Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fancy's First Ride
The above photo is of a lovely fox trotter mare I have in for schooling named
" Nothing Fancy", her owner is Andrea Kahn of Jefferson WI.
This is Fancy's first time carrying a rider and I thought I would take a little opportunity to share some of my experiences in working with young horses over most of my life time now and maybe there could be something here that may help someone else doing the same work.
Fancy is actually an easy horse in the sense she has truly a good start in life with Andrea acquiring her as a yearling and doing the right things in bring her up as young horse getting her prepared to have a good start and the most possible success when her under saddle work was to begin.
She taught her to be a good citizen from the start in that she does respect space limits, in which they need being such a large animal, not by nature an aggressive one. Andrea did not get greedy in working things over and over until as some horses just get numb,reactive, resentful and/or that zoned out way about them. Fancy is happy, very engaged in her mind and open to everything I present because trust was in place. She has been taught that she is safe living in a human made world and I hope she never gets out of Andrea's possession to find out just how bad it can be with the wrong kind of people.
In my work with her, a big base of ground work was completed, slowly and only in the amount of pressure in which she was comfortable once settling in here which did not take much. Everything done in her ground work is done with the thought that it relates to what she would need to know once I was mounted.
I teach horses never to pull on a lead and everything in communication with halters, leads or long lines it done just as I would with a rein in opening and closing my fingers to create a signal , never pulling and pushing them around. The same applies when I make body contact in ground work, I always do a push release with my hands or body not a steady push. No twirling and jerking on ropes in huge ways are in my program, I don't want them to fear them or be reactive of them but be accepting. All blanket work, rope work ,saddling and everything I do with a horse is about showing them theses objects, let them smell them , touch them and in touching their entire bodies with them in a kind way, learning the feel and movement of them will not hurt them and ever be directed at them in an aggressive way.
I don't want a horse desensitized, but rather acclimated.
I don't want horses to fear me or people. I'm not into that feed the human need of conquering horses, they are not alligators but I see them treated as such all the time. That's a human problem, not a horse problem, but the horses do have to live among people with those philosophies and can say they in my opinion are missing out on how truly the best a horse can be. I only get big when I have to and only as much as I need to, never more and know how to move right on after that, as nothing happened. I'm not one that does the "lets jerk them around in the head to set the ground rules" on top of doing such a thing can do a lot of damage to the neck of a horse next setting them up for failure due to pain issues.
Things are done with consistency here, rules are not changed on a horse because of a human whim or need. Everything is thought out in what the horse needs to be the safest mount possible for them and for people.
There is a world of difference between production training and training to be a safe solid mount with no holes, while still being engaged in the mind and learning to like their job not accept it as "just their fate".
I don't find the philosophies of putting the buck in to take it out, as making a safe mount, this does not always work and have had to re-hab many horses through the years trained with that thought process. Those that don't make it in those programs are just considered throw aways and the horse being at fault or not up to standards, not that the trainer was the failing factor in that horses fate.
Even doing the right things in this manner cant always help when things just sometimes go wrong and the reality of teaching horses this happens. I can bring to mind 2 situations with horses that things went south although both of these horses did not come in with a solid base as Fancy did and had issues before ground work even took place. The first a horse I had going well under saddle and just as very big leggy young gaited horse can do, got his feet tangled up in the arena when I was on and down we went together with me trapped with one leg under him until he got up, after that he was terrified of me getting back on and had to start all over at square one with the mounting process.
The other horse far enough along in that we were out in the back woods riding and a neighbor started brush hogging which was not a problem until he hit a tree stump with it. The huge boom and racket it caused spooked this horse so bad he bolted, tripped and over his head I went, experiencing dirt in every orifice that was not covered by clothing. Again he was terrified of me getting back on and had to start again. Things like this happen and why or how an individual horse will associate any of theses experiences with a human up top and coming off as a bad thing to let one back on , only they can answer. Of coarse the owners were not understanding at all as "we're the trainers" and things like this in their minds are not supposed to happen, well they do and that's the reality of working with a living creature not a machine, but a living being ruled by nerves, muscles and emotions that can have fears.
You ride enough horses and even aged ones with years of riding and training, things happen, it's just the way it is, but we do try to minimize this from happening by getting the basics in place and making them as solid as one can.
Many stories for that book were working on these days.
