Friday, September 30, 2011

Venturing out

Yesterday after a slightly frantic work session (it rained a little and someone was feeling frisky) Starbuck was pretty worn out and some friends were heading to a nearby almond grove with their horses to let them graze a little.  So I decided that it might be a good opportunity to venture outside the stableyard for the first time, and guess what?  It was!

She behaved really well the whole time and didn't freak out at all, even though it was pretty dark and we passed some (albeit slow) moving cars.  She got a little ahead of me when I was leading her but every time she did I just made her circle me until her head was level with my shoulder... this technique makes for a lot of circles and some slooooow going but seems to work pretty well.  And the best part of all of this is that she was able to explore a little with the added bonus of socializing with other horses and munching on nice tasty grass.  Meaning that when we leave the stablegrounds befind in the future, hopefully she'll remember it as a positive experience.  And now that I feel a lot more confident about going on slightly longer walks with her, we can maybe even follow on foot some of the other riders when they go on trail rides!

Every day, something new...  I'm so enjoying watching this sweet little filly grow and learn!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Getting ready

The other night I dreamed about riding Starbuck for the first time (it went way better than it'll probably go in real life by the way).  But anyway I've been getting pretty excited about it recently even though I don't plan to try to ride her until November, so I found some videos of horses being ridden for the first time to get an idea of what I'm in for...  Enjoy!

Monday, September 26, 2011


This afternoon the light was really nice right when I was tacking Starbuck up so I took advantage of it to snap a few shots of Starbuck getting all dressed up.

By the way she was really good today, we started with a walk around the stable grounds with me twirling the lead rope so she wouldn't get ahead of me and it worked really well!  And in the shower she let me hold her front hooves for about 15 seconds... it's great to finally see progress there :-D

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lessons learned

So far while training Starbuck, I've obviously made a lot of mistakes (and we're just starting out so I know I'll make plenty more!), however my personal philosophy is that making mistakes is a positive thing as long as you learn something from them.  So here are a few things I've learned over the past month and a half:

1.- I think it would have been better to let Starbuck loose in the arena to run around and explore before ever starting training.

2.- Leg protectors or wraps are absolutely necessary-- young horses tend to kick and step on themselves and I think she'd be less resistent to longeing if she hadn't nicked herself a few times.

3.- I should have been more persistent about picking up her hooves right from the start.

4.- At first I erred on the cautious side, ending some exercises without making progress because I was afraid of tiring Starbuck, however I've learned that with patience and persistence and lots of little breaks, I consistently get good results.

5.- I wish I had had some practice longeing an experienced horse before attempting to longe Starbuck for the first time; I would have been a lot less clumsy.

6.- Always always always tie young horses to baling string instead of a normal tying post.  A scared horse that pulls back is hard to calm down and even if you don't plan for them to be tied for more than 30 seconds things can escalate to panic in a lot less than that.

7.- When Starbuck comes in calmly facing me without being asked while longeing, I used to get "mad" and send her back out as if she'd done the wrong thing.  I've now realized that this confused her and she would try to escape me by backing away with her head high.  Since I've started petting her and calmly sending her out again when she does this we have a lot fewer "tug of war" sessions at the end of the line.

8.- I also should have been more persistent about handling her head and teaching her to lower her head on cue from the start.

9.- Lesson plans for Starbuck need to be really varied for her to stay motivated and interested and if we do any one thing for more than about 10 minutes at a time things tend to go south.

10.- Walking around the stable yard seems to work pretty well as a warm up to calm her down at the beginning of our training sessions so she doesn't work too hard and strain her muscles.

11.- It helps (a lot) to plan ahead and think of 3 or 4 different things I want to work on, even if I know that this plan will be altered the second I get to the stable.

12.- I need to keep in mind that no matter how well Starbuck seems to have assimilated the previous lessons, I can't skip steps and need to introduce things one horse-logical step at a time... or as Pat Parelli says, "Take the time it takes so it takes less time".

