Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Working it Out

Keeping the Moving Parts Moving

Jessie has not been getting the work she needs while I've been off training Scratch (See Scratch's Blog).  Part of the reason I took on the Scratch project was to give Jessie a little break.  She has seemed a bit "off" since she stepped in a gopher hole a few years back.  It's not a consistent enough injury to get checked out.  Her limp seems to come and go sporadically.  The four months of the competition with Scratch would be a good hiatus for her...or so I thought.

Training Jessie
Back on August 28th Jessie had a bout of colic.  My usually healthy, easy keeper, went south.  We got her to the vet and he took care of her.  Thank goodness it wasn't too bad a case and she made a full recovery.  It was probably noticeable back then, but I was to busy with Scratch to see it.  She didn't whiny or act up when we left for training so I thought she was okay with it.  The lack of work took its toll on her.

Scratch's competition ended on October 11th and, while I'm still training him, I gave Scratch a week off to recover from the arduous prep work we had done in the weeks leading up to final days.  When I got on Jessie to ride she was lamer than ever.

Now normally I would take her to the vet.  What was stopping me was the way she acted at feeding time.  In the mornings I would walk by her pen to get to the hay stack.  She would bounce around like a bucking bronco.  No sign of limping here.  Her tantrums were big as she kicked her back feet high above the top rail of our 5 foot panels.

I started taking her on short easy rides.  We would trot a few steps, then walk - mostly walk.  As time went by the limp eased and rarely shows up (although it's only been about 8 weeks).  The girl just needs to work.  I thought giving her a rest would be a benefit - a little vacation.  She needs a job and to move.  We are working more regularly now and we'll keep after it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

I'm Not a Jumper

And, That Doesn't Keep Me from Jumping

Saddling up early Tuesday.
If you wait until you are good at something before you try it, You'll never get good at it.  On the Memorial Day Weekend adventure to the Bar SZ we were able to do a LOT of trail riding.  We arranged to stay an extra day and rode Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning.

The Bar SZ is 660 acres and trails run throughout the place.  We explored the foothills and along the San Benito riverbed.  Tim and Michelle the ranch managers are Downunder Horsemanship fans and they set up interesting trail challenges on just about every trail.  It's so cool.  You'll be riding along and see a mailbox or square to turn circles.  There was a tire with poles in a star wheel.

In the area they designate "The Willows"  there are jumps and tires and trees to ride around.  There are logs to backup through.  In one area there are three big tree trunks lying on their side.  I wanted to see if I could jump them.  

Jessie and I walked over them first to insure the ground, take off and landing, was safe.  Then we revved up the engines and took off.  This was our first attempt.

It looks horrible, but it FELT huge! (Except for that last one.  That just hurt).  We tried it in the other direction (no video) and it wasn't noticeably better.  

Tuesday morning before our ride, I set up some small jumps in the covered arena.  Ranae and I were in there practicing when we see Michelle Borland, one of the ranch managers, come running up to us.  Michelle is a Level IV certified CHA instructor and has loads of experience in hunter/jumper.  She gave us a few pointers and mainly helped us to not hang on our horses' mouth.

We worked on it for about 20 minutes, then headed off on our trail ride.  I would like to report that our jumping was much improved as we glided from jump to jump.  Evidently, this stuff takes a lot of practice ;)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Me as a Clinician

More on the Bar SZ Experience

Okay, so you have to know that I thought the event I would attend this year would be similar to the very same event as last year.  We were meeting with the Downunder Brumbies, a meet up group to practice techniques and exercises we learn from Downunder Horsemanship.  Some of us know a few things better than others and the reason we meet up is to help each other.  Last year several members held 60-90 minute sessions on subjects in which they felt confident.  There were about 14-16 participants last year.  This year, I volunteered to show people how to get their horses to move toward a mounting block, a nifty little aid for all you trail riders.

This year there were nearly 40 participants and the main draw was a Certified Downunder Horsemanship Clinician, Jeff Davis.  Our sessions were scheduled to run concurrently on Sunday. Okay, you've got a choice:  amateur John with his mounting block exercise or, Ta-Daaa, Certified Clinician.  Heck, even I wanted to watch and learn from Jeff.

