Thursday, May 8

KSC Spring Horsemanship Challenge: Week 5 Wrapup

Well I had an awesome recap post all done up, but Blogger ate it. If it somehow miraculously reappears, I will post it. Instead, this week, it's more of a general summary. Last week the weather was awesome, and I was able to ride Betty outside again. She is starting to settle into our rides much more quickly and has been improving with each ride. I've been focusing a lot on circles; I'm making sure she stretches her neck and responds to my leg correctly. The payoff is a horse who has learned to lengthen her topline and take longer strides. Her days of jarring pony trot are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Our circles are getting more balanced, and she is learning how to relax into the work. I'm still struggling with getting her to step cleanly into her turnarounds; she wants to push back off her front leg to start the turn. She's so compact and athletic, it's hard to catch her in time to fix the mistake. None of my normal exercises have worked, but setting it aside for a couple weeks and focusing on her response to my legs meant I've been able to approach it from further away. Spiraling in and out on a circle has been a fixture in our rides, and, by improving my timing in the spiral in, I've been able to help Betty understand that a squeeze from me means step forward and over. Betty's "git er done" attitude with take us far working cattle, but reining requires precision. She can learn it. I just have to ride well enough to teach her. Slowing down and looking at tiny details is not my favorite thing. It takes a level of concentration that is sometimes hard to achieve when I'm sneaking rides into the middle of my work day, but the payoff is totally worth it. Our lope has improved by leaps and bounds. I introduced walk to canter transitions this week and was pleased with how quickly she grasped the concept. We are still not where I want to be, and I need to put in some serious time working this month so she will be ready for the clinic. She's finding her rhythm more easily, but it's still a little disorganized and tense. I'm hoping the weather cooperates, because she seems to have a much easier time when we ride in the outdoor arena. Either way, hours in the saddle is the way to address this problem. Our rides have been a bit scattered and sporadic; work has been crazy. I'm really hoping to stick to my original plan of five rides a week for the coming month. We're headed to a cattle clinic on Sunday, so I'll get a lot of riding hours logged there. I'm excited to get her back in the sorting pen to see how she does.

Wednesday, April 30


I'm having way more trouble than I should writing up some goals for Betty and myself. I've been a little stuck in our training because I want everything to be perfect. I haven't had a horse all to myself in a while... a horse that's always as I left it... one there are no excuses for screwing up. Even though I know it's ridiculous to think I won't screw up, I just want what every crazy horse person wants right? I want the dream! So, to get it out of the way

Unrealistic goal: I want to train Betty perfectly all by myself and be awesome at everything we do and have a more famous video than Stacy Westfall.

There, I admitted it. I'm a crazy horse owner. On a more serious note, I did join this horsemanship challenge to stay on track preparing for the Les Vogt clinic in June.

Goal 1: Proficiency at 5 Pieces. Timeline: Completed by the beginning of June

We are well on the way with this goal. The 5 Pieces is a series of exercises that will help with teaching Betty body control by focusing first on the head and neck, then the shoulders, ribs, and hips. The fifth exercise, backing in a circle, tests the ability to shape the whole body. By the time of the clinic, I hope to have Betty relaxed and controlled through all five of these exercises.  The first three pieces are at least understood and gaining ground quickly. Pieces four and five have been introduced and just need to be developed further.

Personal Goal: Strive for 100% attentiveness when I am riding. This mare is so sensitive, I owe it to her not to let my mind wander while I ride. She rewards my focus with amazing work, but when I let my mind wander here and there she gets confused. On a related note, I need to remember to always ride her the same. When riding so many horses, it's easy to be inconsistent in the way I ask for certain things.

Not really a goal: I want us to feel together. Like she is an extension on my legs. In order to get there, we need to work on clarifying our communication first. Strengthening her body second. And smoothing out the edges last. Prerequisite to all of this, though, is that I get my act together as a rider. Betty's small size makes her agile and maneuverable which is paramount in a cow horse. I need to learn to stay out of her way so that she can work properly.

