Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sheza Junior Steed!

Since Sheza came home at the end of June from 60 days training at Moore Horses, I've worked her all of 3 times at home, 30-40 minutes at a time, just in the round pen ending in a walking ride around the lower pasture. She and Rory are living quite peaceably together and have the entire west side of the property to themselves. Still, Sheza is always standing at her gate whinnying to me if she sees a halter (or anything) in my hand and when opportunity arose to set up having a friend meet me at the lake and ride Blaze as escort for Sheza's first hometown trails adventure today, well, you know what I did! 

Sheza rocks Lake Oroville trails! 
The morning began auspiciously..ish, with uneventful grooming of both, loading of Blaze, and then Sheza trodding firmly on my left foot, the resulting throb of my toes effectively silencing the niggling worry about my somewhat irritated metal right ankle. No big deal, I calmly went to my trailer loading efforts (not revisited since she came home in June) and she was half loading herself in a minute or less, only then she decided she'd been a bit cooperative for a fresh green Arabian filly, and she tried the head up and rapid retreat trick. I didn't relish a rope burn and hadn't thought to wear gloves so the there went the lead rope and off trotted the filly in grand style until she trod on the lead rope,  startled herself, and stood sulkily with her head down until I retrieved her. We had a rather firm circle and discussion about not being pushy or rushy in hand, then back to the trailer we went and just the pressure of my husband standing "behind" her when she was waffling about behaving sent her stepping neatly in. I backed her out once more and had her load again for good measure, and fortunately she might be more serious about food than even her mother or Scrappy are; once her nose was in the manger it pretty well overwhelmed her desire to be jittery in the trailer.

On the short list of rude behaviors of the day, she tried to barge backwards out of the trailer at the trail head which of course didn't fly; N was there to stand at her head and make her stand while I opened the back door and tail clip, then when she was standing she was allowed to back on out and take in this new place. She played tourist a little but once she and Blaze were tied and the hay bag came out that's all she cared about. After our mini loading tantrum and considering I hadn't done my usual round pen work with her, I figured we'd head for horse camp (on foot if necessary) which has a round pen, and I'd work the piss and vinegar out of her there if she seemed to need it. 

The genius of April's work is that Sheza finds saddling relaxing, and going riding exciting, but with boundary tools present and usable. She stood like a rock for the fussing process of me tacking up two horses, sidled over to the picnic table bench so I could mount, and true to what I'd seen when first riding her up north with April, when worried her go-to move is to drop her head and eat. Sure, she startles but already she is figuring out that teleporting or even semi teleporting is *not* the way we deal with scary things. Instead, employ the 4 Acceptable Arabian S's:

Startle
Stop
Stare
Snort

I'll take that reaction out of any of my Arabians all day long, after riding my dear Sheza's momma Desire, who honed her teleportation skills til the day she retired last summer. You all know my great love and appreciation for my girl D, and having bought her when she was 15 years old she certainly already was who she was,  but I have always been keen on her one and only foal being a) not suspicious of humans and b) not a teleporter. The 4 S's it is, then!
Sheza's only other transgression of the day was maybe 5 minutes into the ride when,  after stopping at a scary log to graze on it, we ended up hanging out grazing with a couple of my friends who were just heading out as well. That was all very peaceful and they were very congratulatory on my good looking clever filly, then clucked to their horses and turned to ride away. Sheza's immediate reply to this was to go from grazing to OHMEGOTOO!!, illustrated with an attempted trot off, which when stymied turned into a brief front feet off the ground filly hissy, quickly stymied by turning her head right round into my knee.

OH. Fine then. She seemed to say, and went back to grazing. 

