Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Training wheels are coming off!

 Even though we had the hurricane (which meant no power for two days) the weather was beautiful by the time I had my lesson. AS always, we started with ground work. We worked on getting a decent working walk out of him, and she also taught me how to half halt using the lunge line. We also talked about getting insight into how he is using his back by the way the saddle is moving. She also advised me to not to move into riding until I see signs of focus and relaxation from him. He is such a stoic guy I sometimes have a hard time reading him which in turn makes me nervous.

Ride six!
The time I spent desensitizing him to my feet and legs must have paid off because he was very calm and happy as I mounted up. We spent a good amount of time on the lunge pushing for more and more trot. He was very sluggish, and kept stopping every time I said "good" thinking that must meant he was done! Definitely more whoa then go right now.

We concluded the lesson by taking him off the lunge and having him walk, trot, and halt with my aids alone. He did great! He really listens to my seat, and was still very hard to get to go forward. She had me try to trot him into the middle of the pen and change directions but we just kept loosing momentum. After realizing our hour lesson had gone an hour over we called it a day.

I have now ridden Oak two more times since Friday, both ending off the lunge cruising around the round pen (we are at 8 rides total for folks keeping up at home). He has moments of tension, but overall he seems like a happy camper. He is not very forward at this point (which I think is a good thing) and his steering is not so good. He really does feel very green. Not sure he really ever had consistent or proper training. My guess is it has been all pony rides and the "cowboying" up until this point.  Hoping that giving him an actual foundation will give him the confidence he lacks. So far, it seems to be working!

Our first trot with no training wheels!
I have asked my instructor if she would switch to lessons once a week, because I feel like we evolve so much each ride at this point, I could use more on the ground feedback. My partner has been awesome as a stand-in when she is not around, but he can't give me that crucial feedback as well as she can. Oak is also is a little wary of him, which is counter productive.

Gray's Corner

I put him in the roundpen and worked on walk, trot transitions for a few minutes. It has been months since I asked anything of him on the line. He pulled some faces, but was otherwise a good boy. I then introduced a saddle to him for the first time. We started with a review of a saddle pad which he could care less about. I then slowly introduced a saddle (Wintec with no stirrups) by letting him investigate (no you can't eat it) rubbing it on his shoulders, neck and back, and finally placing it on his back. I ended the session by taking it on and off on both sides. He did not bat an eye.

Hey mom! You forgot the pad!
I can tell by his reactions to the small amount of lunging I have done that he will be resistant to anything he deems "work" but on the flip side he is so naturally confident that introducing new things is a breeze. The three take-aways I have are:

1. Establish rules and boundaries and be consistent.
2. Don't drill him or bore him. Try to make things fun!
3. Remember to still take things slow his confidence makes it easy to skip steps, but I will regret that later!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

One step forward two hops back

Right before ride four. Looks happy to me.
Ride four kicked butt. He felt calm and forward and I got a few steps of trot both ways. We moved away from Chris pretty quickly as well. Ride five we had some regression. He was nervous and tense. I got off a few times when he felt like he might explode, and took him back to the mounting block to work on mounting. We eventually got some calm leaded steps from him and called it quits. Not sure why he was so nervous. Maybe it was us, or it was the weather (windy and overcast), or the fact that Chris had parked the truck in a new place... who knows! I know we will have a lot of days like both of these in the next few months. A few shuffled steps forward followed by some scared scuttles back. Both rides he spent a lot of time giving my outside foot the hairy eyeball again. So weird. In some ways he acts like he has never been ridden, and in others he seems like he just has a lot of baggage. I mean the foot thing sounds like something a horse that was never backed would do doesn't it?

Weather (and maybe nerves) has kept me from riding at all this week. On Monday I had a crappy day at work, and I just did not have the mental or emotional bandwidth to ride, so I hung out with him on the tailgate of the truck with a pocket full of treats and a beer (for me). We worked on getting used to my feet doing weird stuff. It was fun to just hang out with him.

Yesterday it was looking like it was about to rain when I got home so I brought him into the roundpen sans saddle and we worked through all of his gaits going both ways. His canter is coming around, but it is still not pretty, and definitely is far from relaxed. After groundwork, Chris came in and held him why I swung my leg all over his back. We clicked for relaxation. He was pretty tense at first when my foot would pop into that other eye but did not seem to care if I rested it on his butt. So odd. Either way I am hoping that breaking his insecurities down to "you can be okay with my legs and feet hanging around you" will help his tension under saddle.

I have a lesson scheduled for tomorrow, but I don't have high hopes for it, due to the tropical storm heading our way. Yay Florida!