KSC Spring Horsemanship Challenge: Week 3&4 Wrapup

Week 3, I only managed one ride, so I was too ashamed for my wrapup post (haha, not really, mostly just busy), but I DID manage to have a much better luck last week. Betty is really coming along well, and I'm so enjoying getting to see her natural talent come out. I think she has some serious cowhorse potential. Here's what we've been working on the past couple weeks,

Week 3:

Wednesday: I hauled out and had an awesome lesson with Sabrina. It took Betty a while to settle in at the new place, but when she relaxed and started thinking we had some great work at the walk and trot. My focus on suppling her is paying off; we still need to work on consistently responding to my leg, but I think this is a problem of me not asking for things consistently more than her not getting it.  When she get all settled and warmed up, we worked on circles asking her to step deeper under her body with her inside hind and lift her back. It felt good that Sabrina picked up on the thing that I have just been introducing, and lets me know I'm on the right track. I really miss taking weekly lessons; sometimes it's hard to know what to work on when you are by yourself all the time. I was excited to show Sabrina how much Betty's canter has improved, but, alas, it wasn't in the cards for this lesson. Betty was still a little distracted, and I think the smaller space and new footing were just too many difficult things to bring her best work. Oh well, I was still super proud of her, and we left with some really good exercises to work on. Starting by asking her to step up on a circle, then step her hips slightly out so that the inside crosses under and in front of the outside light, and then doing a half circle like that followed by a half circle of  haunch turn. 

Week 4: 

Monday: We rode in the indoor arena and warmed up with circles, sidepass on the wall, and alternating between sidepass and forehand turns to help get her back and hips loosened up. Betty still likes to get quick with her feet, and these exercises encourage precision but not speed. Then we worked over some trot poles. At first she wanted to wiggle and squiggle over them, but after she figured out the spacing she came through much more straight. She stays very balanced and doesn't throw herself around, but I can tell we need to do more of these to build consistency in her trot. Working with poles always provides additional opportunities to mount and dismount when things get knocked out of place. Betty continues to be hit and miss with standing still, but she knows what I want and really tries to be good. We worked on the canter a little bit, but it was just not flowing like it did outside. Switched to working on rollbacks and we both had a lot more fun.

Monday night Betty also got some back shoes installed. After riding outside so much more in the beautiful weather, she was getting some uneven wear and cracking on her hind hooves. I'm also hoping this will help give her a little bit of extra traction to get the lope figured out. She still scrambles through turns, especially in the tighter space, and I think a little extra grip will help her get her balance figured out and help her feel more confident. I'm really hoping by the next cycle she will be ready for her first set of sliders.

Wednesday: I decided to rrde Betty while I taught my evening lesson. She was a pretty good demo horse and also tolerated my teaching and general silliness very well. I didn't dedicate much attention to her while I was teaching, but I appreciated how she just waited for me to give her a job and relaxed the rest of the time. At the end of the lesson I took a few minutes to move her around; we had nice trot work and her canter was amazing. She felt much more stable and able to slow her legs down through our turns instead of rushing and feeling like a motorcycle. Yay! I could get my legs long and balance her through the turns instead of just trying to stay with her. This was huge improvement from our last canter inside, and I'm so excited to feel like we finally have a place where we can start working on the canter. Introducued piece 5, backing in a circle, she tried hard, but I need to focus on getting her shoulders softer before I spend much time here. She has the idea now, and I was able to see that she's not quite ready yet. 

Thursday: I only had a few minutes, so I decided, why not ride her bareback? In a halter! All of our work on standing still during mounting came in handy as I had to take a few attempts to jump on her back. Once I finally made my way aboard, she looked back and got a cookie, let out a big sigh, and wandered off like this is our usual routine. I love my little horse. 

While I was initially hoping to finish this challenge by the end of May, I'm finding that I really like the slower pace I am taking with Betty. Ok, one ride a week was a little ridiculous, but we are one month in, and I've completed 11 rides. Betty is progressing really well in her training, and I don't want to push her too hard. Right now, she enjoys the work, but I also balance it with a lot of hanging out, grooming, and free time in the arena. I worry if I get too focused on under saddle stuff, she will lose her enthusiasm. We'll see how the next couple weeks go. I sent in my check for the Les Vogt clinic, and I definitely want to be ready for that. I just don't want to risk ruining this awesome horse that I'm so lucky to own. 

Tuesday, April 15

KSC Spring Horsemanship Challenge: Week 2 Wrapup

Week 2 of the Challenge was indeed a challenge. I had a crazy busy work week and didn't ride nearly as much as I wanted to, but where we lacked in quantity, we made up in quality. Betty is such a willing partner; it challenges me to be the best, most effective rider I can be so that we don't waste a moment.

Tuesday: Started off the ride in the best way possible when Betty stood like a statue for me to hop on. We warmed up with circles working on stretching her neck long and down first to the inside and then to the outside. When she was relaxed, I would lift the inside rein slightly and ask her to make her circles just a little bigger. This was our first time riding in the indoor arena in a while, and I was pleased that she felt much more forward and balanced. Our previous rides frequently had a sort of scrambling quality like she just didn't understand how to get traction, and at the same time she would always be trying to stop and then shoot forward. Not pleasant. Tonight was a whole different story; she felt solid and ready to concentrate on work instead of putting most of her attention into not falling down or running into a wall.  
We moved up to the trot and did some buttonholes and some pinwheels. She still struggles to the left, but had some really nice forward moving maneuvers with good crossover in front. I need to remember to feel whether or not she is balanced and ready to do the exercise rather than just throwing her into it when I get impatient. I really focused on how she responded to my leg, because I wanted to try something new. After our quick warmup, I knew she was ready. 

