Monday, June 29, 2009

The Heat Is On

It finally got hot here. It's supposed to be 108 today. Friday was very warm as well and we managed to get a ride in after work. We went out about 6:30 pm and did a lot of trotting and some loping. Out among the irrigated corn and cotton fields there was a breeze and it felt a lot cooler.

Saturday we stayed out back in the evening and did some more of the clinic exercises. The girls seem to be getting into riding back there. For the longest time they would look at me doing the CA exercise and then just go out and ride. Now they are setting up the cones and the rails. They each have their own special exercises they like doing and both of them are gaining a lot more confidence. The horses are getting better too. I think they like being out there together.

Sunday was just too hot. We missed our opportunity in the morning and decided to go to the movies and soak up their air conditioning. Ranae had to be at work early this am so I got up with her and rode Jessie out back for about forty five minutes. We started off with the small circles and then did about fifteen minutes of loping circles. She was fighting me with both direction and speed so I just kept her going. I was wearing spurs and it was helping me guide her, but I just don't feel comfortable wearing them (yeah, I know I shouldn't). When we stopped in the center to take a break I took them off and we did the other direction without them. I wanted to see if they made a difference. It wasn't substantial. She did maintain her gait much better in that direction. To cool off we worked on yielding forequarters and the beginning of the spin. I was able to get a good step in each direction.

It was only 7am but I was pretty hot and so was she, so I hosed her off and let her stand awhile before giving her breakfast and heading off to work.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Weekend

Friday evening was pretty warm. We had plans to ride and by the time we got home and all our stuff done it was 6:45pm. When Ranae asked if I wanted to go for a ride I said how about we go for a "sit". Craig Cameron is always saying, "They call it riding, not sittin'", well, sometimes it's just nice to go out without anything in mind but to enjoy the evening. We meandered down the canal and back on a nice 45 min. ride. Someone had abandoned a 3 week old kitten by the canal, so we took it home and gave it a bath, food and water.

Saturday was much cooler and we got to ride around 4 pm. The route we wanted to go took us out through a little arena where the "charros" spend Saturday afternoon doing their cow bulldogging. That's where they ride down a fence line, reach down grab the cow's tail and flip the cow down. Don't see much sport in that, but they find it quite enjoyable and they didn't mind us watching for a bit.

We headed out toward the city farm and got in a couple of good long trots and a number of lopes in using the roads between the crop fields. We rode for a little more than 2 hours. We were getting pretty good at trotting side-by-side, but when we wanted to lope it turned into a race. We still need more work at that.

Sunday morning we set up the cones and rails. We essentially had three stations and Susan joined us as we practiced things from the clinic. We set up a set of cones Craig Cameron likes to set up and you do a circle around then you go in one set, through the middle and turn the other way going out. We did it at a trot, then we did it at a lope. It really helps get the steering working well. I was incorporating the hand and leg positions Matt taught us and Jessie did very well. We dropped to a trot to change leads. Here's a crude drawing of how we set up the cones:

We also worked on side-passing and backing up. I put my spurs on for this session and Jessie was more responsive. After about an hour it was time to put the horses up and head out to spend the afternoon with my oldest brother and my Dad. It was a fun weekend.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Matt Sheridan - The Final Day

As tired as I was from Saturday's riding I found myself awake at 3 in the morning mentally reviewing the stuff we had done. Thankfully, it didn't take long and I fell right back to sleep. We got to the ranch a little after 7 and fed and mucked the pens. The pens were small, maybe 14x14, but Jessie made it her home. It looked like she had laid down. She had cleaned up her alfalfa (we had fed extra) and she was drinking water.

It was another beautiful morning in Tehachapi, little warmer than Saturday and a perfect day for riding. Although I've lived in Bakersfield most of my life, I never really explored much of Tehachapi. The rolling hills offer scenic beauty and the higher elevation keeps the temperatures cooler than the valley floor. This is really beautiful country and it's only an hour away.