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Starbuck's First "Bit"

This morning it rained a lot and there were puddles and mud everywhere, so I decided to work on some simple leading and walk - stop - back transitions.  The other thing I decided to try was to use a lead rope as a "bit" to get Starbuck used to having something in her mouth.  I got the idea from Elizabeth de Corbigny's book Doma Natural  2 and the truth is that it's a great way to train her to open her mouth on cue and get her used to this new feeling without banging her teeth with a metal bit.  This way, hopefully when I put a bridle on her for the first time it'll be a lot easier.  So here's a video of how I did it, I was really surprised by how well she accepted it.

Little by little we're really progressing, I think I'll add this to our grooming / tacking up routine and see how it goes!  If only she would lift her feet so easily... ;P

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Quick post on our progress today, Starbuck behaved really well both while leading and also on the longe line!  She only did her backing up and refusing to go forward thing once and towards the end she was really attentive to my vocal cues for walk and trot.

Here was our lesson plan:
  • Friendly game with halter all over her body
  • Grooming and tacking up at the tying posts: Rope Halter, Leg protectors, Saddlepad, and Surcingle
  • Leading at a walk in the arena for about 5 minutes
  • Longeing at the walk and trot
  • Long pause playing friendly game with longe whip
  • Porcupine game on hindquarters
  • Longeing at the walk and trot working on transitions
  • Leading at a walk to cool down
I really think it's important to mix things up and make sure I reward her with lots of pauses, we'll see how things progress in the next few weeks!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Centered Riding

Lately I've been getting excited about riding Starbuck for the first time and have been thinking about how I can improve my riding so that it's a pleasurable experience for her right from the start and also so I can keep my seet and not hang on the reins or grip with my legs for balance while she inevitably bounces around (the less times I can end up on the ground the better, right?).  So I reopened a book I bought about a year ago, Centered Riding, and I have to say that after putting some of the techniques into practice in my lesson yesterday, I enjoyed riding more, I felt a much closer connection with Compay, the horse I was riding, and my back feels even better today than it did yesterday before the lesson!

Developed by Sally Swift, a woman who overcame acute scoliosis using the Alexander Technique and horseback riding, the techniques included in Centered Riding use "centering and grounding techniques from the oriental martial arts, along with body awareness, mental imagery and sports psychology. Through increasing body awareness, inhibiting old patterns, and replacing them with a more balanced, free, and coordinated use of self, both horse and rider can move more freely and comfortably, and develop their best performance."  

The book abounds with great images to achieve correct postures like imagining that your legs are filled with ice cream that melts out through your heels, that you have a long, heavy dinosaur tail to keep you upright and balanced in your seat, or that your legs are cut off at the knees to keep you from gripping with your calves.  It also gives you some great ideas, like riding with one hand extended above your head to better feel and adapt to the horse's movement under your seatbones.  This is one of the things I tried yesterday and I loved it, it was like doing pilates on horseback!  So here are some links so you can learn more about this system:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Lately Starbuck's been kind of wary about me putting on her halter, I think the problem is that I introduced a new halter and the leg protectors the same day, then put on the surcingle (which she had only worn a couple of times more than a week ago) and did a normal longeing session.  I noticed she was a lot more skittish than usual while training but didn't think anything of it since she was wearing the protectors for the first time.  Now however I think I tried to do too much at once.  In the future I have to try to introduce new things ONE STEP at a time and only when I'm sure that she's assimilated all the previous steps leading up to the new one (in other words one new piece of equipment at a time and that only in combination with other equipment or training she's 100% used to).

Now I have to try to get back to where we were with the halter about a week ago, where she would come up to me without shying away and almost voluntarily put her nose in the halter.  How to do it?  My plan is to make sure that she associates the halter with "good times" as well as work / training, so yesterday I put on the halter, took her down to the tying post and spent an hour just grooming her (therapeutic for me as well!)-- I even gave her a haircut, taking an inch or two off her tail and giving her a bridlepath.  Then we took a nice relaxed walk around the stable grounds (working on her not getting ahead of me when she spooks) and I led her back to her paddock for her post-training treat.