We ponied Norman! It was awesome. She really wanted to be worried about the whole situation, but, when she realized there was a job to do, she settled right down and got to work. I was really impressed. She had a few moments where she got really nervous, but she handled herself so well. I like the way she clinks the bit in her mouth three times after she does something scary. It's like her way of settling herself. My silly little mare. 

Thursday: I ran Betty and Norman around together in the indoor arena. They really seem to enjoy their group exercise time, and it's so cute watch them together. I felt lucky to have enough time to groom her and shove some treats in her face. 

Saturday: I had some of my students out for a lesson and it was way too nice not to ride a horse myself. Betty tolerated things pretty well and even did some nice work. 

The weather was beautiful, and all the ponies were on their best behavior. We worked on pivots and on moving her hips around while walking forward. No fancy maneuvers, just asking her if she minds moving her big booty over a step or two. She still likes to be tense rather than relaxed, so this was a challenge for her, but she gave it an A+ effort. 

Monday: We enjoyed another sunny ride outside. She was very soft at the walk. Her trot work was much more rhythmic without being lazy, and she's figuring out how to take horse size strides rather than choppy ones. Our pieces work (1,2,3) is getting smoother. She seemed to understand piece 3 better after Saturday's review of moving her hips around. I can feel her thinking about what I'm asking but not always getting the right answer. We did the windshield wiper exercise (stop, back, pivot, trot off, repeat) to help get her lifting her shoulders better in her backing as well as give her a reason to hustle around her turns. Loping we introduced the idea of the big fast and slow small circles that will be such an important part of her reining work. Our circles are getting rounder and more consistent, and, to the left, we even have two speeds, sometimes.  To the right, she still needs to get coordinated to bend and slow down, but she's thinking along the right track.  I've been struggling to figure out my seat on this mare, as I've always felt we are slightly out of sync. I think I finally got myself figured out during this ride. She is so small even a small change from me can really affect her. I know the actual change in my position is small, but it feels like I am leaning so far forward over her shoulders that she will fall on her face. Apparently, that's where I need to be so that she can get her back up and drive with her hind end, though. Strange as it may feel, I'm gonna work with it. 

I'm really pleased with her progress this week, and I'm inspired to ride even better this week and see where we are by next Tuesday! 

Monday, April 7

KSC Spring Horsemanship Challenge: Week 1 Wrapup

Our first week of the challenge went really well. The weather was, overall, wonderful. Betty is shedding... mostly on her neck and shoulders.. why?! Why must my beautiful horse shed from front to back like a weirdo? Oh well, I'm sure her hiney will catch up eventually. Throughout the week, I've been taking a critical look at where we are at in our training and trying to set some concrete goals to mark our progress as we prepare for our clinic. Each of my rides focused on skills that are too important to only learn halfway. 

Tuesday: Our ride was focused mostly on going forward. Forward has always been a sticky spot for Betty. She is willing to go, but when she wants to stop or slow down, she's pretty quick about doing so. I need her to start moving when I ask and maintain movement until I ask for something else. When we are working cattle, I can't nag at her with my legs every stride; there's a few other elements I need to be focused on. A steady, balanced canter has thus far eluded us, but we had some nice circles during our ride. My goal was to just stay out of her way and let her work, and she did! I've been a little ADD with Betty's rides lately, and I really had no idea where we would come out on this important foundation piece. That being said, I wasn't surprised that she has improved so much. This mare is so smart and loves to learn new things. I have to keep my focus, or she gets ahead of me and doesn't know what to do.