As time nears for my demo, Jeff, being the classy guy he is, encourages people to walk out to the big arena to watch me do my thing.  As I was walking out there I heard him over the PA and I got a little boost of confidence.

I had taught this exercise to my horses.  I had never taught it to people.  I had never taught it to horses I had just met.  Not sure if this was going to work, I wasn't really sure I wanted a whole bunch of people out there.

The first gal brought her horse into the pen we had used for the team penning.  It had a good fence.  I started talking to the group and explained the exercise was easy and the real benefit would be learning how to refine your timing and feel with pressure and release.

I started working on the horse and nothing.  A little more...nothing.  Come on buddy, work with me here.  Finally, I got the ever so slightest of tries and gave a good release.  I am sure many didn't even see it.  "What?  That little step?"

I started over and on the second try I got a little bigger effort.  Some people saw it, others were skeptical.

The third try, the horse took a huge step toward me.  Ah, now I knew why I loved this exercise so much.  We went on and I mounted from the fence.  Then, the owner worked the horse.  I moved to the next horse and tried to get his owner to do it.  My teaching-to-people technique needs to be improved.  I had to help her.  All in all, about 6 horses learned the exercise in an hour and many came up to me afterward and told me how much fun it was to have their horse work for them like that.  I must say it was a pretty good feeling....and I got to work with six strange horses.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Riding in a Group and Moving Cows

We headed up north to hang with the gang known as the Downunder Brumbies.  We had rented the entire Bar SZ Ranch for the long weekend.  The Bar SZ was once the home of famed Quarter Horse Doc Bar and is located in a remote area of San Benito County.  The ranch was almost at capacity with forty guests and maybe 30 trailered-in horses.  The group had arranged for certified Downunder Horsemanship Clinician Jeff Davis to spend the weekend with us.  Last year it was a Brumbie helping Brumbie situation which is why I volunteered to do a little clinic on using a mounting block.  It's hard to compete with Jeff.

We arrived late Friday.  The temperature dropped substantially and we opted to socialize as opposed to having a night ride.  Saturday morning Jeff gave a basic horsemanship session.  To my surprise many of the guests were not familiar with the Method.

We watched for a bit then went for an hour long trail ride around the ranch. Jessie was a bit on the muscle and really walking with purpose (not relaxed) down the trail.  I did a number of yields, bending, backing and nothing seemed to purchase an effect.

The afternoon included some Team Penning.  First order of business:  get the cows.  About 10 or 12 of us rode out (including Jeff) to bring the cows in.  All the horses and the energy was fueling a frenzy.  Jeff was riding one of the participants' horses who had no prior knowledge of the Method.  I watched and did my best to mimic Jeff.  He stayed very calm.  We had an opportunity to chat on the trail and he gave me some great pointers.   Jessie calmed a bit but started softening a whole bunch.  The one exercise I've had problems with is the bending at the walk exercise and this was the main one Jeff recommended.

We did the Buddy Sour exercise.  We had twelve horses lined up on the trail and each of us got in a little work.  We managed to get the cows in and do the sorting.  It was a whole lot of fun.  I've posted a bunch of photos on Facebook.  I don't have any on this computer, but I will write another post about my mounting block exercise and the rest of the weekend soon.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Technically, I Am

If one makes money from giving lessons about horse training and horsemanship, one can call himself a professional horse trainer, correct?  Well, I've given my first paid lesson.  Technically, or otherwise, I'll take it.

Rebecca and I met at the Obstacle Challenge mentioned in the last post.  She asked if I would help her and I gave her my standard consulting proposal:  "We'll meet up and work with your horse, if you like what you see and want more, we'll agree on a price.  If not, no harm done."

The first meeting was a couple of weeks ago.  She has a Mustang that she has had since it was 6 months old.  It was orphaned and she has raised Dixie who is now I think, seven.  Dixie is a good horse.  A little pushy like you might say many orphans are inclined to be.  She's had a number of different trainers.  Rebecca has gathered a lot of advice from many of them.  Her knowledge is not organized in any way.