Gray's Corner

He still has some lasting marks from the rub he got from the fly mask, and he is still sensitive there. I decided to halter him anyways yesterday so I could at least give him a proper grooming. He stood like a gentleman and was great for his feet (unlike some golden nut-jobs I know ;) ). I tried on some brushing boots I had picked up at a tack sale for him, and he did not disappoint with a little bit of adorable high stepping. Sorry no video. Gray watches us when I am working with Oak, and he is always following me around. I think he is telling me he is ready for a job!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Rides two and three

I had guests all weekend, so I did not get a chance to practice what I had worked on with our coach until Monday. This time, my wonderful partner Chris was my assistant on the ground. Oak was definitely more nervous and tense the second time around. Maybe it was because Chris was not as comfortable as our coach? Maybe having Chris help instead of the trainer made me a little more nervous? Not sure. I practiced getting off and on (the saddle still worries me with its slipping!) and he seemed okay. Then I had Chris walk him off and Oak was very hesitant to move forward. He also started doing the weird kicking/stomping thing he does when he is really nervous, so I hopped off and we had a "re-do." He was much calmer when I hopped on a second time, and was better about walking with Chris. We just walked him around both directions and called it a day.

Hanging out with Oak after our third ride

Wednesday was our third ride. Chris has done some clicker training, so I suggested he practice walking Oak without me on him first and reward Oak for good transitions and for being calm and forward. Next, I had him mark and reward him for staying calm while I practiced mounting and dismounting. Oak seemed calmer. Then, I had Chris reward Oak as he had before only this time I was on his back. Only one tiny kick this time. He was much more forward and relaxed. I think using clicker training helped us all focus on the positive and relax and listen to each other. Chris said it helped him focus on what Oak was doing ride then that he could reward, which helped him stay calm. I felt like we had more of a plan, so I know my breathing was better, and Oak am sure liked figuring out what the heck we wanted from him!

I ended the session by moving Oak away from Chris with some rein and applying a little leg to cue forward myself. He did really well with it. The only new strangeness I noted for our third ride was that Oak was giving my outside foot a lot of side-eye. Before I dismounted I wiggled my feet around in the stirrups to address that a little. Definitely made him tense up. I waited until I got a little release (blinking), and I rewarded him with a pat and dismount. Overall really proud of him!

Oak is also cantering both directions now in the roundpen. He still has balance issues, and we are slowly building up strength, but he canters a little more each session. He moves off really well -- no bucking or kicking out which is great!

Gray got a rub from the flymask so I am waiting on that to heal up before I put a halter on him to work with him. It is always something with that horse! I have been playing with him at liberty in the paddock for a few minutes everyday, but I hope to really get some serious work done soon!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Oak's first ride

Put Oak's first ride on him today. We started by practicing mounting. I just got on and off a hundred times until he started to settle in. Then my wonderful trainer led us around a bit. We ended with adding a little leg and rein aids from me and her backing into more of a lunging position. We even got a few strides of trot before we called it quits.

He did amazing! There were moments of tension and anxiety of course, but over all he did wonderful. We ended when he finally started to breath, and snort showing us he was relaxing. My wonderful husband captured some photos.

First we started by playing around with getting up and down. So I got pretty silly...

dangling dangling
going up!
Look what I can do!
I am touching you with my foot!

Then I swung up and settled in...

Can see his tension here

Then we went on a pony ride...

and of course lots of rubs and treats
Good boy Oak

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

FKA Jerry: The dirt on Oak's past

A few weeks ago I pulled out Oak's Coggins in order to see when I needed to pull a new one. This is when I notice for the first time that the name listed as owner was different from the person I bought him from (most observant horse buyer in the world award goes to me) and that his name is "Jerry." Not out of the ordinary for a horse to have a different name or an unknown person on the Coggins, but it made me want to investigate further into Oak's history. So investigate I did!

I contact the person I bought him from and asked her about it. She told me the name and location on the Coggins were not from who she bought him from, and that she tried tracking it down, but got nowhere. Also, she changed his name to Oakley because she assumed "Jerry" was not his real name. Who would name a horse Jerry?

So I did some internet sleuthing and managed to track the name and address on the Coggins to a real-estate mogul (not kidding) in Florida. He also owns an Andalusian and Thoroughbred breeding farm about 45 minutes away from me.

So of course I send an email to the contact listed on the farm's website with pictures and a plea for more information on Jerry. I get an immediate response. Three responses in fact. Two from the real-estate mogul and his wife saying "Oh Jerry! We love Jerry! Yes he came from us! Our barn manager will contact you", and one email from the barn manager asking if she could call me. I say sure and quickly get a phone call.

So here is Oak's (Formerly Known As Jerry) Story as we know it now:
Jerry June 2015. Still a cutie (Picture from the Barn Manager)
 The real-estate mogul's wife loves Haflingers and they want to invest in horses, so they start off buying three Haflingers from a Florida auction (cause why not!) and buy some property to put them on. Jerry and his best friend George (Seinfeld fans?) are sold to them as broke to drive and ride. The barn manager thinks Jerry (Oak) was about three when they first got him. The Haflingers mostly lived as pasture pets being occasionally used for pony rides for the kids. In the next few years the family begins to invest in racehorses and Andalusians, and has exercise riders on staff now and they sometimes work the Haflingers (and by the barn manger's recollection treat them too roughly), but for the most part the ponies just hang out.
Jerry and George 2015. I wish I could reunite them Black Beauty style
In July 2015 the family decides they don't need the Haflingers anymore so they sell both Jerry and George. Jerry goes to someone named Sally (named changed to protect the not so innocent) who wants to use him as a trail horse. Barn Manager warns Sally that Jerry has not been worked consistently and therefore is pretty green, but Sally buys him anyways. Sally lives close by and the barn manager makes her promise to let them know if she ever needs to re-home Jerry. They always have a home for Jerry.

