Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bad Mare Day

Yesterday we had our first bad day.  I know that it's the first of many and that it's no big deal, but since it was the first one ever it kind of startled me.  Until now, I've been able to see steady improvement every single day I play with Starbuck but yesterday when I took her out to longe it was like the very first time: rearing up and bucking and turning around to face me every time I tried to get her to go around in a circle.  Maybe it was the temperature change (we went from 85º on Sunday to 75º Monday) or the fact that the weather was cloudy, or that I hadn't taken her out of her paddock for a few days... I don't know what it was but she sure was crazy!

At any rate, it was fun to hear everyone gasping every time she did something wild and my friend Virginia (proud owner of Menorquín mare Coco) longed her for a while as well, finally she calmed down at least a little and was able to walk / trot in a circle once in each direction, which satisfied me enough for one day.  And I know that today she'll probably be fine and if not, she'll eventually get back to where she was before.  The only thing I need to keep in mind is that it's the journey that matters, not the end of the road.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Playing games

So I signed up for a program called ParelliConnect since there's a free trial month and I have to say I think I'll stick with it even after the trial is over (it costs something like 9€ a month).  On the surface it's basically Facebook for horse people, with interactive walls and the possibility to find and connect with other members, but what makes it unique are Pat Parelli's instructional videos available online and the accompanying e-learning lessons with written instructions, troubleshooting and additional videos to pinpoint specific areas.

From the Parelli Natural Horse Training website, here are some of the foundations of their training program, which uses 7 "games" or exercises in different levels of difficulty (on a lead line, groundwork at liberty, bridleless riding and finesse) to encourage a partnership between horse and human:

  • Rather than using reward and punishment, natural horse training motivates or discourages behaviors by leveraging the horse’s natural instincts.

  • Rather than using fear and dominance to force or coerce change, teamwork is the operative model.

  • Traditional horse training methods tend to use a single protocol for all horses; natural horse training includes horse personality profiling so the best approach is used for each animal’s personality type. Just as different humans learn best in different ways, so do horses.

  • Standard methods expect – or demand – that horses adapt themselves to the human world they find themselves in — whether stable, ranch, trail or show arena. Natural horsemanship encourages the human to understand the horse’s viewpoint and to make adaptations that increase the horse’s comfort level. A scared horse is a hard-to-train horse."

  • You can read more here if you're interested or check out the following video of the seven games done in seven minutes (with a bonus of cute foal footage):

    Saturday, August 27, 2011


    This video is AMAZING, I hope some day to have the same kind of bond of trust with Starbuck that this girl obviously has with her pony.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I have, by the way she used Parelli methods to train her pony herself :-D

    Friday, August 26, 2011

    Finally the video

    Finally the video uploaded and here it is, this was at the very end of our session so Starbuck keeps looking at me like "I did all this before and was a good girl, why do we have to do it agaaaaaaiiiiinnnnn?".  Which is why she's not very cooperative here, next time I'll try to get video at the start of the session.
    Yesterday we worked on getting in and out of the shower, it's basically a raised (3 or so inches) concrete platform with a hose suspended above it which has a moveable arm so you can swing it right and left and since there's usually a big muddy moat-like puddle around it Starbuck kind of freaks out and tends to hop on and off the platform.  This is, needless to say, not good either for her hooves and legs or for my nerves (YOU try holding a green horse on a 5 foot lead while she jumps over a puddle at you)!

    Because of this I decided we needed to work a little on it and yesterday we got on and off the platform about 10 times, slowly and with a lot of patience so she could sniff and paw at the mud all she wanted.  At first she was just as freaked as always and jumped both on and off but after a while I think she realized that jumping was a whole lot of work and stepped onto the shower.  I let her think about that a while (did you know that when a horse licks his / her lips for what seems like no good reason s / he's thinking about something?) and petted her and told her how marvellous she is and then we went back to the routine.  And what do you know?!  A few reps later she stepped (very cautiously and with a little hop at the end, but hey, way better than a jump) off the platform too!  So once again I let her think about it, petted her, walked her around the area without going into the shower and then did a final rep (with actual shower included, which she likes) before we went back to her paddock.