Wednesday: Since Betty is shedding like mad, I took a little extra time and refreshed her clicker training during grooming. She doesn't like to stand still when she doesn't feel like it and would also still like it to be ok for her to be nervous about me touching certain places on her body, particularly around her rump. I have no aversion to buying my horse's cooperation, so I reinforced her "Stand" command while I gave her the most thorough grooming of her life. This also tied into my plan for riding as she has gotten into the habit of wiggling around when I try to mount; I want to be able to tell her to stand and have her plant her feet immediately. We also worked on pulling her feet forward like she will have to do for her farrier appointment on 4/21. She hates holding her foot up on the hoof stand the most, and I think this cycle she will get back shoes as well, so twice as many feet as the last time. She really loves food so was very good for this practice. I'm hoping it pays off for John, the best farrier in the whole wide world. When I finally got around to riding her, I spent a few minutes working on having her stand while I mount, and showing her that this way she doesn't get bumped in the ribs with my foot, which she hates. Sadly, I forgot to check my cinch, and I ended up getting down to do that and has the bonus opportunity of practicing standing to mount again. Eventually, we got warmed up and I began working on our "5 easy pieces exercises". If you aren't familiar, it's basically a five part warm up routine that helps you break down the body into four basic pieces, head/neck, shoulders, ribs, and hindquarters. It's a great way to move front to back through your horse's body (and training) and find where you and them may need some extra work. Pieces one and two (Stretching the horse's neck in and out while traveling on a circle, nothing fancy) have been part of our routine, but I focused on emphasizing relaxation as she gave to the rein and stretching her neck out rather than down. I feel that she completely understands these two exercises but needs to spend more time doing them to get more relaxed before increasing the difficulty by asking for more give or smaller circles. She still wants to either tuck her head or stiffen her neck and dive her shoulder into the turns. I have to try to support her with my leg without hanging on her or nagging her. We rode the buttonhole exercise, which I have a separate post to talk about because I like it that much. Toward the end of our arena time, I introduced the concept of piece 3, moving the ribs, and she gave me a few nice steps. We left that one to soak, but I was very pleased with how hard she tried to figure out the puzzle.  I added more guidance from my outside seat bone in the canter and we had some nice moments where I felt like we were together rather than bouncing off each other trying to find the rhythm. Also did some rollbacks along the rail at the canter for the first time, and she loved it. We had some lovely departs into the canter and some nice stops as well.  It was such a beautiful day we spent some time riding the loop and visiting neighbors working on steady steps up and down hills and just going straight without worrying about much. She wanted to explore where the tree fell recently, and down by her old paddock along the fenceline. She is so smart. And weird. Here's a short video from our "trail ride"

Thursday: We took a day off from riding and did just a bit of groundwork. I focused on having her yield her head and neck to halter pressure and loosening her back. This ties in with my decision to focus on pieces one and two becoming more relaxed under saddle, and it's a huge piece of her lunging training that I skipped. I also let her free lunge with her mini me, Norman. 

Friday: We did lots of trot work and changes of direction. Working on clearing up leg aids and getting response from shoulders/ribs/hips as needed. Used leg yeild on the wall to help her get the idea for piece three, and it helped a lot. Our canter was even better than the previous days. Riding in the outdoor arena where she has a little more space to get coordinated seems to have really helped her get things figured out. I was happy that she really seemed to relax into our bendy trot work and I even got some video to prove it... but you can't see it... because, even though I uploaded it to Youtube, they say I didn't. I know it's out there somewhere, but I can't figure out where or how to make it be here. So, just imagine it for now, but try not to imagine too fantastically, I don't want you to be disappointed. 


Saturday: I didn't have time to ride, but we spent a few minutes hanging out in Betty's stall. I fed her too many treats and scratched her itchy neck, but then I had to take off to teach some lessons. 

This week's rides were all super productive, and I am working on a post laying out my goals for the coming weeks. 

Wednesday, April 2

This Is Not a Joke

I wanted to post this entry yesterday, but I feared people would only think it was an April Fools joke and never come back. This is, I believe, my return to regular blogging. I have been dealing with a few issues that led me to be a bit wishy washy with this blog. First, I had a hard time deciding on what type of writing I wanted to do here, but I also lost a dear friend last year and have spent the last year feeling not at all myself. Earlier attempts at bringing the blog back in a "fake it til you make it" approach left me feeling frustrated. I was empty inside and words would float around my head but never solidify into cohesive thoughts. The good news is, I've been doing a lot of training, riding, and thinking. Now that I'm feeling a little more myself, I'm ready to share my thoughts with you! BUT FIRST... We are going to start off with an update on Betty the wondermare.

After our fantastic outing at the SAFE show, Betty and I continued to work on riding, showmanship, and having her feet handled. I struggled to find enough time to ride her at the facility she was at as the days became shorter. Without arena lights,  I was still heading out to feed her each day, but I wasn't able to ride much. So, in October, she moved to The Red Horse Farm, my home base of operations and where two of my lessons horses live. We spent the next four months not quite riding as much as I'd like but still progressing steadily. Then we went and did this:

Her first time on cattle showed a lot of promise, but I realized how many buttons I still needed to install before she would be ready to work them again. We started working with more focus and with an aim at better body control. Betty was really enjoying her large pasture at RHF, but I was again running into issues with her housing arrangement. It was beginning to get hard to catch her, and I found myself making excuses not to ride just so I could avoid the half hour of chasing her around the pasture it would take to bring her in. In January, I had a serious talk with myself about getting this mare on track. At this point, she had about the equivalent of 45 days of training. We could walk/trot/canter and had basic steering but little else.