Aside from that, the rest is sunshine, rainbows, and proud parental gushing. She ate, she drank, she pooped, and by gawd, standing off trail, uphill, after cramming ourselves out of the way so other riders could pass, she stretched out and took a long lovely pee! She's a flirty squirty like her mother and she did act a bit in heat this morning (she goes weak in the knees and slides her butt at me when she's really in, *eyerooollll*) but that seemed a proper horse-who-needed to pee moment, too. I was kind of impressed at the balance of a 3 year old standing uphill and stretched to pee, as well. My goodness, the beast.

after investigation, deemed fit for consumption
 <3
 faucets are not to be trusted, what they dispense is mostly acceptable 


Sheza took some turns leading for a minute or two, then would lose confidence and wait for Blaze to amble by. She was hilariously torn between being a bit too nervous to stick to leading and finding Blaze's walk too mind numbingly slow to stay behind. I hear ya, kid! 
 My seat and lady bits were reminding me quite convincingly that I hadn't ridden 5 miles in a treed saddle in a while, let alone an ungodly uncomfortable one like the cheapie Thorowgood I bought for a steal that seems to fit Sheza great. If my saddle fitting experiences have taught me anything it's that she'll probably outgrow the saddle soon--and this may be the first saddle that I cheerlead my horse to outgrow! Oh. My arse.

Not even tossing gravel could get Sheza's head out of her feed bag after the ride. She is all business, especially if the business is Eating. Blaze merely wonders where his is, because clearly, he is starved. ;-)
Loading Sheza to go home was nowhere near as dramatic as that morning's attempt. She put her front feet in and out about 4 times and then she went all the way in and that was that! Showers and mash all around at home and I retrieved Rory from where I'd stashed her in Desire's paddock successfully  for the day. Before long everyone was happy back in their places with an afternoon snack, including the human, who really couldn't ask for more.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Assuming Your Way Into the Dirt

You can take the title of this post how you like; after all, it's a fine enough life lesson that in general assuming things instead of feeling out or asking things can lead to an unimaginative and perhaps accelerated journey to your ultimate patch of dirt. You can also take it purely on the equine level on which it is also intended: assuming your horse already knows and is comfortable with things because XYZ  is a great way to eat some dirt, or very nearly.

Saturday was a great refresher lesson in all of the above for me. First, let's lay out the facts and assumptions  present upon purchasing Scrappy last year. You may find that you share(d) some of these assumptions with me, regarding Scrappy or your own horse:

1) Scrappy is 8 and been under saddle at least 2-3 years, he's had a lot of saddle and people work

2) Scrappy is a steady, nondramatic gelding by personality, he's so sweet and perfect and can do no wrong!

3) Scrappy has finished 2 LDs, 2 50s, AND the VC100 already, he really knows his shit! 

4) Scrappy rode beautifully with a nice head set in a hackamore, he must have some training behind that, and we are going to jog quietly away in our hackamore forever!   

5) When I bought him, Scrappy was a little hesitant and inclined to take a step back when you first wanted to mount, he was also weirded out when I first started climbing up on things to mount him.I went about mounting in a quiet and encouraging way and his hesitation seemed to disappear over the last year. I have used mounting rocks/blocks multiple times each ride with the treeless saddle over the past few months. I kind of assumed I handled this mounting hesitation thing because he's getting quieter about it on trail, moving on.

So there we have some basic facts and the resulting assumptions. If I'd been paying better attention I would have seen that this pattern of Scrappy overturning assumptions started the weekend after I bought him, when I took him to the 2013 Gold Country LD ride assuming a 100 mile horse trotted out for vets. No, no he didn't, in fact he required hazing and I finished the LD and went home in shame and have been practicing ever since, with the result of 2 nice trot outs and 2 half assed ones--but no hazing--at our last endurance ride in April.

Here's how we can look at these facts again, with a current timeline and minus the assumptions, and see how Scrappy pulled off what he has, but would still be completely wigged out by me going to mount in a new saddle in the round pen:

1) Scrappy is 9 and has been under saddle 3-4 years. He lived the first 5ish years in a big herd at Rushcreek Ranch with no human interaction beyond branding. Since he was brought home from Nebraska to CA he was "broke to ride" in some fashion, and then completed the 5 AERC rides with 3 different riders on him, with the 100 miler rider just meeting him the week of the ride. See #3.

2) Scrappy is a steady, nondramatic gelding by personality. I'm used to greenness being expressed by spooks and startles and a generally strong horse in hand, none of which Scrappy showed me, but he was also being himself in a scenario and sport he was already pretty comfortable in. Nothing more than that can be assumed. See #3.