After taking care of the horses we hooked up the trailer so it would be ready to go at the end of the day, and had breakfast. Matt held a Cowboy Church session after breakfast and then it was off to the arena.

We spent some time reviewing positions #1, #2, and #3. Then we learned #4 which is a pivot on the haunches. Jessie was getting the hang of most of this as my timing and touch got more consistent. It is still not automatic as far as my hand and leg positions go. (We went out Tuesday night to review and work on them and we all had to help each other to get them right. Good thing there were three of us there.) I may try using my spurs this weekend to see if I get a better response to some of my leg cues.

Matt set up three rails on the ground about 2 ½’ - 3’ apart and we did some trot-overs. Jessie was rushing a bit so he suggested I collect her before she got to the poles and that helped. In the trail classes you get deductions for the horse "ticking" the poles so it is important they pick their feet up.. He moved the poles to about 6’ apart and removed one and we did the same exercise at a lope. This was the first time I had loped Jessie all weekend and she felt really good. Her speed was nice (Matt said this would help her speed control), she was still a little “leany” in the corners (a chronic problem), and she took the rails pretty well. I would have liked to try it in the other direction, but I was happy with this.

Ranae got to work the gate and Dusty did okay. It’s hard opening a gate correctly. I think I have most of this on video but the audio is terrible and it takes Ranae a bit of time to get through it all. ;>)

We worked in the trail course for awhile. He put as much water in the water obstacle as he could and we all went through it. The horses had given up their union card by this time.

Then it was time for….more food! Matt had a trail ride scheduled for the afternoon. It was a great way to counter-balance the teaching and intensity of the arena. He was going to take us to a place he called the “moon rock”. We tacked up around 2pm and headed out through the trails of Matt’s ranch. Jessie had an “all hands on deck” attitude as we winded through the sagebrush and junipers. The wind was blowing and she could feel monsters around every corner. I picked up on her face a couple of times to slow her down and that seemed to help.

Matt and Renee (with an 'E') Take the Lead

Susan, Melanie, and Ranae Against the Tehachapi Mountains

We worked our way through a few small hills. Jessie was walking out at a pretty good pace. We got past all the houses and there was a steep hill. Matt had said it would get rocky in places. Jessie is barefoot, but she has good strong feet and I hoped they would stand up to this trail. The first uphill pull was tough. Jessie wanted to race up it and, as Matt explained it, she was trying to pull herself up the hill with her front end instead of pushing up with her hind end. Again, bridling her up slowed her down, helped get her back end under her, and the exertion of the climb quieted her mind.

When we "trail ride" at home it is most often along a road next to a canal or field crop or a trail along the river. There’s not a lot of up-and-down or off-roading. It's all flat. So, when we got to the remnants of an old mine and Matt said “There is an abandoned well over here. Let’s go look at it” and he veered off the side of the hill through the brush, I have to say my eyes got kind of big.

“Where in the H-E-double hockey sticks is he taking us?” was my first reaction. Then I remembered all the experiences and the places he had ridden and thought “Now this WAS the way to go on a trail ride”. Let the horses handle the uneven terrain. There is also a trust when I’m with a teacher that he's not going to ask us to do something he hasn't done before. Matt instills that kind of confidence.

A View From the Top

Susan, Matt, and Melanie
On Charlie, Mocha, & Cindy

We explored the well, which was dry (there’s a drought in California) and headed on back up to the trail and up the mountain. The temperatures were perfect, but the wind was blowing pretty hard in spots. My hat blew off even though it was scrunched down on my head. We started at an elevation of around 4,000 feet and at the highest point we reached 5,077 feet. (Renee had a GPS unit on her wrist.) We ascended a couple of more steep inclines with intermittent breaks for the horses to catch their breath. The horses were handling the elevation pretty good. No one was in any distress or even breathing hard. The views were beautiful. Matt mentioned that there were bears in the area, but we only saw a few rabbits and a horny toad. We took this picture up at the top.

