Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lessons Learned from a Narrow-Minded, Opinionated Cowboy

As some of you may know, I recently attended the annual Harry Whitney clinic down in Rogersville, TN, and as usual, my mind was blown countless times that week. I took Stormy and my mom took her mare, Charlotte. Stormy's biggest "issue" going into the clinic was her crookedness and that was what I wanted to address first and foremost. As a secondary problem, I wanted to address her lateral movement (such as leg yielding) because whenever I asked, she would brace against the bit, throw her head around, and grind her teeth. Of course, Harry pointed out that these two behaviors were related. He said that the crookedness I felt was due to the fact that her mind was EVERYWHERE else but here. And, whenever I picked up a rein to slow her or move her sideways, she had yet to let go of those other thoughts, so she tried pushing the bit out of her way. This, coupled with the fact that she hadn't been given much clarity to what the reins meant in the past, made leg yielding, and even just backing up, very confusing and difficult for her.
All week we worked on getting straight. Making a plan, and GOING with it. She is a very quick learner and strives so hard to please, so it didn't take long before she was carrying herself straight and letting go of those stray thoughts. She also learned pretty quick that the reins MEAN SOMETHING. When I pick up a rein to turn, she needs to wholly turn her body and her mind around that bend, not just check out mentally and drop her shoulder into the inside of the turn. By the end of the week she was thinking around those corners and bends with impulsion, understanding, and interest. Her back ups became much softer, and she began listening to my seat as well.
The first time I asked her for a leg yield that week, she responded by leeeeaning against that bit like no other. Harry called, "Get in there and bring some clarity to that for her! Don't let her lean against you like that!" So, I abandoned asking for that leg yield, and just asked her to back up and away from that pressure on the bit. Once she understood that, I asked for the leg yield. Again, she leaned. I got in there stronger with my hands asking for a back up until she dropped her head and softened up. I put myself in the position to ask for a leg yield, and when she felt the pressure from those reins, she understood their meaning and stepped over simply and softly. I released the reins and we walked off.
This goes to show that ever-repeated lesson of, it's not about the ________. In this case, it wasn't about the leg yield; it was about bringing an understanding about those reins to her. Once she had that, it was easy as pie for her to step over in that leg yield.
Now granted, this is not to say that every time I asked for that leg yield she gave it to me that easy. In fact, the last day of the clinic she seemed to have reverted back to her old habits of pushing through the bit, being stiff, and losing her focus easily. Harry helped me get her back on track, but it was frustrating to have done so well all week just to have those tendencies pop back up. But I was reminded that these animals aren't perfect, and we can't expect they change and never go back. Those habits were so engrained in her.
All in all, I was very proud of our work at that clinic, and even prouder of the work we've done since our return home. The first time I rode her, she was immediately motivated, energetic, and SOFT. She has continued to improve, and I couldn't be happier with my girl. My thanks is extended endlessly to that narrow-minded and opinionated cowboy, Harry Whitney.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Clinic Updates

Hey all, as promised, this next post is about clinics I have and will soon be attending. The first, the JP Giacomini clinic I attended last weekend.
I traveled down to Bulls Gap, Tennessee (my first solo road trip!) on Friday the 6th of May. I stayed at the nearby Mendin' Fences bunkhouse while the clinic was held at my friend Maria's farm. It lasted through Monday, and I learned a lot from Mr. Giacomini. He is a french classical dressage rider who has an unbelievable understanding of the horse's movement, and he knows how to relax a horse so as to calmly obtain high end dressage movements without force. I would consider his nitch to be his endotapping technique. He has specially designed sticks, similar in size to a dressage whip, with a rubber ball on the end. By rhythmically tapping a horse with this stick, the horse releases endorphins and their natural response is to lower their head and relax. Though you may have to help condition this response in your horse, this technique proved to be quite valuable with several of the horses at the clinic. This stick allows for you to ask your horse to relax at any time, but particularly when you are riding.
JP was able to get nice changes in all the horses he worked at the clinic, and showed that teaching your horse a leg yield, side pass, or collection did not have to be force and fear based. He amazed me with his timing and feel of and for the horse, and I would recommend him to those interested in doing dressage in a more natural way.
Here are some of the notes I took while at his clinic:

* Transitions and turns help slow down and organize a horse’s gait
* Changing the size of a circle changes carriage of weight on the horse’s different legs. You get the effect of changing the direction of the circle without actually changing.
* Change sides often... it promotes learning.
* Lateral flexion MUST be present for vertical flexion to occur. 
* On a left bend - withers tilt to the right; On a right bend - withers tilt to the left; vertical movement - withers stay straight.
* If there is difficulty with flexion... tap!
* You should push forward when you encounter any stiffness.
* The more transitions you do, the more progress you make.
* If a horse is in side reins, it is their job to release the pressure, not yours. 
* The flexion of a horse creates impulsion because it frees up the hind end. 
* When you ask for a canter, NEVER ask when the horse is falling out of a circle; push the horse towards something so she can “bounce off it” and pick it up straight.
* Draw reins used properly help you obtain flexion.
* To stop rearing, you may use draw reins to get good, bended circles and to get the forward impulsion created from the flexion.
* When a horse rears, address the back end... if the hind end is moving, the front hand has to be on the ground.
* On a lunge circle, its important to get the inside hind foot to step OUT and UNDER
* If a horse starts pulling away, unload the inside shoulder (pull them towards you).
* A horse must understand the push forward of lungeing without leaving you or evading the pressure.
* Prevent the evasion.
* When circling a horse, getting the inside hock to flex is crucial. 
* With your own speed and skill, make a dent in the big picture (or tree trunk, in analogy). 
*More energy for a flighty horse (like Jeanine) equals more tension.
* When your horse is afraid of a scary object, take his croup, then body, then face to the object... I.E. shoulder in. By doing this you give the horse the feeling he is able to leave. 
* If a rider is leaning in to one direction, drop that side’s stirrup to discourage the dependance on that stirrup. 
* Position for a shoulder in = outside ear above outside foot, every part of your body facing the inside of the ring, eyes looking straight down the ring in the direction you’re going, and hands cross over the neck to position the shoulders toward the inside. 
* Draw reins prevent the evasion of the horse lifting it’s head too high.
* When sitting the trot, open your knees so you sit underneath yourself rather than behind yourself.
* Tapping the inside hind leg when the inside front leg hits the ground encourages the horse to stay on the diagonal.
* Always use the right leverage to prevent the evasion and fix the problem at hand.
* When the horse turns its head away from you, thats half a release, compared to putting its head all the way down. So reward that release!
* Your body should be in agreements with your horse’s body, but your gaze should be in agreement with your direction. 

This coming Sunday Mom and I are packing up to head out to Rogersville, TN for our annual Harry Whitney clinic at Mendin' Fences Farm! I can't believe summer has already rolled around again, but I can't wait for this coming week and for Harry to finally meet my Stormy! The most important thing I'd like to address at the clinic is her crookedness in her gait. Outside of that, I'd like to know how to collect her without her getting worried (she begins grinding the bit and throwing her head around), and also what to do when she begins cross-cantering. I have a big ol' list, I know, but the most important thing is for her to settle in next week so we can start learning! I'll keep everyone updated, and surely there'll be a big long post when I return! Until Next time!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Spring Fever

Hello all who still bother to come and read this neglected blog! I have allowed many things to come between me and maintaining this blog, and for that I apologize. I have been nothing but busy for the past several months, but the most important thing is that I am here today to update you all!
All of the ponies are doing swell. They are all shaping up nicely, shedding their winter coat, and putting some muscle back on from the exercise they have been getting.
I have begun giving riding lessons, and Woody has been deemed the residential lesson pony. He is taking his new job in stride and helping two women, so far, better understand and communicate with stubborn, hard headed ponies like himself. He's been a doll for these ladies though, and they've really enjoyed their weekly lessons. On top of being a school pony, Woody has been learning more and more about collection and using his body properly whilst being ridden. More to come on that later.

Charlotte is back in work and being ridden at least once a week by my mom. She's been being ridden for the past two months, and so far, there is absolutely no sign of her lameness. At this time, Mom is planning on taking her to the Harry Whitney clinic at the end of the month. Fingers crossed she stays sound!
Teddy has turned into a little work pony as well! Last month I was working with him quite often with getting him used to a saddle, bridle, and bit. That's right. My little Teddy is turning into a riding pony. He is a large sized mini, and I'd love to be able to give lessons to some kids around here on him. It is a slow process, but so far he has accepted everything quite well, and even allowed my brother to sit on him while I lead  them around. We still have a lot of work to do, but this little one has a promising future.
And last, but most certainly not least, is my girl Stormy. Stormy has continued to settle in quite nicely, and is really finding her stride on our farm. I've been riding her a great deal, and though there are still some things I need help on, we have been able to chip away at a lot of her issues under saddle. She is now able to take a 2'6" jump calmly without rushing and galloping afterwards, and she picks up upward transitions easily and calmly now. We have done a lot of trail riding with Mom on both Woody and Charlotte, and she LOVES when I take her galloping in our hay field. All in all, she is making huge changes in her mentality and work ethic. She is simply an amazing horse.