    Thursday, August 25, 2011

    Cavesson Part 3

    Here are the photos from yesterday!  The video's taking too long so I'll upload it tomorrow ;-)

    Cavesson Part 2

    Yesterday when I went to the stable and called out to Starbuck she nickered at me, that low throaty nicker which means "Hey you, good to see you again".  It's the first time she's ever done it to me so it felt really special and I was really gratified and thanked her with a long long rub session.

    We also tried out the Cavesson while longeing and she wasn't quite sure what to make of this strange new halter but it went very well, I think it's better for asking for forward impulsion than the Parelli halter, although the Parelli is definitely better for control.  It's a little large since it was originally Virgina's (the proud owner of Coco, a beautiful but enormous Menorquín mare) but I think I'll be able to snug it up around the nosepiece with old socks or something like that.

    My husband and mother in law tagged along and were both surprised to see that Starbuck was so happy to see me and obedient inside her paddock (basic walk, stop and back commands).  They also took some photos and even a video which I'll upload as soon as I get them.

    In the meanwhile I've found some videos on Youtube of people longeing with some of the same problems Starbuck and I have.  I see so many videos of horses longeing perfectly that I tend to feel like an idiot, it's good to see that we're not the only ones struggling a little.  Here you go:

    Monday, August 22, 2011


    Today Starbuck and I lunged for a while and I thought she did really well, it was actually pretty funny because another girl at the stable who didn't know that Starbuck is still a baby and was talking about how badly she was behaving ;-)  So we didn't do great today but at least good enough to fool someone into thinking that she's just a naughty grownup!

    I also tied her with the other horses while I groomed her and she behaved perfectly, she even lifted her front feet for me while tied!  Another thing I've noticed that she's improved is that she still goes a little crazy on the lunge line every now and then but when she does her periodic farting and bucking and running off thing she doesn't pull me nearly as hard.  Instead of a tug which would pull me off balance before, now she just pulls a little on my arm, which is fabulous!  Every day I can see a little improvement, even if some things get a little worse other things get better.

     My friend Virginia even lent me her cavesson (see my Lungeing, Longeing, Loungeing post for more details) which we tried on (I think it fits fine!) and will try out with the line next time.  In the meanwhile here are some photos:

    Sunday, August 21, 2011

    More photos

    Thanks to Salvador, a fellow horseman from Equitec Balear for these great photos!  Today we moved Starbuck to another paddock, but since all the paddocks haven't been split up yet in the meanwhile she has two whole paddocks all to herself!  So with so much space we were able to work on some leading, stopping and walking backwards as well as a little ground tying (amazingly this went really well).

    The other thing we worked on was me lightly throwing a looped lead rope first across her withers like the guy from my Inspiration post does, then across her back, then finally across her rump and even around her legs, to get her used to strange things moving accross her body.  We didn't get to the point of lifting her hind legs because I didn't feel confident she was ready to get there and one of the things I really like that John Lyons has said is that if he isn't pretty sure a horse isn't going to do something he doesn't try to ask for it.  In other words, ask questions you expect to get a "yes" answer to.  But she did great with the rest of it, at first she was a little twitchy but I just rubbed her neck with the rope and she chilled out right away.  She even lifted her front hooves for me (for a second, but it was all her) when I asked her at the end of the "lesson".

    The deal is that she can do pretty much anything inside her paddock and stays really calm there, but gets really edgy as soon as she steps out of it.  So I think that what we really need to do is get out of our comfort zone until she can really relax enough to keep learning in other situations as well (after all my long-term goals are to take her on a LOT of trail rides).  So we'll keep working on that and we'll be sure to keep the blog updated!

    Friday, August 19, 2011

    Ground tying

    Maybe when Starbuck chills out a little in the arena we can work on this technique...

