Back in shape

Dandy23Mai-01PM.jpgOh yes, that’s the same horse. Same as the furry bear he was a few weeks back. He’s put the weight back on. The muscle, too. And he’s fast, oh so fast. As a matter of fact, he’s taken habit to charge at the lope and plow around the arena at 100 mph whenever we start any serious work. Of course, that can’t last. My long distance coach, Daniel Dauphin and I, have  designed a litte countering strategy to the crazy running. To be tried tomorrow. Stay tuned 😉

A little Dandy update

Dandy19Avr17-01About two weeks ago Dandy got his first “natural trim”

Dandy19Avr17-02We had a nice, covered and quiet place at disposition to get the job done, but the trimmer insisted on working in the middle of the busy courtyard, in the gushing wind. Go figure… Consequently Dandy was a little concerned at first, but overall he behaved beautifully, and the trim went great. Gorgeous little feet ensued.

Dandy20Avr17-03The horse is eating, loads, and putting some weight back on. Actually, he’s does a little yo-yo act these days. One day he’ll look fuller, the next week, skinny again. I suspect a bunch of growth spurts.

Dandy20Avr17-01The new stables being 3 minutes from home, and with a lot of warm, dry days, we’ve been able to get some good working sessions. He’s gradually getting way more comfortable with the new place and the “exotic” animals, so his focus becomes steadier, and we’ve made some worthy progress. Namely we got our first decent spins. I’d love to say it’s a done deal, however, it’s an on and off.business. We still have to improve and reinforce the maneuver, but basically, he got the concept.

Dandy20Avr17-02We worked in the snaffle a lot

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Dandy30Avr17-02And started messing with the shank bit some. Here you can see him getting the feel of it just “doing nothing”

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Dandy21Avr17-03Notice my kid monkeying on the fence in the background !

Dandy30Avr17-05Today, after a good, long session in the shank bit. Yesterday was very messy and fussy, today was slightly better. He’s learning to not fight the new mouthpiece, but it still seems to upset it at times, we need to stick with it. I find the spin way harder to achieve than in the snaffle, that really is king for all lateral requests !

Dandy30Avr17-04You may notice I have been using the same saddle for a few weeks now. And zero intention to change it (now, THAT is breaking news, lol)

Dandy30Avr17-03I feel we have reached the perfect balance in his life. We just need to hit the trails around the property and he will be really well rounded.

Dandy30Avr17-01We also plan on introducing him to cattle work, so stay tuned for more !

Hard work is just that…hard

Hmm.. feeling a little unsure about that horse training thing today. Let me explain. Yesterday Dandy got quite upset about his new surroundings and I chose to get pretty “big” to bring him to me mentally. Feet and body followed, and today he was almost a different horse about the new place. Still looking at a few things, but overall WAY more relaxed. Obviously, I had chosen to do the right thing, and done it well. No question on that front.

Dandy17Avr17-03Today getting prepped up and saddled was a breeze

Still thinking about his difficulty to focus in the new arena, due to the proximity of various unfamiliar and fascinating species (sheep, geese, deer, etc), I chose to give him something else to focus on, so today I brought my correction bit and one ear headstall. He had a hard time putting it in his mouth, and equally hard to spit it out, so I think he may be a bit reluctant next time, but nothing a sugar cube won’t take care of 😉 The goal was to disrupt his thinking and make him forget the sheep, deer, geese, etc, and it worked even better than expected. That bit sure gave him a lot to think about, though. He chewed and chomped and raised his head a few times, experimenting with the new thing in his mouth, but pretty soon he realized getting soft and the poll and relaxing his jaw was the immediate way to comfort, and worked accordingly.