Today we went through the first seven groundwork exercises.  It helped getting Dixie's attention.  Rebecca was taking her out on a group ride this afternoon.  Dixie didn't want to go through the gate to the trailer.  We fixed that.

We worked on flexing and hindquarter yielding.  We did some lunging for respect stage one and backing up.  All in all it was a good little lesson.  I think Rebecca got her money's worth.  I got to face the challenges of teaching someone a method that was a bit foreign to them.  More importantly, I was able to work with another horse and put that experience under my belt.  Not to mention that technically, I earned my professional's wings.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Real Confidence Builder

Obstacle Training Day

Our ETI Corral held an obstacle training day last Saturday.  It was 10 bucks and I thought it would be a good experience for Dusty and Jessie and, I hoped we could get Frosty out there, too.  Our friend Susan wasn't feeling well and Frosty could not make it, but we had a very good time.

It probably my low self esteem and lack of experience, but I am always reluctant to give advice about horsemanship.  I would much rather have a "discussion" then "tell" someone what to do.  I didn't think it mattered in this case either way because I was there to learn.  

There were a series of obstacles and twenty horse and rider teams.  There were 3 trainers, each one with a long track record of working with horses.  Each team was escorted through the obstacle course with one of the trainers helping the team when then got into trouble.  

Ranae and I were selected to be in the bottom 10 and it was going to be awhile before we got to go through.  There wasn't a good place to warm up.  I opted to help a woman who had brought two horses by holding one of them while she went through the course.  I had the camera a took a few photos, although it was quite dusty and I ended up putting it back in the truck.

Most of the people were quite inexperienced with working through obstacles.  One gal with a mustang got a hold of and started pumping me for advice.  I did my best to help her.  She had some great horse knowledge, but like many, it was in no order.  She was all over the place.  Asking for respect in some places and not expecting it in others.

Finally, it was my turn and I drew Joanne as my trainer.  Joanne is a salty seasoned trainer who has spent her life around horses.  North of 70 she is still as tough as nails.  We've know each other casually for a number of years.  I look at her horses when I was shopping for a horse and I had seen her at a competition.  She knew Jessie.

The first obstacle was a long cattle shoot with a cowboy curtain at the end.  No problem.  Then a few walkovers.  I had to slow Jessie down a little because I wanted her to be aware of her feet.  Joanne and I took our time at each obstacle and were still catching up to the others so between obstacles we chatted about horsemanship.  We gotpast the mini horse and goat tied up in the corner, then the carport with the colorful streamers hanging off the sides.  She remarked that I made it look too easy.  I asked if she would like to see us back through and she laugh and quickly admonished me.  "You'll discourage these other people if you make it look so easy", she said.

As we were waiting for the next obstacle she said, "I want you to help us get these people through the course.  You are good enough." 

Jessie really excels at this sort of thing and never balked or stopped at any of the challenges.  It makes me think I should do more of this with her.

We picked up Angel, a trainer for nearby Tehachapi who was working with a 3 year old.  I think he had been training for about three months.  The horse was young and, with him being a trainer, I was a bit unsure how much to interject.

We got through the cowboy curtain and the step overs.  The mini horse and goat were a challenge.  I kept coming around them and Jessie and I finally led them through.  The carport with the streamers was relatively easy.  His horse was following Jessie and seemed to take comfort.  

There was a barrel with to poles, one with a flag.  Angel wanted to go straight for the flag.  His horse would start doing these circles and backing away from the obstacle.  He would be halfway across the arena and I  would be waiting for him.  He would work the horse back up to me.  I held the flag and asked that he follow it - approach and retreat.  His horse did great with this and the left eye.  I stopped and said, Try to get your horse to point his right eye on this.  He is blocking you."  Sure enough, he couldn't.  The horse kept spinning away.  Thankfully, Joanne yelled across the arena, "Do it with the pole first, not the flag."