We'll see tomorrow if there's any improvement, if not I'll just keep including "spa days" every now and then to gain back her trust on this.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Longeing Video

Here's the video Sergio kindly recorded of us longeing, if you compare with our previous longeing video I think you can really see a lot of improvement.  I'm continually awed and humbled by just how willing and capable Starbuck is of assimilating new things, whether these are techniques, equipment or just experiences, and have to keep this in mind when I start trying to ask too much of her, introducing new things one step at a time and not trying to "skip" steps or try two new things at once.  At any rate, please enjoy the video and feel free to fast forward (it's a little bit long), but be sure to watch minute 1:04 when our friend Barn Kitty makes a cameo appearance!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Day in the Life...

Today my marvelous husband tagged along as our very own paparazzi, so thanks to him we have these amazing photos and the videos I'll upload in the next few days...  Enjoy!

 Swish!  "Porcupining" the hindquarters.
...a Boo! 
 Making friends
I don't CARE if you put it on me with no fuss yesterday, today I DON'T LIKE IT!!! 
 Leading over jump poles is good for working on precision and balance.
 Who's a pretty girl?
 In the shower...
Yum, that hose water sure tastes fresh!!!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pretty in Green

Today the set of stuff I ordered (bright green Zaldi leg protectors, saddlepad, halter, lead rope and polar leg wraps) came so I got Starbuck all dressed up in her leg protectors for the first time (these are to keep her from kicking herself or hurting herself stumbling on a bar or something else while she trains).  To say the very least, at first she was not sure at all that these were a good idea and hobbled around trying to shake them off for a little while, but after a while she finally got used to them and we went out to train in her full gear (including surcingle).  I think giving her time to assimilate all this before working helped her to be a lot calmer when we finally went out to the arena, because she behaved pretty well.  So here are some funny photos of her trying out the protectors for the first time:
What is this animal that's wrapped itself around my leg?

Are you sure this is OK????

Are these things even good to eat?

Whoah!!!!  This is just not right!!

So what are these things again???

Finally getting used to this but still not liking it (check out those ears)...

And finally a good neckrub from our friend Salva, when she really enjoys a good scratch she sticks out her upper lip like a camel ;P

Monday, September 12, 2011


Once again this is just a quick post to record how well Starbuck trained today and the lesson plan we worked from, we got a lot of complements from people around the barn (even from Marina, the owner of the stable) about how much she's improving!
  • Standing tied at the tying post, lifting each foot several times (but I'm still not able to hold them for longer than a fraction of a second).
  • Friendly game with dressage whip.
  • Leading in a circle (at the walk) crossing a pole on the ground (first time).  Here she did great on the left hand circle (walking to my right) but not so well on the right (walking to my left).  I've seen this longeing too, to the right she seems to want to crowd me and stop a lot... something to work on and keep in mind.
  • Porcupine game on hindquarters, she's moving a few steps at a time now!
  • Longeing without the jump pole at the walk and trot, working on transitions from walk to trot to walk.
  • Short 2 minute break while I patted her and let her rest.
  • Longeing over the jump pole at the walk to the right and left.
  • Longeing over the jump pole at the trot to the right and left (once again she did great to the left but not to the right at both gaits, so I worked her a little longer on the right).
  • Leading at a walk around the arena to cool down.
  • Lots of praise and petting at the end of the session.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

First Aid

Today Starbuck was lying down and rolling around a little when I went to see her and rolling her lip (Flehmen response) and didn't get up even when I went into her paddock-- all signs of colic... So I took her out to walk around a little and longed her at a slow trot for about 20 minutes and then gave her a nice cold shower.  After that she went straight for her hay, pooped and finally was back to her old self again so after watching her for a couple of hours to make sure she was fine I was able to breathe easy.  But I got to thinking that I should really learn more about first aid and standard disease treatment for horses; so here are some links I've found with some useful information!  And as an extra, a photo of Starbuck making friends with one of the barn kitties... awwwww!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Making Friends

Today Starbuck seemed to be a little sore from her workout yesterday so I decided to take advantage of the fact that no one was around and set her loose in the arena.  She was completely unfazed and started grazing at the edges right away.  When my friend Virgina saw that Starbuck was loose she suggested bringing her mare Coco out as well, so we set them loose together!  After the first quickly won dominance play by Coco, they got along really well and spent some quality time grazing together and even doing some mutual grooming at the end!  But the funnest part was at one point they were running across the arena and Starbuck spontaneously cleared a two foot high jump!!!  Here are the photos!

