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 😉

One year in. Now let’s have fun failing !

Dandy’s been with me roughly a year, and has changed enormously during that time. Our bond runs very deep, the mutual trust is big and lets us conquer just about all we undertake. I had my kid make a little video of us schooling at the trot the other day. The vid was rather awkward and jerky due to the 8 yr old camera-girl, but overall I thought the colt looked pretty well balanced and soft, and was rather self-satisfied with it. Then I emailed a trainer whose newslater I’ve been reading for some years, kinda just to test how “real” the guy is (as in “will he answer real life questions with anything but selling equipment ?”). I sent a very simple question about picking the colt’s shoulders up, and the relevance of maybe a different bit (I admit I was setting him up there, as the man does offer tack for sale, saddles, bits, a few gadgets like martingales, etc). Along with my email, I sent the link to that little video. Now if I want to be perfectly honest, I feel a little ashamed as I realize I was somwhat smug about it. When I spotted his answer in my inbox shortly after, I was already sort of patting myself on the back, anticipating some praise about how good my colt looks working, for his age… God/life (always useful to have an alternative for the skeptics among us) has a funny way of kicking you in the shins when you’re starting to sin by pride, and I admit it was well deserved. To my surprise, here’s the guy answer (he started by mispelling my name and patronizing me about how to shoot a decent clip, but that’s beside the point).

He wrote : “Just looks to me like a horse who isn’t used to doing anything other than trotting along. Start doing sharp turns, stops and rollbacks and his head will naturally come up and he’ll carry himself better.As for the bit, as long as he stays light, no need to go to a thinner one.”

OUCH. I’m getting better though. Really. Actually my own reaction even surprised me. I didn’t think “what a jerk”, or anything along that line. I sat there for a minute, feeling the sting sharply on my ego. But already at the back of my brain was the thought “he’s right. It’s extremely blunt and my feelings could be (are) hurt, however he’s absolutely right”. What have I done with this horse so far ? Well, a hell of a good job when it comes to proving him that humans are good and reliable, safe and to be trusted. However, from  a variety point of view, or recent schooling has been repetitive, underwhelming and totally lacking in ambition. I’ve been focusing on getting the colt “looking” good, meaning moving in a certain (sometimes false) frame, rather than aiming for true performance and expension.

Dandy10Mar17-02

I kinda of suspected it, but every day that passes confirms the fact that getting older *does* have its upsides. Namely, we’re less stupid at 40 than we were at 20, at least it should work like that. So I spent no time feeling sorry for that brutal opinion, I just got motivated to turn it around. Yesterday I went to see Dandy and hopped on with the intention to do something fresh, different, and useful. After a short warm up I started working on the stop. I mean, a sharp one. I trotted the colt along the “fence” (just a very thin white rope) that runs around our tiny grassy arena), and when he was giving good energy and feeling connected, I’d say whoa, and then would turn him into the fence and ask him to roll into the opposite direction at the trot. That very soon got his interest, even got him a little edgy, but globally he did pretty well. When he did I change things and loped him around on a lose rein for relaxation, then picked up the stop/roll-back exercise again. Soon we were going along the fence at the lope. At which point I felt for him with the reins, said whoa…. and he ran right through my hands. Two years ago I had a similar experience with my previous boy, Joli. I remember getting extremely upset, the whole thing turning absolutely ugly, and going back home in tears and feeling rotten for days. I had failed my horse ! OMG, I had actually gotten mad, pulled on his face out of anger, kicked him in the gut and gotten no progress whatsoever. He had finished the session wary and defensive, and it took weeks to get him to soften to the bit again. BAD. BAD. Horrible all the way around. Yesterday none of that happened. The first time Dandy ran through my hands, I just turned him around the next stride (struggling some as he was really set on keeping on loping straight), asked him for another stop. He did some half assed halt, I turned him around, he took off with no intention to stop anytime soon. Said whoa and opened my legs, he kept on hammering forward, totally mentally disconnected from me. Was hell going to break lose ? Had I failed again ? The huge difference this time was *my approach* to the whole thing. This time I absolutely did not mad or sad or upset about it. I remained totally cool and factual. I just set my hands very solid, got him stopped (he literally ran into the bit), held until he started tucking his chin (which took several seconds) and kicked him in the gut pretty hard until he was backing up. FAST. Once he did I threw the reins down and stopped my leg. And let him stand there, panting, thinking. I stroke his mane (that means “all is well”). Then I thought for a second about the next thing to do. I put him forward at a slower trot, got him soft, said whoa. He stopped dead in his tracks and softened immediately into a back-up. I immediately dropped the reins. I got another similarly instant stop and back-up from another trot. Then I let him stand for about a minute, and walked off to the opposite side of the arena where we worked on steering off my legs at the trot, then lope, with zero pressure on his face. Then we trotted and loped some circles looking for softness and some collection (frame). Then we went back to working at the stop and back-up, and guess what that was vastly improved with a horse understanding and complying. I decided to make a short from the saddle that shows him loping around for a full lap, with dangling reins, then stopping off voice and legs and backing up. You can see it HERE. That was so good that after it we took a break, then just played with some spins for a minute (very little pressure, just him getting the idea of moving off the leg), and finally strolled over the whole arena. I dismounted and played with the “head down” cue we’d been practicing some days before. I snapped some pics. He stayed absolutely put and relaxed the whole time.