This is where the speculation enters the story.

  • July 2015 Sold to Sally in Central FL
  • August-October 2015 ???
  • November 2015 Bought by last owner from somewhere in Georgia sold by someone named "Taylor"
  • February 2016 comes to live with me

The barn manager swears that Jerry did not have any of his three large scars on his body when he lived with her, nor was he nervous or reactive. She describes him as laid back, friendly, and very green. I know she could be lying, but after talking with her I believe her. I also see that horse slowly coming out again in him. The person I bought him from got him from someone she described as a horse dealer/meat buyer in Georgia in November 2015.

So somehow between July 2015 and February 2016 (when I got him) he went to at least four people -- one (Taylor) a horse trader/meat buyer. In less than six months a horse can go from living the life of luxury to ending up scarred (emotionally and physically) and discarded in some slaughter pen. It can happen that fast people. Hug your ponies tight tonight, and (I know this goes without saying) be careful who you sell your horses to

And no, I don't think I will call him Jerry. ;)

Friday, August 5, 2016

Pushing Thresholds

I had the dressage trainer out to the farm for our second lesson yesterday. I showed her what we have been working on; walking and trotting under saddle on the lunge, getting used to the whip rubbing on him and being friendly, and stretches.

During our review she reminded me that I have to be consistent with my cues. She likes to use clucks for trot and kisses for canter. Speaking of canter that is where she went next. I have asked him to increase his speed and energy at the trot but I have not tried canter yet. She suggested we get canter out of him first before we think about climbing on top and I could not agree more.

The first direction we tried I got as loud as I possibly could driving him from behind and could not get a single stride of canter. Instead I got him snorting at me, so we stopped. That was obviously over his threshold of pressure and he was not ready to canter yet. We gave him a rest and tried the other side. He immediately picked up the canter going to the left, so that told us he is having some sort of issue physically picking up his right lead. I was relieved I got canter so easily on at least one side. Canter is not an easy gate for draft breeds. Bodhi took forever to be able to canter on the lunge line. We will work towards getting that right side now, and getting a more sustained and balanced canter on the left. I am glad we pushed him a little though, because he demonstrated he could handle the challenge and stayed calm, and responsive through our session ( minus the snorting I got to the right that I read is "I get it, but I can't right now").
boingy boingy boingy

Now that we were both a bit more tired and relaxed she came over and held him and fed treats while I practiced jumping around, standing on the mounting block and pulling and climbing on the saddle. He was tense at first but definitely started to shift his focus away from the silly things I was doing, and became more interested in enjoying his treats. The saddle was slipping really badly, which limited what I could do but we ended on the high note of me hanging over the saddle. Now I need to figure out how to keep that saddle from slipping!

Just hanging out, no big deal
Oak has had one heck of a week! I am really proud of him. I have to take the next week off for work, so hopefully we won't backslide too much. Grayson has also been my little shadow lately anytime I am around the barn, reminding me I have two horses and he would really like to play too!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A lesson that clicked

Pre-lesson selfie.

Oak and I (along with our new friends Jess and OneZ!!), had a lesson at our friend Kathy's farm on Tuesday morning with Karen Jones from Body and Soul Horsemanship. Karen has a background in dressage, bio-mechanics, and natural horsemanship. though she has most recently been focusing on  Straightness Training and positive reinforcement (clicker training). She decided to pursue clicker training when she adopted a very troubled Lipizzaner/Andalusian named Rhett. Rhett's story has been really inspiring to me because he shares similar triggers (saddles, mounting blocks) and insecurities (everything involving people) with Oak, but Karen has really been able to make huge progress with him. I was also really geek-ed out with be able to talk to someone about positive reinforcement training with horses. If anyone has followed me over from my first blog, you already know that I started experimenting with clicker training with my last horse Bodhi, and I have continued to dabble with Oak and Gray.

The two horses that participated were OneZ and Oak. Both horses have had past abuse/neglect that have left them with a sometimes negative view of people. We started the day off by reviewing the basic concepts of why use a marker (the click), how you pair your marker with the reward, and how to shape a horse's behavior using a marker (so when to click). We started this basic lesson by teaching OneZ (completely new to clicker) how to touch a target. Teaching a simple behavior, like touching a target, is a great way to introduce clicker training to your horse -and "charge" your marker. During Karen's introduction, I noticed several bad habits that I had developed in my treat delivery. During Oak's first session we addressed those habits. We also talked about how she has helped Rhett through some of his fears of human touch with the clicker, so Oak and I have a plan to incorporate more positive reinforcement in our massages, stretches, and grooming sessions. She found that just desensitization was not getting very far with Rhett and I have similarly hit that wall with Oak, so I am really happy to have a new tool (well old tool) to use to help him relax. Same story with the saddle and mounting block. My take home was that positive reinforcement is a great tool to use on a horse like Oak. I just need to increase my rate of reinforcement and keep at it!