Moon Rock
The picture doesn't do it justice.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

Traveling back down hill was uneventful. Jessie negotiated the trail and the rocks. She wasn't rushing down any of them and she wasn't crowding any of the other horses. Her feet were a chipped in a few places. I filed off the rough spots when we got back to Bakersfield and she was a little tender on her feet for a few days, but she is back to normal now. It was a two and a half hour trail ride and a perfect way to end the weekend.

I had mentioned to Matt that Jessie pulled back when she was in the front position of the trailer. In the back position she is okay, but in the front position she just can not wait to get out of the trailer. He said he would help and asked me to show him what was going on. With everyone standing around watching, when I asked Jessie to get in she just got up in my space. Matt took over and showed me a more effective way to “ask” and then, once in the trailer, how to keep her nose in the corner while I moved the slant or did whatever I needed to do. When we got home she thought about rushing out, but I got her to put her nose in the corner and when she relaxed, she quietly backed “straight” out of the trailer.

Matt does four clinics a year at his ranch. He is available for clinics in other areas and I think he said that all he needs is 10 people at $225 a head and an arena to work in. This clinic was $300 and all three of us from Bakersfield thought it was worth every penny. Matt is quite likeable and very entertaining, but the thing I like the most was his willingness to share his knowledge. He tells you specifically what to do, how to do it, and stays on you until you get it. He reads a horse (and probably rider too) extremely well and really should have people beating down his doors to get in one of his clinics. (They may be. With the limited number of students he takes, he could be full up). The hospitality and family atmosphere made me feel like I was going to a cousin’s house for a weekend. He also gives lessons which I think we are going to try and take advantage of if time is available this summer.

If you would like to learn more about Matt Sheridan, visit the Matt Sheridan website here.

Thanks Matt. Thanks Jennifer.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Matt Sheridan Clinic - Saturday

About 3:30 in the morning I woke up. I couldn't go back to sleep. I was going over the exercises in my head and reviewing yesterday afternoon's session. I had come to the clinic basically because Ranae had gotten it as an anniversary present. From my perspective Jessie and I were having a good ol' time working the the Downunder DVD's and trail riding. I hadn't really thought I was stuck in a rut, but maybe I was. One of the things Downunder teaches is "exaggerate the teach and refine as you go" and I came to the realization that I wasn't really refining anything. Slowly I came to the conclusion that a) I was not asking enough of her and b) I was not asking enough of myself in helping her to progress.

Now in fairness to me, I just don't know how much a horse can really do. Even though I watch a lot of good riders, I never thought the stuff they do was within our grasp. I mean, I can watch Tiger Woods shape a ball around a tree, negotiate a bunker, and land on the green, but all I'll be able to do is take aim and hope the ball goes straight (and that is not usually enough to make it go straight). Anyway, thoughts about where my horsemanship needed to go rattled around in my head until I fell back asleep.

We got to Matt's place around 7:30 am and fed the horses and mucked their stalls before having breakfast. It was in the 60's and a little breezy. Perfect weather for riding. Matt setup some cones and laid some posts down and we reviewed a bit from yesterday, then worked on weaving the cones at a walk and trot. We then worked on backing through the cones which were set up in a straight line and we had to weave between them.

Matt's very experienced in trail classes and I gathered he judged many of them. Melanie and Renee show in those classes so a lot of what he was teaching us was how to approach the obstacles as if we were doing a class. It's very exacting and we moved through the obstacles one step at a time. This was very helpful in helping me consciously direct Jessie's body parts.

We side-passed over a rail set up in a "V" pattern and he gave us some tips on how to approach and where to put our horse so we could negotiate the angle without ticking the rail.

Next was the tire drag. He showed us how to introduce the tire to our horses and then we each got to drag the tire around the arena which was great fun. He also had a couple of us track the tire (like tracking a cow) as he dragged it around and we were trying to get Jessie to rate her speed to his changing speed. She actually stepped in the tire and it tripped her up. I have a lot of confidence in her ability to keep her balance based on some of the stuff she's encountered out on the trail so this didn't worry me. When we approached the tire again she was much more careful about the speed changes.

