Tuesday, January 24, 2012

3 - My horse needs a change of scenery!

Since I don't have an indoor, or a well drained outdoor arena, for that matter, my riding time seems to have dwindled to summer and fall.  If I try to ride in my arena when it is at all muddy, it leaves ruts, so then it would be ruined for when it has dried up.  But, soon that will change!

I stopped by a neighbor's house, and introduced myself.  This particular neighbors happens to have a large, very nice, indoor arena.  She said I am welcome to come over any time!  She requested I get a Coggins, which I promptly did, and the vet just called today, and it is in the mail (negative of course).  Although she is just a half mile away, if that, I would need to trailer my horse there, due to the busy roads.  Up until a month ago, this would have been a problem, but, I just got my first horse trailer!  

This trailer is a big deal for me!  I have owned and trained and shown since I was 14 years old.  That is 21 YEARS of horses and no horse trailer.  Twenty-one years of hitching rides, paying to haul, and borrowing from friends.  So, after much research as to what I wanted, I got a deal on Craigslist.  Thank goodness for the Craigslist app!  I had my keywords plugged in, and I called as soon as it posted on my phone.  I love getting a deal.  And, I contacted the manufacturers, and they congratulated me on my purchase and are sending me the owner's manual at no charge.  Honda wouldn't do that when we purchased a used minivan.   And, since I bought my trailer used, they are simply providing support for their product.  They made no money on this deal.  Thank you Exiss!  It is not often, these days, that I run into customer service that deserves positive recognition. 

So, back to my horse...Not only will I be able to get some more time in the saddle, but, this horse hasn't left my property since I purchased her.  She has had several years of the same old routines, and I'm about to turn her world upside down.  I suspect that there will be plenty of snorting and whinnying, but, we have to start somewhere.  Who knows, depending on how cooky she is, I might not even be able to ride during our first outing.  I wouldn't want to spend all evening there during our first visit, and wear out our welcome!

I'm just happy that I'll be getting her off the property.  I remember how disappointing it is to work hard with a horse, and for that horse to act like it has had no training whatsoever at it's first show.  Most horses don't have a level head the first time they leave home.  It takes a while for them to become desensitized to all the sights and sounds that come with, not just horse shows, but new places in general.  Even though I know the first couple shows I take Dottie to will probably just be opportunities to get her in the ring and adjusted to the sights and sounds, I can't help but hope that we'll actually put out a decent performance.

So, here's my plan.  Fail to plan, and you've planned to fail, right?   Take her to the neighbor's a few times.  Sign up for a clinic at a local trainer's; not just another locale to adjust to, but a learning and networking opportunity as well!  Maybe if it's not too wet, we'll even go with a friend (and her experienced trail horse) on our first EASY trail ride.  I think versatility in a horse is important.  And, there is another nice indoor that was built just down the road.  Perhaps I should go introduce myself there, too?  It never hurts to have too many friends!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2 - Catch me if you can!

A friend recently called with questions about a horse that was suddenly becoming difficult to catch in the pasture. Why? Most often, we can understand what they are thinking if we consider their instincts. Find food. Stay with herd. Avoid work. Just like we do, they try to avoid unpleasantries, and gravitate towards enjoyable experiences.  So, the woman wanted to bring her horse in, and he wanted nothing to do with her. Apparently, he doesn't like the work.
I was born an animal lover.  When I was little and played 'house', I pretended to be the family dog, or the horse, while my young peers were playing the mom, or the teenager role.  Naturally, having spent some time in their 'shoes', so to speak, I had some conflict about making my horse work.  Is it fair to strap a saddle to their back, put a bit in their mouth, and ride around in circles, over jumps, or through rivers, simply so that I can enjoy myself?

Clinton Anderson once described how lucky a horse is to have us.  We work a typical 40 hour week, just to earn the money to pay for their food, their medical care, their blankets, and their barn.  We clean their stalls, and provide them pasture so they can graze and relax.  Their needs are completely met, all in thanks to our hard work. 