With OneZ we worked on many of the behaviors he has learned through natural horsemanship (backing, moving his hips, and shoulders, side-passing), but instead of increasing pressure when he did not respond Jess just paused and asked again looking for a chance to reward him and build on his initial try. Karen explained that with clicker training there is no "make." We give the horse a chance to earn a reward, and if he does not respond, then he loses the opportunity. So Jess started off by using her old cue for back and then clicked the tiniest response. Once OneZ was in on the game she was able to slowly ask for more steps (or head down, or faster) by rewarding what she liked with a click and a treat instead of an increase in pressure. OneZ has been getting frustrated sometimes with some of these basic tasks, and Jess guessed it may be a reaction to the pressure (because of his history of inappropriate handling). OneZ took to clicker training wonderfully and seemed to enjoy himself (though we learned he is not a fan of cheerios).

I think we all had a positive experience and Jess and I plan to have play dates to work together in between the next time Karen can travel down to us for a lesson. I was super proud of how Oak handled being off the farm. He is such a wonderful guy. Gray came along as a spectator only this time, but it will be his turn next!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Love That Booty

This post it is a week late, but better late then never. After my not so good lesson on Tuesday of the staycation, I scheduled another riding lesson for Thursday with a dressage instructor who was willing to come out assess Oak, and was okay with giving us a ground work lesson.

She started off the lesson evaluating his back and hind end for soreness. She found a tender area in the middle of his back on the left side that corresponded with a sensitive and tight area on the croup. She said that made sense because he was over compensating for his weak left side. It also explains why he can be resistant to picking that right back leg up. Next, she showed my some stretches that can help with those areas. I was nervous to the back leg stretches but he was actually really good.

Then I showed her my three saddles (the Duett, Wintec, and western). She was not happy with the fit on either english saddle, but thought the western saddle fit him well. After we tacked up she had me focus only on his hind end when lunging really driving him into the halter. She also wanted me to rub him with the whip on his hind end. We ended the lesson by her demonstrating some croup massages. 

What she is trying to do is set me up with a comprehensive program that will address Oak's physical and emotional issues with his hind end. Getting him more comfortable physically is the first step, followed by getting him to use his hind end instead of dragging it behind him, and then finally spending time desensitizing his hind end because he is oh so very nervous about me being back there. She basically told me to love the booty.

I have been working with him on the exercises for a week and we have made slow improvements. I am looking forward to our next lesson. She is everything I want in an instructor, knowledgeable, experienced, open minded, positive, and encouraging. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A few good bucks

Obviously the water jug fun had stirred up some memories for Oak because the next day we did not make it far before he started bucking again. This time reacting to the stirrups looped over the saddle horn. He was pulling away from me when we did it, so I went back to asking for just small circles at the walk before calling it a day. Frustrating because we had been doing so well, but I was obviously pushing things too fast for him. New rule: introduce new stimuli in the roundpen, so we don't reinforce bolting and bucking when things get overwhelming.

The next few days have been spent back in the roundpen. I increased my reinforcement and started him back on stuff he knows well. We then introduced the stirrups falling, and being hooked on the saddle horn and the walk and trot. No more bucking. Yay.

Today I took him back in the pasture for some lunging. I could tell he was nervous by his over reactions to the stick, but I rewarded him a bunch for his tries, and we were able to have some nice circles at the trot in several places around the pasture.

I also had a riding lesson today at a 3-day eventing barn I have never been to before. I had a riding bio-mechanics lunge-line lesson on a big, sweet OTTB. I loved the lesson material. It was a great work out with a lot of new and challenging exercises for my tool bag. I hope to practice the exercises on a barrel or something to increase my strength, balance, and coordination since I don't have a horse to practice on.

I don't think I will be going back to ride with that instructor again though. She was the kind of person that baits you into making mistakes and then berates you for them. She constantly uses rhetorical questions and sarcasm.... Nobody got time for that. I don't really learn well when I am being belittled and ridiculed (who does), so I was pretty shut down throughout the lesson. I even put my half chaps on inside out! I was shaking at several points, and just kept doing stupid things, because I was so stressed out. I just get so nervous when people start off being so aggressive. I guess I am too sensitive, but I have been in a lot of high-pressure job situations, and had a lot of people yell at me throughout my life, so I don't think I am ever going to get any better.  When I was a kid I would just push through all of those feelings and try to get the most out of it anyways, but now I just don't see the point. I could tell by the way she talked to her staff and other students (and her dogs) that it was normal behavior for her. Not only do I feel she is not the right trainer for me, I think she would be a disaster with Oak. I am pretty sure he would either shut down, explode, or both.