He then introduced a 40" ball and we took turns getting to push that around. Everybody did pretty good at that. He showed us some roping tips and then it was time for lunch.

After lunch Matt brought out a bunch of different bits and bridles and gave us his philosophy on the various pieces of hardware. This kind of stuff is still like reading Chinese to me, but I'm sure it will start to gel somewhere down the road. Matt says he likes to progress from the snaffle to a Billy Allen bit. We may give that a try.

Water Obstacle

Walk Over Around a Corner

Wooden Bridge

After lunch we went outside the arena in a trail/obstacle course he had set up. He had a water hole (still a work in progress, but more than adequate), a wood bridge, some rails on the ground in a quarter circle, a ditch, another step over obstacle, and a "U" shaped backup. There were a couple of obstacles in there we didn't use like a cavaletti(?sp), and an elevated step over. We worked each of these for most of the afternoon and then we went back in the arena to play some horse soccer.

Horse soccer was pretty crazy. Renee with her half Arab was right in there getting after the ball. Her horse was pretty dominant and Jessie was a bit intimidated but, I kept her in there and she held up fairly well. I was yanking on her mouth pretty good though and felt bad about it afterwords. Matt said horses generally forgive you for tugging on them if you have a purpose or a job and chasing the ball was the "job".

I think we played for about 40 minutes or so and then it was time to put the horses up and have dinner. One of the things that was nice about the clinic is that Matt had a little 3"x5" piece of paper with about 10 things he wanted to get done. We worked our way through them, but if someone had a problem or got stuck somewhere we just stopped and fixed it. It was low key yet we still covered quite a lot.

I think it was after lunch that Ranae had mentioned the Julie Goodnight program and the stuff Dusty pulls one her. Matt asked if he still did it and Ranae said yes. After a little discussion Matt asked if he could see what she was talking about. This problem has haunted Ranae for quite some time and she'll try anything to fix it, so she got Dusty going in a circle and, sure enough he started to act up. I was in the middle of the arena and Ranae and Matt were on the near side where the "cutting dummy" is setup. Now all this happens in about twenty seconds, if that. Dusty starts humping up and it throws Ranae off balance. I've seen this before. Matt is about 20 feet away and I'm about double that. I see Ranae fumble for the reins. I wonder if Matt has a way to help her out. I know Dusty will likely go until he dumps her (like I said, I've seen this before). I see Ranae grab both reins and I know her brain has stopped. I yell, "ONE REIN! ONE REIN!" It's enough for her to gain control and then Matt was right there to keep them working and really make Dusty work for trying to dump her.

Matt has a different take on the one-rein stop and he had explained earlier in the day some of his reasons why he doesn't like to use it. I got teased a little bit for yelling "one-rein", but 28 years of marriage tells me when she needs a little help and it got the job done.

After a great dinner we got to watch Matt's acting chops as an extra in the TV movie, Deadman's Revenge, staring, in his comeback role, Bruce Dern. Matt had a lot of great stories about the actors and life on the set. I think it was about 10 pm when we finally got back to the hotel. We jotted down a few notes, took a shower and went to bed.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Feed the Body - Feed the Brain

If you want to improve your horsemanship, go to a Matt Sheridan clinic. Don't go because of the food. No one would blame you if you did, but at least pretend your "real" purpose is to improve your horsemanship. Matt and his wife Jennifer took great care of us. We got dinner Friday night (Morrocan Chicken and cous cous), breakfast, lunch, and dinner (Tri-tip, baked potatos and beans) on Saturday, and breakfast and lunch on Sunday. We did not go hungry.

(I took a lot of pictures with my cheapo camera, so some of them aren't as clear as I would like. I do have about an hour of video. I just put the camera on a post and turned it on. Not sure what all is on it, but there has to be some good stuff. The wind makes the audio tough to hear. We'll see if I can make something good out of it.)

