Monday, August 29, 2011

Rally Horse

I was cleaning out my closet the other day and I ran across some K-9 Rally Obedience cards I had made up to practice with my Australian Shepard Max. I thought this might be a fun thing to do with our horses, so on Sunday we took them with us on our ride.

We found a nice little field with decent footing and laid the cards on the ground. They had things like "Slow", "Fast", "Normal", "Right Turn", "About Turn", and "Halt" printed on both sides. We set them on the ground to for a course. If you don't know Dog Rally Obedience, it is a competition where you follow the directions on the signs to navigate a course. "Normal" was our trot, "Slow" was a walk, "Fast" was a lope, "About Turn" was a rollback, and the others were self explanatory.

It was hot and we laid the cards out quickly to have a simple run through to see the difficulty level of negotiating the course. We took video of each horse's first run, which weren't very good. The second run was better, but there were a lot of things to improve. Jessie's rollbacks are sloppy and slow. She resists on the backup just prior to the rollback and I may have to start there. My cues looked awkward and I was a little forward which would make it harder to work on her back end.

We had fun, though. The next version may not look like this one. I've got a couple of ideas on how to try and make the game both more fun and challenging.

We had had a good ride out to this field and had done some exercises in another field. The loop back home was a nice little ride. We even had a slight breeze.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Get a Mental Picture

We were able to ride both Saturday and Sunday. Dusty had had a couple of weeks off while Ranae was on vacation and he was feeling good.

Saturday's ride was a tune-up. We rode to our usual place to see how the horses were doing. It was hot, but we still did some loping, steering, and flexing exercises.

On Saturday night I showed Ranae some of the stuff on the August NWC dvd and then on Sunday morning, while we were having breakfast we watched the beginning with Clinton and Shana warming up their horses.

It's amazing the effect this has on our rides. I thought I had noticed it before, and Sunday confirmed it. By watching just 15 minutes of Clinton and Shana working before we rode, we had a plan and a fresh mental picture of some of the things we wanted to do on our ride.

In reflecting on the ride over a cocktail in the garden Sunday afternoon (a tradition - it's like breaking down game film) we realized that we rode out with purpose. We had conviction in what we were asking. Granted we may not have had the cues or timing perfect, but we knew what we were looking for and kept after it until we go it. Ranae said Dusty had the smoothest, most comfortable lope she could ever remember, on both leads no less. I had Jessie backing up more smartly and I think our collection was better. We worked on stops and she improved in just ten minutes or so.

One of the things we liked about Sunday's ride was the path we took. It's about a ten minute walk to one field where we warmed up for about 15 minutes. Then, it's a 15 minute walk to another field with a little better footing and we could work again. Given a couple of chances to do the same exercises in one ride was extremely beneficial.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Our First ACTHA Ride

There was an ACTHA ride in our area last Saturday. I thought it would be a good experience for both Jessie and me for a number of reasons. It would be just us. My wife is away on a trip. We would trailer alone to a familiar area, but be surrounded by unfamiliar horses.

The ride was supposed to start at 8:30 to beat the heat. 9am at the latest said the coordinator. Check-in was at 7am. I woke up at 5 am and tossed Jessie her breakfast, then went and had some of my own. I was a apprehensive about how she would be around the other horses and contemplated what I would need to do if she acted up. I thought one of the best decisions was to forego that second cup of coffee so I wouldn't be all wound up. No use both of us having our knickers in a knot.

We loaded around 6:45 and were out the gate for the 25 minute drive. I had had three groundwork sessions over the week and they seemed to be paying off. We got to the venue and there were a couple of trailers already there. Jessie unloaded and immediately checked her surroundings. She was calm and I let her look around for a moment or two. Then I yield her hindquaters with a look to swing her around to the tie rind. A few moments later a gal from the next trailer came over and asked if I followed Clinton. I said yes and she replied, "I knew it by the way you looked and those hindquarters moved."
Trailer Area

We chatted for a bit. Three of them had come from about an hour away and they had DUH halters and leads and three very nice horses. It was their first event and I could tell they were a bit nervous too. We checked in at the desk. I registered under my wife's name because we just have a single membership. Jessie was registered under Dusty. This added a chuckle at every obstacle as I called out my name, "Ranae". There were many suggestions from the other competitors about clothing choices and falsetto voices.