Dandy17mar17-01That gorgeous butt

Dandy17Mar17-02Followed me around totally soft and relaxed, went to untack, and put him back in his pasture with his buddies. Did the whole session looks perfect and smooth and a blazing success ? Hell, no ! Were there a few seconds of pulling and resisting and kicking and me clearly meaning “that’s not it, buddy” ? Sure, yes. But there was NO anger or frustration involved, and none of the “correcting” I did was meant to release any resentment, because I felt none. He’d made a mistake. Probably because I’d made some, prior. Not being clear enough in my request maybe, or timing off, bad cue, or all of the above. But rather than wasting any time feeling sorry over it we just went right back to work and made it right. I think the brilliance of the “horsemanship” approach is to allow the horse to feel safe enough to experiment and, yes, make mistakes. But we have to extend this tolerance to ourselves ! And we (I) also have to stop wanting every darn second to look pretty or picture worthy, because that’s not what real life is. Life is about prettiness *and* ugliness. Yes, try to keep the latter to a minimum, but it is sometimes necessary to reaching the former. Because my discipline of choice as an equistrian is one that is plagued with abuse (reining), I think I have become a little paranoid about not physically imposing things on a horse, and focusing on “changing their thought”. But the naked truth is that when you work mainly with negative reinforcement, as I do, sometimes it takes a pretty strong degree of applying a stimulus before it gets them to change their idea and pick yours. This horse has been historically difficult to bend at the rib cage. A few days ago I decided I meant it, even if that involved some pulling on the face and kicking a bit harder in the ribs. Guess what, the very same day I cowboyed up about it I got nice and consistent yields. I had just happened to be ineffective before. I think the crux of horsemanship is to navigate the fine line between empathy and effectiveness. Yes feel and fairness are absolutely crucial. But to be fair to the horse AND yourself, you have to be effective. And sometimes it takes a bit more than you’d like to reach a change. And that, as most things in this walk of life, is more about working on ourselves than working on the horse 😉

Dandy11Mar17-02

Dandy11Mar17-03

 

First larger group outting : he’s a rockstar !

Took Dandy for his first outting with 5 other horses. First we left our stables as a group or three, two very seasoned horses leading and me leading him in hand behind. It’s a 10 minute walk to the meeting point with the other riders, walking along the highway (with cars and trucking zooming by at 130 km/h !), above the river on a threatening  bridge, and *underneath* the highway, under an even scarier bridge. Dandy took all of that in stride, and aside from a mini heart attack in the first 10 yards, he behaved perfectly.

Later on we walked on roads, crossed small villages with barking dogs and farting lawn mowers, crossed more impressive and noisy stone bridges. He felt concerned about 3 times, and borderline overwhelmed twice, but every single time he regained his composure and stayed *under his OWN control* without me having to do anything more than putting a hand on his withers to say “it’s ok, I got you, you can do this”.

The vast majority of the ride looked like THIS (video clip).

Because he’s been educated to leave other horses alone, he stays at a polite distance of them. He draws confidence from the herd (he would never have been that chilled taking the same route by himself) but is very content following at the back. And because he’s short and has a lazy pace, he needs to make up the distance at the trot every few minutes. Lots of horses gets antsy as the group moves further apart, but he trots along to catch back with them with his nose on the ground and without the slightest desire to overheat, run, etc.

Dandy11Mar17-01.jpg

I can’t say of proud I was of him at the end of that ride. If I’d been a horse, I would have been very challenged by it, but at not yet 3 yrs of age he rose to the task and owned it like a pro (he actually was more relaxed and quieter than several of the older and way more seasoned horses in the group…). Way to go Babyyyy ❤

 

Happy anniversary to Dandy “myveryownJac” and myself !

dandy26fev17-01The same day, 28 february, of last year, I was picking up a very upset and very wild 22 mth old Dandy.

dandy26fev17-02This year, 2 days before our anniversary, we had the loveliest little bareback ride, with a perfectedly chilled and relaxed colt. Once I slipped off he followed me around and licked my hands like a puppy…

Things are tough on the financial front. I may have to trust him to the care of a good horsewoman friend for the coming 6 months, time for me to save a little money on board and not face bankruptcy as I am, now. I would have for him to be away, but it’s always a billion times better than having to part with him for good. That, my heart couldn’t take. That little horse has brought me, taught me, given me, so much over the past year, I can never pay him back. I love you Dandy, happy anniversary ❤

Experimenting with the hackamore

Dandy12Fev17-01.jpgMister Dandy is going through the winter

He’s happy as a bee, hanging out with buddies and a special girlfriend, munching on fresh hay and generally living the life. About twice a week and I’ll show up and work him some, to what he shows little enthusiasm but good spirit. We did quite a bit of bareback cruising around during the muckiest days, when everything was so grubby and wet you didn’t even want to handle a saddle or bridle, but recently I decided to go traditional and give the Californian bosal a try.