Dandy17Avr17-04At some point I ran out to fetch my spurs I’d left at the barn, and found him back *exactly* where I’d left him ! Good boy, lol

Once the bit was somewhat familiar and with my spurs on, we were ready for some serious work. And good work we did. Steering, bending, picking up the lope, stops, spins, we went at it like our life depending on it, and we did some pretty good work. But boy, what a workout, and I don’t only mean for the horse ! I realize than those Western maneuvers aren’t delivered on a silver plate, you have to train and train to get the proper response, and also give a little more “incentive” than I comfortable doing. I mean by that I always hoped I could reach a willingness in my horse that would mean very little to no constraint, but such is not the case. He’s not spinning for giggles, he knows the exercise but I often need to put my spur there stronger than I’d like to. Truth is, I have so much empathy for the horse that I just *hate* to apply any serious pressure at all. Weirdly enough, I have absolutely zero issue crashing a flag on his butt to get him to disengage on foot, or bumping his halter pretty hard to bring his nose in, because I feel those a pretty mild forms of pressure for a worried horse (you sometimes wonder if they even feel it all when they are focused on something “scarier”). But pushing a spur hard in my soft horse’s flank for the mere purpose of turning around, that just seems cruel and uncalled for, to me. Yeah, call me a whimp. Same for the bit. Never in a million years would I even consider “jacking” him in the mouth, no matter the goal I might be pursueing. Would horses not perform closely to what they do, if more riders were like me ? Probably. Would the world be full of much happier horses ? Yeah, that’s nearly a certainty. I guess to me, the end just doesn’t justify most of the means that are mainstream in the horse world.

Dandy17Avr17-01Dandy taking a breather at the end of our session

Does that mean we’re both gonna go on vacation and give up our ranch riding goals ? Certainly not ! It just means I have to kick myself in the butt and develop tougher work ethics and just face the fact that horses would naturally rather stay grazing in their pasture, and than getting their cooperation means pushing them at times.

Dandy17Avr17-02And once he’s worked well…

Dandy17Avr17-05He just goes back to his grass and his buddies. Next episode on Wednesday, after the naturel trimmer has come !

 

Walking a fine line

I’ve been away a week on vacation, and got back last night, so today I went to check on Dandy and put his ass back to work (or should I say, our mutual ass, as I work, too).

Dandy16Avr17-02I witnessed with pleasure that he’s put a bit of weight back on

I’m facing new challenges in the new place. Namely Dandy is concerned about two category of things. First, some livestock he’s never been exposed to before. Lamas, sheep (with lambs), spotted deer, geese, a cow… All of those are both fascinating and apparently potentially terrifying to him. He likes to keep an eye on them at all times, which is *not* what I want him to, since *I* want to be his constant focus when I’m around. Second, he’s not entirely sure about “the place”, itself. It’s a bunch of buildings put together, meaning a lot of doors, windows, pathways, hidden spaces threatening to “jump” at you at the corner of a wall, so he’s pretty much on high alert the whole time we tinker there, namely to get brushed and saddled, etc. Today after a very fidgety saddling up, I was leading him out of the covered prep space when he had a series of heart attacks. The wind was mildly blowing in a nearby tree’s branches and we passed a mirror that sent an unexpected and super scary reflexion. He jumped out of his skin, then twice as he got scared by the sound of his own hooves on concrete. That’s when I decided he needed help.

In this case, help is not pampering and cooing, help is moving the hell out of his feet at high speed and demanding that he circles around me, nose tipped in, bent at the ribs and disengaging his hindquarters on command. And yes, that involved a bunch of wild waving of the flag and even whipping his butt with it full force and handful of times, until he came to his sense and decided that I was way scarier than any “ghost” in the barn, and that he’d better give me his full attention. The split second I got that, all pressure was off, and the next thing he was walking a neat little relaxed circle, licking his lips in relief.

Dandy16Avr17-01Dandy post session and very, very sweaty

Next thing we worked under saddle in the nice and largish arena. I like this place a lot, it’s surrounded by tall pine trees on 2 sides, bordered by small buildings on one shorter side, and faces the sheep-lama-deer-geese-cow-etc pasture on its longer side. It’s not without its own challenges (horses grazing behind the trees, bunch of mess piled up in front of the building, and of course full view of the super scary baby sheep on the main side) but it’s roomy, sandy and I just like it. We started out by some lateral flexions (his attention was *fully* on the livestock at that point) to get his mind back, then we played “were-do-you-want-to-go”. Two spots were sticky so each time he’d either go or stop there, I just bumped him lightly but consistently with my spurs. We’ve been doing this routine long enough now that he quickly gets the message and starts using more of the arena. I let him chose his route and he very clearly avoided all the front part (which, interestingly enough, contains the gate) and getting too close to the longer side facing the “zoo”, especially at the middle, marked by an orange plastic cone. I had him trotting and loping on a totally lose rein anywhere he wanted, and he’d make tiny loops to stay in the one zone that he feels totally comfortable in. Gradually I started to take some limited contact on the reins, just enough to be able to influence his steering, and make the loops larger and larger, until we were roughly following a 2 yards inner limit from the fence, even going along the fence in some non scary parts. From then I alternated letting him go to shortening my reins, getting some collection and direction, than turning him lose when he did well.