After tacking Jessie up I wondered how to go about spending the next hour preparing her for the ride. I put on her bridle and took her off a little ways to warm up with some bending exercises. We did some serpentines and ORS as well. We worked for about 10 minutes and then I took her back to the trailer and tied her up. I walked around the other trailers talking with the riders for about 1/2 an hour. I'm not usually comfortable in these types of situations and thought this would be a good opportunity for me to improve my social skills. And, I thought it would help me relax a bit. It did.

By now we were beginning to realize the event was not going to start on time. This worked out in our favor. I had left Jessie standing at the trailer. I didn't want my anxiety rubbing off on her and when I got back to her she was very calm and relaxed. Good girl. When we thought we were close to the riders meeting, I put her bridle back on and mounted and walked over to where the horses were gathering. A nice guy, also named John, with an Aussie accent and a bullwhip rode up and introduced himself. He would be riding in the Jackpot run, a classification allowed to those who hadn't signed up in time. He had noticed we were in a distinct majority as the girls outnumbered the guys by a good margin.

The ride starts at a point very close to the highway patrol shooting range. The guys were not supposed to be practicing but we could hear them starting up. Jessie and I had ridden by once before during practice. It was a little nerve wracking, but we did it. One of the gals horses looked a bit nervous and John suggested she let him crack his whip to help the horse get used to it. She was reluctant, but he knew it would help. He started off with just the softest of cracks. We were three feet from him and Jessie gave a look like "You brought me out here to desentsitize me?" She stood there calmly as the cracks got louder and louder. One of the open riders asked if she could get closer. With all the horses standing calmly he cracked it loud (it hurt my ears) half a dozen times.

Just as we were about to have the meeting a trailer pulled up and the coordinator said we'll wait for them. Ten minutes later aother trailer pulled up. Then he went out to check the course. To make a long story not so long, I think we finally left at 11am.

It was warm by now. I was riding between to groups: The two Open riders and the trhee DUH gals. The first obstacle was a section where you walk, ask your horse to trot, then walk again (the Open riders had to lope). Jessie did well on the up transition, but didn't respond to my seat on the down. I cued her ever so slightly and she responded. I don't think the judge could even see the cue.

We had a log jump at the trot, before a downhill. I hung out with the open riders. She is a team roping judge and we had a good conversation about horses. The downhill was easy and then we had to wind along the river bank. We were going through a trail that was recently cut for us. This was the only point in the ride were I thought my fears would be realized. The trail wasn't very wide and I had to duck under some limbs. Meanwhile, Jessie was on the ass of Diesel, one of the DUH gals horses. There wasn't any room for correction. I stopped and backed her up and we moved forward. Bam. Right on Diesel's butt again. I back her up with a little more vigor and her front feet came off the ground a bit. I was able to keep her a few feet behind Diesel as we finally wound our way back up to the main trail.

When we got back out in the open I apologized to the rider (I think it was Deana) and she said Diesel was all jacked up too. Diesel had started to jig on the trail which is what she had hoped he would not do. I put Jess to worked two tracking back and forth across the trail and she eventually started paying attention again.

The next obstacle was dismount, spray the horse with water, and remount. We had a few minute wait as the other horses ahead of us went. This obstacle went very well for us. I considered mounting from the off side for extra points, but frankly I'm not familiar with the rules enough to know if you get plus points.

The DUH gals fell behind and I found myself with the open riders again for the next obstacle. It was an uphill climb. The open riders went first. I didn't know they were supoosed to lope up the hill and it surprised both Jessie and me when rocks went a-flyin'. When it was our turn, Jessie thought she was supposed to charge up the hill too. She went up a bit faster than I wanted her to, but it was at a trot.