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

    Lungeing, Longeing, Loungeing

    Since I've been lungeing Starbuck on a regular basis to try to teach her the voice commands "Paso" (walk) "Trote" (trot) and "Galope" (canter) but I don't have a whole lot of experience on the line, I got the US Pony Club's Guide to Longeing and Ground Training.  Even though it's basically written for kids and has a lot more "safety" guidelines than most books on training, I'm finding it really useful.  Some things I've learned so far are:

    • There is a special type of bridle called a cavesson which should be used when longeing.  
    • Before starting to longe, it's best to teach the horse parallel leading (at 6-10 feet), then parallel longeing (where the person walks a smaller inner circle about 10-15 feet away from the horse) and finally "normal" longeing (where the person stays in one spot in the center of the circle).
    • Horses shouldn't be cantered on the longe line until they're very good at walking and trotting, since it's more difficult for them to keep their balance in a canter.
    I think I'm going to get a cavesson, until now I've been longeing with a string halter (Parelli style), but am thrilled to know that there are special halters which can give better control while being gentler on the horse.  This way I can also introduce her to the bit without pulling on it too much when longeing, since the line attaches to the noseband instead of to the bit itself.  Here's a picture of the one I'm considering:

    Sunday, August 14, 2011


    Yesterday I rode a little in the morning (I don't want to get rusty for when I ride Starbuck for the first time so I'm planning to ride other horses in the meanwhile) and I felt too lazy to do longeing.  I did want to get Starbuck out of her paddock though, so I felt like it was a good opportunity to walk Starbuck all around the stable grounds for the first time ever and work a little bit on her leading.  Basically as long as there aren't any distractions and we're walking somewhere she's gotten used to, Starbuck is good, respectful and calm on the lead.   But add a new route, orange trees rustling in the wind, stallions prancing and neighing at us, small children running around and cats and dogs popping up at strange intervals and NOT SO MUCH! ;-)

    But I can't complain because in the end yesterday we got through the whole walk without her rearing or attempting to run into me, the only consistent problem I see is that she tends to crowd me.  I'm teaching her the word "aparta" ("move away" in Spanish), which works really well in her paddock (even at feeding time) but again, not so much with distractions, but I think I also need to lay down some basic personal space rules.  So I'm going to start walking with my dressage whip to prod her away when she crowds me (instead of my elbow) and backing her up every time she gets ahead of me (instead of bopping her on the nose with the lead rope which just seems mean).

    Here's a video about leading from Clinton Anderson who I'm not 100% sold on but seems to have some really good ideas:

    Friday, August 12, 2011


    When I got Starbuck the woman who runs the stable we're at recommended I deworm her, so I got this all-natural Italian deworming paste with garlic and cod liver oil and other yummy ingredients called Svermilan from my local saddle shop but still wasn't sure how to go about giving it to her.  I started looking online as usual and found some articles and videos; with their help and the fact that Starbuck was hungry I was able to give her all the paste with no problem (such a good girl...).

    At any rate, here's what I've learned.

    • Basically deworming a horse is like deworming a cat or dog but with the added complication that horses have more delicate stomachs, so it's best to do it pretty often (every 2-4 months).  
    • Uncontrolled parasites can affect a horse's attitude, coat, physical condition and even cause anemia, colic and chronic lesions.
    • You should also switch deworming products every time so you're getting to the widest range of parasites possible (some parasites aren't affected by certain deworming products).
    • Unless the package states otherwise, give your horse deworming paste on an empty stomach.  That way they'll reap the full benefit of the active ingredients.
    • If your horse hates the way the deworming paste tastes, empty the tube and fill it with apple sauce periodically to "deworm" them with something yummy.
    • Be sure to give the right amount of deworming solution for your horse's size and weight (since Starbuck's still a filly, I gave her half the tube one week and the other half a week later).

    Thursday, August 11, 2011

    If wishes were horses...

    I want this set!!!!  Aside from the fact that Zaldi makes decent stuff, I love the colours they have and I need at least some of these things ;-P... I'm thinking mint green will look great on Starbuck!  We'll see if next month I can shell out the 80-some euros that it costs :S

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011


    One of the things Starbuck and I really have to work on is her giving me her feet.  I say "giving me her feet" because I can actually pick up her feet by force and hold them for a while, but since horses who are “hoof shy” really tend to get to me I want her to give her feet calmly to me when I ask her to instead of having to shift her weight over with my shoulder and pick them up without knowing if she’ll stay still every time I want to clean her hooves.