Matt's a lot of fun. He was well aware that most of my knowledge is Clinton Anderson based and I got a fair amount of ribbing for it, but it also opened doors to many conversations on the different training approaches. The whole of my horse behavior knowledge was born in the summer of 2005 when RFD started airing their horse shows. I didn't get my first horse, Tex, until December of '05, so one of my goals was to get some hands on experience to expand my horsemanship. I went with the intention of keeping my mouth shut and my ears open to try and get as much information as I could. Matt's experience is expansive and the great thing is he is willing to share EVERYTHING. It's like trying to drink out of a fire hose. It is tough to take it all in. Too bad we can't do one of those Vulcan mind meld things. So how was the clinic structured? Well, let's get stuck in it, mate:

I had to work in the morning to help the person who would fill in for me at the store. I got up early and gave Jessie a clip and a bath, cleaned the pens, and Ranae drove me to work. The trailer was hooked up and ready and she would load the horses and pick me up on the way out of town. We got to Matt's ranch about 3PM (times may be off, I don't wear a watch), unloaded, got the horses settled in their pens. The weather was perfect - mid 70's and a little breezy (It's almost always breezy in Tehachapi. That's why they have the wind farms there). Matt gave us a tour and a talk about what was scheduled for the weekend. He had talked to each of us beforehand to determine what we wanted to work on and had an exercise or situation set up for just about everyone. He only takes five riders and we all got a lot of one-on-one attention. So there was Ranae and Dusty, Me and Jessie, Susan (our neighbor) and Charlie, Melanie and her horse Cindy, and Renee (yeah, two Renees) and Star. Melanie and Renee are long time students of Matt's and they were very nice and patient with our inexperience. We had a fun group.

Our working arena in picturesque Tehachapi

Around 4 PM we saddled up and went in the arena to go through Matt's basic horsemanship maneuvers. We learned his three basic positions that he conveniently numbers #1, #2, and #3. Everything essentially begins with a circle. It was quite a change for me because he had me holding my hands higher and using a much shorter rein than I had been using. I heard "Hold those reins a little higher, John" and "Shorten up that rein for me, John" quite often that afternoon. He was very patient and slowly I got the hang of it. Position Three is a shoulder out move and was a little more difficult for us to grasp. He put three cones down and we serpentined them using the basic positions. At a trot it was essential to use #3 to negotiate the cones without knocking them over. That was a tough one for us. (As a matter of fact, back at the hotel room Ranae and I put down some plastic cups and walked through them several times trying to get the timing right.)

We worked in the arena for a couple of hours, put the horses up and had a great dinner. Back at the hotel, Ranae and I tried to review as much as we could in the hopes it would have a better chance of sticking.

More to Come...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Four Days and Counting...

An unusual cool front moved in for the weekend and we had these big, puffy-cloud skies most of the weekend. I had a full list of errands to run Saturday morning. I got up early and got as many of them done before lunch as I could. Ranae and I set up the back with cones and such and did an extended groundwork session before tacking up. Once saddled we did several steering exercises through the cones trying to use as little rein as possible. Her horse Dusty did much better than Jessie, but it still is not too bad for the little practice we've had. We did the 4-leaf clover exercise at both the trot and the lope. Jessie did excellent one way and poorly the other. We worked in the "simulated" clinic environment for about 90 minutes.

We rode early on Sunday out to our usual haunts. We did lope the big square and Jessie was very much improved over the last time we had an opportunity to do it. She still has a few steering issues and her speed isn't very consistent. Her lope is slowing down however, and that makes it much easier to sit. We rode for just a little over two hours and it was quite a lovely morning.