We wound our way back to the starting point for the last obstacle: picking up a hat with a stick. The open riders went first and I saw how they did it and then we just mimiced them. Jess did this obstacle very well.

I took Jessie back to the trailer, unsaddled her, and then took her over for some water. There was a hose so I rinsed her off a bit, then tied her back to the trailer. I went up to the restaurant and ordered lunch. It was about an hour and a half before the riders were in and the results were tabulated. I passed the time in conversation with the open riders and the Aussie, John, who had a ranch and was breeding Australian Stock horses. We talked about Camp Drafting, polocrosse, and breeding characteristics. It was very informative. When they announced the winners, Ronnie the open rider won first. When they announced me, yes me, as the pleasure class winner I was stunned. I hadn't seen any of the other riders performance and was certain we had many enough mistakes to let the competition in. I was very proud of Jessie. It was a fun ride and a good experience. Oh, and we won a bucket, some fly spray, mane and tail detangler, a trailer feed bag, some vetwrap, fly sticks, a hoof pick, and a Tractor Supply Hat (very fittingly in pink - how did they know?) all courtesy of the local Tractor Supply here in Bakersfield.

I'm hoping to get together again with John and take some photos of his horses for his website. We may even get to do some cow work in the deal.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Riding Alone

Ranae is off on her annual girls' vacation. They are in Alaska this year.

It's still fairly warm here (mid 90's or so) and Jessie and I went out on Saturday evening. She moved out very well. I had taken a crop and if she stopped short, which she will sometimes do when we ride alone, I popped her lightly on the butt and re-cued her.

We trotted most of the way out to our usual area and found a good piece of ground to work on loping, moving off of my leg when we are moving, and being softer. I'm not sure I've really "got it" when it comes to the softer part, but she did seem more responsive as I progressed through our drills.

On the way back we found a pair of binoculars that were on the ground where we cross a little irrigation ditch. They were in good shape. Jessie was great while I got off and retrieved them.

Sunday we went out earlier in the day and at the housing track that has not been developed, we found a cinder block wall to practice rollbacks on. Again I had the crop and used it to try and make her turns "snappier". The footing near the base of the wall wasn't the best, but again I think she improved a little on this exercise.

As far as the loping goes, she has a really smooth, slow right lead. She is more reluctant to take that lead however and I often suspect she may have some soreness in a hind leg somewhere. She takes the left lead much easier and will often speed up. The left is much choppier and less comfortable to ride. She changes easily enough when I ask her to, so if there is some soreness in the hind end, I don't think it's much to worry about now.

After the ride, when she is at our wash station, she is required to stand still and not try to eat grass. She has been very good at this for quite some time. Sunday she reached down and got a weed and the punishment is three LFR stage 2 turns. On the second one her feet slipped out from under her on the grass and she landed smack on her side. There was quite the look of surprise on her face. She got up, we did our three turns and she stood quietly for the rest of the bath. She showed no signs of wear this morning.

There is an ACTHA ride here on Saturday and I'm waffling over whether to do it or not. I'd really like to expose Jessie to more horses. I think it is one of the biggest challenges we face to keep her attention on me in the midst of the other horses. I just don't think I can fit it in to the schedule. Last weekend flew by and I only got half the things on my list done....

I've begun journaling our training efforts for a 2012 Clinic on another blog. It's likely to be rather dry most of the times (I say that like THIS blog is so lively), but it's public if you are interested:
Expedition Stephenville

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Rematch in the Weedpatch

Our version of horse H-O-R-S-E is back for a second edition.

(Insert tongue-in-cheek emoticon here)

There may be some judge's controversy with this round. Just to let you know the rules clearly state in Article IV, Section 2, subsection a, paragraph 7 (Newly amended), "A participant can only get one letter for a failed attempt and no "style" points are awarded". It's the same way I got through Mr. Chilton's high school gym class - pass/fail.

Anyway, here it is for your enjoyment.

In case you missed the first one, here's the link:

Round One of Horse H-O-R-S-E