I have a lesson planned with a another trainer on Thursday -- this one is willing to come out to my house! I am pretty excited and hoping that it goes well.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Grayson's One Year Adopt-iversary

About one year ago I had been browsing the sales adds on Craigslist and Facebook, and looking into all the local rescues for a buddy for Bodhi for when we moved to our new place. I wanted something that was not expensive because we were in the process of buying our farm, and something that would make a good friend (so nothing super dominant or freakishly spooky). Besides that I did not really know what I wanted. At the time I thought Bodhi only had mild arthritis which meant we were probably not going anywhere competitively, but that he could still be a great trail horse, ground work/clicker training buddy, and all-around great horse for friends and guests to ride, so I was thinking I could get a new project. I looked at a few horses, but none of them really made excited.

Then I saw an add that went a little bit like this:

 "Lusitano/Appendix cross colt. About a year old, was feral and we have had him for two months. Have been working on halter breaking, and ground manners. Family emergency forces sale." 

The add was accompanied by these pictures:
Giant ears, so many cuts.

So derpy

Based on the add (and price) this little guy seemed like he was not in a good situation, and I had always wanted an Iberian horse! I sent the add and photos to my good friend/horse trainer/partner in crime and we decided to go take a look (with a horse trailer of course).

 When we got there and watched him move while the person tried to catch him we actually started to believe the 1/2 Lusitano part! Holy cow! When she pulled him out it was clear he knew nothing, but that he had a good personality (if a little depressed and sullen). It was hard to even tell what color he was because he was so bleached and he was covered head to toe in cuts and scrapes, but his sire was evidently grey, and his dam was buckskin. 

I think I was sold when I saw that trot, but the little guy was just so sad and sweet looking! We traded the woman a synthetic western saddle and a small amount of cash for the ribby, beat-up yearling. He loaded in about 15 minutes which was pretty impressive considering he was hardly halter broken.

Adoption day and now with the husband.

Gray is now an obnoxious, playful, and curious two year old. He has made great progress in his ground manners, and a little progress towards his career as a riding horse. We have mostly been letting him be a baby. I have no idea what our future will be, and if I am even up to training this big-moving, spirited goofball, but I feel really lucky that he came into my life anyways. Love you Gray Baby.

Adoption day and now with me

Thursday, July 14, 2016

End of This Challenge

Husband doing the tacking... So spoiled

Today marked the tenth day, and the conclusion, of our ten day saddle challenge. We did miss two days so it was not exactly consecutive but I did my best. It started off with Oak trotting up from across the pasture when he saw me walking over with the saddle. That felt really good.

My husband came out and took some more photos for me, and he actually tacked him up today. He put the saddle on from the off side, with the lead rope hanging over his neck, and Oak stood still and stayed calm throughout.

I am just going to tie these to you OK?

I decided to end with a bang and brought out the milk jugs. He did not have much of a reaction to them last time so I introduced them to him briefly before looping them on the saddle horn and asking for him to trot around me. About the second time around Oak exploded in a series of bronc bucks which sent the jugs flying off of him. A much bigger reaction than I expected! I calmed him down and got the jugs back on there -- this time tying them in place. For better or worse they were up there.

Right before the bucking. Unfortunately no bucking photos.

Once we started back to lunging we did not see Oak the bronc come out again but he was very tense and snorty. I am sure he had a ton of Adrenalin coursing though his system, but he stayed with me and kept trying which is the important part. We ended with a little bit of targeting. Not our best day, but not a disaster either.

Feeling a bit better about the whole thing.
I feel bad that I had not done more prep with Oak to help him understand the jugs did not require acrobatics, but I think it is also good sometime to push your horse over his threshold in training and see what his natural reactions to things are. I learned some valuable things about Oak today.

1. He can buck hard! 2. He really is okay until he is not, and then he explodes. I need to make sure I do my homework with him every time and 3. He can come back from a big scare relatively well -- but he stays on high alert the rest of the session.

I will be giving us both a day off tomorrow, but I will be back at it on Saturday! Maybe another 10 day challenge is in order? What do you think it should be? Should it be desensitization with movement, objects, and sound on the saddle? Maybe I'll do five days at a time. That seems more sustainable. I don't work him hard everyday. In fact most days he does not work at all I just put the saddle on and off and he gets a treat. Making myself work on something consistently for ten days straight really did bring noticeable improvements. I think switching to tacking at liberty also contributed to the change. He is the kind of horse that really needs a choice if he is going to feel comfortable.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Grayson vs Pine Tree

Today we completed day eight of our ten day challenge. We actually missed a day on Friday due to Grayson deciding to skewer himself on a tree limb. I will spare you the actual photos but it reminded me of this toy I had when I was a kid.
Grayson has dino damage

Grayson is okay, and according to the vet will heal up just fine. He will probably have an ugly scar from it though.  Oh Grayson-- and he has already jumped out of his paddock once since being put on "stall rest" because of turkeys. Sigh. Turkeys. Definitely worth jumping a five foot fence with a gian laceration on your side....

Why did I decide an Iberian horse was a good idea? He is so sweet, but definitely hotter and less likely to use his brain on a regular basis than the haflingers.