    Before I started working with her they told me that she had never even had her hooves trimmed because she was so reluctant to pick up her feet the day the farrier came, which if you think about it is completely normal if she’s never been taught to do it.  But the result of not getting normal hoof trims and staying in her paddock for months at a time (which is pretty spacious but not big enough to run around much) is that her hooves have grown to be too long in the front and kind of flattened out at the bottom (her hind hooves are OK, not great but not terrible either).

    Now that I’m working with her, a lot of the excess hoof growth she had in the front has broken off which means that they’re less painful for her (I can see the difference in the way she stands—compare the first picture where her legs are beneath her body with the second picture where she’s got a more typical “horsey” stance).  But they’re still far from ideal; I want them trimmed by a farrier (I won’t be shoeing her until I start riding her a fair amount) and I also want to be able to clean them and put ointment on them so they’ll be stronger.
    Here she's standing with her legs underneath her, which is a sign of leg or hoof pain.
    After the hooves broke off some you can see that she has a more normal stance.

    After as always scouring the internet for the methods I like most, I put together a training plan with some bit-by-bit measurable goals, since I think that so far I’ve been moving too fast (the other day she got frustrated and made a move like she was going to bite me) and what I really need to do first is not annoy her into lifting her foot (up until now I was trying the “tap on her leg until she lifts her foot herself” technique) but gain the trust which will allow her to do so willingly and calmly.  So here’s my plan; the idea is that if at any point she rebels I’ll just start again at the previous step:

    Step 1: Pet her hooves and shift weight for both front shoulders.  Repeat until she shifts her weight every time I lean slightly on her shoulder.

    Step 2: Pet her hooves, shift weight, lift right front hoof for 1 second.  Repeat until I can lift the hoof easily.

    Step 3: Pet her hooves, shift weight, lift left front hoof for 1 second.  Repeat until I can lift the hoof easily.

    Step 4: Lift both front hooves and maintain for 3 seconds.  Repeat, increasing time period slightly when she’s comfortable with the previous one but trying never to let her take her foot away from me, until I can maintain both front hooves for 30 seconds.

    Step 5-8: Repeat with back hooves.

    After this I hope that it'll be easy to clean out her hooves with the pick and the hose and put ointment on them, I'll be sure to keep this updated with our progress.  Wish me luck!

    Some more photos

    Here are some new photos thanks to my friend Belén!!!
    Give us a kiss....

    Gooney Marooney had a horse...

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    To Flex or Not To Flex

    So after thinking a little more about the video I posted the yesterday and wondering a little about training Starbuck to flex laterally at the neck, I realized that I didn't exactly have an expressible reason for wanting to work on this.  I guess since yoga, pilates and other flexibility exercises make me feel better and have less muscle aches after working out it just seemed like a no-brainer to me that the same would be good for horses.  I also felt like it would be a good way to work on submission, being able to handle her head and getting her ready for work with the bit.

    So I started reading a fair amount about flexing online and saw that there’s a little bit of a polemic as to whether flexion is safe, necessary and / or natural for a horse, especially regarding vertical flexion (lateral flexion is bending the neck to the right or left, vertical flexion is bending the neck downwards).  There’s even a practice called Rollkur once used by Olympic dressage riders but which is now banned by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports which basically refers to the use of force (vía harsh bits, double reins and similar mechanisms) to cause a horse to overflex vertically, like in this photo:

    I’ve ridden horses who had previously suffered this type of systematic abuse and know that it takes a long time to rehabilitate them to where they are free from pain and at all comfortable being ridden and would definitely never want to cause this type of problem for Starbuck!  To soothe my worries, I found lots of articles and videos which praise lateral flexion techniques as helping horses to stay supple, including from the US Equestrian Team’s horse masseuse (see below).  But what most set my mind at ease were photos like these which show horses doing the exact same kind of movement in the wild when completely relaxed.  So I'm determined to keep working on lateral flexion from the ground and also when I start riding (for example with the one rein stop).  Enjoy the photos!