One, of the biggest things I can convey in the first ride is, be soft, relaxed, but conscious, be reassuring to the horse, remind them your up there with a word here and there. They are just figuring out how to carry your weight, as you can see in the photo above Fancy is taking it all in her legs right now not using her back or upper body to pick me up and carry me. I don't want to push her and make her tighten in her body the wrong way to carry me but learn too with more rides. If we force it by putting stiffness in the body early and teach them how to tighten in the wrong way and use the wrong muscles than we already started in going backwards in finding a collected walk in the beginning and keeping that element of looseness we will need later in the flat walk, running walk or fox trot on what ever breed of gaited horses your working with. On a trotting horse you'll end up with a hollow backed trot and not a collected trot. Why go back and fix that later when you don't have to, just keep everything soft and relaxed, don't get in a hurry, take the time it takes. Shaping the body can come later, just let them learn to carry you, find their balance, realize the communication with rein aids is the same as it meant in the ground work, longeing and line driving. Don't put pressure in those stirrups as the stirrup leathers go around the saddle tree bars and when pressure is applied in the stirrups your putting pressure on the back making it even harder to learn to pick their backs up with you on.
Believe me they can feel every tension and fear you bring up with you in that saddle. Get a hold of your own emotions if fear is present and not transfer this to the horse.
I think it important to mention also if you are not teaching your own horse it is reality to know if your own skills are not in place just because their teacher can ride them does not mean they will be the same for you. You have to make that possible in your self doing your own work to be a good rider and teacher to a horse. You just don't pick up your horse and ride off into the sun set being the star among your friends or fellow riders or in your own mind. It takes years and years to bring a horse to it best possible performance's what ever it's job is to be. It will be dependant on you for sometime to continue to teach them, make that teaching all the good stuff, not the bad.
Also ,do you have the right horse for you, like the old saying "just because you bought a Quarter horse does not mean it will be good at running barrels". Know what your horse is or is not, not what you want it to be as a performer or then it will never measure up and you set it up to fail, while blaming it and everyone that has a hand in it's teaching or advising you.
It's always hard sending the horses in for schooling home, people do dumb and selfish thing all the time to their horses, for Fancy at least this will not be the case, Andrea has years on her own being an experienced horse woman in the show ring and out side and knows what it is to run many sides of equine business's. I can send her home and feel good and breath with ease as her horses well being is first.
People like her keep me going knowing Fancy will have the best working life possible.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Regals Lunar Express
Who we call Major
Major I think of as the "pretty boy".
He does not like to be dirty and it seems to be important to him how he looks.
Major has so much dignity about him, much as Bubba always had but with out the arrogance of Bubba. Major is my performer, he's the most athletic and talented walker I have ever owned, he's that step above and can be very hard on himself. He's been my fastest learner and rarely makes an error when he learns a new skill completely. When we do have those errors it's usually due to my self causing it and him doing exactly what I asked, I just did not realize it at the time. The strength he has, yet so light & soft in how he uses himself , the brilliance of mind and maneuverability is everything I've always wanted to challenge my own skills in working upper level dressage work in a walking horse. He is also is one of the multi gaited horses that can do the foxtrot, running walk, saddle rack.
The saddle he is wearing is a fun one I enjoy riding from time to time, it's a gaucho saddle from South America. I have done a few modifications to it in that I want my saddles to be double rigged not single, so I did re-rig it for use with an X- cinch.
It is a treed saddle in that the tree is just made of leather having 2 stuffed tubes of leather running down each side of the spine laced together to distribute riders weight and create a nice wide and tall channel over the spine. This is a saddle for those that do have the skills of riding with an independent, balanced seat. Those that are still at the level of riding in that they are dependant on swells and a cantle with stirrup pressure to stay atop a horse will not find the security they desire until their skills have come in to place fully.
I have had fun with it and just something different.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Perfectin Gold Stryke
Also know as :
Stryker Dyker
Dennis the Menes
Yellow Butt
It's just amazing I was even able to get these photos as almost every time I've tried to get pictures of this horse they end up being of his tongue coming at the camera or just his muzzle with full view of his sinuses. It's very hard to keep this horse away from you when your around him, where you are, he is.
Also amazing is I got 2 precious hours of my own yesterday after doing morning jobs, and working the string of training horses, I then had this window of time before people came to take my boy Stryker for a ride.
We have 8 horses here of our own and each one means the world to us, they are our family and each one is unique yet so the same in the peace they create in their own security here. Dave and I are always in Ah of how when new horses come in they seem to help them know it's safe here and they all want them to relax here and they do.
Stryker is the one that is a bit different in that he just wants everyone to play with him. We don't leave the lounge door open, house door open, double chain and latch everything and keep nothing laying around that's not specifically for him as toys, or he would be in the house and everything on earth was put here for him to play with.
His wide open curiosity , and zest for life makes him one we have to protect from him self as he knows no fear and he has been put to the helicopter test twice now with Mayo clinic so close and the crop dusters working around the fields adjacent to the ranch.