The injury has him out of any kind of training for the rest of the month. Except for sit still while I slather medication in your hole training of course. He will be very medically broke by the end of this.

Back to Oak -- He has been great. I have been continuing to tack him up at liberty and I try to do something new everyday. Sunday I played with him at liberty in the pasture with his saddle on. Today it was tie a rope to the stirrups and swing them around while I lunged him day. I could tell he was not happy (who would be with a stirrup flying around) but he either just kept trotting or he would stop and look at me. Big improvement from the initial reaction I got a while ago when I did it in the english saddle. Tomorrow I am thinking of bringing the jugs out again.

Any other things you guys could think of to sack him out with associated with the saddle?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Day 5 of Our 10 Day Challenge

On day one (the inspiration for the challenge) I noticed how tense Oak was about his new saddle. I was feeling discouraged because I thought we had worked on it quite a bit already.  I thought it may be because he had so much time off since I had been traveling, but I also wondered if he would even let me put a saddle on at liberty.

On day two I tried to tack him up at liberty in the paddock. He spooked at the saddle and hid in the corner. So the answer is no. The paddock is big and has a run-in to hide behind so it is not the ideal place to work on advance and retreat work. I moved us into the roundpen slowly desensitized him to with the saddle until I could tack him up in the roundpen. I probably should have just started off this way, but I wanted to work on more interesting things other than saddling. Cutting corners never pays!

Day three I tried in the paddock again and he let me put the saddle on with little fuss. Day four he was waiting for me where I tacked him up last time and he was great again so I played with the mounting block too.

Here are some pictures from today (day five). I wish I had pictures of day one,but it has been amazing how much change I have observed when I let him make the decision to stay or leave and when we just work on a little bit more each day. I am excited to see what day ten brings!

Belly scratches

More belly scratches

Oak says "Oh no I can't look"

A little tense but he is staying and getting more relaxed each day

Cinching up!

Mounting block work. he still walks away or turns to face me a lot and I think that is OK. I just try again.

Relaxing together after a job well done
How are your challenges going?

Training Log July 5-7
Oak : 3 saddle training sessions, two mounting block sessions, and one lunge session in the yard. Even though it was the first time I lunged him in the yard he did really well!
Gray: 3 handling sessions, hung out in the yard, wore a saddle pad, and today lunged in the paddock. Adding clicker training to lunging has really helped him get over his resistance.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Back in the saddle

Well I am not *IN* the saddle at all yet but hey I am back home from a long business trip and back to work with my two boys.

I tried to tack Oak up at liberty and he showed me he still feels very unconfident about his saddle, so I am issuing a ten day challenge for myself. Put the saddle on Oak TEN days in a row. I don't have to do anything in particular with him, but he needs to wear it ten days straight. So far I am on day two with eight more days to go!

Is there anyone else who would like to issue a ten day challenge with me? Something you want to make a habit (does not have to be horse related)? Put in the comments if you want to join in!

Training Log

July 1-4
Worked with Gray for 15 min each day and Oak got one 20 min, and two 30 min sessions.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

In a funk

I have not really felt like working with the horses since my lesson was canceled last week. I am self-analyzing and have come up with several possible reasons for this:

  • A) It is hot. Florida freaking sucks in summer. Why do I live here?
  • B) I am disappointed about  losing the opportunity of getting professional feedback about my work with the boys and I lost momentum.
  • C) I am missing Bodhi and the connection that we had, and feeling sorry for myself.
  • D) The world is nasty right now and I just want stay in bed and re-read Charles de Lint novels and cry.
  • E) I am leaving town on Sunday so what's the point anyways! Sigh.
  • F) All of the above.

I think it's F. I know, I am a hot mess.

I just feel like Oak and I are treading water mostly with these marginal gains, and I keep wondering am I pushing him enough? Am I doing the right things? Should it take this long to actually climb up there? Am I being a baby? Am I moving too fast? My thoughts are all over the place.

His smiley face scar says he is tough but approachable
I wish I had a regular trainer. Someone I could get out on a regular basis to help me, and give me feedback. I don't want to send him off to a trainer (though maybe I should... is that what normal people do??) because I really want the experience, but I just don't trust my judgement anymore. It was too long ago since the last time I started a horse (Bodhi 8 years ago) and Oak is different too. He has baggage.

So I guess I need to find a trainer/instructor. Not sure where to even begin looking locally. I can easily find someone to go take a dressage lesson with, but will anyone even want to help me with starting a horse? I don't even know if that is even a thing.

Where do you even find instructors/trainers? Word of mouth (I don't know a lot of local mouths)? Online? I always just use the trainers at my boarding barn, or people other boarders recommended... but now I am not boarding...

Training Log

June 11, 2016


Location: the yard
Duration: 30 mins
Activity: Hanging out, desensitization to me above him acting silly.
Observations: I made Oak hang out with me while I drank a beer sitting in the back of my truck in our yard. He was nervous but settled down mostly. He needs more practice at just hanging out and chilling out. The truck is also an excellent place to practice being above him and touching him with me feet.