As in all things, the more I worked, the “luckier” I got at getting better and better responses from him. At some point we were loping on and I must have changed my seat without wanting to or even knowing it, and he stopped dead in his tracks. My first impulse was to urge him on, but then I thought I had to be clearer in my cues, and just petted him for the good stop. We worked at various things and ended up with spins, yes, you read that well, actual spins. Sure, they weren’t fast, but I think I got a full revolution on each direction that was sound and proper. I’m so thrilled !!

During breaks he investigated “scary” spots, and ended up grazing a few blades of grass in previously really threatening places, so I’m hopeful than we’ll soon be able to concentrate on proper work for good. Next report, tomorrow !

A brutal and unexpected change, or when to cowboy up and adapt

The first week of April has been a kick in the gut and Dandy and I had to suck it in, adapt, and bounce back. I won’t go into the sordid details but a very nasty fight emerged from the lady who was boarding him (over a remark and request I had about his massive weight loss) and within 48h he was transferred to another yard. The swap itself was done under high stress, the air brimming with human conflict. He had to trek through an inusual route, and load into a tiny one-horse, boxlike, trailer, alongside a highway. He went through the whole thing with absolutely zero concern or alert, just walked up to the trailer, sniffed it, and up the ramp. I let him rest for a few seconds then backed him up and rubbed his forehead. Then I slipped under the chest bar, and from the inside of the trailer asked him to come all the way in. A sugar cube mid-way, and he was in.

I arrived at the new stable to find him standing statue like and staring rigid at his surroundings, a lady gripping the rope right under his chin. I walked up to her, said thank you, and got a hold of the lead, a good 1.5m from the snap. He visibly relaxed, though still concerned and alert. I led him straight to the large sand uncovered arena and put him to work right there. Forward, bend, back-up, getting softness, we worked and worked until he was connected to me and responding well. His first night was uneventful and the introduction to the herd went well.

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The new place is 3 (THREE !!) minutes from home, and that’s amazing. I can pretty much visit him everyday if I fancy to. That’s a real luxury. The place isn’t without challenges though. First of all, it’s an “English” type place, so our Western garb and my helmetless riding is attracting attention, not always positive. The general approach seems pretty yank-and-crank there, and though I know way better than offering anything but total neutrality and zero opinion or advice, my own relaxed and focused handling can be perceived as offensive to the less effective riders (it’s happened before !). And Dandy seems quite concerned about the new surroundings so far, especially with the one pasture facing the long side of the arena, where a bunch of mysterious (to him) species graze. Sheep, lamas, spotted deer, and… a cow !

Dandy05avr17-03As you can see he needs much feeding to make up for some rather drastic loss

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Dandy05avr17-01I’ve ridden him twice so far in the new arena, and he’s been quite reactive both times, but we kept our lose rein “where do you want to go” routine and worked through the rough spots. The alarming presence of the livestock next door got him into a weird state of “hightened awareness”, and rather than the “dull” feel than he sometimes offers, it was like I was riding a finished reiner, with helicopter-like responsiveness. I had a massive stop, and some pretty impressive progress on the spin. We ended up on a good note and put him up for a one week vacation as we’re leaving town for the holidays. Upon our return he’ll get a good trim from our new “natural trimmer”, stay tuned for the report !

A long overdue update

More than 10 days without a Dandy update, and so much stuff has gone on I don’t even know where to start. I’m gonna try and use the available pictures by date to get a decent chronology out of the unused material.

Oh, maybe I need to start by saying I got a new saddle. I swap so often that the info could be totally irrelevant IF this one wasn’t there to stay. That statement sent my closest friends into a fit of hysterical laughter, and in all truth I can’t blame them. BUT, the new addition to the tack room is a masterpiece of saddlecraft, and the elusive “Graal” I’ve been searching for for years. Please meet the Continental Pullman 101 Reiner :

PullmanReiner101-01New price for those Pullman babies roam around the 5K mark, and needless to say I grabbed this used and an absolute bargain. Although I’ve gone through literally dozens of saddles in the past three years, I can reasonably safely say that the quest is over.