    Resources on Lateral Flexing:
    How to get your horse soft and light in the face (part 3) article
    Lateral Flexion article
    Flex your horse's neck from the Ground article
    The Importance of Lateral Flexion with your Horse video
    Horse Massage, Improving Lateral Flexion in the Horse: The Masterson Method video

    Resources on Rollkur:
    The "Rollkur" Debate from EveryRider article
    Rollkur article from Wikipedia
    Rollkur Explained video

    Monday, August 8, 2011


    I love this video!  Just from watching the way he works with his horses, I think this guy has a great philosophy and obviously has won the horse's trust, respect and affection instead of relying on fear or pain.  Starbuck and I are working on flexing her neck in order to make her more supple and to prepare her for when I ask her to give to the bit, and little by little I hope to practice all the techniques that he uses before I mount up for the first time.  Enjoy!

    The calm after the storm

    Saturday Starbuck knocked me down for the first (and I hope last!) time, leaving me with rope burned hands and a scraped elbow and knee.  I was just walking her around inside the ring and something spooked her, I guess she caught me off guard because usually I can calm her down but on Saturday she just ran right over me (gotta work on her respecting my personal space no matter what!).  So clumsy old me went down trying to dodge her and got dragged a few feet since my instincts kicked in and it happened too fast to let go, but she finally stopped and I was able to get up, dust myself off and resume the lesson-- I definitely didn't want to teach her that when she does stuff like that she gets the day off!

    Anyway the point of this story is that yesterday when we worked on some lungeing in the same area she had spooked, she was supercalm and collected and we even were able to do a few circles in both directions completely at the trot.  She was also really attuned to my vocal cues, slowing down with "whoa" and stopping with "para" (Spanish for "stop", she's going to be a bilingual horse) and backing up when I asked her to step away from her paddock gate.  And in the shower after the lesson she behaved better than a lot of the grownup horses do.

    So what I wonder is if perhaps the very act of running into me and knocking me over made her think twice about getting so out of control the next time.  I know that I'm probably reading too much into her behaviour and if anything I should be twice as careful since she's "learned" that she's stronger than me and that her calmness yesterday is most likely just a result of practicing the same thing over and over.  I guess we'll find out soon :P

    Sunday, August 7, 2011

    Some photos

    Whoa.... Calm down girl...

     I promise there are no monsters around!

    Now that's what I'm talking about!

    ...And we're off!!!

    So since one of the reasons I want to start this blog is to keep a diary of our progresses and organize our short-term and long-term goals, I think a good place to start is to describe where we're starting from, including some facts about Starbuck and myself and our relative skillsets.

    • Intermediate English riding techniques
    • Some very low-key jumping
    • Lots of trail riding experience
    • Basic Dressage training
    • Halter training.
    • Standing tied.
    • Leading.
    • Backing up.
    • Being touched on any part of her body.
    • Staying at a safe distance when I'm bringing her food.
    • She also loves to be showered and groomed.
    What we're working on now:
    • Doing all of the above calmly in different places and with different distractions.
    • Lungeing in a controlled way at a walk and trot.
    • Giving her hooves so that they can be trimmed (she's currently unshod and I plan to keep her that way until I start riding her).
    • Not running into / over me or rearing when she spooks ;-)

    How it all started...

    A few months ago I started to notice a sweet little filly at the stable where I take riding lessons.  She would nicker when I passed her paddock and seemed to always be looking in my direction when I was working with other horses nearby.  When I asked about her I was told that she was an almost 3 year old Hannoverian and Anglo Arab mix with no training and that I could buy her for next to nothing.  I started spending a little time with her getting her used to being around people and pretty soon was completely in love.

    Seeing how infatuated I was, my wonderful husband decided to give me the birthday present I'd been asking for since I was 5 years old, which is how a first time horse owner like me ended up with this sweet green filly who's never worn a saddle or had a bit in her mouth.

    I have to say that I'm still pretty intimidated by training Starbuck myself, having never even worked with a horse without years of experience under its belt.  But thanks to having amazing friends who have trained horses themselves, an ever expanding library on training techniques and the huge amount of information available on-line, I feel like it's something I can undertake with enthusiasm and at least a little confidence.

    I hope you enjoy our mishaps, triumphs and anecdotes and most of all I hope that our journey helps others to have the confidence and know-how to do the same.

    Wish me luck!!!