3) Scrappy has now finished 5 LDs, 3 50s, and the VC100...which require Steady Moving, Eating, Drinking, Pooping, and Peeing--all things Scrappy naturally learned and excels at by being a horse raised on the range. The fact that he does those things well with a person on board and another grading him really exhibits nothing beyond the willingness to begrudgingly carry a human that far and tolerate another poking them.

4)The cessation of Scrappy riding with a nice head set in the hackamore was most notably on record at Nevada Derby in April, where my quiet fattie who had started back of the pack on a loose rein on an LD last fall was now a Hi Ho silver somewhat fitted up horse leaving camp with the hackamore cranked to his chest on a cold desert morning 50. This resulted in my first claim of "going back to basics," when I realized that the hackamore was just a nice little thing that worked when he felt like it, but when he didn't, having no lateral control and a hot horse in a hackamore was not okay. Putting a bit in his mouth resulted in apparrently clueless greenie bit chomping and giraffe necking, so in the last month I'd done a handful of round pen ground driving sessions working on giving to the bit, then rode him the 9 miles on trail the other day where I found him carrying himself and the bit rather nicely for not much work and a bunch of time off.

So, now we have a day where I throw a different (big, heavy, dangly stringed,creaky) western saddle on him and work him in the round pen. Operating with all the facts and assumptions listed previously, I then clipped the reins on and went to mount from the ground, resulting in this. 

I thought long and hard that night, and the next day, and for the hours that I worked Scrappy that next day. Why would my wonderfully trained quiet gelding suddenly lose his mind after a year when I've been trying all these different saddles right along and and and??!?!

My trainer April asked me a certain question in that 24 hour window that stuck.

** "How often have you truly pushed him outside his comfort zone?" **

Well I've--well...Hhmmm. How much of what I've done with Scrappy was anything outside of what his previous owner's did in the approximately 3 years that they had him since he came off the "range."  From what I can glean and remember, the only departures in what I've done from what Scrappy already knows is safe Scrappy land, have been the round pen sessions working on head set done in the last few weeks, where I wasn't even riding, just working him from the ground.

Had I even ever mounted him in the Round Pen before??? I quizzed myself desperately with a tired brain made fuzzy from stress and surprise.

Don't think so.

Have I ever ridden himbareback?

No.

Why not? You tool around ride camps bareback on Blaze.

Thinking on that long and hard, I pretty well found that subconsciously I wasn't comfortable doing it. Yeah I'll strap crap on his back and go try to finish a 50 with gear all over him, but the act of climbing on my "quiet little gelding" bareback in a halter wasn't something that had shown up as safe to try in my little Risk Calculating brain. To be sure, I've gotten more cautious after shattering my ankle a few years back, but wandering around my property or a ride camp on my horse bareback has always been a *thing* for me, I even did it on Desire (eventually, and not at a ride camp). The simple realization that I wasn't comfortable sliding up on Scrappy bareback and hadn't at all in the year that I'd owned him pointed out the Holes to me more than anything else had, even his recent dramatic round pen reaction.

Holes in our relationship. Holes in the trust that you and a horse place in each other when venturing out for miles together. He has uncertainties and so do I. That head raising uncertainty about mounting thing that he did when I first bought him certainly factored into my unconscious hesitation to ride him bareback. While a year isn't a long time in the overall span of things, it's still longer than I would have liked to go not really knowing my horse. Scrappy was purchased to take over for my mare Desire who I battled to keep sound and ultimately retired last year. He arrived with my frustrations and stymied endurance dreams already placed on his shoulders, and after owning him for a week we were already at a ride doing an LD. Physically and baseline mentally, Scrappy could of course handle it, as could I. We finished, had fun, came home and told our tale. But right then and there I was just another random stranger who took him in hand and rode him some miles, without knowing him or looking farther than "we finished!" I struggle to avoid this meandering over into overly flowerly "the horsie has feelings too!" ground, and I certainly mean to place or imply no blame on his previous owners in all my ruminations. I merely and truly want a complete relationship with my endurance horse and what I see of Scrappy and my first year together is a bit of a jumble, obsessed with miles and saddle fit before I really knew what I had.

Lots of Holes, in need of filling.