Once back it was clean-up time for the saddle, saddle pads, and bridle. We have most of the details set for the clinic beginning Friday afternoon. Matt says we'll start around 4 pm on Friday. Excitement is building...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Two solo rides

We were able to get some early evening rides in on Monday and Tuesday. Ranae had other commitments, so we went out alone. Jessie did pretty well. She's not the bravest horse, but we were able to maintain a trot for a mile on the way out. We worked on speed control. When she gets nervous, either by her surroundings or the fact she may have work ahead of her, she speeds up. We had a little success with that. I would hum and then pick up one rein and when she slowed just a little I'd drop the rein. The trick is to get her to slow without breaking gait, which she did a lot. I'm sure it was my inconsistent cues. We didn't work too much, we/I just enjoyed the evening ride.

Cloudy and much cooler today. It has even rained this morning, which is quite unusual for Bakersfield. She gets tonight off. Planning on riding Thursday evening.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Entry for the Book We'll Never Write

In a lot of sports like tennis and golf one is coached to "keep your eye on the ball". "Don't worry about the court (in tennis) or the hole (in golf), take aim then focus on the ball you are hitting. In riding you do the opposite you want to look where you want to go. It's important to look up and out in the direction you want to ride.

I catch myself looking down so much I think I'm going to have the crown piece of my bridle engraved with "What are you looking down here for?" The horse is down there. There's no need to look. I can feel her. If I can't feel her, I'm probably on the ground and you know what I'm doing? I'm probably looking up.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The "Shakedown" Cruise

All the details are set set for the Matt Sheridan clinic in two weeks. We've got someone to watch the store, watch the house, and we have a safe trailer to go up and down Tehachapi grade.

Saturday morning we planned to leave at 7 am for the shakedown cruise of the HMS Liberty (our trailer). It was going to be hot and we wanted to get an early start. Got up at 5:45, (ugh, on a Saturday?) and fed the horses. We had breakfast and got the horses all brushed up. The trailer was all ready hooked up and loaded with the tack, so we just needed to pull out on the street and load the guys up. I had cut a couple of pretty big limbs off the front mulberry tree bringing the trailer in, but this was the first time we had taken the trailer out of the yard. We learned that negotiating between the two mulberries takes the trailer in a slightly different angle. Looking up there was another branch in the blocking way.

I backed up and tried for a wider angle but there just wasn't enough room. I pulled out the tree saw and the step ladder and then I saw the 10" branch I needed to cut off. It took longer to get the chainsaw out, fill it with gas, and get it started than it took to cut through the branch. We dragged it off to the side and that gave us the six inches of clearance we needed. Added to the To Do list is to move the gate to the other side of the yard where the trees will not be a factor.

The horses loaded easily into the spacious trailer and we headed off. The Tundra pulled it nicely. We were only about 30 minutes behind schedule. The river was already bustling with people. The bike path was busy with both cyclists and runners. There were people going up and down the bluffs and there were already quite a few horses out on the trail.

Jessie was fresh and interested in everything going on. We did some trotting which burned off some of the excess energy. We found these little markers and practiced an exercise of trying to steer the horses between the markers using only our legs and body (no reins). On the way back there is a mini obstacle course. It has an "L"-shaped chute, about 20 feet long on each leg and 10 foot wide, that we backed through. Then there were about ten railroad ties set 2 feet apart that we stepped through. Back at the trailer we had some soft drinks and sat in the shade for a bit before going home.

Sunday evening we rode through an area near home that we haven't been by for some time. We thought it had been blocked off, but the neighbor who bought our old trailer said we could still get through, so we decided to try. The Mexicans who own the property are quite friendly and we tried to talk to them as we rode by. We had to cross through their property and my Spanish and their English were just enough to get us by. The had built some very nice pipe corrals. There were a lot more horses there now, at least 15 head. They had also build a round pen kinda thing with a long alley way. And they had about 5 cows in the pen. The have some sort of competition where they run along the alleyway on horseback and grab the cows by the tail. I guess you have to be there.

The evening had cooled off nicely and there was a nice breeze blowing. We had a stretch of trail going west and got to see the sun set before turning south and heading for home. The horses got hosed of in the twilight and were happy to get back to their alfalfa.