On March 24th, we had a good little session. Marla was there but considering the hectic quality of her filming, I asked her to shoot a few pictures.

Dandy24Mar17-06The soft face of my sweet natured boy

Dandy24Mar17-01Our forward has improved a lot

Dandy24Mar17-02And now the main aim is to lift his front end

Dandy24Mar17-03He’s always been quite soft on the bit, and has softened yet

Dandy24Mar17-04Engagement is better and he’s soft, but still tends to drop his head and the front end along with it

Dandy24Mar17-05I love the fact he has so much feel on the bit

Dandy24Mar17-09

He’s still not found of spurs, as you can see by the tail action

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Dandy24Mar17-11I’m liking his attitude here

We’re still working on a lot of different things now. The stop is one, and it’s getting pretty darn good. With no sliders on and in rough dirt, he nearly always stops sharp, and in some cases engages his rearend enough to create drag marks

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Neck reining, rollbacks, picking up leads, spins, are also on our list, and progressing well. As of tomorrow Dandy is going to be transferred to a board 3 minutes (THREE !) from my place, and about 6 from my work place, so I should get more opportunities to work with him.

Dandy24Mar17-07

Dandy24Mar17-08I love the soft eyes and quiet mouth. He’s at ease in his own skin

Dandy01Avr17-02At the end of the winter, horses can lose quite a bit of weight, especially young, still growing colts…

Dandy03Avr17-03April 2nd, getting ready for a trail outting

We spent nearly 3 hours on the trail, a party of 4. Dandy was extremly good the vast majority of the time. Despite a lot of cars, bikes, dogs, bridges, etc, he kept himself together remarkably well. At one point on the way back I thought he was losing the plot, but he self calmed within 3 seconds and came right back down. I think he got sore in his feet (being unshod) during the ride, and built up some annoyance due to both this and the temptation to eat all the fantastic grass we were walking on. During about 10 minutes he had jigging fits and had to be bent to a walk again and again.

Dandy03Avr17-01But a grazing pause changed his frame of mind from grumpy to blissful

Dandy03Avr17-02And the ride home was uneventful

To have a glimpse of the challenges this route holds, you can watch this few seconds clip

A session in the shank bit

Dandy19Mar17-01Today my beautiful boy Dandy got to school a little in a shank bit. It’s a milder, not very long shank, Myler mouthpiece, that I used on my Portugese cross before. Dandy had had *one*, ten minute, session in an Argentine bit before. The Argentine *looks* shorter and less intimidating than the Myler, but putting them side by side I realized the length and position of the canon in relation to the shanks was absolutely identical, so because I like the Myler mouthpiece, I went with the latter.

Dandy19Mar17-03He experimented a lot with it, curling himself up as you can see here (but in motion), trying various ways to pack it, and hold himself with it. Of course, I kept my hands even slowler and steadier than I would normally do, tried to put zero unintentional pressure on it, and give immediate release when he did soften to contact. We worked at all three gaits with it, and I can say he must have looked mighty nice, because there was a lot of self carriage, a good deal of the time. We worked at lateral flexion, AND neckreining, so basically we explored two opposite ways to respond to that bit, giving laterally, or yielding to the neck rein, in the opposite direction. I have to say the bit had him very engaged and focused and willing to cooperate. The stop was sharp as tack and the back-up speedy, once he understood the concept.

Dandy19Mar17-02I think it’s always nice to see them with their “grown-up” look, without a browband, just the clean outlining of the one-ear headstall. I think is expression is still a little puzzled, but not worried. He’s just learning something new.

The arena was extremely cluttered with jumping poles as their was a friendly jumping challenge going on in our stables today, so we had to navigate around a lot of stuff and couldn’t school properly or at much length, but the response I got was very decent and encouraging. We ended up with spins, or slow pivots as they are now, it was all but pretty, but Dandy being as smart as he is, I reckon if we always work on the spins right before calling it quits, he might start loving them pretty soon 😉