One Rein Stop

With so much talk about flexing the neck (which is something we practice most days), some of you may wonder what the benefits of this are.  One of course is keeping Starbuck supple and flexible, another is so that she practices giving in without resistance to pressure on her face (at the moment with the halter but eventually with the bit).  However there is a technique which is one of the first I'll be teaching her from the saddle which is called the One Rein Stop (or Emergency Brake) which effectively disengages the hindquarters (this is just fancy horseman jargon for crossing one back leg over the other and thus moving sideways), thus putting the horse in a position where they no longer have the power to keep moving forward in a straight line.

At any rate I think it's a useful technique to teach any horse, since anyone who's had a horse buck, rear or run away with them on top or even just get a little out of control at the canter will agree that an "Off" button would have been really appreciated at that moment.  So here's a video explaining how to teach your horse the One Rein Stop and then another with some practical examples which I hope you'll find interesting:

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Today Starbuck and I did a short lesson on picking up her feet, yielding her head to light pressure to laterally flex her neck and ground tying, then we took a little walk around the stable grounds with my friend Belen and her horse Cancunen, who I think really helped to keep Starbuck calm walking through the "scary" areas ;-).  When I put her back in her paddock and gave her her post-workout treat I realized her friend Qatar, the 3-year old colt who lives across from her and who came from the same stable as her, was missing from his paddock.  Since he still doesn't get taken out often and I've never seen him work before I wanted to check it out, here are some photos!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


This is just a quick post to record how well Starbuck behaved today, Javi's help the other day really did the trick.  I think the other thing that helped was mixing things up a little and making a lesson plan before starting to work.  This is what we did, all in the space of about an hour:

  • Friendly game with a new brightly coloured rag.
  • Tie up with other horses near arena, groom and pick up feet.
  • Lead around the arena at a walk.
  • Porcupine game on hind and forequarters.
  • Longeing on a short (2 meter) line at the walk and a slow trot- she did this really really well and only turned to face me once!
  • Tie up with other horses near arena.
  • Shower (Starbuck's stepping slowly and controlledly off the shower platform these days!)
  • Then I gave her a brand and linseed mix and some fresh alfalfa as a treat and we were done!
So we'll keep trying to plan more training sessions like this one in the future and see if it pays off, we'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Natural / Unnatural

Lately I've been reading a lot about horse behaviour in the wild and equine ethology in an attempt to understand Starbuck better and try to create a lifestyle which suits us both.  Today I found an article online which I really enjoyed and which seems to be more scientifically based than a lot of the information out there.  It's called The Natural Horse and Unnatural Behaviour and seems written in an attempt to inform veterinarians of normal behaviour so they'll recognize when they're confronted with the abnormal.  Here's a compilation of some of the most interesting bits of information in the article; which I recommend to anyone hoping to understand their horse better.

