably the most fun I had all week. She picked up on it like a pro and before long we were trotting figure 8's, cantering circles both ways, and getting really nice, connected, precise transitions. She felt GOOD. Harry checked her back following the 30 minutes we long lined and he said her back was not nearly as tight or reactive as it was that morning. He gave me permission to get on her and we ended up riding for about 20 minutes. She got a little snarly, but I just worked her through it and didn't let her dwell on those thoughts. She was able to trot for a good portion of time, and we ended on that note.

All in all the clinic was a great learning experience for both me and Sassy. I went into it with the notion that we could fix all her problems and she could come home, live with me, and be my next project horse. However, when she developed her soreness half way through the week, it was like Deja Vu back to when Mom and I spent two years trying to work with her through her pain and mental discomfort. It was a roller coaster, and we were never able to get her in a dependable place where she consistently felt good about what was going on. Sassy is back on Terrie's farm, however I have been working with her quite a bit since the clinic. However, all those stories are for the next post...