Quality bosals are outrgeously expensive. And I’m desperately broke at the moment (yeah, that has been going on for way to long to be even remotely funny anymore….) so I had to settle for what I believed to be a decent used bosal set, with genuine horsehair mecate. Turns out the bosal is too long (possibly low quality, I’m too clueless about them to even tell the difference) and the mecate is nearly ruined and falling apart in my hands. AND I’ve been fiddling with proper use of it and Dandy has done his part by trying to avoid the signal by doing what he does best, just dropping his head real low. After watching many instructional videos about proper bosal use I think I’m starting to figure out how to properly handle it, and set it up for optimum effectiveness despite being less than ideally sized, so fast forward to the purchase of a new mecate (in progress) and we should be getting better.

I’m also slowly wrapping my head around the concept of competing. Whoa, hold your horses, NOTHING fancy whatsoever, but I need to start getting organized to set this colt to some kind of horseshow exposure during the year. Or at least it’s the plan, stay tuned 😉

The importance of secondary stuff

The past weeks have been quite cold around here, with day temperatures below 0°C. Oh yeah, that sounds really meek compared to some fierce minus F° in other parts of the world, but that still means the ground was too frozen to ride and visits to the horses often was limited to checking on blankets and a quick rub.

I did, however, manage to do a few important things. Things that look really minor and secondary, but are actually quite important for a solid and functional riding horse.

dandy21jan17-01First, Dandy goes on having constant and varied interaction with a bunch of other equines (and chicken, ducks and goat, the odd dog, etc…). That is super important. That means a horse in control of itself enough to not be a hasard if you’re close and a horse pal suddenly walks up for a sniff. Everthing is smooth and civil and safe.

dandy21jan17-02Then, we still do regular groundwork. It’s really the bare minimum to do if you want to keep your horse operating for you with quality. Sending off a small cue, being able to change direction, stopping, moving high quarters or yielding shoulders, flexing and backing up, all of this is like you super basic stuff that your horse needs to be able to do very well. We don’t drill but we are thorough and specific. Cues are as light as possible, and as strong as necessary. It can be tilting my head ever so slightly looking at his hip, or whacking him on the butt with my flag. Really, that’s his decision (usually, one happenance of the latter re-establishes the former, too).

dandy21jan17-03Riding bareback. That is another cornerstone of our program right now. The riding is important, because bareback and with no reins, just a halter and one sided leadrope, the HOW you ask the horse becomes crucial. But before climbing on, parallel parking next to all sorts of support (plastic cubes, tree stumps…) is also a great and quite technical exercise. It really gets deep attention and thorough focus from the horse, who learns to work in close collaboration. He’s not being “told”, he’s a partner who does his share (coming close and at a perfect angle, then standing still while the miserably akward human scrambles on) so that the task can be safely and successfully accomplished. This is a confidence and ego booster for a horse, and they need boosting of those as much as humans do 😉

And last, but not least, I have been able to take Dandy for a walk outside of the property where he’s boarded, which is way more “suburban” than anything he’s ever known before. We went on a stroll with two other equines (a horse and a pony). It all went pretty chill and we’re ready to tackle a longer, more challenging setting, and all on own our. Stay tuned for the coming walk along the highway !

dandy22jan17-01

Getting through the winter, one visit at a time

dandy08jan17-01My horse is having a ball. Life with buddies just is so much better

dandy08jan17-06I try to visit every 2 or 3 days, despite the foul weather, and get either a groundwork or riding session done.

dandy08jan17-02On that particular day we worked on the ground…

dandy08jan17-03
… And had a little spin bareback as well (this is addictive)

dandy08jan17-04When we’re done he goes back to his little herd, and seems perfectly content with this new arrangement

dandy08jan17-05On other days I pick him up from the hay pile

dandy12jan17-06Tim hie up outdoor for a quick brushing

dandy12jan17-03And we set out to ride

dandy12jan17-05That’s one of my favorite viewpoints in the world

dandy12jan17-04We had a good little ride in the mushy cold

dandy12jan17-06He’s lost his ugly hay belly and gone all trim and sexy again, yeah