We worked our way through the obstacles.  I offered advice where I thought it appropriate.  Sometimes he took it, most times he said "okay" and just ignored it.  As I helped him through I was surprised at how little I cared if he took my advice.  I was out there giving him help, Jessie and I were good enough to guide someone through, and that seemed pretty good.

We had lunch and the gal with the mustang asked for some help getting her horse through the curtain.  I stood away and coached her as she was trying to drive the horse forward.  Joanne's husband Del, another longtime horseman, looked at me and said, "Why don't you take that horse over to the round pen and show her how to get that horse to move."   Well, okay then.  It was fun working with the horse.  I did it on the lead line.  Del said, "don't you want to turn it loose?"  

"Well, I've rarely work in a round pen.  I don't have one."  

"You don't have a round pen?", he asked incredulously.

I did my thing while he talked to the owner.  I did my point, kiss, whack.  The mustang picked it up quickly and I could hear Del tell her, "See, now he has that horse listening to him."

It seems since I started working horses, I've always felt I've been the least knowledgeable person in a setting like this.  It was a great confidence builder to have been asked to help and to get some things done.  In May we are doing a little presentation with the NorCal Brumbie group.  Getting this little boost was just the shot I needed.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Working Equitation Schooling Show

Last December for our Whoa Podcast about Horses & Horsemanship I interviewed Tarrin Warren.  Tarrin and I had met at a campdrafting clinic in Colorado in 2013.  I learned she was participating in the sport of Working Equitation.  I knew little about W.E. but I'm always looking for new topics for the show.  Tarrin was great on the show and encouraged Ranae and I to attend a schooling show happening a few hours from our home.  I called the vice-chair, Julie Alonzo, of the national organization WEIAUSA and asked if we could participate in the competition and record it for the podcast.  She agreed and gave us a few instructions so we would be prepared.

W.E. combines three "tests" - a dressage test, an ease of handling test, and a speed test.  It was explained to us many times that the dressage test wasn't the big fancy dressage - at least not at the level we would be competing.  We download the test and set up a ring anywhere we could and practiced the pattern.  Of course, it was the blind leading the blind, leading the blind, as Ranae, the horses, and I tried to figure out the nuances of dressage.  We managed to get the path down, the gaits were iffy and the circles were, well, kinda ugly.

For the show we would have to come down the night before, stable our horses at a horse hotel, stay with a friend and be on the show grounds to start at 9 am.  It was also the time change weekend.

The group was having a week long clinic with world class Portuguese trainer Nuno Matos.  Six trainers had been there for five full days receiving training.  When I told Julie we might be down late Saturday afternoon she encouraged us to bring our horses by for instruction.  This was motivation to have us get there around noon.

Ranae got some training with the obstacles and I got a wonderful lesson in dressage.  Everyone was very open and willing to help us.  Ranae competed in the Introductory Level and I competed in the Novice.  I was able to video some of our runs and you can watch them here or on YouTube.

The judges remarks on my scorecard have given me a long list of things to work on.  Most disappointing was the notation of a "lack of bend" and "learn proper bend".  As long as I've been following the Downunder Horsemanship Method one would think Jessie would be as flexible as a slinky.  So, while this was a bit depressing, we competed, we discovered what we needed to improve, and we've started working on it.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lather, Rinse, Repeat


How Many Times Does it Take?

There's something about horse training that's counter-intuitive. I hear the same things over and over again stated similarly from different trainers, but it still takes me forever to learn. Yes, I'm slow. Stop your snickering.

Clinton says, "Be black and white, no fifty shades of gray". Okay, I'm paraphrasing. Matt Sheridan says "Know where the holes in your horse are". I've heard Ian Francis say, "Have a picture in your mind of what you want and keep asking the horse for that until get that picture." Most recently Jonathan Field said to me, "When your horse gives you what you want, leave him alone."

The last couple of weeks I've been working three horses in the morning. Frosty, our neighbor's 10 year old mare who is a very sensitive girl. Dusty, my wife's horse who is 18 and a bit out of condition from an easy winter, and my mare Jessie who is a bit in between the temperament of the first two horses. Working three horses back-to-back is a great learning tool. I've just recently re-acquired access to the paddock behind our house to work the horses. We do not have a round pen. Everything is done on a lead line.