In that vein, Scrappy and I went into the round pen the Sunday after the saddle melt down with nothing but a rope halter and lead. Having seen his extreme flight reaction to bunny hopping and basic greenie horse starting tricks in his saddle episode and with all of the above on my brain, I stripped it all down to basics.

First, stored up pizzazz, out. Once he was looking at me on the circle and quieting down, how did he feel about me bunny hopping 2" off the ground? OMG BYE! said Scrappy, as he zoomed away around the round pen. Alrighty then. HopHopHopHopHopHopHop. I have an extremely tragic video from the session that I only showed my husband of me breathing like I've just won a 400 meter dash after all the hopping efforts it took for Srappy to decide hopping might be an acceptable human action.

Okay then, how's this?Up on the round pen rails. (OMG BYE!) Down again. Up again. (Again? huh..) Down. Hop Around on the ground (OM--oh. Well..that). Climb the rails.

ugh weird human above me, toleratetoleratetolerate
 Down again. Onto the mounting block. Down from the mounting Block. Up and HOP on the mounting block (OMG BYE!). Down again. Onto the mounting block again. Repeat.

Once he thought standing and even hopping on the mounting block wasn't the worse thing ever, it was all about asking for one step at a time, sidling up to me, for the eventual goal of an assisted bareback mount. If he got nervous and committed to not stepping up, he worked. Pretty quickly he understood that all that I wanted was one polite little step at a time, toward me up on the scary block. He started to get consistent with it, so off the mounting block and back up the round pen rails I went to test the One Step when I was looming above him. Less enthusiastic about me being above him but the One Step response is still there, and I could already see that he was gratefully accepting the use of the tool that I had provided him. He was uncertain about the whole situation, this new work in the round pen, me sitting there on the rails above him, but his go-to action was becoming One Step toward me when cued instead of balking and trying to get away/being driven to work. My goal to make myself and my odd requirements the happy, quiet places, seemed to be to be on track.

An hour or so after starting, swallowing fear frogs and with shaking legs (I do have PTSD about mounting at times), I finally slid onto his back. He raised his head a little but didn't move. Everyone breathed, and after standing around for a good minute or two, I asked him to walk off. Of course at this point I only had his lead rope clipped to the chin halter loop, so I didn't really have much steering. Trying to get him to flex to the right to tie my rope on the other side as "reins" demonstrated renewed stiffness to his right. When I got him Scrappy would flex to the left all day and not at all the right, but I worked on it and had gotten him flexing both sides quite nicely. Well, it doesn't translate bareback apparently, so we did some circles around the pasture and round pen until he gave me his face to the right just a LITTLE and completely gave and went quiet. OH, that? Scrappy said, and gradually started flexing his neck around to the right more and more, til I could tie the rope on.

From there I repeated all of the above actions, but up in our *scary* driveway, in sight of all the other horses, with my mounting efforts done from a terrifying cooler sitting next to some horse eating muck boots. With renewed tension it was even more obvious that Scrappy accepted the tool of my One Step cue. In maybe 5 minutes, snorting softly and eyeballing everything, he came to the cooler's side and stood for me to slide up on his back. From there we had a totally relaxed cruise all around the property, bareback in a halter. Scrappy was inquisitive, snacking as he marched to all corners of the fenced perimeters, not stopping at the fillies or his pasture gate as I thought he might. He seemed content, and interested, and I felt at home on his broad warm back.

'sup, mini horse

Somewhere, in one or both of us, a hole was quietly filled in.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Holy S(@#( Scrappy! The Saddle Saga Continues

The only saddle that has truly fit Scrappy and not slid around since I got him was a semi QH barrel skirted western saddle that I used last fall, but once he changed from round-fat to some a-frame at the wither/shoulder, that really didn't fit anymore and this blog has borne witness to the resulting whining since. Scrappy was also broke out and ridden in his first endurance rides before I bought him in a western saddle with apparently good results. So in my elimination process I wanted to try a full QH bar saddle on him.