So true!  We aren't asking them to work 40 hours a week to earn their keep...just a couple hours a day.  Perhaps they have to put in some extra hours once or twice a week for a show, but really, you're talking a 20 hour work week during their busy season.  Wouldn't that be nice?

So, what to do about the horse that doesn't want to work?  This is the one instance in which I regularly bribe my horses.   I feed them when I bring them in.  If I am about to ride, and I don't want them to have a full belly, they just get a handful thrown in their feed pan.  Feed the horse in the bucket, not by hand.  Regular feeding by hand will make a pushy, nosy horse, and perhaps even a biter.  While he is licking up every last morsel, I get the tack out, pick their stalls, and give them a few minutes of relaxation prior to grooming and tacking up.  If you want to speed up the training process, bring them in, feed them, and put them back out, with no work in sight.  So, they associate being brought in with food and relaxation, rather than getting tacked up and ridden.  My horses associate me with food and relaxation SO much, that they run to the barn EVERY time they see me.  I go in the yard to play soccer with the kids...they run to the barn.  I go get the mail...they run to the barn.  I want to ride...they run to the barn.  Problem solved!

Apparently, the owner had been rewarding him with treats AFTER a ride.  Even if her intentions were to reward a good ride, there is little chance that your horse is going to make the association between a collected canter and the subsequent carrot.  Plus, those treats after the ride are not on his mind when the owner is trying to catch him in the pasture, so, it does no good there either.  Certainly, they enjoy post ride treats, but realize, their simple enjoyment is all they are good for.

Friday, January 6, 2012

1 - Training my first horse - Spartacus

The first horse I trained made every other horse easier.  The reason was not that he was that awful, or that unruly, but rather that he was 12 years old and had had many riders prior to me.  When asked to canter, he had learned to spin 180 degrees and RUN to dislodge a rider.  He had also become hard in the mouth, just to make the days tolerable I suppose.  Spartacus had been a 'reject' trail horse at a public riding facility, but to me, he was just BEAUTIFUL, and the answer to my 14 year old dreams.

The first day I owned him, I fell off him twice.  Partially due to the 180 spin maneuver he had perfected, and partially due to the fact that I had money to buy a horse OR a saddle.  So, I learned bareback, with a horse that I couldn't really screw up, and luckily lived to tell about it.  Besides the spinning and running, he was a really sweet horse.  Great ground manners, never bucked, kicked, or ever had a mean thought, as far as I could tell.  I'm sure the instinct to spin and run was learned because he was 'trained' by trail riders who wanted to get a thrill, and the most for their money.   And the spin, well, it was always in the direction of the barn or gate; He really just wanted to go somewhere safe.

From day one, my efforts were spent undoing what was done, and teaching him new behaviors.  I once heard horse trainer and clinician Richard Shrake describe the training process as filling a jar with marbles.  The white marbles were the good/desirable behaviors, and the black ones were the undesirable/bad ones.  When training your horse, you have to put in more white than black.  That is an incredible analogy, because it explains why it is so much harder to retrain a horse, rather than to start a young horse off right in the first place.  AND, why it is important for a novice rider not to buy a young horse and think they can grow together.  With every wrong move on your part, and every misbehavior that goes uncorrected, your horse is being trained.  Badly.  A horse that has just been with a professional trainer, has been filled with white marbles for the previous 30 days.  If the rider doesn't know how to correct the horse when needed, it is a matter of time before the black marbles start accumulating.

I was lucky that, besides the spinning and running when asked to canter, Spartacus was a safe horse.  Not easy to train, but at least I wasn't dealing with kicking, biting, rearing, bucking, and so on.  I certainly would have been safer with a horse that had been trained and shown.  One that had been there, done that, for the last 12 years.  But, I wouldn't have learned as much!

Blog Archive