Location: the yard
Duration: 20 mins
Activity: Hanging out, desensitization to me above him acting silly.
Observations: Grayson settled right down (he is spooky in the yard) and had fun hanging out with me.

June 13, 2016


Location: The paddock and the pasture
Duration: 40 mins
Activity: Wearing the western saddle, lunging outside of the round pen with the new saddle, increasing speed at the trot.
Observations: Better, but still nervous about movement associated with the saddle. Did really well lunging in the pasture. Responds better to me increasing my own energy  then just swinging the stick or rope to get him to increase speed. If I walk faster, he increases speed, if I swing something at him, he'll do it but he makes a sour face. I think it is just too much pressure for Mr. sensitive. He is backing up a lot with out asking. He thinks it is the answer for everything right now. I guess I'll take it over his stiff half step that he was offering at first.

June 14 , 2016

Location: The paddock
Duration: 20 mins
Activity: Mounting block desensitization.
Observations: He seems a little more relaxed. Marginally. He did fall asleep at one point during a break. He also gives me a horrified look when I rub him with my leg. Sigh. I dunno.

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Late Throwback Thursday

My First Love

This is my first heart horse Velour. I am probably 13 in this picture. Maybe younger. I think this was a Novice level, local 3-day event. Velour was a quirky Thoroughbred that I rode for a few years at a lesson barn. We did hunter shows, hunter paces, foxhunting, and 3-day eventing. I thought I was a pretty good rider but after I left that lesson barn and moved on to other horses I realized it was all him the whole time. He was a very sensitive, unconfident horse, but once he trusted you he gave you everything and he was extremely athletic.

 Several years after I left the farm the trainer called me to tell me to come get him because he was just not working out in her lesson program (still quirky I guess!). He was in pretty bad shape so I was lucky enough to get to him and give him the retirement he deserved. I got five wonderful years with him before he passed away at the age of 24 from cancer and heart failure. Miss him every day.

Beautiful Velour

Training Log


Location: Paddock
Duration: 20 mins
Activity: Tacking up and wearing the western saddle
Observations: Much better this time. Added a back cinch which he did not seem to care about. Stil nervous with me fussing with it, but does not seem to care about the saddle when he moves out at the walk and trot. I need to learn how to tie a western cinch because it was really loose!


Location: Roundpen
Duration: 15 mins
Activity: Lunging (1 and 1/2 circles at the trot), walking over poles, backing up, walking over wood.
Observations: Not a fan of the wood, and still pretty sticky and reacitve when I ask him

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Best Laid Plans

Stupid Tropical Storm Colin scared away our instructor, so I just went to the farm Monday morning and loaded the boys back up. Grayson took longer to load but was less theatrical about it. When we arrived home he took 5-10 minutes to decide he wanted to get OFF the trailer. Obviously we have some work to do with loading.

Overall it was a very positive outing for them since they literally had to do nothing but meet new horses and eat grass, but I am bummed I missed a learning opportunity. I don't get many, and I feel pretty isolated most the time.

I spent the rest of the day picking cactus out of our infested pasture. So productive, but not really how I wanted to spend my vacation day. Oh well.

Next time!

Grayson looking around at Kathy's

Training Log


Date: 6/4/2016
Duration: 40 mins
Location: roundpen
Activity: ground poles, mounting block, standing on a mat, desensitization to me
Observations: He seemed more reactive to me than usual so we spent a good deal of time working on mounting block desensitization. He spooked at one point and I ended up lunging him around me on the block which was challenging :). He rocked his first time trotting over three ground poles.

Date: 6/5/2016-6/6/2016
Duration: 60 minutes with two 45 min trailer rides and an over night stay (not really sure how much time to give this... technically two days, but I was probably asking him to do stuff for like an hour total)
Location: Kathy's farm
Activity: loading and unloading, walking around a new place
Observations: Horse loads like a rock star. Nervous and looky at the farm but stayed safe and respectful. His face when her donkeys brayed was priceless.


Date: 6/5/2016-6/6/2016
Duration: 60 minutes with two 45 min trailer rides and an over night stay (not really sure how much time to give this... technically two days, but I was probably asking him to do stuff for like an hour total)
Location: Kathy's farm
Activity: loading and unloading, walking around a new place
Observations: Was not a fan of my step-up (it was his first time in my trailer). We need to spend more time with loading and unloading. He was a good boy at Kathy's though he did live there for two weeks when I first purchased him. He was even okay when one of her pigs walked right by him.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Got Our Game Faces On

We took both the boys to my friend Kathy's today so they could stay over for the night to hopefully settle in and be ready for a productive lesson tomorrow.

It was the first time I have loaded Grayson in our trailer. He JUMPED in and JUMPED out. Guess he was not a fan of the step-up. At least he loaded. Oak loaded like a boss. Again. Love that dude.

Hopefully we have a fun and productive day tomorrow! In the meantime enjoy these photos I took while Oak and Gray toured their new digs for the night.