Okay, you are probably wondering what all the bitching and moaning at the top of the page was all about. I've been trying to get Dusty to be more responsive when picking up the canter. Ranae tells me -and it's easy to see- that she really has to work to get and keep him moving. It gets to the point sometimes that her leg cramps up trying to keep him in the canter.

I'm working on the ground. The first week, I Take it easy on him. He's nearing twenty. I don't want to break him. The second week I think he can give a bit more. He has been so sluggish it takes a bunch to get him going. It's work. But it's just these kind of hurdles that move the learning process forward. Finally, after the second or third session Dusty gets it. When I point, and kiss he goes.

And that's another thing. I learned from Clinton it's Point, Cluck, then Spank. Somehow this order starts drifting all over the place. It becomes Cluck, Point, Spank then Spank, Cluck, Point maybe Spank. Spank for no apparent reason, Point for no apparent reason. I'm all over the board.

This is why it's good for a trainer to have a little OCD in him. Get the order, do the thing, and consistently do the thing. Really, that's what makes a good trainer. Someone who gives the cues to the horse, in a way he can understand, the same way...over and over again.

I remember one clinic I was covering for the Whoa Podcast. I asked the clinician how much information he thought the students could absorb in a three-day clinic. His answer was 15% the first time around, 50% the second time around, and if they took it a third time, 80%. That's a fairly bleak assessment. Those clinics are not cheap. But, that's the way we learn....I guess. Do you have similar struggles picking up these concepts? It's one of the reasons I love the DUH dvd's I can go back an refer to them from time-to-time. Do you have those A-HA! moments when something just clicks? I would love to hear about your challenges if you are a recreational horseman. (Well. even if you are not.)

Friday, January 30, 2015

Training Frosty

This is Frosty.  I've been working Frosty through the Method in preparation for our visit to the Bar SZ Ranch with the Norcal Downunder Brumbies in May.  I'll be doing a presentation and I want to get my act together.  Working with one horse has its disadvantages.  Yes, you can become a little complacent.  Working Jessie doing the same exercises can get a little boring.  Not only for me but for for Jessie too.

We've had three sessions so far.  Frosty is a mare.  Sorry, don't know too much about her background - I should.  She is far more sensitive than Jessie.  We've been doing a lot more desensitizing.  She has some very quick moves and has dumped a few people over the years.  I'm quite interested to see how her training progresses compared to Jessie's training.  My goal is to see if I can get her as bombproof as Jessie.  I think this could be quite a challenge.  It will demonstrate to me the differences between horse personalities and training.  I'm excited by the thought of discover.

Frosty has had a good amount of training from some trainers in town.  The owner has taken her to a couple of clinics.  She doesn't get ridden very much and with any horse that can be a challenge.

Today we started with a little desensitizing, then went to lunging.  First, Stage One, then Stage Two.  She has a nice little roll back.  She is a smaller horse and I can see her quickness from the ground.

Last work out we tried the run-up-and-rub exercise, and while we were mildly successful, I went back to the head-shy exercise.  I must have worked on this as an exercise between impulsion exercises three times for a total of 30 minutes. By the end of the session, I think she was connecting with it.  

I also liked the reaction I got to the throw-the-rope-to-a-stop exercise.  Frosty's back end would kick out and she would step her shoulders toward me.  That just gave us something to work on.  I was able to see improvement going to the left.  The right, not so much.

I'm hoping to work with her tomorrow and Sunday.  I have no thoughts of riding her for the future.  I am trying to keep the thought of "I'll know when to ride her, when I know she can be ridden safely."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Working on Working Equitation

Ranae are doing a Working Equitation schooling show in March.  We'll be reporting on it in an upcoming Whoa Podcast.  We worked on some of the dressage test out back today.  The instructions are fairly confusing.  We broke things down into small chunks so we could work on a few of the maneuvers we'll need.  One was trotting in a straight line from one spot to another. Then there were the 20 meter circles.  Oh yeah, those are going to be fun.  I had the curb bit in Jessie and it really brought out the shiny spots in her lack of training.