Now that I have filled you in on all the equines featured on this blog, I'll let you know what's going on in my own life!

I have recently made some big decisions regarding the direction of my life, and I am VERY pleased to inform all interested that I am going to be an incoming freshman in the fall of 2011 at Bridgewater College. I had my heart set on VT once I was accepted, but after visiting Bridgewater as a formality... I changed my mind. Bridgewater College is located in the small town of Bridgwater, VA, right next to Harrisonburg. There is a total of 1700 students, and the campus is small, intimate, friendly, and VERY horse focused. They have a beautiful barn and facilities, and they also offer a large minor in Equine Studies. I am going to be a business administration major with a minor in equine studies. I also am going to take two lessons a week at the Bridgewater barn, however I will be leaving Miss Stormy at home for now.

Because of her condition, it is recommended she have maximum pasture turnout, with very little stall confinement. At the BC barn, stall time is required, and the boarding fee is outrageous anyways. Until we can find a better situation, Stormy will be staying home to take it easy with her friends, and I will be coming in on the weekends to give lessons and ride her.
I am very excited for what this fall has to offer, and I am really pleased and content with the decision I have made.

Up Next : Notes from a JP Giacomini Clinic and more details about the Harry Whitney clinic coming soon!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Settling Stormy

Originally when I officially bought Stormy, the plan was to keep her at Terrie's until the 20th of December, at which point we would bring her home. This was because both our family and Terrie's family were busy until that time. I boarded her at Terrie's, but when the 20th rolled around, both farms had been faced with a snow storm and we weren't able to venture out to trailer her over. We ended up having to wait until the 22nd to go out to Riner, but once we did, she loaded and traveled like a champ.
Upon her arrival, Woody, Teddy, and Charlotte were gathered at the fence, waiting to see what the latest trailer excursion had brought back to their farm. After unloading just as well, she spent couple minutes surveying her surroundings before we brought her into the rest of the herd. There was still melting snow on the ground, so it was very slick out, but thankfully the horses didn't feel the need to run around a whole lot. She settled into the new herd quickly, and the only disturbance was with Charlotte trying to figure out pecking order.
Come next morning, Stormy was even more relaxed in her new environment, so I ended up taking her for a walk down our driveway and in our hayfield. She was in tune with me the whole time, and didn't seem worried about being away from her new friends. When we got back to the field I hopped on her bareback and rode her around some in the field, and besides being a little pushy through the halter (I rode her in a halter rather than her bridle), she handled that well too.
I rode her again a couple days later bareback, and we ended up venturing our into the world outside the fence. I rode her down the driveway some, along with in our yard a bit. She did well again,  but she did seem more distracted than in her previous ride.
This past Saturday, Mom and I both went out to ride, and boy was that fun! We tacked up Stormy and Woody, mounted up, and headed out. We went down the driveway, back through the hay field, and as we were trotting around the hay field Mom spurted out the idea to cross the parkway and hit the trails. Of course, Stormy and I were game.
We went down this back road which led to our neighbor's farm who also occasionally rides with us. We rode down her lane, and after Storm and Woody calmed down from showing off to Lisa's horses in the pasture, we turned around and headed back. On the way back, Mom and I both had a nice canter on the horses up the road, except Woody got a little carried away as he usually does. Mom handled him well though and he recovered and we continued on our journey.
We headed back to the barn afterwards, but we both had a great time on that ride, and I believe the horses enjoyed it just as much as we did.
Sunday afternoon I went out again on Stormy, and Mom took Charlotte out on a walk with us. Charlotte has been on field rest for a couple months and hadn't been out, so I know she was happy to get out and see the world. Stormy and I walked, trotted, and cantered in our hay field, which was really fun. We rode down by the pond some, too, which she wasn't too concerned with.
Overall, Stormy has settled in remarkably quickly, and she is already venturing out on daily adventures! She and I have a bright future ahead of us, and I can't wait to spend more time with her!