He's designated himself as the official greeter here on the ranch. He makes us laugh all the time and loves to go for a ride, he enjoys his working time and has not a lazy bone in his body. I so enjoy when I have time just for him and we get so caught up in each other working and playing.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Link to slide show of all photos
Hanover Michigan Clinic 2008
Yes I did it and it's about time!
Having the right enviroment and people makes all the difference in how we come together as a group to learn and share.
Dave and I did a clinic here last year together as well and I knew just the place I was coming to again , the kind of folks this wonderful, peaceful, safe place would bring.
Thank you Jeannie Shepherd for making it all just right for us all , the horses too!
I'm always working hard to take my repeat horse and rider teams to the next place in their homework. Even though we had some new folks and some that had been here at my ranch as well, everyone fit perfectly as a group and more like a family coming together finding each other and just letting it all happen and go where it may.
To open a very important door to that next place I felt I needed was to take them to that place of feeling our emotions to the fore front, to open ourselves up to our horses, and to that place inside ourselves we sometimes guard so well.
That most important element we need show for our horses to give us everything they have in them to perform at their very best.
I'd put some serious thought in what I was about to do, the risk I was taking and hoping having Dave there with me would help and he would pick me up if I fell and not bring what I needed in the people to fruition.
What I did was GIVE THEM MYSELF, my soul on one palm and my life on the other, my own fears, struggles, joy and pain and held them out to them to do what they pleased with it all. That most vulnerable place for us all, I gave freely and in fear. This was very hard thing for me, but what had I to lose. I've spent much of my life being judged, broken to pieces in body fixing other people mistakes, used and spit out by the players. I still have chosen to live my life and work by my gut and my heart even though it did not fit into the cultural rules of those around me, the politics to be one of the "in" crowd.
So I've not become wealthy in some ways due to my choices but have become wealthier in more important ways such as having the best people around me and in my life, and the best part, the gifts the horses have given me in how to live, see them, help them and myself get better along the way.
And Guess What They Did With It All?
Yes , these amazing people took what I was offering of my self and put their own souls and lives out on their palms also, we were all in the same place, our emotions exposed, real and ready to bring them to our horses and go to work.
We all left life's baggage somewhere else just for a weekend, took the risk and took our selves to the horses as equals, yet their guides, teachers and leaders in these teams of horses and humans.
We opened first door of communication in our group ground work session, creating that safe place for the horses to open their minds to us. To listen to what we may ask, while being rewarded with positive words and soft touches all brought about by those clean, honest emotions we had all found in our selves. The calm, the relaxation and the peace that soon came out in ALL the horses and took over the arena was something to behold. They just gave us all we asked willingly and with contentment.
The same energy followed through just as it should in our under saddle work, we had set just the right tone for the horses, they were still open to us and willing to let go of their own bodies and emotions for us to mold and shape in new ways, better ways for them and the ways in which we needed them to go for the advanced exercises that were yet to come.
Our goals to utilize and bring a horses full energy and drive from the back of the horse through to the front, engage the hind quarters. Eliminate any blockages of the back to front power from poor equipment, physical issues, past poor riding or misunderstanding in past training.
To learn to ride from the center of the horse not the front.
How to know ask for and feel straightness, bend a horse in the rib cage, using seat and legs first and head gear communications as our secondary tool, our own bodies being first and foremost, not only in mechanical movement of our bodies but in how we use our own energy through emotion to create the movement and then to feel it all happening below us in the horse, the horse being an extension of our own legs.
How to raise and lower the base of the neck to create different back shapes for various movements.
The best part in knowing these was putting it all to work for us and asking for a lot of lateral exercises in patterns and rather complicated ones, speed increases and decrease for walks and gaits. The importance of it all to bring quality to a horses performance while keeping the bodies healthy physically and mentally and perform with out resistance.
I can still bring the vision of Tina on her Paso Mare doing half passes with directional changes through a cone pattern beautifully. That special very little horse "Mike" and his owner doing a perfect counter bend on a 20 foot circle.
Season finding that collected working walk and her own independent seat for the first time, the smile and joy on her face I will always see. April and her spotted mare "Veges" having coming the farthest from last year with April finding in herself the strength and support to help this sensitive mare over come some past baggage she had when April purchased her.
I saw the most stunning Standard bred mare of my life, she reminded me of Princess Grace Kelly in her manners and quiet unpretentious beauty.
So many special moment for us all to remember.
Again Thank you Jeannie for making this all possible and Dave for all his knowledge he shares so freely and the support you gave me to do something so very hard.
Next year can not get here fast enough.