This morning I put a heavy leather full skirted full QH bar western saddle on him, felt like the fit seemed decent enough to try 4 or 5 miles around the neighborhood, and led him out of the cross ties. As we headed for the mounting block he did this WEIRD skittering thing with his hind end and zoomed past and around me. Now Scrappy does like to puff and blow and act a bit of a fool, mostly in hand at home, but this was a panicky/.strange reaction that I hadn't gotten *at all* when pulling him to ride the other day after a month off. I tried walking him back past the same spot and he did the same skittering thing. Now I had also pulled his mini horse friend, cleaned him up, and then put him away, so Scrappy was somewhat high from that transaction too, so  I decided I didn't want to mount up and ride out into the neighborhood roads with him like that and a go in the round pen would settle us both down.

Send him out around the round pen and he has his back humped and zooms about as he does, he seemed head lower and more humped up than usual but wasn't bucking or doing anything nuts, just some Arab zoomies around and around. the saddle has leather dangly strings and the whole 9 and he seemed  a bit hinky about that, but it was a big change from a treeless saddle so fair enough. I had him work up a good sweat, readjusted the saddle some, sent him around again, then when he was looking soft and quiet I put my reins on,  and prepared to mount. Foot in the stirrup, rise halfway up his side in process of mounting and BOOM, his head goes up and he FREAKS, backs up, starts spinning away from me, I barely get my foot free and jump down out from between him and the edge of the roun pen. Uhhhhh wtf???

 When I first got him Scrappy was a little hesitant about mounting and his go-to nervous move is to back away from things  but we've been working on it a lot and he hasn't been even raising his head nervously, let alone backing away from mounting in a while.

My heart was pounding from this surprise reaction from him but that was obviously not okay so I sent him out again around and around til he looked soft and quiet (and dripping sweat) again. I talk to him and do my usual routine with the reins, foot in the stirrup, start to get up and BOOM he does the same thing, but this time as he spun away my foot got stuck in the stirrup and I barely managed to land on one foot, hopping with one foot stuck, still holding the reins and trying to turn his head back my way so I didn't fall and get dragged, which meant my left shoulder about got yanked out of the socket and a nice rope burn for the hand. As my shoulder jerked my foot came out of the stirrup luckily and I fell hard on one knee.

He seemed weirded out. I was weirded out. He didn't even want to flex his neck around AT ALL to his sides, just skitter his hind end away. Tense. Even bunny hopping next to him like you do with the rankest greenie was making him throw his head and back away and canter in panicked circles.

 I didn't know what else to do but to send him on out again, but this time minus the saddle. I was hot and frazzled (unexpectedly long round pen sessions always happen in the unshaded heat don't cha know!) but just felt that the saddle was tweaking him out, whether it was pain or flashbacks or whatever the heck, I didn't think I could get anywhere until I took that out of the equation and I couldn't very well give up with my horse having stymied my mounting attempts violently twice. So saddle came off and lo and behold the dry spots that I have been getting behind the shoulders with saddles were even more pronounced after just the round pen work.

So around and around he went, and he got softer and quieter again. I put my reins on him and acted as if I would mount with him bareback (of course no handy mounting block around so I just leaning and jumping) and he was already not very impressed. He started to flex his neck side to side again. I really needed a mounting assist and a minute to think so we left the round pen and went to find my mounting block. Scrappy was still a little high but as we came up and toward where he lives his attention went to the fillies making noise and I could tell his energy had shifted. He wasn't paying attention to me, but he also wasn't in that weird panicked red zone he'd been in with the saddle on. I climbed on my mounting block and he wasn't scared but he also really wasn't paying attention up there by the the other horses so I put my skito and treeless on him (that we did miles in two days ago just fine!!) , took him and the block back to the round pen, sent him around a few times, then climbed up on the block. The first time I pulled the stirrup he did a little mini lean away but that was it, so I leaned over his back, cooed all over him like a greenie, he stayed normal Scrappy-esque, so I swung on board and that was that. He stood quietly, was a little nervous with my legs on him for a minute, then we round around and out on our merry way like nothing had happened. When he'd reproven himself saddle broke I put him in the cross ties and was so distracted by the whole thing I didn't even clip the cross ties on him when I went inside for a bottle of water--he just stood there with a hoof cocked in the cross tie stall like ho hum farm plug til I came back..

SO. The saddle really hurt? Or the saddle really gave him bad bronc flashbacks or something?