He is two now! (we think)

I love the floppy ears on the fly mask. I blame his giant jowls.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

May Recap, June Goals


May Recap:

I worked with Oak for over 11 hours this month. The work included traveling off the farm for the first time, desensitization to a variety of objects (barrels, tarps, milk jugs, massager, flapping stirrups, western saddle) free lunging in the round pen and arena, teaching him to "catch me", wearing a bridle, giving to pressure in the rope halter, trot off on the lead, and ground driving.

June Goals:

  • Have a productive off the farm lesson.
  • Gain confidence with wearing the western saddle and movement on the saddle (stirrups and jugs here we come!)
  • Build Confidence with me over him, and messing with the saddle.
  • Learn a verbal whoa cue
  • Start working on rate changes in the trot on the lunge
  • Stretching and relaxation on the lunge
  • Start shaping standing on a mat (beginning of ground tying)
  • Introduce ground poles


Grayson is now officially two so he is going to start having goals. I work with him a few times a week but I would really like to start stepping it up and keeping track of our progress.

May Recap:

We started working on giving to pressure. He is pretty reactive to halter pressure so we don't have a natural soft response yet. We worked gaining confidence with a few scary objects but he was pretty tense about the milk jugs in particular. He loves to target and has generalized that well. He has started to learn to trot on the lunge. Just a few strides.


June Goals:

  • Settling down off the farm (hopefully having a few productive moments)
  • Trotting calmly for two rotations on the lunge in the round pen.
  • Giving to halter pressure in all directions 
  • Confidence hanging around in the yard and other places around the property on a lead.
  • Confidence with novel objects touching him (massager, jugs, and saddle blanket)
  • Start shaping standing on a mat (beginning of ground tying)

Training Log 6/2/2016


Duration: 20 mins
Location: Paddock
Activity: Standing on a a mark. Ground tying.
Observations: First session for standing on a marked and he picked up on putting his front feet on the mat right away.


Duration: 10 mins
Location: Arena
Activity: trotting on lead. yielding to pressure, backing up
Observations: He can be so soft sometimes and so belligerent and stubborn other times. Today he was soft.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

I went for it

I went ahead and bought the saddle. it is a big ole' western trainer with a deep suede seat. I am hoping it will help with my confidence and nerves for starting these horses. Even if the benefit is all in my head that is half the battle right there!

I am also glad I made the purchase because Oak was really uncertain about the saddle when I tried it on. It definitely revealed he needs more work on things on his back because just dropping the stirrups made him jump. I am worried it is too big on him because the back of the saddle bounces when he trots. Maybe I need a back cinch? I am so ignorant to western tack! I have a lesson coming up on Sunday and Monday where I am trailering out to my friend's house with both boys so I will ask people there.

We also said goodbye to the free lease this week. Finally. I may write about the experience some day but for now I am glad it is over and she is at a really wonderful boarding barn at the expense of her owner. As it should be. After that experience I will take my dubious craigslsit purchases over well trained, well bred, free leases from friends of friends any day.

Oak Training Log

Location: roundpen
Duration: 40 mins
Activity: Desensitization to western saddle
Observations: Fine with girth pressure and bouncing. Nervous about the bulk of it on his back and the stirrups falling against his side. He held it together though and showed improvement!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

To Sell or Not to Sell

About one year ago I came to the realization that my beloved dressage saddle was too narrow for Bodhi. I started saddle shopping and ended up buying a used Duett Sonata. I had been wanting a Duett since I had found out about them when first researching saddles that work with Haflingers. I found one a friend was selling for a great price and went for it. I got it re-flocked to fit Bodhi well and I picked the all purpose because I was boarding at an eventing barn at the time and was doing a little bit of everything. I probably rode in it all of three times before Bodhi got sick.

Jump forward to a year later. Bodhi is gone, and I have two un-broke horses.  I have put it on Oak and I am not quite sure it fits, I will need to get a saddle fitter out. I am also not so sure it is the saddle I want to start him in. Am I being weanie for thinking I need to get a western trainer to start this pony?

My first ride on Bodhi. You can tell it was really harrowing... ;)

I started Bodhi in a close contact jumping saddle with no issues but I was a different rider and he was a different horse. I am not even sure what discipline I want to do with Oak. We may want to even stick with western if he turns out be more of a trail horse. I would also be interested in obstacles and western dressage. My dream for Grayson is to do some jumping and dressage but I don't plan to back him for at least another year. This saddle may work for Grayson but we won't know until he finishes growing.

So my questions to you all:

  1. Am I being a weanie for wanting a western trainer saddle to back Oak?
  2. Would you hold on to a saddle that you may never use again... just because it is your dream saddle or would you sell it buy more relevant tack for the horses you have now?

Oak Training Log

Location: Pasture
Duration: 30 mins
Activities: Ground Driving 
Observations: MUCH better at steering today! still a little drunk but no pool towards the "barn" at all. Took him all over the big pasture through the woods and by the road and he was a rock star. He just keeps impressing me!