The other thing we worked on was taking off at a trot.  Not a few steps and a trot.  A trot.  Boy, just trying this stuff helps you realize how lackadaisical you can become.

It was a cool day.  The fog had hung in most of the morning and it really didn't look like we would be able to ride.  For a different Whoa Podcast, we are meeting up with the NorCal Downunder Brumbies, a Downunder Horsemanship group.  I'll be doing a demo on the mounting block exercise at the Bar SZ Ranch over Memorial Day Weekend.

I needed to brush up on some (make that all) of my skills.  Our neighbor keeps three horses back behind our property.  One is an older Arab, Gunner, one is her riding horse, Charlie, and the last one is a real sensitive mare she hardly rides named Frosty.  I asked her if I could work Frosty and she said it was okay.

We started at the beginning with desensitization, flexing, lunging, yielding, and the sending exercise.  It was quite fun being back out there again doing the basic exercises.  After working Frosty, Jessie and I ran through the same exercises.  It's really interesting to see how the two different horses handle everything.

Back to the Working Equitation warm up.  After we had worked on the dressage for awhile I asked Ranae if she wanted to try jumping some barrels.  Part of the Working Equitation Novice level will include jumping something "no higher than a bale of hay".  We had a few 55 gal blue barrels and decided to give it a try.

First, we put the lead lines on Dusty and I sent him from the ground over the barrels.  Good job.  We went both directions.  I don't think we had had him jump anything in a year.  Then, with the lead still attached, Ranae got on and I directed Dusty to jump again.  A couple of times over and Ranae was in the comfort zone and we put on the bridle.  She and Dusty went over great.

Then we repeated the process with Jessie.  It was fun being able to jump the barrels having to only worry about hanging on.  Well, I did give her some leg to get her moving.  It gives you a lot of confidence before trying with the bridle in.  Now I think we will be able to go a fair job on most any jump.  We still have a lot of things to work on, but we have got a good start to the New Year!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Learning to Dance

Last week we went to the Ojai Valley Cowboy School to do a show for the Whoa Podcast about Horses and Horsemanship.  Jeff and his wife Jay O'Haco are very knowledgeable and really want to help their clients learn more about the cowboy way of life.  They offer a number of different "stations" on all aspects of living on the range.  We'll go into those things on an upcoming show if you want to listen, but today I wanted to tell you about something that just "clicked".

A few years ago Ranae and I took up ballroom dancing.  We are still rather shy about dancing in public, but we go to group classes most Tuesday nights.  We really like the Waltz and we are doing an Intermediate class right now.  Last night we were learning syncopated (thank you spell check) turns.  One outside turn, one inside turn, one outside turn - all in succession.  Ranae is turning not me.  I have to lead the darn thing.  Ranae turns one and a half times on the outside turns and two revolutions on the inside turn.  Not only do I have to lead, I have to help her with the turns.

Like horses, the first couple of times doing the maneuver I don't think we'll (me) will ever get it right.  Then, it looks promising.  There's a glimmer of light and that motivates us to carry on.  Of course, the next phase is totally screwed up, before we start to make progress again.  I've learned that this is the way it is and know we just have to plod our way through the different stages.

The instructor came over as we were having problems on the turns.  We were close to nailing this move, but something just wasn't right.  He told me I was leading the turns a step to early.  If Ranae was on the wrong foot when I tried to turn her, there was no way she would be able to make the correct number of revolutions.

It dawned on me that this is exactly what Jeff O'Haco had told be at the cowboy school a few days earlier while I was riding their schooling horse Luna.  If I tried to get Luna to turn while her front foot was planted in the ground it would throw her off balance.  But, if I signaled her to turn while that foot was in the air I would really be helping her out.

Now both my horsemanship and my dancing ability hinge on my awareness of my partners' feet.  I've got a long way to go.  I'm not quite sure how to get good at this yet, but I'll learn the dance.