So, again, Betty was loaded on the trailer and moved a little further north along the road to Lazy M Stables. This has become my main training barn, and it made sense to have Betty where I do most of my riding. Since her move in February she has really come a long way. We have been taking lessons with a reining trainer, a dressage trainer, and hauling out to work some cattle. She has learned how to bend (relaxation is still a work in progress), is much better balanced, works well off my leg, and is starting to take horse strides instead of short choppy pony strides. This little mare has been such a joy to work with, and it turns out she's pretty talented too. She clearly was bred for the types of events I want to do and has such a steady temperament it's amazing.

So why bother to blog about her again after so long? Well, let me tell you what we have coming up! Starting April 1, we are participating in a 14 Week Riding Challenge. Between now and July 12, the goal is to complete 40 rides and a total of 60 hours together. Since we usually ride 5 days a week, I am hoping to complete this challenge by the end of May. Here are a few photos from our first ride of the challenge.

She's still pretty fuzzy but has put on some good muscle since the fall. These are our official "before" pictures for the challenge.

Baby slide stop tracks are starting to happen. Sometimes she braces too much, but it's a work in progress.

The reason for the challenge and the blogging, is to help keep me accountable and track my progress towards something that's already keeping me up at night with excitement. June 7-8, Betty and I will be heading across the mountains to clinic with Les Vogt. This guy is one of the greats, and I never expected to have a chance to ride with him. Needless to say, I am super excited and want to be sure that Betty and I are prepared to take home as much from the clinic as possible.

For some reason I can't get this video to embed, but it's a great explanation of his training approach and our road map for the next month at least:

We are currently improving pieces 1 and 2, and I just introduced step 3. So, we are well on our way. I'm also focused on getting her more relaxed and steady at the lope. Once these skills are a little further developed, I will put together a list of more specific goals. I still need to be careful of pushing her too hard, and I want to get out on the trails as soon as we dry out a bit here. Check back often to see what we're up to! 

Thursday, August 22

SAFE Show Recap

Well, we have survived our first show. There are lots of firsts to check off our list now. First night stalled away from home, first show, and first ribbons won. Overall, I was pleased with the way that Betty handled her first show experience.

Friday evening I loaded up and Z and Betty, dropped by another barn to pick up a friend's horse, and drove out to the beautiful Donida Farms. After locating the stalls, settling the horses, and getting things organized, I took Betty to the indoor arena to let her get used to the surroundings. We looked around at all the new sights....mirrors, flower boxes, and all the other little things a horse might find scary. Betty, of course, didn't find any of them alarming. At all. I put her on the lunge line to get a little exercise and work out any kinks that she might have developed in the trailer. She worked just as well in the scary, new environment as she does at  home. I hurried to get her put away so that I could bathe Z while there was still some daylight.

Saturday morning Betty showed in her very first classes. We almost missed our Stockhorse Halter class, but the judge let us sneak in at the last minute. Betty did very well standing waiting for the judge to come around to her. After asking her age and breed, the judge commented that she loved Betty's cute ears. I like 'em too. No ribbon in our first class, but because this show was to benefit a rescue, they also held a rescue horse halter class. Betty totally knew the routine for this class, and I was very proud of her. I was even more proud, though, when we were announced her as the third place horse in the class. Betty was done for the day after her two morning classes, and I shifted my attention to Z for the riding classes. He did great his first day showing. In our first walk/jog class after warming up with several walk only classes, Z looked so shocked when I asked him to jog off. I was really proud of the way he calmly took on everything he came across.

Sunday was the English day at the show, but the trail course was still open for both disciplines. Betty did the course in hand two times. The first time through, I brought treats and gave her a little reward after each obstacle. She handled all of them very calmly, Even though we had never done anything like this before. This is our second time through:

At the end of the day, it was announced that we placed fourth in this class. Way to go Betty!

When I went to catch Betty in her stall at the end of the day on Sunday, she turned her back to me showing that she was at the end of her good behavior. Even though she spent most of the weekend just being at the show, I can tell that she was pushed to her limits. She never wavered in her behavior with me, and I have to remember in the future that even if she is showing no outward signs, she may still be stressed out. It is always tempting with a quiet horse to push them too far too fast. Me and Betty have a lot of years together, and I don't want to push her faster than she is ready to go.

We will continue to build on this first exposure, and I am excited for what will come.