What I've learned (among other stuff):
  • Why horses spook: "The modern horse evolved on the plain and developed eyesight with relatively good acuity, which was able to focus on distant objects, but was also very perceptive to small movements, particularly in the peripheral range, which might have indicated a stalking predator."
  • On stamina: "The modern horse evolved, essentially, as a plains dweller, ranging up to 80 km per day (Lindberg, 1998), exploring and roaming over wide open spaces; in addition, by comparison to ruminants which tend to eat fairly fast and then ruminate for long periods, the horse grazes relatively slowly and keeps on the move for longer, with shorter periods at rest."
  • Why horses are so easy to train: "To live successfully as part of a herd, individuals in any herding species have developed a behavioural repertoire designed to reduce tension between individuals and increase cohesion between group members. This bias towards affiliative behaviour rather than aggressive behaviour is crucial if individuals are not going to spend valuable time and energy guarding resources and fighting. To this end, horses are very communicative animals with highly developed social skills and are motivated to cooperate rather than dominate."
  • The importance of grooming: "When humans groom a horse, they are essentially asking the horse to initiate a mutual grooming session, which most horses are delighted to cooperate with by nibbling the person in return (much to the chagrin of some owners). Ideally, if the horse has the urge to respond, rather than punish the behaviour, offer an alternative medium for his attention e.g. a piece of coconut matting placed at the right height."
  • Problems with conventional breeding: "It has also been observed that in the wild, once copulation has taken place, the mare moves forward and the stallion, who is resting on the mare's back, does not strain himself by trying to lift his bodyweight up and back (McDonnell, 1998) which may encourage the development of breeding problems. Houpt, 1998 reports that between 10 and 25% of stallions examined for breeding soundness were found to have behavioural problems. Stallions kept stalled have been reported as having lower testosterone levels than those who run with their own harem and some stallions are more likely to copulate in the presence of a third horse, particularly if it is another stallion (Houpt, 1998)."

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Surcingles and Saddlepads

Today I decided to try to put a saddlepad on Starbuck for the first time since the other day I sacked her out with the plastic bag, so I grabbed the lightest weight rectangular saddlepad I could find in the tack room and set out for her paddock.  So she would accept it with no fuss, first I folded it up as much as I could and let her come up to me, sniff it and satisfy her curiosity and then rubbed her around the head and neck at first with it then all over her body.  Then I unfolded it a little and repeated the process until it was completely unfolded.  The first unfoldings went really well but the last one took a little longer, I guess the full sized pad freaked her out a little but after many approaches and retreats finally she let me rub it all over her and then put it on her back.

When my friend Virginia saw our progress she offered to let us use her surcingle, which is a padded strap which goes all the way around the girth, and after our success with the saddlepad I couldn't say no!  Starbuck accepted the surcingle surprisingly well and didn't seem to mind even when I tightened the girth a little, although she bucked and farted like a malfunctioning rocket as soon as she really started to move around with it.

Then I put on her rope halter (I wanted to see whether the other day she longed badly because of the cavesson) and took her out to the arena to longe a little.  At first she didn't want to cooperate and kept turning  to face me and stopping and after maybe about 20 minutes of this I kind of gave up and decided to work on leading a while.  However, Javi, one of the owners of the stable saw that I was having trouble and came out to show me how it was done; in the end he got Starbuck to walk, trot and canter on the lunge line.  So I need to work on following through in the future and remember to never let her win the patience game.  It was a real treat to watch her from afar though and I was able to take some great photos :D

Saturday, September 3, 2011


My friend Belen had the farrier come to shoe Cancunen, the horse she's leasing, and all the time he was explaining the different problems horses can have in their hooves due to incorrect or infrequent shoeing or poor hoof maintenance, it was really fascinating both to learn and to see how he worked.  Here are a couple of links and pictures that I've found useful for learning more about hoof care:

Anyway, after he finished with Cancunen I asked him to come look at Starbuck to tell me if I should start doing anything like giving her supplements or whatever before her first trim.  He helped me out a lot, for example he showed me a new way to pick up her hooves which is more instinctual for her than how I've been doing it:  I've been doing it like this until today (always working myself down by petting her lots on the shoulder and leg):

But the truth is that today I tried this way and it worked great, I guess since stepping forward is a more natural movement than lifting her hoof backwards:
So we did this a few times, then let her think about it but I think it was a great step forward, we even picked up her back legs a couple of times too, which I had never done before!

Then we took a break so I could clean out her paddock and finally worked a little on the Porcupine Game, a Parelli exercise which uses steady pressure to get you horse to move.  After a little work, we were able to go backwards and yield both the hindquarters and forequarters a few steps before I told her she was the smartest, most wonderful horse in the world and gave her a big bunch of alfalfa for a treat.  I'm starting to get into the rhythm of these lessons and am going to try to mix it up a little more instead of just working on one thing.

We'll see how it goes in the future, wish me luck!